HC Deb 13 June 1939 vol 348 cc1192-201

7.24 p.m.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

I beg to move, in page 11, line 22, after "living," to insert "or during an air raid, transacting business."

Probably the right hon. Gentleman understands the object of this Amendment. Under this Clause owners and occupiers of certain buildings and premises are to be subject to the duty of reporting to the officer of the local authority or to the Government inspector on the measures taken to provide shelter. This applies to factory premises, mines or commercial buildings. In the case of commercial buildings, the Clause refers to those who are '' working or living '' in the premises. I ask hon. Members to consider the circumstances of some commercial buildings in vulnerable areas like London, Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham. First you have the ordinary business premises in which a very large number of people may be conducting business negotiations. There is also the more outstanding case of large department stores. You have these not only in the West End but on the fringe, especially in the boroughs. Probably all come within the category of those having not less than 50 employés for whom the owner would have to make provision. If provision is made on that basis, when an air raid occurred the number of customers in the concern might be 1,000 and although there is a measure of compulsion in the Clause it would never be possible for the staff to reach the shelter because the thousand customers would all be making for the same place.

At present there is no mention of compulsion to include those who are transacting business in the premises yet it seems to me that where the owners of such commercial buildings, in their preparations, are willing to provide accommodation not only for the staff but for those who are in the building, or likely to be in the building during an air raid, they should at least have recognition of the amount of accommodation which they provide when they are making application for grant. This might apply to many classes of buildings but I have principally in mind those commercial buildings in which daily negotiations are going on with a large number of people and also departmental stores.

7.27 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

The Clause imposes upon the owner of a commercial building the obligation to make a report, now, in peace-time, and what he is asked to state in his report is what measures he is taking to provide air-raid shelter for persons living or working in the building during an air-raid. The first thing I ask the House to recollect is how essential it is, when you place an obligation on a man, that it should be a certain obligation, and that he should know what you are asking him to report about, and, though I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, I find great difficulty in understanding how you could expect the owner of a commerical build- ing to forecast, with any approximate degree of accuracy, the number of persons who might be transacting business in his premises during an air-raid. The obligation which Parliament is laying upon him here is perfectly intelligble and certain. It asks him to provide for the persons working or living in the building. He knows the average number of persons who are living or working in the building. It is very hard for him to give any possible indication of how much or how little shelter would be required for persons who might be there transacting business during an air raid. Apart from that difficulty and uncertainty, for which alone I would find it hard to accept the Amendment, I would point out, if it is any consolation to the right hon. Gentleman, that even if the Amendment were carried, it would not advance matters much further. It would only impose an obligation on the owner to report what steps he is taking in regard to this hypothetical number of customers.

Mr. Alexander

Except that it might persuade the Government to adopt Amendments which could then be moved to Clause 21.

Mr. Morrison

I am dealing with the Order Paper as it is and I find it congested enough, without exercising my fancy to imagine Amendments which are not there. I appreciate that this Amendment if carried would probably be introductory to a series of amendments, but, in fact, if the House does not accept this. Amendment, nothing will be lost because the obligation is only upon the owner to report and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not press it.

7.29 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the speech which he has just made. This is only a sort of preliminary canter, if I may put it in that way. There is only to be a report about these big shops and commercial buildings. I suggest that this is a very curious Amendment to come from the Socialist Benches. It proposes that all these great stores should have this amount of subsidy coming into them from the Government. I cannot help thinking that it was not moved in the interests of A, B, or C stores, but as an ordinary representative of the taxpayers, I do not see myself falling into line with the great leaders of the Socialist party in putting this preliminary burden on the Government to assist the great, big, wealthy stores and allow them to say,"We shall have 1,000 or 2,000 people shopping with us at a given time, and, therefore, we must have this enlargement for that purpose." This is very different from the case of a great factory where men are working, and I think the actual customers on the premises for the time being should be left out of consideration by the Government. If this matter affected only the co-operative stores in my own division, I might take a different line, but when we think of other great stores, I must not let my prejudice in favour of the co-operatives outweigh my judgment of the general case.

