I desire to raise a matter which I know is causing serious concern not only to Members of this House but also to the great local authorities, to whom we are under such a debt of gratitude for their work in building up our Civil Defence Services. I shall try to be reasonably brief because I know that there are other hon. Members who are anxious to take part in this discussion. A month or so ago the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Home Security, in accordance with his obligations under Section 10 of the Air Raid Precautions Act, 1937, began an investigation into the working of the financial provisions of that Act, with particular reference to the expenses which fall to be borne by the ratepayers. The Minister's report on that investigation has now been presented to the House in the form of a White Paper, No. 6,356. That White Paper also contains the decisions which the Minister has reached as to the future financial arrangements with the local authorities.
I shall not attempt to consider in any detail the effect which these decisions have upon individual local authorities or upon particular types of local authority; but I can say with sincerity that the local authorities are very gravely disturbed not only by the decisions themselves but perhaps still more by the attitude of mind on the part of the Minister which those decisions seem to involve. I am certain that every Member of the House, and certainly no one more than the right hon. Gentleman the Minister himself, recognises the very important position which the local authorities occupy in the whole of our administrative machinery of Government. It would be in my view a calamity if those great local authorities in any way lost their confidence in the good faith of the central Government. No one will agree with me more heartily, on that, I know, than the Minister himself, but I am bound to remind him that that confidence has already received a certain shock from his own action in the autumn of 1940 in raising the grant in respect of shelter provision to 100 per cent. and refusing to make that decision retrospective.
At the time when this was done I listened to the Minister's defence and explanation of his action, but I am sorry to say that I remained entirely unconvinced by his arguments. The plain fact remains that a number of local authorities which had been laggard in the performance of their duty as shelter authorities found themselves being substantially better treated than other authorities which had really put their back into the job. There is no doubt that a very large number of local authorities felt that they were suffering a serious injustice in the action which the Minister then took. But even those authorities who were prepared to accept that particular action as a piece of rather hasty and rather chicken-hearted administration, were shocked when they saw in the report now published in the White Paper decisions which so clearly ignore the whole conditions in which the original arrangements with the local authorities were made, and so completely ignore what was obviously in the minds of the Government and of the local authorities when they were made.
I must, I am afraid, ask the House to think for a moment of the past history of the whole business. The original negotiations between the Government and the local authorities were not concerned with Civil Defence as we know it to-day. They were concerned with air raid precautions, with the preparatory steps which had to be taken in anticipation of the needs which might arise for defence against air attack. The financial arrangements which were then made were obviously, from the contents of the Bill itself, of a provisional character. In those days the leader and the spokesman of the local authorities was the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Home Security. It has not been my habit in recent years too often to hand bouquets, to the right hon. Gentleman, but I do pay a sincere tribute to the skill and tact with which he handled these particular negotiations. What was his approach, what was his point of view? It was a very simple one; representing the whole of the local authorities, he put it to the Government that these air raid precautions and anything which flowed from them clearly had no relation whatever to local authority boundaries, that the whole service was in essence a national service, and that its whole cost should therefore logically be met out of national funds.
The right hon. Gentleman argued that case with all his usual eloquence, and with even more than his usual sincerity and force. He did not succeed in getting the agreement of the right hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Samuel Hoare). The reply of the Government was that the expenditure likely to be involved was comparatively trivial in character by comparison with normal local government expenditure, and that at the outside the product of a penny rate was probably its measure. The right hon. Gentleman, like the keen negotiator he is, immediately asked the Minister to back his opinion by giving a guarantee to the local authorities that they would be reimbursed for anything beyond a penny rate. Again he failed. At this point the negotiations passed, on the Government side, into the hands of the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Lord President of the Council. The local authorities resumed discussions with him, and again the leader of the local authorities pressed the 100 per cent. point on the Government, and, realising he was then dealing with a Scotsman, put his figure up to 2d. Again he failed to get satisfaction, but he succeeded in obtaining from the Government a graded system of grants, graded to meet the circumstances of different types of local authorities. Furthermore, instead of a guarantee he got an undertaking from the Government that the whole position should be reviewed in a reasonable time. That undertaking was embodied in Section 10 of the Act. That is the history of these negotiations, and that was the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman when he had the responsibility of putting the case for the local authorities.
Since then, of course, the original air raid precautions business has grown out of all recognition. The burden assumed by the Government has grown until now it is colossal, but at the same time the margin left to be covered by the local authorities out of rates has also grown, and grown to very considerable proportions. The right hon. Gentleman knows even better than I do with what misgivings the local authorities watched this development of the increase in the burden likely to fall upon them. But always they were met by the Government with the undertaking of review, and the assurance that that review would adjust anything which was unjust in the arrangements which had been made by the Government. What is the position now? The investigation has been made. When that investigation showed the real picture, and the local authorities understood the magnitude of the job, they made a proposal to the Government. They proposed, not that they should be reimbursed everything above a penny rate, or even everything above a 2d. rate, but that they should be reimbursed 50 per cent. of everything above a 3d. rate.
In my submission, that proposal was not only reasonable; it was indeed, on the part of the local authorities, a generous proposal. The Minister declined to accept it. Instead, he now offers the local authorities 50 per cent. of the excess of a 6d. rate, a figure which was never in the minds, still less on the lips, of anyone who was engaged in the earlier negotiations. Even these grants are not unconditional. They are made subject to two conditions, the combined effect of which is to cut out altogether a very large number of local authorities—more than half the metropolitan boroughs, I think, and 63 out of 84 county boroughs. Practically every one of the heavily bombed areas is completely cut off from any supplementary grant and has to bear the whole burden beyond the actual grants agreed for all authorities. Bristol, Plymouth, Hull, Coventry—all these authorities are completely cut out with the big majority of the other local authorities.
I do not want to go into detail, but I want to offer some comment on the conditions which are laid down. The first point is that no grant will be payable unless the rate levied by the authority is above the average for similar authorities. I think I can guess what was in the Minister's mind in trying to impose a condition of this kind, but I am quite certain that the Minister himself is not responsible for the drafting of that condition, because he knows, better than almost anyone, with his long experience of rating problems, that this condition as it stands is really meaningless. A comparison between the rates levied by two authorities means nothing at all unless you take into account also the basis of assessment adopted by those authorities, and the Minister knows perfectly well that even in the restricted area of London the assessment policy varies tremendously, that there are some authorities which deliberately prefer a policy of high assessments and low rates, and others whose policy is low assessments and high rates, so that a mere comparison of rates is meaningless unless the other factor of the basis of assessment is taken into account.
The second condition is that no grant is payable unless the authority has raised its rate at least 6d. above the pre-war level. That condition, the purpose of which again is plain, causes extreme injustice and hardship in a great many cases. There is a large number of local authorities in this country which have adopted the practice, which I believe was right in the circum stances and difficulties in which we find ourselves, of cutting out every possible element of their normal services that they can do without. They have postponed maintenance work, upkeep of roads, and everything of that kind, all in the interests of setting free as many facilities, as much equipment and as much labour as possible, for the national effort. By effecting these economies they have succeeded in holding the rates down. Now, by this decision of the Minister, they are actually penalised for their own efficiency. I do not think it is at all surprising that many local authorities regard the decision conveyed in the White Paper as a breach of faith on the part of the Government. I do not venture to use that phrase, because I know that my right hon. Friend will tell me that there was no binding agreement. I admit that, but I submit that these decisions certainly represent a complete breach of the honourable understanding, the gentlemen's agreement, on which these negotiations with the Government in the early days were based. That is a very serious position.
The Minister's justification for his decisions is contained in the White Paper itself. He points, in paragraphs 3 and 4 I think it is, to the very large share of expenditure now being borne by the Government. He points out that that now amounts to as much as nearly 90 per cent. of the total. All that is fully recognised by the local authorities, but the Minister must not expect the authorities to be tremendously grateful for that. He must remember the atmosphere which he himself did so much to create, the opinion which he himself put to the Government in the original negotiations that this national service should be, not 90 per cent. a national charge, but 100 per cent. The only considerations on which the right hon. Geentleman in those days was willing to forgo the 100 per cent. were not considerations of justice and logic, but considerations of clean and effective administration. Therefore, the fact that the Government are now paying 90 per cent. is no cause for gratitude. But local authorities and ratepayers are not particularly interested in percentages: they are interested in hard cash. Local authorities are concerned at the actual amount of cash which is represented by the 10 per cent. that they still have to pay.
The second excuse which the Minister gives is that it really does not matter very much what he gives to the local authorities, because he has an extremely generous friend and colleague in the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, and any local authority which finds itself in difficulty because of the Minister of Home Security's mean method of dealing with things can go to the Minister of Health, and, if it proves that it really needs it, it can get substantial assistance. The Minister does not point out that part of that assistance is by loan, which may after the war prove a nasty load for the local authority. But that is not the point. The local authorities are not asking for doles, certainly not for doles which are the subject of a means test. That is a doctrine upon which I have heard the right hon. Gentleman speak very eloquently in the past. He has never been a great friend of doles or of the means test. The local authorities ask only that the arrangements and the understandings which were come to in the initial negotiations between themselves and the Government should be honoured in the spirit in which they were made.
I may have spoken rather strongly on this matter. I believe it is of great importance. I believe the Minister's decision has created a very bad atmosphere among a great many local authorities. If I am thought to have spoken strongly, I ask Members to imagine what would have happened if the right hon. Gentleman's high qualities, by any mischance, had been overlooked by the Prime Minister, and he had found himself on the opposite bench to the one which he now adorns. Then, I think, the local authorities would indeed have found a champion. I can imagine him thumping that Box opposite, burning with righteous indignation, tearing the very words of previous Home Secretaries out of the records and throwing them back in their teeth, and calling on Heaven and the "Daily Herald" to bear witness that he alone among the prophets had foretold that a decadent Government could never have been expected to honour their word. I do not attempt to rely on invective. I always yield pride of place in that to my right hon. Friend. But in all sincerity, I ask him to reconsider a decision which is not a credit to his own consistency, and which I think inevitably must lead to serious suspicion on the part of local authorities. I believe that it is not possible to test the feeling of the House by a Division, but I hope that those who follow me will leave in the Minister's mind no doubt whatever about the strong feelings which have been aroused among the local authorities and among all those who value the important part that those authorities have played, and still have to play, in our national administration.
I am very grateful indeed that the hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) has seized this opportunity of ventilating in the House of Commons this important subject, and I would congratulate him warmly on the way in which he has done it. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Home Security and I probably have one thing in common. We have probably both in the last few days read through the instructive Debate which took place in this House on 15th and 16th November, 1937, on the Second Reading of the Air Raid Precautions Bill, when the right hon. Gentleman divided the House against the Second Reading, on the precisely opposite ground to that which I presume he is now proposing to defend. There is a valuable rule in this House against the reading of speeches. I do not know whether it applies to the reading of other Members' speeches, but I am rather tempted to read to my right hon. Friend and to the House the speech which he delivered on that occasion. A powerful speech indeed it was. But in any case, I am quite sure that at the end of this Debate we shall hear the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Home Security refuting in detail the arguments used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) 4½ years ago—and I am quite certain of his ability to indulge successfully in that exercise of dialectic.
