HC Deb 09 May 1939 vol 347 cc408-21

9.38 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I beg to move, in page 10, line 14, after "type," to insert: or for the purpose of providing living and/or sleeping accommodation for his employés in cases in which during an emergency it is expedient or necessary to make such provision. This Clause enables the owner of certain premises to provide shelters of an approved type on the premises, notwithstanding anything in the restrictive covenants on the premises. Sub-section (3) relieves them in certain circumstances from the effect of these restrictive covenants. One of the duties that may very well fall upon persons who employ a considerable number of people in cities and large towns, which may be regarded as particularly liable to aerial attack, may be to provide in some place outside the city or town an office where the administrative work of the firm can be carried on. For the purpose of carrying on that work, especially for large undertakings such as electricity undertakings, banks and similar bodies, housing for a considerable number of staff may have to be provided. We have been told by the Government that firms moving out their staff should not occupy any accommoda- tion that has been reserved by the Ministry of Health for the children and other people who will be evacuated under the civil evacuation scheme.

A good many firms now have in what may be called, for want of a better term, country districts, places which are sometimes used as sports clubs by the employés and sometimes as branch establishments. It has been the practice during the last few years for firms to take some of the older mansions in the country and use them for their purposes, but occasionally they are restricted in the use to which they can put such premises by the restrictive covenants held by the surrounding owners, or perhaps by the National Trust and other people. I have one such case in mind, where I happen to be the chairman of the undertaking involved. If it is proposed merely to erect a shelter for the people who are already employed on the premises, this Clause will enable us to secure release for this purpose from the restrictive covenants. We shall be doing good work for the carrying on of essential industry if we can at a certain place house a number of the administrative staff and provide them with living and sleeping accommodation.

One idea of the Government in this matter is that all this will be dealt with when the emergency arises, that everybody who is in the position I have just described will be armed with very ample powers under the Defence of the Realm Act, that we shall be able to do a great many things that we cannot do now and nobody will be able to prevent us, with the law as it will then be. I would, however, point out that my proposal involves a certain amount of preparation. One cannot erect even hutments that are likely to be of any great use for a long period unless they are placed on concrete and footings. In consequence, if we are to be able to use these premises in the way described when the emergency arises, a certain amount of preparatory work must be done. In the case I have in mind the owners who can exercise restrictive covenants, although they will suffer no injury at all, are taking steps to prevent the putting in of the concrete and the footings, although they have the assurance that no hutment or anything that can be seen in the way of an elevation will be erected until the emergency actually arises, but that the hutments will be provided in sections readily available for use when the time comes.

It is essential if this thing is to be done properly, adequately and without confusion, that firms in the position I have indicated should be able to know now that they will be able to provide this accommodation. Unless we can secure hutments in advance, provided in sections, which can be stored, it may very likely be impossible to get them at the time of the emergency. The Government may want them for military purposes and they may take all the available stocks in the hands of the manufacturers, and we should then be unable to proceed with the making of the essential provision. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this subject as one of the things the position in regard to which must be known well in advance, and if he looks at it in that light, I am sure he will be able to give us, perhaps not quite this form of words—I am not wedded to these particular words—but a power that will enable us to be ready in advance to deal with what, on the day of an emergency, may prove almost an impossible problem to solve unless he has given us such a power.

9.46 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir John Anderson)

I fully appreciate the importance of the point raised by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the purpose which he has in view in raising it. I suggest to the Committee, however, that his proposal is not appropriate at this point. We are dealing now with a Clause which has for its object the provision of shelters, a specific and rather narrow object, and this Bill is one which is concerned with provision which has to be made in time of peace, not with provision which might be required in time of emergency. For these reasons, without in any way belittling the importance of the point raised, I suggest that this is not an Amendment which could possibly be accepted here.

