HC Deb 23 May 1939 vol 347 cc2223-41
Mr. Ede

Will the Minister indicate, as previously, which, if any, of the Amendments he proposes to accept?

Mr. W. S. Morrison

The Government propose to accept the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville) and other hon. Members in page 19, line 7, the following Amendment in the same names, and the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Ross Taylor).

9.35 p.m.

Sir George Broadbridge

I beg to move, in page 18, line 29, to leave out "may," and to insert "shall."

This may seem a very small alteration, but it is of considerable importance. This Clause deals with the erection of shelters provided by the State, which are distributed free to certain specified householders. Sub-section (1) says: Where the occupier of any premises has been provided on behalf of His Majesty with materials for an air-raid shelter to be erected on the premises, the local authority shall give him advice as to the position in which the shelter should be erected"; and Sub-section (2) goes on to say: Any occupier to whom advice has been given as aforesaid may erect the shelter in accordance therewith, and may for that purpose break up the surface of any land in his occupation whether paved or not, but shall take due care not to damage any drains, sewers, pipes, cables or other works. Surely, if the occupier gets the shelter for nothing, and gets the advice of the local authority free as to what he shall do, he ought to follow that advice. Otherwise, householders will say they can do what they please with these shelters, and, if anyone complains, they have only to say they have exercised due care in what they did. Anybody can say this, but it is not everyone who can do it, and endless conflicts may arise unless the tenant or occupier follows the advice of those who ought to know.

9.38 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I regret that the Amendment of my hon. Friend would have an effect that would not be in accordance with the provisions it is desired to enact. The adoption of the word "shall" would make it obligatory on anyone who had a shelter to set it up at once, whereas there are many cases in which it is more convenient that the shelter should be stored and erected when the emergency arises. Therefore, the Amendment would have a greater effect than my hon. Friend wishes. I understand his point is that, if a person gets a shelter free and gets advice free, he ought to follow that advice. I will look into that point and see what there is in it, but obviously it would be impossible to accept the Amendment because of its deleterious effects. I will, however, as I have said, look into the point as to whether it is necessary to secure that, when there is proper provision for the giving of advice by the local authority, that advice should not be disregarded.

Amendment negatived.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. David Adams

I beg to move, in page 18, line 29, after "may," to insert: subject to such directions as the local authority may give. Clause 21 enacts that, where a shelter has been handed to a local authority and passed on by the local authority to a householder, the local authority is under an obligation to give advice as to where such shelter shall be placed. The addition of the words of my Amendment seems to be necessary, as the person putting down the shelter is under an obligation to take due care not to damage any drains, sewers, pipes, cables, or other works. The local authority is able to advise the householder where such underground works are situated, but, if he is left at large to put down the shelter, and if, from ignorance of the position of drains and so on, he does any damage, that will be useless damage which could be avoided by providing that he shall act subject to the directions of the local authority and in conformity with the advice which they have given him in the first instance.

9.42 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I confess I should have thought that the words of this Amendment would not add anything material to the Clause as it stands, because I am advised that the effect of the Clause is that, when advice has been given by the local authority, which is under an obligation to give such advice, the authority of the occupier in regard to the erection of the shelter is limited to installing the shelter in accordance with the advice that has been given, and it is only when he acts in that way that he is held indemnified if, having exercised due care, he nevertheless does damage. I do not think that the super-imposition of directions following on advice would produce a situation clearer from the occupier's point of view than that created by the Clause as it stands, but, as a point of interpretation has been raised, I am perfectly willing to go into the matter in consultation with my advisers and see whether we can improve in any way on the wording of the Clause.