I wish to make it clear that I am not raising this subject for any personal or party reasons against him. I very much nope that he and I and the whole House are at one in that we all want to serve the sole purpose of making as friendly, as helpful, as fruitful, as possible the future relationship between the central Government and the local authorities. It is be cause some of us feel that in recent times action has been taken which has jeopardised that relationship, that we feel it absolutely necessary to draw the attention of the House to the fact. My hon. Friend the Member for the Abbey Division gave a resume of the principal arguments used four or five years ago. I think it is important that the House should have on record exactly what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), who was then Home Secretary, said in that Debate. He said:
The average expenditure of the local authorities ought not to exceed a penny rate, and … in many cases it ought to be much below a penny rate.
Was not that based on an assumption that matchboxes almost would do as air-raid shelters; and were not the preparations on such a microscopic scale that a penny rate would have been ample?
I do not see the force of that interruption. At any rate, perhaps the hon. Member will let me proceed with the quotation:
If our estimates are wrong, obviously a new situation will arise, and. … this or any other Government would then have to meet the representatives of local authorities and reconsider the position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1937; cols. 51–54, Vol. 329.]
I was a member of a local authority at that time, and I can assure the House that local authorities generally took it to mean that there would be sincere reconsideration and a most genuine attempt, on behalf of the central Government, to treat local authorities fairly and sympathetically, if that forecast of a penny rate limit proved to be seriously wrong. What is the position we have at present? I cannot speak for the rest of the country—other hon. Members can do that—but in London the average rate in respect of Civil Defence is not 1d., but about 7½d. The Minister now says that he will offer a 50 per cent. supplementary grant
in certain cases where the Civil Defence rate is over 6d. That would be a clean issue. Personally, I agree with the local authorities that the figure should be fixed at 3d. and not 6d. But it would be a clean issue.
Then he tries a new argument, and says, "No, it would be unreasonable to give that grant in all cases. We must give it only in the really hard cases. We must give it only to those authorities which have to charge higher total rates." That argument, too, I can understand. I can understand his wanting to make this grant a sort of equalisation of rates grant as well. I do not think that it is right, but it is comprehensible. But, having reached that point, he then turns right round on himself and says, "No, it is not really to be a Civil Defence grant or an equalisation of rates grant. I am going to bring in a further condition, and I am going to help only those authorities which have increased their rate by more than 6d. during the war." So that, in fact, some of the very high-rated authorities in the country who are also carrying heavy Civil Defence burdens, such as Bermondsey, are going to get no assistance whatever under the proposals of the Minister.
May I put before the House the concrete case of the borough, part of which I have the honour to represent? The rates in Lewisham at present are 13s. 4d. Lewisham carries a Civil Defence burden equivalent to about a 10½d. rate. Another borough in London—Hammersmith—has just about the same Civil Defence rate. Lewisham, though the Civil Defence rate is 4½d. above the 6d. limit, and although its total rate has been increased by a shilling since before the war, is to get no assistance at all solely because of the condition that assistance would be given only to those authorities whose total rates are above the average level of similar authorities; and that average level in London being about 13s. 6d. and Lewisham's rate being 13s. 4d., Lewisham is to receive nothing. The borough of Hammersmith—I do not grudge it to them—because they have a rate of 14s. are to get about 2¼d. off their Civil Defence rate reimbursed to them under this White Paper and consequent circular, and yet I think it is reasonable for me to argue that the war has financially hit Hammersmith ratepayers less heavily than it has hit Lewisham. The rates of Lewisham have risen by a shilling in the £1, and the rates of Hammersmith have risen by only 7d. But, of course, when you introduce a triple set of conditions of this character, when you get away from a clear-cut issue, the inevitable result is that anomalies will occur and that there will be differences of treatment between one authority and another which are absolutely indefensible by any form of logic.
I pointed out to the House that the reason why the Borough of Lewisham is to receive no supplementary grant is because its rates are 13s. 4d., a fraction below the average level for London. Why have the rates been kept down to that? Partly by economical administration, and partly by the assistance received from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, who has made to Lewisham one of these advances to meet war conditions referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for the Abbey Division. Had it not been for that advance from the Ministry of Health last year, the Lewisham rate would have been not 13s. 4d., but 18s. 11d., and Lewisham would have qualified hands down, so to speak, for additional supplementary grant in respect of its Civil Defence expenditure. But the Minister of Health has kindly come along with this assistance, equivalent to a 5s. 7d. rate last year. That assistance is very commonly supposed to be, as it were, free of charge. It is not. Seventy-five per cent. only of that is by way of grant and the rest is by way of loan, and the price which Lewisham has to pay for keeping its rate at 13s. 4d. is the incurring of a debt to the Ministry of Health equivalent last year to about a 1s. 5d. rate in the £. That hangs over Lewisham, but, because it is a debt payable after the war and not an immediate obligation, the Minister of Home Security says, "No, I am sorry I can take no account of that. I am not going to consider your debts in my ascertainment of your financial need at all. I can give you no help under the conditions of my White Paper."
This kind of treatment of local authorities will cumulatively have dangerous effects. The local authorities have shown themselves almost without exception anxious to co-operate completely with the central Government in safe-guarding the people of the country against enemy action. We all know that there were one or two exceptions, but I am sure the Minister would endorse in general what I have just said. Their treasurers and financial officers have been through a period of two or three years of what I can only describe as pin-pricking negotiations with the central Government on Civil Defence. The negotiations were bound to be difficult. We all realise that, and I am not going to argue that all the defect has been on the one side, but in the manner in which it has been handled by the central Government, which, after all, was in a position to dictate in these matters, an enormous amount of petty accountancy work, petty disputes and petty controversy about what is or is not allowed to be ranked as grant-earning Civil Defence expenditure has gone on.
Now, in his latest circular the Minister has, in my opinion, gone a long way to meet many of those trivial points that have been the subject of argument for a long time past. If he would instruct his officials to handle and decide these things far faster than they have been handled and decided up to now, that, I believe, would be one of the greatest gifts of all that he could give to local authorities, finance committees and borough treasurers. If I may interpolate this, it is now five weeks since I drew his attention in this House to a certain anomaly as regards the subsistence allowances of fire-watchers being in some cases fully reimbursed and in other cases only partly grant-aided, though the effective conditions were exactly the same. On his behalf the Parliamentary Secretary promised that that was being attended to, but, up to yesterday, at any rate, nothing had happened and that anomaly still persisted, with the extra consequent burden on local rates. If all that kind of thing could be settled swiftly instead of with delay, the local authorities would be extremely grateful to the Minister.
I have put this case as strongly as I can. I hope we shall receive a considered reply from the Minister and that he will show he is prepared to do all in his power towards improving the co-operation, and removing the friction which has hitherto existed, between the central Government and the local authorities on Civil Defence finance. I will not argue, as he did, 4½ years ago, that there should be a 100 per cent. grant all along the line for Civil Defence. I, personally, think there are dangers in a 100 per cent. grant, even though he has apparently found no difficulty in conceding it in particular directions, and even though the local authorities maintain, as they certainly do in London, that their expenditure is rigidly controlled in Civil Defence matters by the Regional Commissioners It is not for a 100 per cent. reimbursement that I am pleading to-day; I am pleading with the Minister of Home Security to make it his care to meet the reasonable requests of local authorities and their financial officers in this whole matter, so that co-operation in the future shall be quicker and closer in order to serve better the prosecution of the war.
I desire to support the case which has been presented to this House by the hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) and the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke). It is true to say that local authorities have been very much disturbed by the White Paper proposals in regard to this question of Civil Defence. The proposals are so complicated and the conditions laid down are so difficult to understand that even the financial experts of local authorities cannot say whether they will profit by the conditions or whether they will get any relief under the scheme. The local authorities feel they have not had a square deal. I represent a constituency which is in a target area, part of which comes under the London Regional Commissioner and part under another Commissioner. We find that when local authorities come under the London Regional Commissioner they have to comply with the Regulations and requirements of the Home Office in regard to Civil Defence, and in this respect it is true that these requirements for London are very stringent, and must necessarily be so, because of the position of London.
Yet the local authorities in my constituency which have to comply with these requirements and come under the London Regional Commissioner have not received the same consideration in regard to financial assistance as have their neighbouring boroughs in London. They feel they have had a raw deal, and they have asked me to protest to-day very strongly against the position that has arisen and against the White Paper proposals. There was a meeting of local authorities in my constituency, to which every local authority sent a representative, who discussed very fully this White Paper. No matter what the political complexions of the local authorities were, everyone was unanimous in condemnation of the White Paper proposals. So I was asked to voice my protest in this House about the treatment meted out to these local authorities by the Home Office and by the Government. The local authorities in my constituency hold a different view from that of the hon. Member for West Lewisham. They believe that all expenditure by local authorities for Civil Defence, within the London Civil Defence region should be fully reimbursed by the Government, provided that the expenditure has been authorised by the appropriate Government Department and that it is truly vouched for to the satisfaction of the Government auditor. They claim that the expenditure for Civil Defence should be treated as a national expenditure and should not fall upon local authorities at all.
Local authorities have received reimbursement in full for other services, and I believe they have carried out their duties to the satisfaction of Government Departments and auditors. They are neither rogues nor fools; the majority of them set a very high standard of administration, and I am quite certain that if a Government Department thought anything was not quite up to standard, they could put a check and the necessary curb on the local authority. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster said that the Minister had conveyed the implication that if local authorities were in financial difficulties they could go to the Ministry of Health, but in Kent we have not been able to do that because the treatment which has been meted out to us has been different from that which has been meted out to neighbouring boroughs in the County of London. Although we have tried in every way by peaceful persuasion to get consideration for our point of view, and a grant, we have been turned down. In Kent consideration was given to coastal districts, but no consideration has been given to the local authorities in my constituency. The Department have simply played off one area against another, and we protest most strongly against the differential treatment meted out by grants to London boroughs and to local authorities which come in the outer belt of London.
So, we have a double grievance. I have made this protest on behalf of the local authorities in my constituency. I do not claim to be a financial expert on municipal affairs, but I agree very fully with the observations made and the case presented to the House to-day. I hope we shall get not only a reasoned reply from the Minister but some concessions. I think it is a disgraceful thing that local authorities should be told that they must be practically on the point of bankruptcy before the Government can come to their aid. I hope we shall get some satisfaction and that the demands that Civil Defence expenditure shall be a national charge will be fully conceded by the Home Office.
I do not wish to follow the arguments that have been made by other hon. Members—except to say that I am wholeheartedly in agreement with them—because the case has been fully put and does not need repetition by me. There are certain other aspects of Civil Defence to which I wish to refer. I think that no one who appreciates the present war position can feel that we can make preparations which could be too adequate for the situation with which we are very likely to be faced in the future, and it is imperative before the coming winter that we should feel that our Civil Defence services are at the maximum of efficiency.
I have never quite understood why the hours of women and men Civil Defence workers are different. I believe that women have contributed at least as effectively to the Civil Defence services as have men, and I believe it would be satisfactory if they worked for the same number of hours. I quite agree that that may not suit the Government, because doubtless they base their case for the differentiation in the pay of men and women Civil Defence workers on the differentiation in hours, but I should like to see that difference done away with both as regards the hours and as regards the pay. There has been a considerable discussion in the Press as to whether or not fire watching is to be made compulsory for women at some date in the future. I think that no woman can have a greater honour or greater privilege than to he allowed to make the maximum contribution of which she is capable to the war effort and to the assistance of the country in its hour of danger. Therefore, in principle, I am very strongly in favour of fire watching being made compulsory for women as it is for men, but not while women, if injured in the course of such service, are compensated at a rate two-thirds that of men.
Naturally, I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but surely any factors which contribute to the efficiency of the service should be possible of discussion when the service is under discussion, and it cannot be an aid to efficiency for women to be treated with such gross injustice?