I would like to add one further consideration. The hon. Gentleman has suggested that for the purpose that he has in view, to enable employers to provide living and sleeping accommodation for their employés in the case of emergency, all restrictive covenants should be disregarded. Well, that logically would mean that in regard to any Measure which can reasonably be represented as required for the purposes of civil defence, restrictive covenants, and possibly also restrictions of other kinds imposed under local bylaws or planning schemes, should go by the board. I think that is a very serious proposition. I agree that it is put forward to meet a situation which may be serious, but I think the Committee would be ill-advised to accept, just in that form, here and now, a proposal so sweeping in its character. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should regard his purpose as having been served by his having called attention to the point, that he should now withdraw his Amendment, and that the matter should be considered in the light of what he has said. I do not think I can possibly accept the Amendment.

9.49 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I am flattered by the suggestion that my merely ventilating a point in the Committee ought to satisfy me. I do not flatter myself that I am so important a Member of the House as all that, and I was hoping for at least one kind word from the right hon. Gentleman, which would be far more valuable than anything that I could say, in recognition of the desperate nature of the problem that some firms will have to face, and some promise from him that would be willing to consider at some stage, if possible before the day of emergency, some form that will enable them to deal with this problem. Am I to understand that I have to wait until the Defence of the Realm Act deals far more severely with restrictive covenants and by-laws than he is prepared to do to-night?

9.50 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I think the hon. Member has not fully understood me. The point which he has raised will arise later in the course of our discussions on the Bill, in connection with provisions concerned with dispensing with restrictive covenants, and also, as I indicated, dealing with the position under local by-laws. I think the proper course is to let any Amendment that may be raised on those provisions be discussed, and if any hon. Member has a view to put forward then, that he should put it forward, and then let the whole question of how far it would be reasonable to go in the direction of suspending such provisions be considered as a whole in the light of what may pro- ceed on this Bill. But this is not, I suggest, the appropriate point at which to make such provision as the hon. Member suggests.

Mr. Ede

I thank the right hon. Gentleman sincerely for what he has said, and, in view of that statement, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)

The next Amendment, in the name of the hon. and learned Member for the Withington Division (Mr. Fleming), is, I understand, one of a series, and I think the discussion should take place on this Amendment and not on the subsequent Amendments connected with it.

9.51 p.m.

Mr. Fleming

I beg to move, in page 10 line 19, to leave out "Before commencing any such works," and to insert: Unless any such works have been commenced or completed before the passing of this Act. As the Deputy-Chairman has said, this Amendment is connected with four or five others standing on the Paper in my name and in the names of several other hon. Members, and it will be simpler to take them together, because they all deal with the same point, namely, the case of an owner of a commercial building who has instituted air-raid shelter works prior to the passing of this Bill. As the Bill is drafted, such an owner cannot recover from his tenants any proportion of his expenses unless, before executing any such work, he notifies them of what he proposes to do and gives them an opportunity to appeal, which is quite a right proceeding in the ordinary way. But it cannot possibly apply to any owner of a commercial building who has already acted on the advice and at the request of the Government, and actually started or completed air-raid precautions of an approved type. He has no right whatever, as the Bill is drafted, unless these Amendments are accepted, to recover from his tenants any of the expenses involved, and it seems unfair that where the owner of a commercial building—one of the biggest in London has already done it—has actually carried out the very things that the Government want him to do before this Bill becomes an Act, he should then be estopped from recovering any of the expenses from the tenants, as he would be entitled to do under the Bill if he had waited until the Bill became an Act.

9.55 p.m.

Mr. H. G. Williams

I think—to use an analogy which is justified by the circumstances—we ought, in this matter, to treat the Territorial at least as well as the conscript. It would be unfair if people who had neglected their duties as landlords were to be placed in a position vis-a-vis their tenants relatively better than the position of those who have visualised the necessities of the situation and have taken action in advance of this Bill. Some of us who are tenants in office buildings, have wondered when the landlords of those buildings were going to wake up realising that in the case of landlords who wait to carry out the duties imposed by the Bill, we shall probably be compelled to pay our quota, whereas those tenants who have already derived advantage from the fact that their landlords have visualised their responsibility, will escape all such liability. I think the case for the Amendment is one of great strength and if the Lord Privy Seal is not able to accept this group of Amendments, I hope he will indicate that he is prepared at a later stage, to meet that case, perhaps in other words.

9.57 p.m.

