HC Deb 24 April 1939 vol 346 cc908-13

9.51 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I beg to move, "That consideration of the Clause be postponed."

I can explain in a very few words my reason for making this proposal. Clause 7 was framed for the purpose of providing for the particular cases in which it might be desired to construct some underground structure on the site of a park, pleasure ground, or open space without interfering with the surface to any greater extent than might be necessary for the purpose of providing entrances, shafts, and necessary works of ventilation, drainage, and so on. In discussions that have taken place with the representatives of local authorities since the Bill was introduced, a desire has been expressed that the Government should, if possible, frame a Clause corresponding in its scope to Clause 7, but designed to deal with cases where above-ground shelters involving the use of the surface of parks, open spaces, and so on as contemplated in this Clause, could be facilitated. A promise was given that the matter should have consideration and that, if a suitable Clause could be devised, it would be put down for consideration in Committee. It seemed to the Government that it would be highly inconvenient if the discussions upon Clause 7, dealing with underground shelters, and the new Clause, dealing with above-ground shelters, were widely separated in time. The obviously convenient course would be to take the two things together, or as nearly together as possible. For that reason, I move the postponement of the Clause.

9.53 p m.

Mr. H. Morrison

We on this side concur in the postponement of the consideration of this Clause, but I think I ought to warn the right hon. Gentleman, without going too far into the merits either of this Clause or of the Clause that he will substitute, that I am not at all sure that we are going to be happy about the business at the end of the day. We understand from the right hon. Gentleman— indeed, we know—that this Clause contemplates a strictly limited operation to underground shelters on open spaces of one type or another, and heaven knows that was a narrow enough conception of this class of shelter, but even now he is proposing to widen it only to the extent of permitting above-ground shelters to be constructed in certain cases. There is still the whole question of deeper and more adequate shelters underground, which will apparently be left out of this Clause and which would require still wider powers. I am moving along in a state of apprehension that I shall be in controversy with the Chair if I go any further, and I will not go much further. I only wish to say that, while we concur in the postponement of the consideration of this Clause and agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it will be the most business-like thing to do, he must expect, when we come to the Clause that if that is the only change he is to make, considerable debate and argument on the wider issues of shelter policy which, in our judgment, ought to be taken.

9.56 p.m.

Sir P. Harris

I would like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on postponing the Clause, for it shows wisdom in anticipating difficulties and wishing to meet the criticisms of local authorities. A great part of the success of this Bill depends on the good will and co-operation of all local authorities. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind the interesting and constructive discussion which we had earlier to-day on the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys). Certain good points were made which he might bear in mind when reconstructing the Clause.

I hope that he will not take too narrow a view of the scope of the reconstruction, but that he will try to get a Clause which has the support of Members in all sections of the House and will meet the different points of view as to the way of dealing with this difficult problem.

Sir J. Lamb

My right hon. Friend has intimated that he proposes to deal with shelters erected on the surface in addition to the underground shelters with which the Clause deals. There are on the Order Paper Amendments which would bring in other buildings than shelters, and I would like to know whether he will give consideration to that point at the same time.

9.58 p.m.

Dr. Guest

I would like to ask the Minister to make sure, in redrafting the Clause, to bring in those objects which are laid down as essential in the report on shelter policy. One of them is that in certain cases it is important that deep air-raid shelters should be provided at dangerous points, or, if the right hon. Gentleman prefers the phraseology, heavily fortified shelters. It does not matter whether they are below or above ground so long as they are heavily fortified.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member appears to be dealing with the Amendments on the Paper. I ought to have called to order the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) when he was dealing with the Amendments, but the Amendments are not before the Committee at the moment.