That is precisely the point. Any hon. Member who has a sufficient amount of ingenuity can drag any subject into any discussion, unless the Chair rules it out of Order. I am afraid I must do so on this occasion.
. I should like to add my voice to those who have spoken for the London boroughs in particular, and for boroughs in general, against the proposals put forward by the Minister of Home Security. If only this matter could be settled now on the basis of 100 per cent.—and, with my hon. Friend the Member for the Abbey Division (Sir H. Webbe), I go the whole way in asking for 100 per cent.—it would solve once and for all the many difficulties and complexities and the ill feeling that have arisen in this matter of Air Raid Precautions expenditure during the past two or three years. I happen to have been concerned in these matters for some time after the beginning of the war in the Borough of Hampstead, which I represent, and I would like briefly to state one or two aspects from which we in London and in the borough I represent look at this matter.
In the first place, as has been pointed out, in order to qualify for the supplementary grant at all, three conditions have to be fulfilled. The general rate levied has to be not less than the average general rate levied in the same year in the same class of area. It has been pointed out that the application of that provision in London will mean that only 12 out of the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs will qualify for the grant. That seems to be enough to condemn the proposals, because it cannot be suggested—and I think it is not suggested—that those boroughs in London which will thus be disqualified from receiving the grant have not been particularly and excessively hit in some cases by air raid damage. The second qualification is that the general rate levied in the area must be at least 6d. above the rate levied for the year 1939–40. If it is imagined that that is the equivalent of the pre-war level, the idea is erroneous. The rate levied for the year 1939–40 is not the proper test of the pre-war level in a matter such as this. In the case of Hampstead, it was estimated that for the year 1939–40 a 3d. rate would be incurred on Air Raid Precautions expenditure, and at least that amount was, in fact, incurred. That was in the year before the war. Therefore, we must go back beyond the year 1939–40 if we are to have anything like a fair basis.
The cost of conceding a full reimbursement to the London boroughs would, I am informed, merely transfer the burden from the ratepayers to the taxpayers to the tune of £1,250,000 a year. It seems fantastic to suggest that we should not now finally settle these difficulties between us, and let the boroughs feel that they are getting a fair and square deal, for the price of such a very small sum. I am informed that in the country as a whole not more than £10,000,000 would be the price of such a concession. I would point out, although hon. Members are aware of it, that the transfer of the balance of the cost from the local rates to national expenditure would not increase the national expenditure, but I submit that it would produce a fairer and broader basis of bearing the burden. It is sometimes supposed that the present basis, estimated at 90 per cent., really gives the London boroughs and boroughs in general a very fair deal. It is not generally recognised that the present financial conditions require 25 per cent. of the assistance to be by way of loan. Furthermore, each authority was first required to utilise all its available resources and to carry a substantial overdraft as a condition for assistance.
I do not want to repeat the arguments that have been made by hon. Members who have already spoken in asking the Minister of Home Security to reconsider his decision. I urge him to take this opportunity to settle the matter once and for all. It is a national expenditure. It will by no means relieve the local authorities of any expense or responsibility in the matter; on the contrary, the local authorities will still remain saddled with loan charges on capital expenditure already incurred. They will still remain responsible for unapproved expenditure. There are adequate and ample safeguards to prevent improper expenditure by local authorities. Therefore, I press for a reconsideration of the matter so that, in the London boroughs in particular, we can feel, as we do not feel at present, that we are being propertly treated.
I should like to say a word, not on behalf of the London boroughs, because their views have already been represented, but on behalf of the Outer London authorities. The position there is largely the same. The Outer London authorities have recently formed themselves into an association, largely for the purpose of combating, and, if possible, bringing about alterations in, the present system of payments for all Civil Defence services. These local authorities, which are 51 in number, represent all kinds of political views, but on this matter they are unanimous. They are concerned not only about the present payments, but about the future, because they find that almost every service is rising in cost without any additional compensation which is worth mentioning being paid to them. Conditions in the Outer London areas are somewhat different from those in any other part of the country. Everyone will agree that London has been compelled by orders which have been issued by the Home Office from time to time to create a standard considerably higher than that in the Provinces. I know that some Provincial towns have suffered as much damage as London areas, but, generally speaking, London has been expected to provide more costly and more expensive services than the Provinces. Therefore, London has a right to ask for special consideration.
For air-raid precautions generally, and for the provision of public and domestic shelters, grants to local authorities vary from 65 to 85 per cent., and the difference in places such as my own constituency is very burdensome to the people concerned. We have a very high rate in Waltham stow—something like 15s. 6d. in the pound—and, so far as I can see, we shall not receive any assistance beyond this grant-in-aid, whereas other places which have not been so badly hit financially will apparently receive the grant. We submit that the whole system of grants is bad and requires reconsideration to ensure a fairer distribution of the costs. I think it was in 1937 that a speaker in this House expressed the opinion that a very much higher rate than that prophesied by the Government—they said it would not exceed one penny—would, have to be borne by the local authorities. The speech he made at that time interested me very much. When the Air-Raid Precautions Act was under discussion the speaker, who was in close touch with local authorities, moved an Amendment, providing for the costs involved to be made out of a national fund. He said that the local authorities—I know this is true, because I took part in the discussions at the time—were of the unanimous opinion that these costs should be a national charge. He said it was the view of the local authorities that air-raid precautions were so interlocked with National Defence that it was proper the expenditure should fall upon a national fund in the same way as the costs of the Army, Navy and Air Force. He also mentioned that local authorities were apprehensive that the costs might be greatly in excess of the then Home Secretary's belief that a penny rate would not be exceeded as a result of pressure from the Home Office and other quarters.
The speaker at that time was the present Home Secretary. He was speaking with the very great knowledge he has of London and outer London, and was expressing the unanimous opinion on how this expenditure ought to be met. Now that the right hon. Gentleman is Home Secretary and has powers—I would not say that he has full powers; but certainly he has great influence—I am sure that he will not have forgotten the opinions he held at that time. Let him do something now to implement those opinions so that local authorities may have fairer treatment than exists to-day. His statements were frilly justified, because the then Home Secretary was proved to be entirely wrong. As a matter of fact, the rates have since been increased to 6½d. in 1940–41, and to 8½d. in 1942–1943. The figures are still rising, and the burden has become very much greater than when that speech was made. Certain services which local authorities are administering under the direction of the Home Office are being paid at a rate of 100 per cent. We had to fight very hard to get it, but some of them are now receiving the full rate. I know, as one who has served on the Emergency Committee which deals with the question of air-raid precautions services generally, that the progressive authorities, which took advantage of the advice given to them and got on with the work, are placed to-day in a very much worse position financially than authorities which delayed, took no notice of Home Office advice and let things slide until ultimately they were compelled to take the action which the better authorities took earlier on the advice of the Home Office. If you have a Government Department advising local authorities in a matter of such great urgency as this, if they act on that advice and show that they are willing to take it, and desire to make the best possible provision for their local inhabitants, they should not be penalised as compared with other authorities. I hope my right hon. Friend will implement what he said in his speech from which I have quoted. I hope something will be done now, because it is urgent, and some local authorities within the Greater London area will be compelled, irrespective of what they desire, because of financial stringency, to lay off doing some of the things which they ought to do and desire to do.
There is a strong feeling among local authorities in London, for whom alone I can speak, at the fact that they are not being reimbursed for all the expenditure to which they have to submit in connection with enemy action. I think it is recognised that the Home Secretary is not altogether responsible for what is happening. Behind him we see the grim, dark figure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who undoubtedly ought to be here to listen to the arguments if we are to have any change in the present attitude of the Government. The enemy does not discriminate betwen one municipality or one part of the country and another. He simply goes where he can. The incidence of that is that some localities have been put to far greater expenditure than others, and yet they are called upon to suffer, to a limited extent it is true, because the enemy has been more attentive to that particular part of the country than to others. War is a national responsibility, and any expenditure arising out of it should equally be a national liability. Many local authorities are subject to a high rate, especially in the poorer districts of London, in spite of the Equalisation of Rates Fund, and on that principle alone the Home Secretary will be justified in putting up a fight when next the matter comes before the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Cabinet assembled.
I want next to raise the question of the Service of the Fire Guards, recently known as street fire watchers. Experience shows that it is the willing men and women who are allowed to do all the work and, as this street fire-watching service is voluntary, it means that the more patriotic and sincere men and women are alone giving their services to this most essential work. It is true that during the past 12 months there has been little suffering from enemy attack in many parts of the country, but, while the war is on, we must keep up the fullest possible efficiency, and, just as it has been necessary to apply compulsion in the naval, military and Air Force Services, it ought to be carried through consistently in the case of every service connected with the war. Does not my right hon. Friend think that the time has arrived when this Fire Guard service should be made compulsory? I should be reluctant to put compulsion upon women to go out lire watching, which is a very dangerous service, though I am certain the bulk of the women would be quite willing to take their equal share with the men. All I am asking is that compulsion should be applied to all men who are not otherwise exempt.
The effect of the present system has been not to strengthen the fire-watching organisation, but rather to cause it to slacken off. I had occasion to notice that that is the effect apparently because, as far as London is concerned, the nights have been generally quiet. The duties have to be carried out all the same. The fact that men and women stand aside from common service in the hour of danger causes those who have volunteered to wonder whether it is worth while. You may have a man in one house volunteering and in the next house a man who has not volunteered. The volunteer says to himself, "Suppose an incendiary bomb falls on the roof of my neighbour's house, is it fair to ask me to put my life in danger to save the house that he refuses to make any attempt to save?" When a feeling like that spreads through any service it means that there will be less enthusiasm, to put it at its lowest, among those who volunteer to do this service.
We have to face the probability that nights in London and elsewhere in the near or distant future will not be so quiet as they have been and that there is evidence to show that the incendiary-bomb policy of the enemy is adding to that class of destruction. Consequently, the work to be done may easily outgrow the number of men and women available to do it. It is true that the A.R.P. permanent service is nearby and that they are ready to do what is required, but they cannot do more than is physically possible in proportion to the numbers engaged in a particular locality. So that when the serious time comes, if it comes, it will mean that we shall not have sufficient fire guards to deal with the situation. I put it to the Home Secretary that from motives of fire protection alone he ought to consider seriously the question of compulsory service. In answer to a Question of mine last week he said that it was likely to be considered either immediately or in the near future. I hope it will be done soon and that we shall have a regulation compelling men of suitable age to do this work. I would put the limit at 65 and not 60 because men at 65 who are free from any disability are as fit as men of 45. Therefore compulsion should apply to all men not otherwise exempt up to 65.
I am not prepared to advocate the compulsion of women for this service, although I would like to pay tribute to those volunteer women who have given their services. In my locality the women have come forward well, and I should not be surprised if they are not in greater numbers than the men. I think, therefore, that we can leave the voluntary system where it is for the women and hope that the Home Secretary will realise the possible dangers that exist owing to insufficient numbers to deal with any crisis that may arise. One effect of under-staffing in this matter, even when there is no attack by the enemy, is to add to the hours of working and nights of watching of the volunteers. If, therefore, we could add to the numbers by 50 per cent.; as I think is possible, by introducing compulsion it will mean a reduction in the hours of duty of those who are at present volunteers. I hope that early consideration will be given to this important question of compulsion as we do not know what may come in the future. It will be a bad thing for us if the fire guard establishment is not sufficient to cope with all possible dangers.