Captain Sir William Brass

I wish to support what has been said by my hon. Friends who have preceded me. I think it only right that those landlords who have already started to do something to meet these requirements, should be in a position to claim back under this Bill in the manner provided by subsequent Clauses in just the same way as they would be able to claim back if they waited until the Bill came into operation before doing anything. There is only one point which I wish to raise and that concerns the use of the words "accommodation of an approved type." I am rather concerned at the possibility that some of the accommodation which has been or is being provided may not be found to be according to the approved type. I should like a little more information on that point.

9.59 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I should like to say at once that the Government fully recognise the strength of the case that has been made for dealing in some suitable way with the problem with which these Amendments seek to deal. They are concerned with the case of works which have, commendably, been carried out in anticipation of the Bill, and the object which is sought to be achieved is the establishment retrospectively of the sort of relationship which the Bill will establish for the future as between the owners and occupiers of commercial buildings. It is not, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Withington (Mr. Fleming) pointed out, an easy matter to devise a suitable provision for this purpose, but my advisers, with Parliamentary counsel, have been considering the problem, and I think I can promise that it will be possible to bring in at a later stage a Clause which will substantially achieve what the supporters of the Amendment wish to secure. The general line on which we contemplate proceeding is to provide that where work has been done in anticipation, the whole matter may, in default of agreement, come before the official arbitrator, who shall make such award and allocation as in the circumstances appear to be justified. I can promise that either on Report or by recommittal, a provision carefully designed to carry out this purpose will be brought forward.

As regards the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass), this arises also in the case of factories where work has been carried out in anticipation of this Bill and in anticipation of the publication of the code. It is recognised that a provision will have to be inserted later covering the case of shelter accommodation which is substantially equivalent to that laid down by the code, but which may not, in all respects, conform exactly to the provisions of the code. On that point also I think I can give my hon. Friends an assurance.

Mr. Fleming

On that assurance I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.3 p.m.

Mr. Fleming

I beg to move, in page 10, line 19, after "the," to insert: occupier of any factory premises who is not; the owner of the whole of the premises and the. Subject to your direction, Colonel Clifton Brown, I would suggest that the Committee should consider in conjunction with this Amendment subsequent Amendments standing in my name to Clauses 12, 13, 14, 59 and 73 dealing with the same point as also the new Clause—(Provisions as to factory premises occupied under short leases)—all of which are concerned with the same point, namely, the question of short-term leases. As the Bill is drafted, even though a lease may have only a few months to run, the occupier of the premises which are subject to that lease has to bear the whole cost of providing shelters. But the benefits of that expenditure will eventually, on the termination of that lease—that is within a few months—accrue entirely to the owner. The occupier, at the termination of his lease, has no guarantee that his rent will not be raised or that his leave will be renewed. These Amendments are intended to cover that point, provided that in such cases, if the occupier notifies the owner of what he is proposing to do, or is compelled by the factory inspector to do, in the way of providing air-raid shelters, the owner is given an opportunity to appeal. If the appeal is not upheld the occupier is put in a position, at the termination of his lease, to obtain from the owner repayment of a proportion of the expenses incurred on the provision of air-raid shelters.

10.6 p.m.

Mr. A. Reed

I should like to support this Amendment, which is only bare justice. In previous Amendments we have looked after the landlord; now we are looking after the tenant. It would be unfair that a tenant with only a month to run should have to bear the cost of these air-raid shelters. This Amendment will make the Bill fair to both sides.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. H. G. Williams

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox) was prevented from getting here to-night, and asked me to express, on his behalf, strong support for this Amendment. In his constituency there is a trading estate where there are 300 factories. They would be in difficulties, because in some cases the factories are so close to each other that it would be impossible for the owner alone to do what is necessary. In the case of these short leases the occupier must not be unfairly treated. I have received a letter from the Slough Urban Council on the matter, and on reading the letter I discovered—what I did not know before—that I am indirectly an affected person, because I happen to be a director of the Treforest Company in South Wales, where the circumstances are somewhat similar. I do not think my directorship of that company would be sufficient to prevent me from taking part in the discussion and even voting on the Amendment, but I think it is always better to mention when one is affected in such a way. I think these Amendments are admirably conceived, and I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will accept them; or if the Parliamentary draftsmen want them put in other words, I am quite willing that that should happen.

