HC Deb 12 June 1939 vol 348 cc1040-5

10.24 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I beg to move, in page 11, line 6, to leave out from "expression," to the end of the Sub-section, and to insert: 'the code' means the said code as for the time being in force, or, in relation to shelter provided before the issue or approval of any-such code, the said code as first issued or approved, and the expression ' shelter of the approved. standard ' means air-raid shelter which at least complies with all the requirements prescribed by the code: Provided that any air-raid shelter provided before the passing of this Act which the Minister is satisfied is substantially equivalent to shelter which complies with all the requirements prescribed by the code shall be deemed for the purposes of this Act to be shelter of the approved standard. This Amendment is designed to achieve several distinct purposes. In the first place, it defines the code as the code for the time being in force, and it provides that in relation to a shelter provided before the issue or approval of the code, it means the code as first issued or approved. This is necessary because under Clause 21 grant is payable in respect of a shelter provided before the passing of the Act, and we must be perfectly clear as to the conditions that must be satisfied. Further, this provision reflects certain developments that have taken place in the code as framed since this Bill was first drafted. When the Clause was first put into shape, no one knew exactly what form the code would ultimately assume. We rather visualised that it would set up various standard types of shelter and that employers would have a choice as between those standard types. When we came to draft the Bill it became clear that the code had to set up a standard, and that any type of shelter which might be referred to in the code would be referred to by way of illustration. There is another reason why we have had to proceed by way of setting up a standard, and it is this, that whatever the type of shelter provided we have to secure that it is adequate for the number of persons for whom it is provided. That, again, is a reason why we must rivet our attention on the standard rather than on the type of shelter. For these reasons the Amendment and a number of consequential Amendments, which I am afraid bulk large on the Order Paper, will be required.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. T. Johnston

We do not oppose the Amendment, but we should like to be assured that this provision will not mean any further delay in getting commercial and factory buildings structurally improved for the provision of basement shelters. We have been at this for four months, and yet there are great cities in this country where not a single commercial building has a basement shelter for one employé. There are factory buildings where no provision has been made of any sort or kind at this hour, and the right hon. Gentleman is well aware that in Clause 13 after the passing of this Bill a proprietor may take another three months before he sends in his report, and after that report has been sent in and it is approved, it has to go through some local committee which may not meet for another month. By that time there will be a struggle for materials and for labour. That is already very serious in London, and I shall be surprised if there are not areas in this country in which commercial buildings will not be provided with basement shelter this year. This is a serious matter.

The whole purpose of the right hon. Gentleman's efforts is to strengthen the morale of the civilian population, but by every pretext both in this House and outside there have been serious and unwarrantable delays in arming the right hon. Gentleman and local authorities with the necessary powers to provide shelter for our civilian population. I have sat for hours during the Debates on this Bill and have listened to all sorts of opinions as to whether property owners were adequately protected or not. The fact remains that we shall not be able to carry on production in the industrial areas unless we can provide shelter for the industrial workers in their ordinary avocations. It is a most serious matter that four months; should have elapsed and that there should be no commercial building and very few factories treated, except in Scotland. I trust that after the code has been produced and the precise meaning of"substantially equivalent" — by the time the lawyers get after that—

Sir J, Anderson

I do not think the question of"substantial equivalent" is a matter for the lawyers. It is a matter of administration in deciding whether a grant is payable.

Mr. Johnston

Am I to understand that there is no appeal against the Minister's decision?

Sir. J. Anderson

Not as regards the payment of grant.

Mr. Johnston

And as to what is substantial equivalent?

Sir J. Anderson

indicated dissent.

Mr. Johnston

I am delighted to hear that there is no appeal and that work can proceed immediately, and that there will be no further delay in the local committees. From the moment the Bill receives the Royal Assent, we can take it there will be no further delay, apart from the delay that will necessarily arise because of a shortage of material and labour. I trust that, with the right hon. Gentleman's pledges on the matter, we shall not have to wait until Christmas before there is some protection for some of the workers in commercial buildings and factories.

10.32 p.m.

Sir S. Cripps

I should like to ask one question. There is a curious phrase in the definition — the expression ' shelter of the approved standard ' means air-raid shelter which at least complies with all the requirements prescribed by the code. What does this indicate? One would be accustomed to a definition which said that it should include shelter which complied with the requirements, but the phrase '' at least"might include anything else which anybody liked.

Sir J. Anderson

That expression is intended to convey that a shelter shall not be excluded from qualification for grant because it goes beyond the standard prescribed by the code or because it is, from some points of view, abetter shelter than that prescribed by the code. It must be at least equivalent, in the standard of protection provided, to what is laid down in the code, but it may go beyond that and it may be better, and it will not, on that account, fail to qualify for grant.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. McEntee

A question arises on this Amendment, and again in some of the later Clauses, about which I am very much concerned. I think it is the general practice that when any buildings are structurally altered, plans are deposited with the local authorities of the area, and they always have a record of such alterations. Under this Amendment, and under the code, it seems that serious structural alterations may be made in a building, and that if they are made in a factory, the responsible person is the factory inspector, and if they are made in a mine, the mines inspector. Apparently no record is to be kept or sent to the local authority in the case of a factory, and the local authority will have no responsibility. I think that is a very serious position in which to place local authorities, and frankly, although I have great respect for factory inspectors, I do not think they are so trained as to be able to do as well in this matter as a local authority. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would consider the desirability of providing that local authorities should have full information regarding every case of structural alteration.

A number of local authorities at present are having plans sent in by competent architects for structural alterations and they have had to inform those who have sent in these plans that there is no Act of Parliament dealing with the matter yet, and that there is nobody competent to deal with these plans. It would appear that, even when this Measure is placed on the Statute Book the local authorities will not be competent to deal with these plans and I do not think that the factory inspectorate has the necessary staff or the necessary experience to deal with all these cases. This may become a serious matter affecting the safety of a great many people and it should be dealt with by those who have the necessary qualifications and training. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should look into the question of having copies of all plans lodged with local authorities and at the same time I think local authorities ought to have the same power in regard to factory buildings, as they have in the case of commercial buildings.

Sir J. Anderson

I did not realise that this point arose upon this Amendment, but it is familiar to me because it has been raised at conferences with the local authorities. I have given the associations of local authorities a promise that, in the administration of this provision, arrangements will be made to keep local authorities informed, in the manner that may be mutually agreed upon as most convenient, about those plans for the provision of shelters in factories which come within this Clause and Clause 13. The point, I suggest, really arises on Clause 13, under which the owner or occupier of a factory has the obligation to make a report to the factory inspector. It is under that procedure that the factory inspector gets to know. I think the representatives of the local authorities were satisfied with the assurances which were given to them.

Mr. McEntee

May I ask whether in the regulations which it is proposed to make under Clause 29 a regulation could be introduced to cover this point?

Sir J. Anderson

It is a matter that can easily be covered by a Departmental instruction because it is only a question of arranging in what circumstances the factory inspector should convey the desired information to the local authority.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, order to stand part of the Bill.