HC Deb 23 May 1939 vol 347 cc2201-7
Sir J. Anderson

I beg to move, in page 15, line 40, to leave out from "building," to "who," in line 41.

This Amendment should be considered with another Amendment—in page 16, to leave out lines 6 to 13. These are Amendments of substance, but I think no objection will be taken to them in any quarter of the Committee. As the Bill stood, provision was made for the payment of grant at the approved rate, a Tate equivalent to the current rate of Income Tax on that portion only of the expense incurred by the owner of a commercial building which he was not in a position, under the Clause, to pass on to the tenant. The effect, therefore, was that, if an owner, for example, occupied one-half of the building himself and let the other half to tenants, he received a grant on half his total expenditure, the theory being that he would recover his expenditure in respect of the other half by way of repayment from his tenants. That, however, overlooked the fact that the payments made by the tenants to the owner under the Bill by way of increases of rent will be subject to payment of Income Tax, and, therefore, the owner will not, in fact, be placed in a position to recover the full amount that he ought to recover. The Amendment remedies the position, and it provides in effect that, in one way and another, the owner shall receive grants at the full rate of 27½ per cent. on his expenditure. In that way the inequality, which, it must be admitted, would have resulted from the Bill as originally drafted, will be removed. It is for that reason that I move this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

8.16 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. W. S. Morrison)

Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the Committee if we follow the practice inaugurated on earlier Clauses when I say that the Government propose to accept the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), in page 15, line 42, and the following Amendment standing in his name in page 16, line 4. Then comes the Government Amendment, and it is also proposed to accept the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Withington (Mr. Fleming), in page 16, line 36.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

May I ask you, Sir Dennis, for guidance, whether the Amendments to be called by you rule out the Amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friends—in page 16, line 35, to leave out "September," and to insert "December"?

The Chairman

That does not follow. This does not affect the position concerning my selection of Amendments.

Mr. Spens

On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), I beg to move, in page 15, line 42, after "provides," to insert "or secures the provision of."

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made:

In page 16, line 4, after "providing," insert "or securing the provision of."—[Mr. Spens.]

Leave out lines 6 to 13.

In line 35, at the end, insert "or."—[Mr. W. S. Morrison.]

Mr. R. C. Morrison

May I ask you, Sir Dennis, whether you are calling the Amendment to which I have referred?

The Chairman

I have not overlooked it, but I have not selected it.

Further Amendment made: In page 16, line 36, leave out "and," and insert: or preparatory measures are then being taken for the provision of the shelter and (in each case)."—[Mr. Fleming.]

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

8.21 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

I want to raise briefly the question of the payment of grants in respect of shelters provided or substantially begun before the end of September. In view of the fact that there has been considerable delay on this Bill and it will probably be towards the middle of June at the earliest before it reaches the Statute Book, the time left is very short. While I have no desire to delay this Bill being carried into force, I have a good deal of objection to legislation which it is almost impossible to carry out. It seems to me that the time between the Bill actually reaching the Statute Book and September is almost inadequate, and in fact may prove inadequate in a number of cases, when it is borne in mind that many of the plans for shelters have to be submitted to the local authority for their consent and that during the month of August and part of September the local authorities are in vacation. I have indicated one or two of the difficulties which may arise, and rather than that they should have to come along later and say, "We are sorry that we cannot carry out this according to schedule," it might be well if the Minister could make some statement on the point now.

8.23 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I gladly respond to the suggestion which has been made by the hon. Gentleman. I quite appreciate the force of the point he has raised. When the Bill was introduced we hoped that it would pass into law at an earlier date than now seems possible, but I would call the attention of the Committee to the fact that we have just accepted an Amendment which goes a very long way in the direction desired by the hon. Member. We have agreed to insert in this Clause the words "or preparatory measures are then being taken for the provision of the shelter." That results in this change, that whereas, as the Clause stood, the Minister, before he could make a grant, had to be satisfied that the work was actually in progress by the end of September, and that the shelter would be provided within a reasonable time thereafter, now it will suffice if he is satisfied that, by the end of September, preparatory measures have been taken for the provision of a shelter. That gives greater latitude, and I hope in the circumstances the hon. Gentleman will not press the point he has just put.

Sir Granville Gibson

Will my right hon. Friend think sufficient preparatory measures have been taken if an architect has been called in to take charge of the work?

