HL Deb 19 June 1980 vol 410 cc1291-3

7.24 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Education Act 1944 (Termination of Grants) Order 1980, a copy of which was laid before the House on 21st May, be approved. I will not detain your Lordships for long in introducing this order which is intended to eliminate an administrative anachronism dating back many years.

During the last war, the then Government gave an undertaking to local authorities that the full cost of removing air raid shelters and other defence works erected on educational premises under emergency legislation would be met centrally. Section 100(1)(a)(iii) of the Education Act 1944 gave the necessary power to the Secretary of State to meet this undertaking, and currently the Removal of Defence Works (Grants) Regulations 1971 prescribe the circumstances in which payment is made to local education authorities. The reimbursement by the Department for the removal of these air raid shelters for safety and other reasons has thus continued since the war, but over recent years the number of claims has declined and at about £150,000 per annum the average value of work done has been negligible. When discussed at the Consultative Council on Local Government Finance, it was readily accepted that the work involved in administering this specific grant could be reduced by incorporating it within the local authority Rate Support grant system. The local authority associations have been consulted and are in agreement with this proposal.

In taking this action, we have no reason to believe that authorities would cease to remove shelters which were unsafe or unhealthy, or preserve a shelter when the ground was required for school building, simply because the cost of removal would no longer attract grant. Any defence considerations have long since been overtaken by the passage of time and, indeed, the Home Office, in 1973, discontinued their practice of giving similar grants in respect of shelters built on other premises. The order before you now proposes that the payment of specific grants should cease in respect of expenditure incurred after 14th July 1980, although payments in respect of work undertaken before then will continue to be made until 31st March 1981. I now seek the House's agreement in relegating this wartime relic to the history books. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 21st May, be approved.—(Baroness Young.)

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for her explanation of this extraordinary affair, and also for her kindness in letting me know where I could read up the references and so on. I was interested to read the account of the Committee stage of the Labour Bill in 1978, on Clause 19, which said exactly the same thing as this order, and to find that Dr. Rhodes Boyson suggested that the shelters might have been used as sanctuaries for bad boys or as chapels. So it has caused me some interest and entertainment. As local authorities have been fully consulted and are in agreement, as they were with the Labour Bill, I am very happy to agree to the order and to support it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.