I would like to say a word about Civil Defence expenditure from a rather different angle and to bring forward a case which affects not only local authorities but a large number of private individuals. I have raised this question on several previous occasions both by means of correspondence with the Minister and by means of Parliamentary Questions, because it seemed to me to be a matter of great importance. It affects a large number of people not only in my constituency but, I think, throughout the country. In my constituency it has been a perfect nightmare to the Wembley Council for the last eight months. The position is this. Under Section 29 of the Civil Defence Act, 1939, local authorities are empowered to grant loans to householders for constructing permanent domestic air-raid shelters, About that time a Home Office memorandum—A.R.P. Memorandum No. 14—was circulated. It definitely laid down that domestic shelters could properly be constructed with lime cement mortar. In view of that memorandum a number of my constituents borrowed money from Wembley Council for the construction of shelters, which were built with lime cement mortar. When they were built the local surveyor inspected them and duly passed them as being satisfactory. After some little time had elapsed it turned out that the lime cement mortar was unsuitable. The shelters themselves began to crumble and leak and it was obvious that they would be anything but blast-proof. The public air-raid shelters which had also been constructed of that material were demolished and reconstructed.
An approach was made to the Minister asking him whether in the circumstances he would remit the repayment of the loans or the interest on the loans and make it unnecessary for the people who had borrowed money to repay it in view of the fact that the shelters were completely unsuitable for the purpose for which they had borrowed the money. They had spent the money on something which was no good to them on the strength of the Home Office Memorandum, which laid down that certain materials, which proved to be useless, might be used. The Minister replied that he was unable to remit the obligation to repay these loans. Although he sympathised with these people and recognised that they had quite a good case, he did not feel that he was able to do anything in the matter. I am under the impression that that was rather for administrative reasons, that he felt that if he were to take any steps of that kind it would land him in all sorts of difficulties and expose him to appeals from people affected in various ways all over the country.
The Minister said the remedy was to start an action against the builders of these shelters and try to get damages for breach of contract. It seems obvious that in the circumstances no action would have the slightest chance of success, because the builders would simply reply that they were authorised to use these materials by the Home Office Memorandum and that in fact they were the only materials available to them at the time, which I think is true. I cannot possibly see that an action for damages for breach of contract would be successful, and as a matter of fact none of the people concerned has instituted an action. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to reconsider this question very carefully, in order to see whether if he cannot remit the financial obligation, he can at least help these people in some way, such as by giving them a free issue of Morrison shelters, because I am sure he must realise that they have been rather badly treated and that the whole thing is rather unfortunate. If he could see his way to meet them along those lines it would have the effect of relieving their minds and remedying what they feel to be a very serious injustice.
Every speaker in this Debate with the exception of the last one has really criticised the Government in respect of the financial arrangements for air-raid precautions. The hon. Member for the Abbey Division (Sir H. Webbe) actually went so far as to use the expression "breach of good faith," and while other speakers have not repeated that expression it has been implicit in their remarks. I propose to take a different line. I do so with some diffidence, first as a member of a local authority for some years—and it does require some courage to stand up to the local authorities in this matter—and secondly as a London Member. It is important to remember that this Debate has been entirely concerned with London matters and that the only speakers have been London Members. This is not primarily a London matter. The financial arrangements which apply to London apply also to the rest of the country, and it is significant that not one speaker represented any other part of the country. Indeed, it is well known that this really is a London quarrel. The other authorities throughout the country, while they have argued their case vigorously and energetically, have accepted the position loyally, understanding the situation, and it is only representatives of the Metropolitan boroughs who are still fighting in the last ditch.
What are the charges which have been made? They amount to two. First, there is the point, which was put vigorously by the hon. Member for the Abbey Division and by my hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee), that it is unfair to the good authorities who put up shelters quickly and who received the percentage grant that in October, 1940, the Home Secretary should have decided to give a 100 per cent. grant for shelters provided after that date. It is argued that that penalises the good authority and favours the backward authority. I strongly object to the classification of local authorities as good or bad by the test of whether shelters have been provided or not. Let the House consider what was the position in October, 1940. Two things had happened. Some months prior to October France had fallen, with the result that there was a complete change in the vulnerability of different places in the country. So long as France was in the war it was possible to specify certain areas as being vulnerable and others as being less vulnerable, and the policy had been, quite rightly, to provide shelters as fast as possible in the vulnerable areas and, if necessary, to let the less vulnerable areas go.
With the fall of France the situation changed. All areas became vulnerable and by October, 1940, after the experience of bombing all over the country, it was felt that a change in the shelter policy was necessary. It was essential that shelters should be put up as quickly as possible in what had hitherto been the less vulnerable areas, and in order to ensure that there should be no argument about finance the Home Secretary said, quite rightly, "We will not talk about finance; get on with the shelters." There was another factor, which my hon. Friend the Member for the Abbey Division knows better than anyone else. In his own area there were a number of large strong buildings in the basements of which many people were sheltering. They came to Westminster, they came to the City of London, they came to Kensington, from all over the county, with the result that it became apparent in October, 1940, that the shelter accommodation in certain parts of London was inadequate, and the Home Secretary, again quite rightly, said to the authorities there, "Get on with the pro vision of more shelters." Since those boroughs were providing them for people who were not their own residents it was quite proper that the grant should be 100 per cent.
My hon. Friend may be Member for one of the Divisions of Westminster, but I am a resident there, and the statement I make is true within my own knowledge. People from places outside the area of the borough did congregate in Westminster in large numbers with the result that extra shelter was required in addition to what had been provided. I say that on those two grounds the Home Secretary did the only thing that was possible in saying to the local authorities, in the light of the experience gained from the raids, "Go ahead and provide all the shelters that are necessary and don't trouble about arguing the cost. We will pay 100 per cent." But that does not give rise to a claim on the part of local authorities who had already provided shelters that this decision should be retrospective. I can see no case for that proposition.
The other case that is made against the Home Secretary is that there was a sort of understanding that the cost to the local authorities of air-raid precautions would not exceed a rate of 1d. or 2d., or some such small figure, and that in fact it is now 6d. or 7d. In some cases it may be 8d. and in one extreme case it is 9d. The speeches made by my right hon. Friend five years ago were quoted against him. They were made in circumstances very different from those of to-day. Let us remember the atmosphere in which those discussions took place in 1937. We were at peace. Most people regarded war as a somewhat remote contingency, even at that time. When we were talking about the possibility of war and the need to provide air-raid precautions we were talking of something which seemed very distant to us. It was very easy in those leisurely days to give a half assurance to the local authorities that the rate would not exceed 1d. or 2d., as the case might be, in providing the kind of Civil Defence which was required at that time. Moreover, the local authorities were being required to incur an additional burden, over and above that which they bore in providing the social services for which they were responsible. It was quite appropriate to endeavour to argue, and it was arguable, that in those circumstances the State should provide 100 per cent. of the cost of air-raid precautions. Frankly, I have never subscribed to that view, for the reasons given by the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke). It is unsound for the State to provide the money and for the local authority to carry out the service without any financial responsibility. When my right hon. Friend was arguing for 100 per cent. grant in those days he was not on sound ground. He is on much sounder ground to-day.
I always thought it was unsound. I voted with my party just as the hon. Member voted with his, whatever our personal views may have been, and I do not think that these things should be brought up against us. I say it was an unsound principle that we voted for. Even if I voted for it, I say frankly that it is unsound to ask the State to bear the whole of the cost and the local authority to be concerned only with the spending of the money. If that principle is conceded, where are we? In fact, the State is bearing from 90 per cent. to 97½ per cent. of the cost of air-raid precautions in the localities, taking into account that which is provided by the Home Office and the Ministry of Health. If we have to have a position in which local authorities have to accept some financial responsibility I fail to see how they can accept less responsibility than the amount which they now have. It is said that the latest financial arrangements are unfair and burdensome because the Home Secretary is providing only half the excess rate beyond 6d. incurred by local authorities, and that it is subject to two conditions which have the effect of reducing very largely the number of local authorities who will benefit by this provision and the amounts by which they will benefit.
What are these conditions? The first is that the local authority, before it gets an additional grant, shall have a rate exceeding the average rate. What is wrong with that? When you boil it down you have to remember that the rate is imposed on the individual. Take, as an example, an individual in Lewisham, the area which was quoted with a rate slightly below the average. Why should that ratepayer get an additional contribution from the Exchequer when his rate is below the average for similar local authorities? It is a reasonable condition to impose to ensure that the grant is not given to the wrong people. I believe that that is the religion of the hon. Member for West Lewisham on this matter, namely, the means test, as an assurance that money is not given to people who do not need it. The other condition is that the local authority must not have increased its rate by less than 6d. There again, is it not a reasonable condition to apply that, until there is a heavy burden on the local ratepayer, he should not get a grant out of public money? I feel that the conditions which were laid down in the White Paper for the provision of supplemental grants were reasonable and fair and were calculated to ensure that people were not given grants out of public money unless they really needed them.
The Minister of Health has had a hand in this matter. Apart altogether from air-raid precautions, local authorities can come along. Their finances have been in a bad way, arising from factors such as evacuation, destruction of rateable values, loss of business, and so on, and there have been substantial grants to the local authorities. Take London alone; I think that every borough council in London has had a grant from the Ministry of Health. It is said that 75 per cent. only is grant and 25 per cent. is loan. That may be, but there is no interest on the loan. I am sure that the local authorities will have an argument after the war regarding the refund of that loan, but they have no argument to-day. They are not being asked to refund it to-day, and it seems unreasonable to say that because at some time a portion of this loan may be called upon to be refunded, therefore the Home Secretary has to be asked today to make an additional grant. Beyond all this, have not the circumstances completely changed since 1937, when we discussed this matter? I said at that time that local authorities had to carry out the services for which they were responsible on a peace-time basis. In my opinion, they were extending those services because that was the trend of events, and it was right that they should have an argument about any additional burden which they were called upon to incur.
What is the position since the war? I submit that the whole of municipal finance has gone into the melting pot. Conditions are entirely different to-day. Take some of the services for which the local authorities were responsible. Highways; there are no highways being repaired to-day, but they were a substantial part of the expenditure of a local authority. The City of Westminster used to spend about £60,000 on highways, but they are spending nothing to-day. Housing; I have been responsible in my time for spending a lot of money on houses, but not a penny is being spent to-day.
My hon. Friend said had it not been for the discontinuance of those services the local authorities ought to have had a reduction in rates. Is he not aware that most of them have had to increase their rates, many of them exceeding 6d.?
If nothing else had happened, there might have been a reduction in the rates. The point I am making is the change in the incidence of expenditure on local authorities. Take education. I am sorry to say that we are spending less on education to-day than we were before the war. The fact remains that the expenditure is less, and the local authorities have been relieved to the extent of that expenditure. Public assistance is another factor; far less is spent upon it than before the war. Street lighting; there is little street lighting. There has been a complete change in the incidence of expenditure. I say therefore that it was quite appropriate that there should be a revision of the relationships between the Exchequer and the local authorities. The only point on which I disagree with him is that while he assumes that a revision necessarily means more grant from the Exchequer to the local authorities, or a greater percentage grant, I say that a revision may cut both ways. You have to take all the new circumstances into account and deal with the situation, not in the light of conditions in 1937 but in the light of conditions in 1941 and 1942.
Do I understand the hon. Member to argue that a time when the local rates in London have increased by an average of 1s. in the £, as they have between 1939 and 1942, is the time when there might well be a revision down wards of Government grants to assist them?