7.32 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

I am not prepared to follow my hon. Friend in the discussion of party considerations. The purpose of the Bill, in so far as it is concerned with air-raid shelters, is to provide shelter for people who are working in factories and business premises, and while I am not satisfied that the method proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite for dealing with this difficulty is a sound one, I realise, and I think the House as a whole realises, that he has put his finger on a difficulty which does arise in this connection. We are concerned to provide shelter for the people who are working in these business premises, and if there happen to be hundreds of customers on the premises at the moment of an air raid, it will be very hard to say that the men and women behind the counter shall have shelter and that the people on the other side of the counter are to be bombed without shelter. I think the best way, probably, of dealing with the difficulty is to regard the customers as being persons for whom public shelter should be provided, and that is a responsibility which rests with the Government, namely, to advise local authorities as to the categories of persons for whom public shelter should be provided. At the moment I think the local authorities are in the main advised to provide public shelter for persons likely to be caught in the streets, but if the Government could make it clear that that general category should include those likely to be in business premises in the neighbourhood transacting business, it would be the best way of meeting the difficulty.

Mr. Hicks

I would like to make my observations by way of a question, and to ask what steps the Lord Privy Seal proposes to take to deal with the very large number of people who might be neither working nor living on the premises. The Hailey Report indicated, to take an extreme case, that the resident population of the City of London is about 11,000, but that during the day the population is about 500,000.There is a very large difference between the residential population and the people who work or who may be in the City of London doing business, and one can easily imagine that in the event of an air raid such buildings as banks, restaurants, and, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) I would add Woolworth's, so that he might be able to take shelter there instead of in the co-operative stores, would naturally be sought out for the purpose of obtaining some sort of protection from bombing from the air, provided there were no underground or other shelters available. Some steps must be taken. As to whether it would be the owner of the premises who could best indicate to the Lord Privy Seal the number of people who would ordinarily be round about his premises, transacting business or living there, I do not know, but it he was the best person to give such a figure, it would seem folly not to utilise his experience and probably his willingness to give such information in order that some sort of protection should be provided.

I do not know the best way to do it, but obviously there is a problem here, and someone must make inquiries as to the numbers of people needing protection and what shelter there is available. If we take the instance of banks and great crowds rushing in at a given moment, those banks ought to have some indication that their places are likely to be used for some emergency shelter in order that they might be able to organise their business in such a way that they would feel that they were giving protection to those who needed it at the moment without damaging their business. I am certain that the Lord Privy Seal and those associated with him must have thought about this matter, and I should like to have some indication as to what steps they propose to take to find out the numbers of people likely to want accom- modation and how they can be given protection in the event of an emergency, if the Government do not accept this Amendment.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Boulton

Where is the border line in this Amendment? Does it include ordinary shops, and, if so, is every shopkeeper in this country to be called upon to provide shelter for possible customers? How could shopkeepers provide shelter for all possible customers? I think that if the right hon. Gentleman were to draw the line at, say, a large factory or something of that sort, or he might have co-operative societies in mind, it would be wise, but if he is including all shops, I do not think it is possible or that it will work.

7.39 p.m.

Sir P. Harris

Might I put a different point of view? All the speeches on this Amendment suggest that trade and business will be usual or normal, but I rather visualise, not that industry would be paralysed, but that in the case of war in modern conditions it would not be possible to carry on our retail trade in the ordinary way and that it would be necessary for the Government to make special arrangements for the distribution of food and so on. In those circumstances I think that to assume that the great stores, such as the co-operatives, Harrods, the Army and Navy Stores, or any of the big shops would be carrying on trade in the usual way, with the ordinary customers blocking the doors, is to assume something that would not be likely to be realised in the case of war. Therefore, it seems to me that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) is more or less right, and that it would be the duty of local authorities to make proper provision, when there was an air raid, for people occupying the streets and going about their ordinary business, but to assume that all the big stores would be carrying on their trade as usual is, I think, to imagine something that I am afraid would not be a reality in the case of war.

