HL Deb 24 November 1953 vol 184 cc442-5

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, these Regulations, which the Home Secretary proposes to make, with the consent of the Treasury, under Section 3 of the Civil Defence Act, 1948, provide for the payment of grants to local authorities, police authorities and statutory water undertakers on the approved expenditure they incur in peace time in carrying out their civil defence functions. The Regulations are not intended to deal with expenditure in war, and I am sure your Lordships will understand that the financial arrangements to be applied then would have to be settled afresh by the Government of the day. The Regulations are a little unusual in one respect—namely, that, although they are to be made by one Minister, they authorise the payment of grants by several other Ministers as well. But I think your Lordships will agree that it will clearly be convenient for the local authorities who claim grant that there should be one set of Regulations governing the payment of grants over the whole field of civil defence.

The Act under which the Regulations have been made received the Royal Assent on December 16, 1948, and your Lordships may wonder why it has taken five years to bring these Regulations before Parliament. The reason is that, in accordance with the undertakings given in this House and in another place when the Bill was being debated, the representative associations of local authorities were consulted, first about the principles on which the Regulations were to be drafted, and then about the terms of the actual Regulations themselves. The last thing I wish to do is to suggest in any way that those associations are responsible for the delay, but your Lordships will appreciate that detailed discussions of the financial arrangements to be made between the Government and local authorities necessarily take a long time. These discussions were started by the then Home Secretary very soon after the Act was passed, and he had gone a long way towards reaching agreement with the associations by October, 1951. The discussions were continued by my right honourable friend, and I am glad to say that the Regulations now before your Lordships have been agreed to unreservedly by all the associations concerned. The Home Secretary has promised them that the Regulations will be reviewed after two years, and that they will then be free to criticise them in the light of experience and to suggest any changes which they consider necessary.

Section 3 of the Act provides that grants shall amount to complete reimbursement of such expenses as may be prescribed in the Regulations, and in other cases to not more than 75 per cent. The minimum rate of grant will, in fact, be 75 per cent., provided that the Minister concerned is satisfied with the way in which the local authority have carried out their responsibilities; if he is not satisfied, he will be able to make deductions. If noble Lords who have copies of the Regulations will turn to the Schedule they will there see set out details of all the expenses that will be reimbursed. In accordance with Regulation 2, all other expenses will be eligible for grant at the rate of 75 per cent. These will include, among others, expenses incurred on the provision of capital works, but the Government have undertaken to introduce, as soon as possible, legislation providing, in effect, that a local authority's expenditure on works of this kind will be limited to the product of a 2d. rate.

The local authorities will not suffer financially because of the delay in making these Regulations: since 1949 they have been paid grants extra-statutorily at the rate of 75 per cent. on all their civil defence expenditure, and when these Regulations are made they will be paid further grants of 25 per cent. on all expenditure that would have qualified under the Regulations for full reimbursement. Most of the provisions of these Regulations follow the usual practice where grants are paid to local authorities, and the purpose of each Regulation is explained in the explanatory note at the end. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is anxious to make these Regulations in time for them to come into force on January 1, 1954. As I have already explained, they are acceptable to the authorities whom they most closely affect, and I hope that this House will approve them. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Civil Defence (Grant) Regulations, 1953, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday last be approved.—(Lord Lloyd.)


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends on this side of the House I should like to say that we entirely accept these Regulations. We are glad to know that this is the culminating stage in the process of carrying out the provisions of the Act of 1948. It has taken some five years to reach this stage, and, after reading the Regulations, I must say that I am hardly surprised. This is one of the richest examples of the kind of English that can be understood only by those with special training and experience. There is one point in regard to which I should like to ask the Minister a question, and that is on Regulation 7, paragraph 2. It looks to me as if this is an example of the well-known Treasury habit of "trying to have it both ways." As I read it, this is an insurance against the Treasury suffering financially from any error or miscalculation in their transaction with local authorities. The Minister has told us that all the authorities concerned agree to it; but, whilst it may be common form, it seems to me that if, through error, the Treasury have made to a local authority an interim grant exceeding the total grant to which that authority is entitled, the Minister will be able to recover money by deducting it from the next grant. That may be common form, but to the lay person it does not seem to be the way to achieve relations of mutual confidence between the local authorities and the Treasury. Subject to that point, we entirely support the Motion.


My Lords, the noble Earl is quite right in thinking that this is common form. All it really means is that it enables the designated Minister to make advances on account up to 90 per cent. of the estimated total of the grant in respect of any year, and after the end of the year to make further payments on account before final adjustment. It may well be that the Minister advances far more than the grant for the individual year, and I think it only right that, if he does, and as he is trying to help by giving money before it is really due, then he should be able to get it back. This does permit him to get excess payments back when the situation has been finalised. I do not think that it is an unreasonable provision, and I can assure your Lordships that it is common form.

On Question, Motion agreed to.