No, I say that the circumstances of 1941 are quite different from the circumstances of 1937, and that one is justified in looking at the matter afresh. I am not prejudging, for the purpose of my argument, what would be the result of the revision. What I do say is that it does not necessarily follow, as my hon. Friend argued, that because you have a revision it must be a revision in the direction of more favourable terms to the local authority. It may mean nothing of the kind; the circumstances may justify less favourable terms. In fact, of course, the terms under this revision have been slightly more favourable than they were before it. Although one can point to anomalies and argue about one particular borough or another, on the whole, so far as is possible in these days, rough justice has been done, and I do not think that in their heart of hearts the local authorities are really as dissatisfied as they try to make out.
Now I would like to say a word about some of the services which the Minister of Home Security is carrying on and which, in the heat and passion of this discussion, seem to have been overlooked. He has been fortunate in having had experience of heavy bombing, and I would like to ask my right hon. Friend what alterations have been made since, say, a year ago in regard to a number of matters. I think there was general criticism a year ago to the effect that there were still far too many full-time wardens; the figures given in the Select Committee's Reports last year showed that at that time something like £40,000,000 was spent in one year on the employment of full-time personnel. Since then, of course, the House has had no figures, and I would be interested to know whether there has been a reduction in the number of full-time wardens. Personally I see no reason why any full-time wardens should be employed at all. I think the whole of the work could be carried on with part-time service, especially now that my right hon. Friend has the power to direct people to Civil Defence services.
I should like to ask him also about the National Fire Service. I believe that the result of nationalisation has been to increase efficiency, and, after all, that is the primary consideration. There were considerable difficulties in the past about mutual assistance; fire brigades did not arrive in time, or were not properly directed, and so on, and the new service which has been created and which has won universal praise will, I am sure, be more efficient. I would, however, like to know what is its cost as compared with the aggregate cost before nationalisation. Has the cost gone up or down? I think that that is not a bad test for judging efficiency. If the cost is greater there is an assumption—it is only an assumption, of course—that the service is less efficient. On the other hand, my right hon. Friend may be able to point out that the service at the time it was taken over was understaffed and that it was necessary to increase the personnel. I would like to know the present position regarding costs.
There is one question I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman. The House will remember that considerable interest has been taken in the idle hours of Civil Defence workers; there is a general feeling that persons engaged in stand-by duties should, as far as possible, be employed on war work, and I believe that a start has been made in the National Fire Service. From my own knowledge and observation, however, it is quite clear that that is a very small start and that there must be a very large number of people hanging about on stand-by duties who are not engaged on war service. I would like to know whether my right hon. Friend intends to take or is taking steps to increase the number of men who will be employed in war service, and what is the present position.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) referred to the fire guards. I do not wholly agree with him; it is not a voluntary service in London to-day, it is a compulsory service, but there are still a number of difficulties. One is a lack of mobility. A person who is compulsorily called up for fire-guard service can be employed in his own premises or in the immediate vicinity, but he cannot be sent from one place to another. As my right hon. Friend knows, the problem is very grave in certain parts of London and other large cities; in the business areas there is a shortage of personnel which is sometimes made up from other Civil Defence services. I think the time has now arrived when, contrary to the views of my hon. Friend, we ought to recruit women. Now that women are employed in the Fighting Services, are compulsorily recruited for factories, and are engaged in important and dangerous work, I see no reason why in a time of dire need we should not take the further step of recruiting women for the fire-guard service. I believe that the question is under consideration by the Home Department, which I believe is rather standing shivering on the brink. I invite them to take the plunge. I think it will meet with universal approval, even more from the women themselves than from the men, who are always a bit romantic about what women can do and who always tend to under-estimate their capabilities and courage.
There is at the present time a wasteful use of the personnel of the fire guard. They are not trained; I have known cases of men who were fire watching in a particular building who did not know their way about the building, and who in case of need would not be able to find their way to the necessary equipment. I think that the time has now come when there should be compulsory training of persons engaged in fire watching in order that they should know their way about, where the equipment is, and how to use that equipment. To this end it may be necessary to organise the whole of the service on a local basis, having one person in charge of a particular area and ensuring that everyone knows his job and is properly trained for it in time of need.
I would like to ask my right hon. Friend something about the rescue service, which, with the Fire Service, I regard as the two most important Civil Defence services. Is there now any shortage of personnel in the rescue service? When the Select Committee investigated this over a year ago, they found that there was a shortage, and I would like to know whether it has now been overcome. I know that there has been a certain addition to the service by the training of first-aid parties to carry out light rescue work, but I do not know whether, with that addition, my right hon. Friend is satisfied that he has the personnel he may need in time of trouble. Is he doing anything about a mobile reserve of rescue workers, which was one of the recommendations of the Select Committee which was not accepted at that time? We always find that recommendations in due course are accepted, and I would like to know whether the time has now come to accept the recommendation regarding the mobile reserve. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied as to the condition of training of the men in the rescue service to-day? They have had a rather lean time lately and it is conceivable that they may have got out of training.
I should also like to ask him just a little about the decontamination centres. My right hon. Friend is always warning us to carry our gas masks against the use of gas by the enemy, but is he, so to speak, carrying his gas mask? Is he ready for it—I do not mean literally—in the various centres of population? Supposing we had gas, is he ready with decontamination squads? Is he ready with all the things that science has taught us are necessary in case of enemy attack by gas? Is there training going on in the use of means of decontamination? I would ask quite generally, having had a lull which looks like coming to an end, has he really profited by the experience of the raids over this country which lasted in an intensified form for about six months? Have he and his Department really sat down and said, "What are the lessons we have learned; what are the things we should avoid and what are the things we should do?" and has he been able to do them?
In conclusion, I would like to draw the attention of the House to a statement which was made by the Select Committee a year ago about the Civil Defence Service. We said that in the beginning they were an unknown quantity, and it was doubtful whether they would be efficient in time of need. The Select Committee went on to say that since then the Civil Defence service had been put to the test of experience, that their need had been proved, their efficiency demonstrated and that their courage had won the admiration of the world. I believe these statements are true to-day. I am concerned, whatever may be the arguments that have been evolved in the Debate to-day, that they should weigh as nothing compared with the need to carry on this service in the most efficient way, and I am quite sure that whether local authorities are really satisfied or dissatisfied, nothing will happen which will prevent them from carrying out their duties with loyalty, with devotion, and with efficiency.
May I in the first place congratulate my right hon. Friend on the very greatly improved organisation, as it appears to me, and the very greatly improved working of that organisation during the last year? In some respects I believe that further improvement is still possible. I would like to refer particularly to the regional organisation. A year ago that machine, the regional organisation, was, as it were, in process of being run in. It was working stiffly, with a good many creaks and groans, but it has steadily improved, and its personnel which, if I may say so, had not really settled down a year ago is also much improved, and is working far more smoothly. There is, of course, the difficulty, or at any rate there was in the early stages, of getting suitable personnel for these regional staffs. I think my right hon. Friend, and most others who have had any experience of local government, will agree that it is highly desirable that at least senior members of the regional staffs should have had some experience of local government. And it does not necessarily follow that experience of local government in, shall we say, a large rural county would be the kind of experience required to deal with the affairs of a large industrial city, and vice versa. But I think that acquaintance with local government is very desirable, and indeed almost necessary, in the senior members of regional staffs.
Then there is the question of the class of person who is employed on these regional staffs. Very often it tends to be, and it has been in the past, a civil servant. I am not absolutely certain that a civil servant—it is natural they should have got there when these regional organisations were set up—is necessarily the best kind of official on a regional staff to deal with matters of local government, and especially to deal with a new matter like this matter of Civil Defence and air-raid precautions, because I think that their instinct and training are rather to impose delay and avoid giving decisions. In these regional organisations and the staffs of scheme-making authorities quick decisions and the quick getting down to work are alike extremely necessary. I would suggest that the true function, the first function at any rate, of members of regional staffs, is to help not only their own Regional Commissioners and colleagues but also to help those subordinate local authorities with whom the region has to deal. It used to be a rule of staffs in the Army, and for all I know it is so now, that the function of a staff officer was not only to intervene and convey orders and check faults but to help, not only his chief, but also the subordinate commanders with whom his chief had to deal. I suggest that that function should be performed by regional staffs. It is possible that at the beginning at any rate some of the regional staffs, when being formed, insufficiently appreciated that function. As I began by saying, all this is improving. There has been a great improvement in the working of regional staffs, and in the working also of scheme-making authorities in dealing with regional staffs.
I would suggest that some wider discretion and some power to approve expenditure without reference to the Ministry might be given. If this were done, I do not believe it would result in much higher expenditure. It would result, I think, in quicker action, in the elimination of what seems to be at the present moment avoidable delays, and in greater efficiency. At present the region has to refer too much to the Ministry, it seems to me. Incidentally the supply of the necessary forms for making the numerous returns called for by regions, presumably frequently at the instance of the Ministry, causes very considerable difficulties. These forms and these returns might well be reduced. I would suggest that regions should also be given a wider discretion to sanction matters of general policy, that is, apart from expenditure. While I would advocate wider powers to regions both on matters of policy and for approval of expenditure, I would also approve that wider powers should be given to scheme-making authorities. After all, these are responsible local authorities. They are not minor local authorities; they are county councils and county borough councils, with skilled staffs. Surely within limits, which I suggest might be fairly generous limits, they might be given more discretion to spend money? We all remember in the past certain cases of local authorities which went very much beyond the powers existing in those days and had to be restrained in their spending powers. I suggest that the converse might very well be the case in that if there are any scheme-making authorities which in the opinion of the Ministry are extravagant and not responsible in matters of expenditure, such powers might be withheld from them, but I suggest that the majority of the scheme-making authorities might be given wider powers, within definite limits, to spend money. I do not believe that this would result in any extravagance, but I think it would result in work being done much more quickly and with very much less correspondence before it was sanctioned.
I would refer for one moment to the relations of A.R.P. personnel with the Home Guard. There was undoubtedly at one time a certain amount of difference of opinion, and even in some cases of friction, between wardens and the Home Guard, and other members of the A.R.P. services. In my own county we had very little, but I know that there was friction in some parts of the country. The position, I think, has very much improved. I do not know to what extent other places have adopted an arrangement which was reached very early in my own county, by which the A.R.P. first-aid organisation is to a large extent placed at the disposal of the Home Guard, which has no real first-aid organisation of its own. That is a most satisfactory arrangement, and I believe that it would be to the general advantage for it to prevail—as possibly it may do already—all over the country. Then, there is the question of whether wardens should be members of the Home Guard. I suggest that there is no difficulty about that if there is good-will and understanding on the part of both the Home Guard and the Wardens' service. The wardens' duties would very likely occur principally before the Home Guard was called upon to function; and if wardens were placed in category 2 of the Home Guard, so that they would not be called up at the very outset, I believe that they could perform both functions.
Then there is the question of the Fire Guard. I am not certain whether it is the case all over the kingdom, but in many places the Fire Guard is independent of the scheme-making authority. I am not sure that that is logical, because the head officers of the Fire Guard have to be wardens, and there is a very close relationship between the two services. I think that the Fire Guard, as a matter of general organisation, should be under the direction of the scheme-making authority. That arrangement has been suggested in the region in which I reside, and the suggestion has been accepted in principle by the scheme-making authority of my county. My intention was to refer chiefly to the regional organisation and its relations with the scheme-making authorities. I hope my right hon. Friend will trust a little further both the regions which he has created—and which are certainly more efficient now than they were in the earlier stages—and the scheme-making authorities. I would also like to pay tribute— certainly so far as my own county is concerned, and I believe I should include the rest of the country—to the voluntary part-time workers. They have done excellent work; some of them devote long hours to their duty and are very efficient. In my county we have always had a very high proportion of voluntary workers; and, at the request of the Ministry, we have now further reduced our already small body of full-time workers, and I do not think that anybody regrets that reduction. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give consideration to the points I have raised.