Mr. Adams

On the assurance which the Lord Privy Seal has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.44 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

I beg to move, in page 19, line 2, at the end, to insert: Provided that the powers conferred by this Sub-section shall not be exercisable with reference to any land belonging to the Metropolitan Water Board, in which there are laid any mains, pipes, apparatus or works of that Board. This Amendment deals with a point similar to that raised by the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams). As I understand the present position, certain shelters which have been sent out by local authorities to householders are being erected largely on the instructions of representatives of the local authorities, but when the time comes when people are in a position to buy shelters, there will not, as far as I understand the matter, be any obligation on people who buy shelters to ask the local authority or anyone else where they shall put them up. When you come to that position, the Metropolitan Water Board are very much concerned that some of these people may place their shelters without due care on some of the Board's water mains or pipes, and if any repairs become necessary to those shelters, it may put those pipes in a dangerous position. The Metropolitan Water Board inform me that, in view of the fact that many free shelters are already erected in their area, when the time comes for private householders to purchase shelters and erect them, the difficulty which they fear may arise.

9.46 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

The hon. Member has certainly thrown a light on the Amendment which had not dawned upon me before, but I doubt whether the words which he proposes to insert would serve to meet the point that he has raised, because although it is true, as he said, that persons purchasing shelters are under no obligation to take advice from the local authority, it is only where shelters are erected in accordance with advice given by the local authority that the consequences against which the provisions in Sub-section (2) protect the occupier will follow. Therefore, as regards the person who purchases a shelter and proceeds to erect it without seeking the advice of the local authority, the Clause as it stands, without the Amendment, does not in any way affect the relationship of the parties. The special provisions of the Clause come into operation only where the occupier, whether he has been given a shelter free or has purchased one himself, proceeds to erect it according to the advice given by the local authority. I therefore suggest that the Amendment does not in fact meet the purpose which the hon. Member has in mind.

9.48 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Taylor

I think this raises the same point as the previous Amendment. Would it not be better to take this Amendment into consideration, so that the position can be made quite clear to the people—

The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton-Brown)

We cannot go back on the last Amendment.

Mr. Taylor

On the explanation which is now given, it appears to me that if a person purchases an air-raid shelter, he comes under none of these indemnifying provisions. Would it not be better to make it clear that the person who purchases a shelter should, if he wants to escape having to be charged for damage, secure the advice of the local authority before erecting the shelter?

9.49 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I think that is clear, and there is a later Clause in the Bill which excuses persons who erect shelters from certain obligations to which they would otherwise have to conform only where they proceed in accordance with the advice given to them. Where they do not so proceed, they have to submit their plans to the local authority, so that care may be taken to see that nothing is done that ought not to be done.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. Annesley Somerville

In view of the great importance of the Metropolitan Water Board system in providing London with its water—and this Amendment refers to that system—I hope the Lord Privy Seal will make quite sure that the later Clause to which he has referred will provide for the point raised in the Amendment, because obviously it is of very great importance to the people of London.

9.51 p.m.

Mr. Gardner

The Metropolitan Water Board are very much concerned about the situation that is created by the power in this Bill for persons to enter on land adjacent to their premises for the purpose of erecting shelters. Any weakening of the ground surface would have the effect of taking away the protection that the board's mains now have. It must be remembered that this Clause deals only with damage that may be done to mains and pipes, but the board's mains contain water under pressure, under great pressure, and that pressure must be maintained in an emergency, for fire-fighting reasons. Therefore, any weakening of the surface of the ground which takes away the cover that the mains now have may result in doing something which nobody wishes to see done. For that reason this Amendment has been placed on the Paper.

Sir Irving Albery

May I ask whether a local authority under this Bill is under any obligation to give advice to those who purchase shelters?

9.52 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

The answer to that question is that, where materials are sold to the occupier, the local authority shall not be under any duty to give advice until requested by the occupier, but if the occupier asks for advice, the local authority is under obligation to give it. The Clause to which I referred just now is Clause 66, and if hon. Members will look at it, they will see the precise limits of the exemption provided by the Bill from the requirements as to the giving of notice to local authorities and the submission of plans and specifications. The exemption applies only where the occupier has proceeded on advice given by a local authority, in accordance with any provision of this Measure specifically requiring such advice to be given, or on the advice of a Government Department. I think the protection is pretty complete and should suffice, for, as the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) said, what is concerning the Metropolitan Water Board is the case of the occupier who purchases a shelter and proceeds to erect it according to his own ideas, without the advice of the local authority.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

I do not propose at this stage to press the Amendment, but I hope that before Clause 66 is reached the right hon. Gentleman will look at the point about which I am still a little concerned. I am not sure that a person who purchases a shelter requires any authority from anyone to put it up. If he were building, he would require authority, but if he is going to sink a shelter beneath the ground—and the deeper he sinks it the more dangerous it will be, from the point of view of the Metropolitan Water Board—no particular authority is required. No authority from the local authority is required for the purpose of digging a hole in your garden.