Sir J. Anderson

That must be left to be worked out in the course of administration. The Minister has to be satisfied that the responsible occupier or owner means business, and if he is satisfied that he means business, and that work will go ahead, the Minister will be free to authorise the payment of grant. That is as far as one ought to go.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. Banfield

I want to put a point which is causing some anxiety to business people who desire to provide air-raid shelter. They have in their possession basements which could easily be adapted as air-raid shelters, but at the moment they are used for the productions of the factory or for warehousing purposes. What they want to know is whether, if they adapt these basements as air-raid shelters, and would therefore have to extend their premises to make room for the production or warehousing purposes, they would be able to obtain a grant from the Exchequer. The matter is puzzling some of them. Here you have a part of a factory which would be most suitable as an air-raid shelter, but if it is to be so used extensions would have to be made to accommodate the production and warehousing facilities which would be displaced, and they would like to know whether in these circumstances, provided the plans are approved by the responsible authority, such an expenditure would rank for grant?

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I hope that the answer given to the hon. Member for Pudsey and Otley (Sir C. Gibson) does not indicate that there is going to be any slackening of pressure on persons who are responsible for providing these shelters. No one wants to act oppressively towards people who may be very often in a difficulty in making the necessary arrangements, but I think it should be made quite clear that the Government must be convinced before the end of September that these works are really being undertaken and that there must be a clear indication as to the physical action to be taken in order to secure the approval of the Government. Speaking from the point of view of a local authority, I hope we are not to be left in the position that about March next year we shall be confronted with a situation that people will be able to say that they engaged an architect last August, but he was very busy or away on holiday, or that the Government had taken all his staff, and that they had not been able to make a start yet. The Government must be precise in insisting that there must be some tangible effort showing before this date that there is a genuine intention of getting on with the work.

8.29 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), at any rate in substance. It was for that reason that I deprecated the acceptance of an Amendment which would have involved the postponement of the date, but I think we should allow some further latitude in view of the delay that has taken place. The hon. Member may be assured that the Government will be very much alive to the importance of seeing that the provision of these shelters is pushed forward as rapidly as is humanly possible. I think the answer to the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) must be that what attracts the grant will be the work under- taken for the purpose of providing shelter, and that work only. I would point oat that as regards the strengthening of basements the plans incorporated in the literature issued by the Department do not involve the putting out of action, otherwise than quite temporarily, of basements which have to be strengthened. Methods have been devised which do not involve any material curtailment of the usefulness of basements for ordinary purposes.

8.31 p.m.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

In regard to the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield), what we are concerned about is what the grant ultimately is likely to be for those employers who hold the view that merely to adhere to the basis of the air-raid precautions code for building would not be sufficient to secure adequate protection for their employés. We have had no decision on this point; and obviously what we are concerned about on this Clause is that if you are going to have an expenditure which may amount, for a deep shelter on a particular works, to £12 or £13 per head, by some strange channels of consideration and decision the grant might be confined to a minimum rate per head, which the Government might lay down as a reasonable expenditure for fulfilling the code which they have prescribed, but which employers in a vulnerable area might not think was sufficient to protect their employés. I hope the Lord Privy Seal will consider this point and not insist on the rigid basis of the code.

Sir J. Anderson

I readily give the assurance that the door is not closed to the provision in suitable cases of shelter beyond the standard normally contemplated in the code. The provision is included in Clause 17, Sub-section (4), which provides: No expenses shall be deemed for the purposes of this Section to be reasonable in so far as they exceed such standard as may be prescribed by regulations of the Minister made with the consent of the Treasury, unless they were incurred in circumstances so prescribed. That is wide enough to cover the point made by the right hon. Member.

Mr. Alexander

Those words are all right, but what I am concerned with is the action of the Department.

Sir J. Anderson

We shall consider each case on its merits.

Sir Robert Tasker

I hope the Lord Privy Seal will regard sympathetically for grant the provision of sandbags by institutions as some kind of shelter from blast where it is impossible to provide any other kind of shelter.

Sir J. Anderson

The answer is that the provision of sandbags does not come within the scope of capital expenditure contemplated by the Clause. Expenditure incurred on the provision of sandbags is the sort of expenditure which would rank for Income Tax relief under the arrangements announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in connection with last year's Budget.

Sir R. Tasker

But charitable institutions are not liable for Income Tax.

Sir J. Anderson

But this is not capital expenditure.