I had been led to believe that this was to be a Debate in which great and bitter indignation would be expressed on a large scale against my financial relationships with the local authorities. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) did his best to work himself up into a state of indignation and protest; but, as the protest demonstration, on account of the number of Members attending the Debate, was very small, I admit that he had great difficulty in working up the right atmosphere of indignation. Sometimes it is said that some particular incident has knocked the stuffing out of a Debate. In this Debate, so far as the establishment of any case against the relations of the Ministry with the local authorities is concerned, there has never been any stuffing at all. But perhaps I shall be forgiven by my hon. Friends if I come back to that matter after dealing with particular points which have been raised. I am sorry that, owing to the need for having a little food, I did not hear all the speeches, but my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has been good enough to give me a summary of those that I missed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dart-ford (Mrs. Adamson) supported the hon. Members for the Abbey Division (Sir H. Webbe) and West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke), and went on to deal with an additional grievance, taking the view that the boroughs and county districts of extra-London had been treated worse than the Metropolitant boroughs. I will be perfectly frank. I cannot go into the full financial details as they affect each of these local authorities. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, the circumstances of municipal finance vary from district to district, so that it becomes difficult to generalise. I would not, on the knowledge at my disposal, dispute that things may have worked out differently as between districts in extra-London and in the County of London. It is probable that some kind of anomalies, too, may be found among the Metropolitan boroughs. The difficulty is that every municipality is in some way different from every other. That is almost a universal rule. Nevertheless, the State in coming to an agreement with the local authorities has to adopt some sort of formula. Some formulae are more difficult to understand than others. When the general formula is adopted, it is absolutely certain to apply somewhere or other in a way that you did not expect. I imagine that is the position with the Dartford authority.
I am only dealing with the point within the limitation of the possibility of no absolute equality as between one authority and another, even if we have complete equality of policy. But I am not admitting, and my hon. Friend will not be surprised, the general allegation with which she associated herself that the Government had been generally unjust to the local authorities. This formula is one of the simplest I have ever seen in relation to State grants-in-aid to local authorities. If my hon. Friend wants a really difficult one to understand—I think that I now understand it but it has taken me years to do so—I would refer her to some of the provisions of the legislation of 1929 in which I think she would find the formula very much more difficult. I have taken note of what my hon. Friend has said, and I am bound to say that I always admire the way she stands up for the interests of her constituency and her constituents. It is an old saying that the customer is always right. The constituents of the hon. Lady the Member for Dartford can be satisfied with their Member of Parliament that in this respect, she takes the view that her constituents are always right. She is always ready to champion their interests and their causes, which range from pensions to municipal grants-in-aid, and I am not sure whether, if she had a case of murder and a constituent was the murderer and the murdered was not a constituent, she would not champion the cause of the murderer with all the fidelity with which she champions the cases of her constituents.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) is not in her place, and I think I will wait, as I think it would be courteous, until she returns. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hampstead (Flight-Lieutenant Challen) pursued the general argument about the financial arrangements between the State, and perhaps he also will forgive me if I deal with his point in the general reply which I will make on the financial aspect. My hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) said that the local authorities in the London region had been compelled to evolve a higher standard of efficiency than they were expected to provide before the war. I do not know that I would say that. But I think I can speak for all local authorities, certainly in the County of London.
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. I do not know that I would say that as compared with the great cities of the provinces like Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and so on. I would be inclined to say that we have required from them as high a standard of efficiency. I admit that when you get to the smaller towns in what were called the non-vulnerable areas my hon. Friend's point would be a sound one and the degree of expenditure there would be less. London has always differed in this respect. I am never sure whether it is justifiable or not, but what differentiates London in Civil Defence expenditure from the rest of the country in the main, apart from the enormous magnitude of the task, is the very high proportion of full-time Civil Defence personnel as compared with part-timers. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) raised a point on that. I find it difficult myself to make up my mind whether that very disproportionate situation as regards London compared with the provinces is justifiable. I am not sure that it is. It is reasonable that the proportion of full-timers in London should be higher than in the provinces, particularly outside the great cities, but I am not sure that London has done as much in part-time service as ought to have been done. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham is right when he refers to the wardens' service; I certainly would be happier if there were a larger proportion of part-timers. The social circumstances of London are different. People work considerable distances from where they live. In some of the poorest of the Metropolitan boroughs there is not that mixed population that helps things in some of the provincial cities, and that has to be taken into account. Nevertheless, I hope that my native city is not falling short in the value of civic and public service. It is profoundly important to the health of the community and the vigour of our civic life.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) that the part-time Civil Defence personnel deserve the thanks and the praise of the country just as much as the full-timers. Both of them deserve it certainly, but I think the proportion of part-timers we have in many of the provincial areas is a great credit to the public authorities of those areas and to the civic spirit of their people. I am glad to pay this tribute to the part-timers. I would like to mention Wales. Wales was an area of great depression in the years before the war, of great poverty and unemployment. If there was a place where they might have been tempted at the outbreak of war to put everybody into full-time Civil Defence jobs as a means of easing their burden of unemployment that place was Wales. It is greatly to the credit of the civic and public spirit of Wales. I do not want to be tied down by this, but I am inclined to think that the highest or almost the highest proportion of part-timers and the lowest proportion of full-timers are to be found in Wales, including that depressed area of South Wales. It is a great tribute to the public and community spirit of the Principality, and to none more than to the people of South Wales that that should be so.
It is a great pity that I have missed all the cheers of the Welsh, but I hope that they will get to know about it. The other financial point the hon. Member for West Walthamstow raised will also come into the general answer that I will give. My hon. Friend the Member for Frome has now returned to the House and I would like to mention one or two points with which she dealt. I am bound to say, in the first place, that she put herself in a difficulty as far as agreeing with the hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster and the hon. Member for West Lewisham is concerned. She agreed with all their arguments for bigger grants and she associated herself with all their painful and unpleasant reminders of my former existence in another capacity and of the arguments I then used. She associated herself with the whole of their case for the principle of a 100 per cent. grant. But when the Bill of 1937 was before the House I moved an Amendment from the bench opposite in favour of the 100 per cent. principle, and on the Financial Resolution I moved an Amendment which read the other way round, which meant this way round, as these things have to be on Financial Resolutions. It meant that if the rate became more than 2d. in the £ on Civil Defence the State should pay for that. I have not seen what my hon. Friend did on the Financial Resolution, but I find that in the Division list she voted against my Amendment on the Second Reading, which was in favour of 100 per cent., and she voted for the Second Reading of the Bill which provided for a financial provision for local authorities less than I have given. And yet she associates herself with the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield and the hon. Member for West Lewisham. I am really surprised that she should regard so lightly her past record in this House on matters of this kind. My hon. Friend raised a number of points with regard to women, but I do not think that here there is any field in which one can settle general policy on the relations between men and women as to their respective pay. It is true there is a difference and that there always has been a difference in the rates of pay between men and women in Civil Defence, as, indeed, there is in the Armed Forces and the Women's Auxiliary Services. But it would not be in Order to argue the general principle.
I do not want to be drawn out of my depth, but it is the general policy of the State and industry that there are certain broad levels of wages for men and women. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong, but there must be a relationship between the relativities in Civil Defence and the Armed Services. The principle adopted by the Government at the beginning of the war was that the rate of pay for women should be approximately two-thirds of the rate of pay for men.
The conditions of service are different. Women work shorter hours, although I do not say that is conclusive or that it is unassociated with general economic policy in these matters, but it is to my credit that the last time wages were revised I struggled to get a greater increase for women than men. The result was that women's wages went up by 5s. and men's by 4s. Had the proportion been maintained I think women's wages would have gone up to somewhere about 3s. 6d. Although I have not got to the proper line which my hon. Friend would like me to reach, I shall continue to do the best I can—
I am glad that that should be so. As to the point on which my hon. Friend was ruled to Order, I do not propose to go into it and get myself ruled out of Order. It is not good to get ruled out of Order, and I do not think it is right to enter into an issue which is purely the business of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions. I do not think one Minister should do the business of another, especially when it is troublesome.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) raised certain matters about Fire Guards. The principle of compulsion, as he knows, has been applied to the fire guard services for a long time now, but there are certain holes in the scheme of compulsion which I think require attention. I have recently given attention to these imperfections and holes in the plan of compulsion with regard to male Fire Guards, decisions have been reached and will shortly be implemented and made public. They will, I think, make compulsion rather more universal than it has been. With regard to the old existing voluntary fire parties, to whom I am exceedingly grateful for the public spirit they have shown, I am afraid I must bring them within the compulsory plan. The man-power problem is becoming more and more difficult, less in the case of part-timers than of full-timers, and we must have the most complete and universal powers in order to make the whole thing fit. Nevertheless, it is my wish that local authorities should take into account the rather special character of the original voluntary fire parties and study their convenience so far as that can be done.
As regards compulsion to be applied to women—a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham—that, as he said, has been under consideration, and the Government will quite shortly reach a decision about it. Certain consultations are taking place, and I would only say this by way of intimation. We must have this fire guard service adequate in numbers and efficiency. The Home Guard is a competitive factor, and there are many other competitive factors for part-time service. It is not unlikely that the enemy, in future raids, will have increased resort to fire attack. He has already done so, and fire is the biggest single danger—bigger than high explosives, I think—in enemy attack. Once it gets going it spreads speedily and adds enormously to the difficulties of the National Fire Service. As I have said, the problem of man-power is very very severe, and I am certain that if His Majesty's Government, in the light of all the facts, come to the conclusion that we cannot get through without applying compulsion to women, our women, who have a fine record in the war, will not be sticky or troublesome about the application of that principle. We shall be as careful as possible in the application of the principle of compulsion, if we do apply it, and I am sure our women will not be too sympathetic towards any sectional or other interest which may be tempted to be difficult or awkward. The country feels, and has felt for a long time, that the needs of the nation come in front of the needs of any one of us or of any section of the community. That point is being looked at, and will have to be looked at, in view of the great difficulties of the man-power situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow (Mr. Bower) returned to the charge, if I may say so, on the admitted troubles of some of his constituents with regard to domestic shelter for which they have made a contract with a builder and arranged a loan with the local authority. The burden of my hon. Friend's complaint is that the Ministry of Home Security issued one of its limited number of circulars in which it gave advice about shelter construction. He believes that the advice we gave was technically wrong and, therefore, that we are responsible for the troubles of his constituents. Well, I cannot admit that. It would not be right that I should admit it, and it would not be expedient to admit that the Ministry of Home Security gave the wrong advice. I have read the circular very carefully myself, and it does not justify the charge that it was because of its directions that some of the imperfections he has pointed out were caused. Moreover, if I tried to deal with the problem on the basis of trying to segregate certain types of shelter built with what is called lime mortar—of which, by the way, we did not say they were to be built—we should have trouble in finding out which were of those character, which were the result of the builder reading our circular and which were the result of the builder being incompetent. Moreover, even lime mortar is not necessarily bad; it depends upon circumstances and the time of the year. Lime mortar used in South Wales has stood up to an enormous amount of enemy attack. So it is not conclusive. The trouble is that if I get into this field every citizen in the country who has something the matter with his shelter, or has been robbed by his builder, will come to me for relief. I have not the staff to do the checking, and it would be a misuse of public funds. Therefore, it is with great regret—and I have more than the average amount of sympathy with the suburban areas—that I cannot take responsibility for something that is really a question between the individual citizen and the builder he employed.