Sir J. Anderson

I will look into the point, but I think the hon. Member is wrong.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.55 p.m.

Sir G. Broadbridge

I beg to move, in page 19, line 3, to leave out Sub-section (3), and to insert: (3) Where works as provided in this Part of the Act are executed in or on any premises, building or land, by or on the advice of a local authority, the owner of the premises, building or land shall be entitled to recover from the local authority, compensation for any depreciation he has thereby sustained in the value of such estate or interest. This Amendment depends upon the suggestion that the advice of the local authority should be followed, although it is not really essential. The Clause exempts the local authority from any responsibility for damage to the premises, but it seems only fair to suggest that where damage is caused to drains, sewers, pipes, cables and so on, through the exercise of the powers given under this Sub-section, the local authorities should make good such damage or pay compensation, and at the end of the period of the emergency, as defined by the Minister, the local authority should restore the premises to their former state, or pay the cost of such restoration.

9.56 p.m.

Mr. Graham White

I hope the Lord Privy Seal will not accept the Amendment. Under Sub-section (3) it is provided that the local authority in giving advice shall exercise reasonable care, and if damage results to the property the local authority shall not be liable unless they have failed to exercise care. If the new Sub-section were substituted, it seems to me that the whole purpose of this part of the Bill would be defeated. If the local authority give advice they will give advice as to the most suitable and most effective place in which to erect the shelter. If the matter is to be left in the way suggested by the new Sub-section, the owner or occupier of the premises might produce a list of vexatious charges, and the whole scheme might be held up.

9.57 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I hope my hon. Friend will not press the Amendment. The Government are providing the shelters and the local authorities are providing the advice, and you have to have such considerations in mind as have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Birkenhead, East (Mr. White). You have to select the most suitable place for the erection of the shelter and also to guard against damage such as that mentioned by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison). When all these things are taken into consideration it is reasonable that Sub-section (3) which relieves them from liability, unless they have been negligent, should remain part of the Bill. Not only are the Government providing the shelters and the local authority providing the advice, but the man is getting his property improved by a provision which makes it more suitable, seeing that we are living in an age when air raids have to be provided against. I cannot advise the Committee to accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

9.58 p.m.

Mr. A. Somerville

I beg to move, in page 19, line 7, after "by," to insert "or in consequence of."

This Amendment is a reasonable extension of the protection given by the Subsection, and I thank my right hon. Friend for accepting it.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. A. Somerville

I beg to move, in page 19, line 12, at the end, to insert: and the provisions of Sub-section (2) of this Section shall apply in relation to the local authority as they apply in relation to an occupier erecting a shelter in accordance with advice given by the local authority. This Amendment extends to the local authority the protection that is given to the individual by Sub-section (2), and again I thank my right hon. Friend for accepting the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Ross Taylor

I beg to move, in page 19, line 18, at the end, to insert: (6) Public utility undertakers who carry on a gas or electricity undertaking shall not be liable to pay compensation or damages for or in respect of any loss of life or injury or damage to persons or property resulting from damage done by any occupier to any pipe, cable, or other work in the exercise of the powers conferred by Sub-section (2) of this Section.

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Duncan

This Amendment applies to gas and electricity undertakings. What about the Metropolitan Water Board? Water mains are just as liable to be damaged as gas mains, because water mains are under high pressure. If this Amendment is to be accepted, will my right hon. Friend consider the incorporation of words to carry out the same idea in relation to water undertakings?