Dr. Guest

In view of the Minister's speech, in which he gave the lines on which he would redraft the Clause, I was suggesting that he should embody such phraseology as will allow the question of deep shelters to be dealt with if required.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Will the Minister give further attention to the position of the public utility undertakings? The Metropolitan Water Board, for instance, have many miles of water mains and they are concerned because there is no adequate protection for them in the Clause. I understand that the board have already made representations to the right hon. Gentleman's Department in connection with this matter, and I hope that he will realise the importance of greater protection for water mains

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I gather from what the right hon. Gentleman said in support of the Motion that he hoped to have the Clause taken at the end of the Bill immediately in front of the new Clauses. I do not know when he anticipates that we shall next be discussing this Measure. Clearly it will not be this week. He knows from the conference of local authorities that, while they wanted to have this Clause amended, they regarded some decisions on the point which it raises, and which he has undertaken to take into consideration, as being very urgent. I hope we shall have some opportunity of getting at an early date decisions on the various points that have been raised, because the negotiations that will be necessary if the Clause in its widest possible form is carried will be considerable. It will be much to be regretted if they cannot be commenced at a comparatively early date. I hope that he will bear in mind the point that was stressed by every variety of local authority at the conference over which he presided, that these enlarged powers should be made as wide as possible, and also the several points that have been raised this evening, which, in view of your Ruling, I will not bring to his notice. I am sure the Minister has a good memory and does not need to be reminded of them, but I can assure him that the local authorities have good memories also and will expect to find every one of these matters dealt with when we consider the postponed Clause.

10.3 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

This seems to be a most remarkable proposition for the Minister to make. It is another clear indication of the haphazard method in which this question has been approached. Right from the beginning those responsible have simply staggered from one expedient to another without any broad understanding of the problem that confronted them. It has been demonstrated beyond any question or doubt that this matter cannot be left in the hands of the present Minister or the Government if we are to get the shelter provision that is demanded. The fact that the Minister is forced at this stage to come forward and move that his own Clause be postponed until he gets another Clause prepared, should be sufficient to satisfy all Members that, if we are to get the necessary provision for the safety of the people, we must have, not a change of Clause, but a change of Government.

Mr. Kirby

May I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether the proposed new Clause will deal with the Liverpool proposal for the partial covering in of certain classes of narrow streets?

10.4 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I do not want hon. Members to be under any misapprehension. I explained that this Clause deals with the provision of shelters, which will necessarily be underground shelters that can be brought into existence without destroying the surface of the site. I am not suggesting that the Government are going to amend the Clause. What I have said is that the Government, as the result of discussions with local authorities, have undertaken to consider supplementing the Clause by another which would give, as far as practicable, corresponding power in regard to the provision of shelters which could only be constructed, whether they were deep or not deep shelters, by interfering with the surface of the sites. That is the whole point. I suggested as a reason for postponement that it would be desirable to discuss this Clause and the new Clause together. As regards the new Clause, I think the Committee should realise that very difficult questions do arise if you are proposing, as was suggested at the conference with the local authorities, to take squares, pleasure grounds, parks and so on, and so deal with them for the purpose of air raid shelters as to destroy their amenity value.

The Deputy-Chairman

The right hon. Gentleman is discussing the new Clause and to do that is out of order.

Sir J. Anderson

I am very sorry; I am afraid I have gone rather far, but there was very little that I was going to add. I said what I did because I feared there might be some misapprehension in the minds of hon. Members which I was anxious to remove. Perhaps what I have said will suffice to remove that misapprehension.

Mr. Kirby

Can I have a reply to the question which I put?

Sir J. Anderson

I thought I had by implication, so far as it was open to me to do so, answered the question of the hon. Member.

10.7 p.m.

Miss Wilkinson

I want to deal exactly and only with the question of postponement. I wish to ask the Minister, who is taking this Clause back for reconsideration, to look into the whole matter, because unless he does think things over I am afraid his Clause is not going to work. The problem will be that in the distressed areas it will not be possible to work the Clause, if it is framed as this particular Clause is framed, because the provisions the Government have made are really not sufficient for areas with rates of 22s. to 25s. in the £.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member is discussing a Clause which is not before the House.

Miss Wilkinson

It is far from my mind to discuss it at all. All I want to do is to get the Minister's Bill to work and to ask him to frame his Clause so that we in these areas, who are most anxious to do so, can work it. I would plead with the right hon. Gentleman, when he is reconsidering this matter, to give special consideration to making it a Clause that will deal with the problem of the overburdened and over-rated areas.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.