Mr. Dodd

I hope the Lord Privy Seal will accept these Amendments. They affect a great many people up and down the country, and in many cases it is the smaller people who are affected.

10.9 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I agree that the point that these Amendments are designed to meet is a good point, I think that they are well conceived to carry out the intentions of those responsible, and I am prepared to accept them.

Amendment agreed to.

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Fleming

I beg to move, in page 10, line 21, after "shall," to insert "before commencing any such works."

This Amendment is consequential.

Amendment agreed to.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Spens

I beg to move, in page 10, line 31, at the end, to insert: (4) Before commencing any such works the occupier of factory premises or the owner of a commercial building shall serve upon every person to whom he pays rent in respect of such premises or building a notice in writing stating his intention to provide shelter of such approved type as is specified in the notice, and each person upon whom such notice or a copy thereof is served shall within seven days from the date of the service of the notice or a copy thereof on him serve a copy thereof upon every person to whom he pays rent in respect of the premises or building to which such notice relates. This Amendment relates to the restrictive covenants to which my right hon. Friend referred and that appalling system in London under which you may have five or six leases between the freeholder and the occupier. In practically all those cases there is a restrictive covenant that no structural alterations shall be made to the premises without the consent of all the landlords up to the freeholder. As between the occupier and the freeholder, there may be four or five of these. The person who is the owner has to do the work, according to the Bill. It is suggested that, in order that we may avoid all prospect of disputes in years to come over these covenants, the owner, who is going to do the work, should give notice to all the others. It is purely a matter of preventing a great deal of trouble in future. It is not proposed, by this Amendment or by a later consequential one, that people should have any right to interfere with the work or hold it up in any way.

10.13 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

My hon. and learned Friend has explained very clearly the purpose of this Amendment. He has pointed out that these notices for which he proposes to make provision will carry no consequences whatsoever, but will serve merely to convey information which it may be convenient to certain people to have on record. I confess that, aiming at the greatest degree of simplicity in the framing of these provisions, which, unfortunately, necessarily reflect some of the complications of modern life, we did not think it wholly necessary to provide for the circumstances which have been explained. But I do not wish to raise any pedantic objection to the Amendment, and I am prepared to accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. Spens

I beg to move, in page 10, line 32, at the beginning, to insert, "Subject as in Section fifteen hereinafter provided."

The point here is that the last three lines in Clause 12 provide that the person exercising the right under this Clause shall not be liable to pay any damages. When we get to Clause 15, the obligation is put on him to pay compensation to the tenant. The Amendment is designed only to prevent the two Clauses being conceivably in conflict. I raise it only as a matter of draftsmanship. I want it put on record.

Sir J. Anderson

This is more or less a drafting point, and I am prepared to have it looked at to see whether some words are needed to avoid the difficulty to which my hon. and learned Friend has called attention.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Ede

I do not move the Amendment standing in my name, in page 10, line 42, at the end, to add a new proviso.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Johnston

I wonder whether this is the appropriate place where the Lord Privy Seal can tell us whether there is power vested in him in this Clause to expedite the passing of alterations by appropriate local courts. There are local courts dealing with alterations of buildings. In Scotland we have the Dean of Guild Court, and in England there are local committees. It is possible that these courts are being cluttered up with work and that extraordinary delays are taking place in getting powers to make the necessary reconstruction of buildings. I am sure that it is not the desire of the Lord Privy Seal that unnecessary delay should take place, and I am authorised to ask him whether there is any power vested in him to expedite the passing of these works?