Neither the Ministry nor the local authority undertook to vet and approve building plans from the point of view of efficiency or value for money. It is the considered policy of the Ministry not to apply retrospectively financial assistance in the matter of shelters. However, I am sympathetic about this matter, as far as I can do anything and as long as I do not get myself on to the slippery slope that will end in disaster a long way down the slope. I think it would be fair and prudent that I should relax the policy of aversion from retrospective action in this matter to the extent of being willing to issue, as far as is practicable, and only as far as is practicable—for there are many claims for table shelters all over the country—what is known as a Morrison or an Anderson shelter free of charge to the owners of defective private shelters who, having built those shelters when they were ineligible for free shelters, are now, by reason of the raising of the income limit from £250 to £350 per annum, so eligible. Alternatively, where the defective shelter can be repaired at a cost which is less than that of a Morrison shelter, repairs can be effected by the local authority, subject to the availability of the necessary labour, which, as the hon. Member will realise, is a limiting factor. This form of relief, I contemplate, should be given in all circumstances where the local authority certifies the private shelter to be unusable, irrespective of the cause of the defective condition of the shelter. Further than this, I am afraid I cannot go, but that far I will go, and I hope that it will, in so far as is possible, meet the cases of people who have been burdened with imperfect shelters and who could not get free the Morrison or Anderson shelters originally because of their income limit, but who would have got them if the income limit had then been what it now is. I think that will help the people whose financial circumstances are the hardest and who are in this particular difficulty.
I come now to the points that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield. The hon. Member for Peckham asked whether there are too many full-time wardens. I can only say that we came to a general decision to reduce the Civil Defence general services by roughly one-third. There were elements of risk about this, but I thought it was right to take the risk in the interests of getting away, in part, from the defensive to the offensive spirit in the conduct of the war, as far as my little contribution could make that possible. In the London region there have been substantial releases of wardens. Naturally, the actual release, after the approval of the release, depends to some extent on the speed with which the Ministry of Labour can place the released personnel, because we agreed, as I think the House considers right, that we would not release a person until the Ministry of Labour could place him, otherwise people would be simply out of work for a period, and that would have been very unfair on people who have rendered brave and courageous service to the country. Therefore, the speed of release and absorption depends upon the organisation of the Ministry of Labour and the difficulties they have to meet, and not, in the main, on the Ministry of Home Security. With regard to the rescue services, the approved plan was to release rescue parties and first-aid parties in large numbers and to divert the whole-time wardens in some degree to light rescue work. This merging and interlocking of services has been pursued by the Ministry for some time, and I think it was approved of by the Select Committee on National Expenditure; it has been pursued with all possible vigour.
The hon. Member referred to the National Fire Service and wanted to know whether the cost was up or down. It is up, and it is up by a fairly substantial figure, as I think it was bound to be. There are a number of factors involved. One is that the personnel, which was insufficient at the time we set up the National Fire Service, has been increased, although since then I have intimated that I will try—because I cannot be sure—to give up one-sixth of the National Fire Service personnel. However, at the time we took over the Fire Brigades the personnel was inadequate, and whether or not the services remained under the local authorities, there had to be increases in personnel. This has caused increases in expenditure. The officers have undertaken greater responsibility in which the N.F.S. serves larger areas, and we have had to create a whole chain of officers which hardly existed before in the local authority brigades, except perhaps that of the London County Council; and the creation of that chain of officers has meant the paying of a chain of salaries to them. Most of the areas and numbers they command are much greater than they were in the case of the bulk of the local authorities' services before. This is a further factor in the increased cost.
A good deal of building and adaptation work has had to be done. Other factors, such as additional pipes, hose, improvements of various sorts, and the acquisition of property have increased the cost of the service. But believe me, we are being as economical as we possibly can, and I honestly think that at the present time, as a result of that earnest work—the anniversary will be in a few days' time, in the month of August—we can say that' the efficiency of the British Fire Service is materially greater than it was a year ago. I think that is the general impression of hon. Members. The mayors of local authorities in whose areas there have been raids have been good enough to send us complimentary letters on the good work the Fire Service have done. But I am not satisfied with the National Fire Service yet. It is not where it ought to be by any means. There will have to be much training, much exercising, much mobilisation work, and so on, before the Fire Service is where I want it to be; but it is much better than it was, and we will go on improving, with the support of the House and, I know, with the support of the admirable rank and file of the Fire Service, to make it as nearly perfect as we can.
Yes, Sir; very good. We invited hon. Members to visit it and quite a number did so; and if other hon. Members would like to do so, I or the Parliamentary Secretary will be glad to make arrangements. My hon. Friend has mentioned the idle hours in Civil Defence. Primarily, the Civil Defence services, including the Fire Service, are services which deal with the consequences and effects of enemy attacks. Whatever we do, we must never allow those services to feel that Civil Defence is a subsidiary occupation and that what is called productive work—although it is not always productive, by the way—comes first and the Fire Service and Civil Defence second. There is a real danger of that through some of the rather irresponsible propaganda that has been carried on; and I very much regret to say that the Fire Brigades Union has been conducive to creating some of that atmosphere, even though it may not have meant to do so. The House would never forgive me if, in pursuit of productive work, I put fire fighting and Civil Defence second and these odds and ends of employment first. Whatever the propagandists may say, whether or not they get their propaganda into the columns of the popular Press, or even achieve the amazing success, on which I compliment them, of getting on to the leader page of "The Times," as they did yesterday, first-class direct propaganda of that kind—whether or not "The Times" knew it, I do not know—whatever the propagandists say, I must keep that point of principle in mind.
We have done two or three things First, we have laid down the policy that Civil Defence personnel can be used by the local authorities for other purposes connected with the successful prosecution of the war or the maintenance of the life of the community. The local authorities are gradually finding ways in which the off-active-duty time but on-duty time can be, in part, so used. We even contemplate that arrangements will be made with private employers for temporary releases. There is also the constructional work to be done within the Civil Defence service itself, in amenities, in buildings, and depots, and in the Fire Service in many directions.
It takes a little time to get this work going, and I confess that when we have done this we shall not have enough to occupy them all the time. I have raised the matter with the Supply Departments. I have been raising it all the time, and the House need not be under the impression that I have acted only under pressure from this organisation and from newspaper articles and speeches. It is obvious that one does not want them to be idle. It is bad for their souls—it would be bad for any of us. I want to see them usefully employed, and it is to the credit of the men that that is their wish. We went to the Supply Departments and asked them whether they could work in with us so that depots and fire stations could be used to produce necessities of war. There was no lack of good will on the part of the Supply Departments, but the fact remains, that it is easier to talk about it than to do it, except for certain limited lines of production. If the work requires the use of machine tools, machine setters and technical supervision, then I think the House will appreciate that if these elements are taken away from the industries engaged on munitions of war large-scale production will be interrupted without a corresponding or greater amount of work being done in the fire stations and depots.
That is what the Supply Departments told me, and I do not think I can effectively contradict them. I have asked them as far as is possible to find some suitable products which we can make without interfering with industrial production, and we will do all we can in that respect. It is a little bit hard that attacks should be made on the Minister of Home Security in this respect, when obviously the problem must be solved by the Production Departments. The House must remember that they too have their difficulties in the matter. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no lack of good will, but it is important that the propaganda should not get out of all proportion. Otherwise it can create a feeling among the personnel, in the Fire Service for example, that they are not doing a job which is worthwhile, that they are not much use and that they are living on the State without doing anything. I want the firemen to keep their self-respect and their spirit, and therefore I deprecate propaganda which is unbalanced and goes somewhat too far. There must be a lot of work done in the Fire Service, in training, exercising and so forth. Indeed, precisely the same problem exists in the case of anti-aircraft batteries and balloon barrages. It is one of the difficulties in war that war is not continuous. The policy is to develop mobile reserves, and I propose to apply it generally in each region as far as is practicable. As to whether we have learned the lessons of 1940–1941, I think I can tell the House that we have. We have applied them, and in the recent raids, as I think the Minister of Health and the other Ministers concerned will agree, the machine has shown a marked improvement compared with the necessary imperfections of 1940–1941. The answer to that question is, I think, decidedly in the affirmative.
Before the Minister leaves that point, can he give an answer to a question which has been exercising the minds of many of us? In my own constituency a very good N.F.S. scheme has been worked out, admittedly on paper, for part-time work which would not interfere with training. In this case the N.F.S. are surrounded by munition factories, and they would therefore be able to take part in important war work. May I ask the Minister whether such suggestions can be put forward, or whether it is his desire that there should be no part-time work of that character undertaken by the N.F.S.?
If there are any proposals which any hon. Member or others may consider practicable for application to the Fire Service, we shall be glad to consider them. I would point out that they can also be submitted to the regional office. We are always ready to consider such suggestions, but of course we must keep hold of our policy. I have had to stop a little bit of partly admirable and partly not admirable enterprise on the part of individual firemen, who have been fixing up contracts of their own to be conducted at my fire stations. Even the Fire Brigade Union have entered into the capitalist world, fixing contracts to be carried out on my premises for which I have to pay the rates, the lighting and so forth, without any by your leave at all. After all, it still remains the National Fire Service, it does not belong to anyone but the State, and I consider that is rather an excessive degree of enterprise. As I say, we are willing to consider any practical scheme.
That is true, but they pay less than they did in past days; they are making a profit out of it, and therefore they ought not to be too unhappy in that respect. My hon. Friend mentioned the question of decontamination. We learn as we go, we modify and improvise, and I think that organisation is pretty good and is ready for the enemy if he starts to use gas. I will not say that everything is perfect—we never can be perfect when we start to face a new form of attack—but it is being revised and tightened up as we go along. Perhaps it may be convenient at this stage if I give this intimation to the House. The Government have been considering the recommendation hitherto made to the civil population, that every good citizen should carry his gas mask. I am afraid that if the carrying of a gas mask was conclusive proof of the good citizenship of the men and women of this country, we should have to come to the conclusion that there were not many good citizens.
That would be for Mr. Speaker to say and not for the Minister of Home Security. As I was saying, we have thought about this question. Since the entry into the war of Japan, and the consequent misfortunes we have suffered, there is now the necessity to conserve our rubber supplies. There is a certain amount of rubber in gas masks; it is not an enormous amount, but nevertheless every bit of rubber counts. At the moment children are the only people who carry their gas masks regularly, and they do so because they are compelled by the schools. It is a fact, however, that gas masks get knocked about if they are continuously carried, and there is a certain amount of damage. The Government have come to the conclusion that the right thing to do for the time being is for us to say quite frankly to the civilian population, "We do not ask you to carry gas masks day by day, and wherever you go." We think that will tend to preserve the gas masks, but we add, "At home, or wherever it is, you should know where to find your gas mask readily. You should examine and test it regularly, and you should arrange with the local authorities, who will be willing to test it, to avail yourself of these facilities." If people go away from home overnight then they should take their gas masks with them and not leave them at home. If and when the Government announce to the country that they think it is desirable, in the light of possible events, that citizens should resume carrying their gas masks, then we want them to take notice of what we ask them to do and do it. I do not anticipate an immediate gas attack, and for all we know it may never come, but it may, and we will watch the situation, and if there is reason for a change in policy, we will advise the public accordingly. I think that will be conducive to economy in gas masks, and particularly to economy in the consumption of rubber.
