HC Deb 12 June 1939 vol 348 cc941-5

4.25 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I beg to move, in page 5, line 38, to leave out from"but," to the end of the Clause, and to insert: it shall be the duty of the local authority'—

  1. (a) to restore, as far as they think practicable, the premises, building or land to the condition in which they would be but for the execution of the works; and`
  2. 942
  3. (b) if, after the restoration is completed the premises, building, or land are less in value than they would be if the works had not been executed to pay to each of the persons having any estate or interest in the premises, building, or land such compensation, if any, in respect of the difference in value as may be reasonable:
Provided that the local authority may include in their notice withdrawing the designation of the premises a statement that to such extent as may be specified in the notice they do not intend to carry out any such restoration as aforesaid, and if such a statement is so included, their obligation to restore shall be correspondingly diminished and their obligations as to compensation shall, as respects the matters specified in the statement, be determined by reference to the state of affairs existing at the date of the withdrawing of the designation. Hon. Members were informed when Clause 6 was being debated in its original form that it had been criticised on several grounds, and I undertook on behalf of the Government that further consideration would be given before the Report stage to matters that had been raised. This Amendment is the result of that further consideration. Three criticisms were directed against the proposals originally contained in the Clause. The first was that it would be very difficult after the lapse of a considerable time to restore premises which had been designated for the purposes of air-raid shelters or for civil defence purposes to their original state, or rather, and this was the intention of the Clause, to the state which they would have been in at the time in question if works had never been executed upon them for civil defence purposes. The second criticism was that the Clause as it stood left it with the occupier to take action if, after a local authority had decided that the designation of premises was no longer necessary, the occupier wished the premises to be restored as far as practicable to their original state. Thirdly, there was the criticism that under the Clause as it originally stood the whole matter might stand over practically indefinitely until long after everything that had been done had been forgotten, and then someone who came into possession as occupier of the premises might take it into his head that the premises should be restored under the Clause.

The Amendment which is now proposed adopts an entirely new line of approach. The effect is that, as soon as a local authority has decided to cancel the designation of premises, they serve a notice on all parties concerned. All compensation payable in respect of interference and the execution of the works should immediately cease, when the notice is served; and the local authority is then under an obligation to restore the premises as far as practicable, not necessarily completely but as far as it considers it practicable to do so. As an alternative, the authority may give notice that it prefers not to undertake restoration but will pay compensation in respect of any injury that anyone having an interest in the premises may suffer, and so dispose of the whole matter. I suggest that the provisions now suggested make, on the whole, a cleaner job. They make the rights and duties of the various parties concerned clearer and more precise than they were, and I hope that the Amendment can be accepted as a definite improvement on the original proposal.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Spens

I think the Committee will agree that the Amendment is very much better than the original Clause. I have only one criticism to make: Under Sub-section (1) of the Clause there is an obligation on the local authority to pay compensation to the occupier for interference with his use of the premises while the original works are being carried out, but under the Amendment, if it is determined to restore the premises, work would have to be done upon them again, and, for some reason which I do not understand, there is no corresponding provision for payment of compensation to the occupier for interference with his use of the premises while they are being restored. There seems to be no good reason why the consideration which is shown to the occupier in the first instance should not also be shown to him in the second instance when the work of restoration has to be done, and I would suggest that between now and the time when the Bill goes to another place this matter might be given consideration.

4.32 p.m.

Mr. Ede

As far as we on this side of the Committee are concerned, we think that the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment meets the points that were raised. He has now placed the initiative with the local authority, and the occupier cannot hold the payment of compensation as a debt hanging over the local authority for years. We think that the Amendment is a great improvement on the original Clause, and we accept it.

4.33 p.m.

Mr. Lewis

There is a further point to which I should like to call attention. It would seem, from the wording now proposed, that no time limit is suggested, nor any obligation on the part of the local authority to act quickly in the matter. As I read the Amendment, the local authority will now be under an obligation to restore the premises if they so think fit, and to the extent that they so think fit, but nothing is said about their having to exercise reasonable despatch in the matter. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) has pointed out that any claims for compensation because the premises were designated will cease from the moment at which the premises cease to be designated, and it would seem that some provision should be made for the local authority carrying out with reason- able despatch the duties laid upon them by the Clause. Otherwise, when premises ceased to be designated, and the payment which was being made to the occupier as compensation for the alteration of the premises also ceased, he would have no means of bringing pressure to bear on the local authority to carry out the necessary alterations for the restoration of the premises. They might delay the matter for years before carrying out the alterations, and I can see nothing in the wording now proposed which would enable the occupier to bring any pressure to bear upon them. Therefore I would suggest that my right hon. Friend might consider putting in some words at a later stage of the Bill which would ensure that the local authorities should act with reasonable despatch.

4.35 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

With regard to the suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens), I will certainly undertake that the point shall be considered between now and the sending of the Bill to another place. I am inclined to think that the Clause as it originally stood was open to the same criticism, and it may be that, in our eagerness to deal with those matters which were raised on the previous occasion in Committee, we failed to take note of all that it might be necessary to do to the Clause as a whole. The point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) was considered, and the Government were advised, as soon as the local authorities had given notice to persons having an interest in the premises that they were going to restore the premises, the duty would rest upon the local authority, and that under the ordinary law a procedure would be available, varying according to the circumstances of the case, by which the local authority, if they were dilatory in carrying out their obligations, might be compelled to take action. I will certainly have that point looked at again.

Mr. Lewis

My right hon. Friend says that, if the local authority have given notice of their intention to restore, the duty will rest upon them, but what happens if the local authority do not give notice of their intention to restore?

Sir J. Anderson

The notice which the local authority have to give is a notice that the premises are no longer to be designated. Until that notice is given, nothing happens, but compensation continues to be payable by the local authority. When they give their notice that the premises are no longer to be designated, they are compelled at that stage to intimate to those concerned whether or not they intend to restore the premises.

Amendment agreed to.

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