10.17 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

There is one point which I should like to bring to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal. It appears from the discussion that has taken place during the last half hour that a condition has been inserted in the Clause by which nearly everyone appears to be entitled to plenty of information and knowledge of the proposals before they are executed, with the exception of the people who are most concerned, namely, the employés who are to be protected. I suggest that between now and the Report stage, the right hon. Gentleman might look at the Clause again to see whether he cannot go a little further and make provision for the prominent exhibition of the proposals in the factories or mines, so that the people whose lives we are endeavouring to protect shall themselves have some knowledge of what is going to be done.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I want to raise a point on this Clause. The Minister has undertaken to consider an Amendment of mine at a later stage of the Bill. He did not indicate the Clause on which he proposes to bring it up, and I believe that the only Clause which deals with the matter is Clause 66, which at the moment contains no reference to restrictive covenants. There are by-laws and regulations, but restrictive covenants are not mentioned. I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman has said this evening that, when we get to that Clause, he will be prepared to consider the points I have raised, and which are raised in the second Amendment which I did not move on this Clause, to see whether it might not be extended to include restrictive covenants, which are only mentioned in the Bill in the Clause that we are now passing.

10.20 p.m.

Sir W. Brass

This Clause gives power to an occupier or owner to execute work. As I read the Clause, the owner may do certain works. There are quite a large number of commercial buildings where it is almost impossible to provide these shelters owing to the nature of the buildings. It is stated here that the owner "may" execute certain things. I take it, therefore, that the Clause is permissive and not compulsory, because there are cases where this work could not be done.

10.21 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

As to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Johnston), the Government are fully alive to the disadvantages which may result, from the point of view of the effective carrying out of the purposes of the Bill, from undue delays or formalities in connection with approval of the work. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to an institution which I know is held in the highest esteem in Scotland, the Dean of Guild Court. It is peculiar to that country, and I have had in connection with the Bill alternative and conflicting suggestions. In the first place it is suggested that there should be a reference to the Dean of Guild Court, so that the court may be in a position to exercise control. The other suggestion is diametrically opposite; that as far as possible the delays incidental to supervision by such a body as the Dean of Guild Court should be eliminated. I do not think the point arises on this Clause, because the Clause is designed to ensure that owners and occupiers having occasion to make shelter provision shall be free to make such provision notwithstanding restrictive covenants. There is a provision in Clause 66 which deals with the application of the local by-laws, but this is a provision designed to free the owner or occupier who wishes to make such shelter provision from restrictions in regard to the nature of the work he proposes to carry out and the notices which must be served. At a later stage the question will inevitably arise as to the position of a body like the Dean of Guild Court, and I suggest that that is the appropriate point to consider the matter.

I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman make the point, with which I most emphatically agree, that we should seek to avoid by every possible means unnecessary delays and causes of unnecessary delays in the carrying out of these provisions. The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) raised a point in regard to the notices that are required to be served on various people in connection with this work. The hon. Member will appreciate that these are notices which concern people who have specific legal rights, and who ought to have these notices. As regards the workers, of course it is quite clear that they are closely and directly interested in the provision which may be made or which is proposed to be made for shelter in places where they work, and while I do not think that notices to the workers are on quite the same footing as the sort of notices with which we are dealing on this Clause, I think we may certainly consider, as a matter of administration, what can best be done to ensure that the workers have timely notice of what is proposed and an opportunity of making representations if they think fit to those who are carrying out the work. I do not think it is a matter for specific legal provision, but is really a matter for common sense and proper administrative provisions.

In reply to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), I think Clause 66 will be the appropriate point at which to raise the whole question of restrictive covenants, by-laws, and so on, provisions which may have a restrictive effect on the carrying out of work which is essential from the standpoint of Civil Defence. The hon. Member will realise that while I said in my earlier remarks that I thought the question of restrictive covenants and local by-laws ought to be considered together, because they may have the same effect in delaying or obstructing work that may be of importance, I did not indicate any specific solution as being in the mind of the Government for this particular problem. It is a very difficult one and it merits close study, and if in collaboration we can devise some suitable method of dealing with it, no one will be more pleased than I shall be.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) made a point with regard to the owner who, under this Clause, is authorised to carry out works of a certain kind. The word "may" in this Clause means "may." The Clause at this point is permissive, and I think its purpose will be seen clearly if Clause 12, Sub-section (4) is read with Clause 12, Sub-section (1). Sub-section (1) states that the occupier, and in the case of mines and commercial buildings the owner, may execute works for certain purposes. Sub-section (4) makes it quite clear that his authority to do so is unfettered by any agreement, restrictive covenant and so forth. That is the purpose of the Clause.