My right hon. Friend has made special reference to the wear and tear of children's gas masks. How does he intend his intimation to be interpreted by education authorities in respect of children?
The general statement that I have made should it is suggested be applied by the education authorities in relation to children as adults are asked to apply it for themselves. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Peters-field said he thought considerable progress in Civil Defence had been made since a year ago. I join in the tribute that he paid to the good work that has been done by the regional staffs. He was not sure that civil servants were the best for this work. I think they are the best for part of it and that others are better for other work. We have in the regional offices a mixed band of civil servants, former municipal officers, business men and others who defy classification. It is a great blessing, I believe, to a civil servant to have experience in a regional office. If I found it practicable, I would turn all my civil servants out periodically and put them into the regional offices and let them have three or six months' experience, and they would come back to Whitehall better civil servants than when they went away. One of the great difficulties of Whitehall life is the fact that a civil servant tends to be there all his life administering things in the office. Often he sees the things that he is administering, but not always. I am a great believer in the principle that people should see the people they are governing and the things they are administering, and that people working in Government offices should know on the ground the people of the great provincial areas of England, Scotland and Wales. I have been able to put some of my people out and bring some of the regional people over, with their regional experience, into Whitehall. One of the earliest minutes that I sent out, on this principle of civil servants knowing what they are administering, was that every member of a shelter division should be taken to see shelters in use, and I am sure that is a good principle on which to act.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend about forms and returns, and I will do what I can about it. I do not like endless forms and returns, but sometimes, if information is asked for and is not there, the office gets into trouble. This House is the indirect creator of most of the forms we have in the public service, because we must be ready to answer questions, and there is no way out of it. But I agree that it is a thing that wants watching, as it can become a habit. The hon. Member referred to wider powers for the scheme-making authorities. I do not want the big public authorities unduly tied up with detail and bureaucratic supervision, and I think, broadly speaking, we give them a fair amount of elbow room and head room. But the larger the proportion of the financial contribution by the State becomes, it necessarily follows that the State keeps a tighter grip on the administration. However, I will keep the point in mind and do what I can about it. We have made co-operative arrangements between Civil Defence and the Home Guard and the War Office under which we will help each other. There are certain aspects of the matter about which I am not quite happy and I am going into them with the War Office. I am very anxious that there shall be proper, co-ordinated arrangement.
I come finally to the issue of finance. It was inevitable—I make no complaint of it—that hon. Members should quote from my past history. I was not only leader of the London County Council, but I had the honoured position during a long period of negotiation of being the spokesman for all the local authorities of Great Britain. It is all very well to quote these past Parliamentary declarations of mine, and particularly the kind of bargaining that I did with the Lord President of the Council, who was very fair, equitable and, I think, just. When I was functioning as the spokesman of the local authorities of Great Britain and having dealings with my right hon. Friend and his predecessor, the local authorities were my chiefs. I was speaking to their brief, and helping them in the framing of their briefs. But when I become a Minister of the Crown and have responsibility for national affairs I must think for the Government and take into account the point of view of the Treasury, and my relations with the Treasury. That there is some difference in the angle of approach between the leader of the County Council and the Minister of Home Security, even though in time they merge into the same person, is not a matter for surprise. The amazing thing would be if it was not so, for both had different things to do, and whoever is leader of the County Council or Minister of Home Security has to do his job well.
But I have not so much to eat my words about. Broadly speaking, this is what happened. Partly as the result of the decision of my right hon. Friend and partly as the result of further concessions that I have given since I have been at the Ministry we have got to this position, that, where the State could hold the machine effectively and have no extravagant nonsense from the other end, in most of these services, if not all, the local authorities are actually getting 100 per cent. We have gone a long way to meet the claims that they made when the Air Raid Precautions Bill was under consideration in 1937. It is a great mistake ever to make a concession, because it will get you into more trouble than if you do not. My shelter decision in October, 1940, for which I have been grumbled at, was a concession in a way. But, in fact, it had nothing to do with the financial relationship of the State and the local authorities. I came into office very soon after the blitz began, and there were all sorts of troubles about shelters, as there were bound to be. I am not blaming anyone. Every raid brought out fresh imperfections. I went round to some of the shelters. The newspapers were full of complaints about many of them, and many of the complaints were justified. I wanted brick walls put up, a lot more sanitation, food, equipment, washing things—all sorts of things I wanted done. I wanted basements strengthened, and I wanted the tubes made better. I wanted a whole lot of things done immediately, because the people were up against it. The people were good, but they would not have been good if they had not been convinced that the Government were doing their best in the matter.
I know what local authorities are; I have been, on some myself; and if I had gone to local authority after local authority and said "Would you be so good as to put some more walls up there and more sanitation here," they would have argued for a fortnight or more, and in the mean- time the people would have suffered. For my hon. Friend the Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster to complain is amazing. He is not a good Member for the City of Westminster in the way he has been conducting himself today. Westminster was one of my reasons—I have never confessed it until now—for acting as I did; I was acting purely in the interests of that great city. It was crowded with shelters of one kind and another and there were more people in Westminster shelters who did not live in the city than people who lived in the city. I wanted Westminster to do a lot more strengthening and to go to a lot more expense, and I know what would have happened when I went to Westminster to ask them to do these things. They would have retorted, "Why should you land us in expenditure for the benefit of a population the majority of which normally lives outside?"
I wish the right hon. Gentleman would give the House the figures of the shelters provided in Westminster on the basis of the 100 per cent. grant and those provided on the 80 per cent., for it would give a truer picture.
I do not know, and I do not think it is relevant. It was not only the amount of shelter but the improvement and strengthening of shelters which was a costly business, and Westminster would have said it was unfair to expect them to pay for it. So instead of having any argument about it we decided, with the concurrence of the Treasury, only for the administrative reason of speed, that we should give the 100 per cent. grant. It was not in principle a financial concession but a way of getting things done and of being able to give an order which could be implemented at once.
With regard to the formula that is complained about, let us see what it means. This is a concession whereby the Government contributes an additional 50 per cent. of any excess of the Civil Defence rate over 6d. in the pound. The first condition was:
The general rate levied is not less than the average general rate levied in the same year in the same class of area.
That is to say, it should not be a case that is too bad in relation to the general run of the rate level in that class of local authority. I think that that is a reasonable condition. Another condition was:
The general rate levied in the area is at least 6d. above the rate levied for the financial year 1939–40 (in effect the pre-war level).
A third condition was:
The net approved expenditure left to be borne by local funds in respect of those civil defence services towards which grants are paid by the Ministry of Home Security (including the due proportion of the county council's expenditure and national loan charges on capital expenditure in previous years), exceeds the produce of a rate of 6d.
This condition meant that it must be actual Civil Defence expenditure.
I do not think that is ungenerous taking everything into account. It is said that it is unfair that we by this formula should indirectly take into account—which I admit we have done—the grants which the Minister of Health has made because of the general rate burden. I think I must do that because if my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and I are handing out money the Treasury has a legitimate complaint if we forget that it has all to come out of the same till. As between Bermondsey and Kensington, the Civil Defence rate of Bermondsey is 4.2d. and of Kensington 6.3d. That is why Kensington will get a grant and Bermondsey will not. The advances from the Minister of Health to Kensington at May, 1942, amounted to £530,000 and to Bermondsey £637,000. The total grants up to date to the Metropolitan boroughs and the City of London by the Minister of Health, not for any specific services but to preserve their rates from going beyond a certain level, is nearly £10,000,000. If I were the London Members of Parliament or the London local authorities, aggressive and close as I have been in the past in negotiations with Ministers when I led the local authorities, I would be ashamed to come to the House after the handsome way London has been treated in this respect and demand still more money from the Minister of Home Security. I would really blush to do it.
Is it not a fact that in taking into account the grants from the Minister of Health and seeking to profit by it, my right hon. Friend is also taking into account the local rates that were levied for those services that are not now being employed, such as roads and certain other things, and that the Government are getting advantage of the money that is being paid?
He is trying to profiteer in the relationship between the local authority and the State. He is not individually profiteering, and therefore it is not socially immoral, but he is really trying to profiteer in the relationship of the local authority and the State because he says that I have no right to take into account the fact that some of the social services have practically speaking come to an end. But surely if the local authorities have a grievance it can only be that the rate burden they are carrying is so grievous that they require additional relief from the State. For some reason or other they do not—either because my right hon. Friend helps them, or because the social services have been restricted, and, incidentally, possibly because they have done well out of the Board of Education through the evacuation of children. But the fact that the local authority would like somehow to get some more money out of the State is in itself no reason at all for the Minister of Home Security to increase the Civil Defence grant.
Since I left the leadership of the London County Council the rate has dropped by 9d. Mostly it was going up when I was leader, but since I have gone it has tended to go down. Take the general level of London rates. Lewisham was mentioned. What is the use of my hon. Friend coming to the House and saying that the borough is on the verge of financial bankruptcy? Lewisham is a happy place, a comfortable middle-class London suburban borough, and you will not convince anybody that it is on the verge of bankruptcy. Then what is the use of the City of Westminster, where a 1d. rate officially produces £40,000, trying to persuade me that I am treating them badly? The rate level of London boroughs is pretty good except when you come to Poplar and one or two other places where there are local circumstances and local policies which reminds me that you get to a point where you cannot get any more equalisation of rates unless you recast the structure of London local government. If the Metropolitan Boroughs wish to pursue that study they can, but happily I am not the Minister of Health and I do not wish to enter into that argument.
From what I have said it will be seen that we have really been fair because every Minister who has come into this job has given more money to the local authorities. We started with my Noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. He said he would work it out later—and that caused no end of excitement. We went on to the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), and he came forward a bit, and we drove him a bit further. There is no case for talking about a breach of faith. All that can be said is that the right hon. Member for Chelsea said in an optimistic moment that he did not think this service would cost more than 1d. or 2d. in the £. But the local authorities cannot say much about that, because all of them told him that he was wrong and I told him he was absolutely wrong and that I did not believe him. I am sure that he meant it, but all the same he was wrong, and has proved to be wrong.
But that does not give grounds for any talk of an undertaking or a breach of faith. When I tried to tie him up to the 2d. he did not manifest much faith in it himself, and I do not blame him; but it is not a breach of faith. The right hon. Member for Chelsea felt optimistic and wanted to give us a little comfort and cheer us up, but he did not succeed, and I think it is a pity he mentioned the 1d. and 2d. But we got some money out of him. Then my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council came. We did very well out of him. Then I came, and substantial further concessions were given. I think we had better not have any more Ministers of Home Security; we had better stop, because if we get more of them the grants will be getting up to the 150 per cent. level. The local authorities have on the whole done a good deal, and the London local authorities have done one of the best deals in the country—yes, even those in outer London. On this Civil Defence business they are getting on the average between 90 and 93 per cent. I think the House will agree that while London Members have had a day out and have made the most of it they have not made out their case, and that I have answered all the points which have been raised and have shown that the Government have not been ungenerous, and I hope that in the circumstances the House will now proceed to give us the money.
Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded, pursuant to the Order of the House this day, to put forthwith the Questions, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the outstanding Resolutions reported in respect of Classes I to X of the Civil Estimates, the Revenue Departments Estimates, the Navy Estimates, the Army Estimates, and the Air Estimates."