7.41 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

The Government take the view that this would be an impossible obligation to put on the owners of commercial buildings. The number of people who might be resorting to such buildings for the purpose of transacting business in time of war is something which it is quite impossible for anyone at the present time to estimate, but the policy of the Government undoubtedly would be, in the event of war, to discourage by every means possible an undue concentration of people anywhere. The obligations imposed by the Bill on factory occupiers, owners of commercial buildings, mine owners, and so on is a perfectly precise obligation related to numbers that can be ascertained with precision. The numbers in every case are the peace-time numbers which the buildings are adapted to accommodate, whether as workers or as residents, and it is in regard to those numbers that the obligation would apply. As regards members of the public who may resort to those buildings, one would expect a greatly reduced number at any particular time under conditions of war, and the view of the Government is that those persons should be regarded, from the point of view of the provision of shelter, as in fact in the position of people who happen to be caught in the streets.

Mr. Alexander

The Government are putting compulsion on the owners of this class of commercial buildings to provide for their employés, and it is useless to answer by saying that all others who may be in the building should be regarded as being in the streets, when their presence there may in fact preclude any proper use of the provision made for the workers.

Sir J. Anderson

I have not completed my argument. From the point of view of the provision of shelter, the view of the Government is that these people should be regarded as in the same position as people who may be caught in the streets. Local authorities are being advised, in the survey which they are now making with a view to the provision of public shelters, to take adequate account of the likelihood of a proportion of the normal population of the area being away from their homes or places of business at the time of a raid.

There is one other point which is very relevant in this connection. Many of these buildings are buildings which could be adapted to provide public shelters, and the provisions of the Bill with regard to the designation of buildings have been drawn with that fact in view. It is contemplated that local authorities should inform themselves, in the course of their survey, of the possibilities offered by buildings of this kind and where a building offers possibilities of shelter in excess of what may be required for the people normally living or working in the building, that public shelter should be there provided. That public shelter would, of course, be available for people who happened to be in the building at the time for the purpose of transacting business. It is on those lines that, in

the view of the Government, this problem should be attacked, and not by way of putting on employers or occupiers of factories or owners of commercial buildings obligations which in fact it would be quite impossible for them to fulfil.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 119; Noes, 206.

Division No. 170.] AYES. [7.44 p.m.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Parkinson, J. A.
Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford) Hayday, A. Pearson, A.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr) Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.
Ammon, C. G. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Price, M. P.
Banfield, J. W. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Pritt, D. N.
Barnes, A. J. Hicks, E. G. Quibell, 0. J. K.
Barr, J. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Richards, R. (Wrexham)
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Hollins, A. Ridley, G.
Benson, G. Isaacs, G. A. Riley, B.
Bevan, A. Jagger, J. Ritson, J.
Broad, F. A. Jenkins, A, (Pontypool) 1-Ubim.on, W. A. (St. Helens)
Bromfield, W. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Sexton, T. M.
Buchanan, G. John, W. Shinwell, E.
Burke, W. A. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Silverman, S. S>
Cape, T. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Simpson, F. B.
Charleton, H. C. Kirby, B. V. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Chater, D. Kirkwood, D. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Cluse, W. S. Lathan, G. Sorensen, R. W.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R. Lawson, J| J. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Cocks, F. S. Leach, W. Strauss. G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Cove, W. G. Lee F. Summerskill, Or. Edith
Daggar, G. Leonard, W. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Dalton, H. Leslie, J. B. Thorns, W.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Logan, D. G. Tinker, J. J.
Davies, S. 0. (Merthyr) Lunn, W. Viant, S. P.
Dobbie, W. Macdonald, G. (Ince) Walkden, A. G.
Ede, J. C. McEntee, V. La T. Watkins, F. C.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) McGhee, H. G. Watson, W. MoL.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Maclean. N. Welsh, J. C.
Frankel, D. Mainwaring, W. H. West wood, J.
Gardner, B. W. Marshall, F. Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Garro Jones, G. M. Maxton, J. Wilkinson, Ellen
Gibson, R. (Greenock) Messer, F. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Greenwood. H. (Deptford) Milner, Major J. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Greenwood, m. Hon. A. Montague, F. Wilmot, J.
Grenfell, D. R. Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.) Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Naylor, T. E.
Groves, T. E. Noel-Baker, P. J. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.) Oliver, G. H. Mr. Mathers and Mr. Adamson
Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Paling, W.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. 6. J. Brawn, Brig -Ger.. H. C. (Newbury) odd, J. S.
Albery, Sir Irving Bull, B. B. Doland, G. F.
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead) Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L. Dorman-Smith, Col. Rt. Han. Sir R.
Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S. Butcher, H. W. Drewe, C.
Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ's) Campbell, Sir E. T. Dugdale, Captain T. L.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Gary, R. A. Duncan, J. A. L.
Aske, Sir R. W. Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n Eastwood, J. F.
Baldwin-Webb, Col. J. Chapman. A. (Rutherglen) Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.
Balfour, G. (Hampstead) Colfox, Major Sir W. P. Ellis, Sir G.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet Colville, Rt. Hon. John Elliston, Capt. G. S.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Conant, Captain R. J. E. Emrys-Evans, P. V.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.) Entwistle, Sir C. F.
Bernays, R. H. Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Evans, 0.0. (Cardigan)
Boothby, R. J. G. Cooper, Rt. Hon. T. M. (E'burgh, W.) Everard, Sir William Lindsay
Boulton, W. W. Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. Findlay, Sir E.
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Crooke, Sir J. Smedley Fleming, E. L.
Briscoe, Capt. R. C- Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Foot, D. M.
Broadbridge, Sir G. T. Davies. C. (Montgomery) Fremantle, Sir F. E.
Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.) Denman, Hon. R. D. Furness, S. N.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Denville, Alfred Fyfe, D. P. M.
George, major G Lloyd (Pembroke) McKie, J. H. Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Maclay, Hon. J. P. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Gledhill, G. Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees) Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.
Gluckstein, L. H. Magnay, T. Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Graham, Captain A. C.(Wirral) Maitland, Sir Adam Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Gridley, Sir A. B. Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest Smithers, Sir W.
Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Mander, G. le M. Snadden, W. MoN.
Grimston, R. V. Manningham-Buller, Sir M. Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald
Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D H. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)
Hambro, A. V. Markham, S. F. Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.
Hammersley, S. S. Medlicott, F. Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.
Hannah, I.C. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Spens, W. P.
Hannon, Sir p. J. H. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Harbord, Sir A. Mitcheson, Sir G. G, Storey, S.
Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.) Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge) Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.) Strickland, Captain W. F.
Hely-Hutchinson, M. R. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)
Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan- Nall, Sir J. Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Herbert, Lt.-Col. J. A. (Monmouth) Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M, F.
Higgs, W. F. Nicolson, Hon. H. G. Tasker, Sir R. I
Holdsworth, H. O'Connor, Sir Tarence J. Taylor, C.S. (Eastbourne)
Hopkinson, A. O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Horsbrugh, Florence Orr-Ewing, I. L. Train, Sir J.
Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Owen, Major G. Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.
Hume, Sir G. H. Perkins, W. R. O. Wakefield, W. W,
Hunter, T. Petherick, M. Walker-Smith, Sir J.
Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T.W.H Pickthorn, K. W. M. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
James, Wing-Commander A. W. H. Procter, Major H. A. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Jennings, R. Radford, E. A. Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.
Jones, Sir G.W.H.(S'k N'w'gt'n) Ramsden, Sir E. Warrender, Sir V.
Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth) Rankin, Sir R. Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. Harvie
Jones, L. (Swansea W.) Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin) Wayland, Sir W. A.
Keeling, E. H. Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury) Webbe, Sir W. Harold
Kellett, Major E. O. Reid, W. Allan (Derby) Wells, Sir Sydney
Karr, Colonel C.I.(Montrose) Remer, J. R. White, H. Graham
Kerr, Sir J. Graham (Scottish Univ.) Rickards, G. W. (Skipton) Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Kimball, L. Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool) Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Lamb, Sir J. Q. Ropner, Colonel L. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Lancaster, Captain C. G. Rosbotham, Sir T. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Leech, Sir J. W. Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry) Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount
Levy, T. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge) Womersley, Sir W. J.
Lewis, O. Rothschild, J. A. de Wragg, H.
Liddall, W. S. Rowlands, G. Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.
Lipson, D. L. Royds, Admiral Sir P.M. R. York, C.
Little, J. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Lloyd, G. W. Salmon, Sir I.
Loftus, P. C. Salt, E. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Samuel, M.R.A. Mr. Munro and Major Sir James Edmondson.
Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Sandys, E. D.
McEwen, Capt. J. H. F, Seely, Sir H. M.

Question, "That the proposed words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.

Amendment made: In page 12, line 3, leave out "four," and insert "three."— [Mr. W. S. Morrison.