Sir J. Anderson

I am prepared to accept this Amendment and to propose words at a later stage extending the principle to water undertakings.

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Ede

This is a very widely worded Amendment, and, although I am not complaining about it, the very width of the words makes one wish that we might have heard a little more about it. In the event of some quite innocent person losing his life or suffering serious injury as a result of one of the occasions against which the public undertaking is safeguarded, who will be responsible for paying reasonable compensation to the innocent passer-by or other person who may be involved in loss? Does this Amendment go so far as to relieve the public utility undertaker of responsibility for the death or injury of an employé who may be killed or injured as a result of interference with the works? Clearly, we are removing the liability from the public utility undertaker. On whose shoulder are we placing it? Is the person who may be injured to be left to his own devices in endeavouring to find a remedy? Generally speaking, the public utility undertaker is insured against these risks. The person who inflicts the damage may be a person of straw, like the people who used to drive motor cars and inflict death or injury on people, and although the county court used to give enormous damages against them it meant nothing to the victims or their dependants because it was impossible to recover.

Clearly, there may be very heavy claims resulting from these injuries, and I think the Committee ought to be assured, before they agree to putting these words in the Bill, that the innocent injured party will still have quite adequate remedies against some person capable of meeting the compensation who may be held to be responsible for the injury.

10.5 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

All I can say is that it seems to the Government reasonable that public utility undertakers, whose property has been damaged as a result of action for which they have no responsibility, over which they have no control, should be relieved of all liability. I believe that until the recent case in the courts was decided, no one thought that there could be any question of a public utility undertaker being under a liability in such cir- cumstances. The acceptance of this Amendment, while making it clear that the public utility undertaker will not be liable in any way for such actions, does not affect the position with regard to rates of compensation, whatever it may be under the law.

10.6 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I do not know what my hon. Friends on this side think of that answer, but I am bound to say that it provides me with very cold comfort. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not misunderstand me when I say that I would have liked some opinion which represented the law on the subject. His right hon. Friend beside him might forget for a moment that he is Chancellor of the Duchy, and give us the benefit of his opinion on a matter on which he is competent to advise us as one learned in the law. One has always in mind the position of the person injured by a motor car driven by someone who had not taken out insurance. We are dealing with the ordinary passerby who may be injured by burst mains. If the person who has caused the injury has received a shelter free, and is, therefore, either a manual worker or someone other than a manual worker whose income is less than £250 a year, he may be the person who ought to be proceeded against—I would not say that even that is certain, but if he is, and substantial damages are awarded, what possible chance is there of the claimant ever getting his money? This is a very serious point, and I feel so strongly on it that I should be inclined to go into the Lobby against the Amendment. I am as anxious to get the Bill as the right hon. Gentleman is, but one cannot allow an important point like this to go by default.

10.8 p.m.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I am afraid there is not much in the way of legal elucidation that I can add to what has been put, shortly and clearly, by my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has instanced the case of a man run over by a motor car, and has pointed out that the victim is protected by a special provision of the law which makes insurance compulsory for that class of activity. But that is the only class of activity in which there is that protection. A man may be injured in a variety of ways other than by a motor car, and he has no remedy other than what the person causing the accident can pay. I believe that the particular case to which my right hon. Friend referred arose as a result of damage being done to a gas main, and it was held that the gas company were liable for injuries that were caused. When we have this effort being made by local authorities, many of which are public utility undertakings themselves, to give us protection against air raids, I think such a provision as this is justified. All that this Amendment says is that the public utility undertaker shall not be liable. In view of the great amount of this work which will be done by local authorities, who know where gas and electricity and water mains run, the sort of case we are legislating to deal with will, I think, be very rare.

Mr. Gardner

Suppose something has been done under the advice of a public authority, will the public authority be liable?

Mr. W. S. Morrison

The public authority, under the Bill, is not liable unless it has failed to exercise due care. All I am asking the Committee to agree to is the quite narrow point, that if, in the erection of these air-raid shelters, a gas or electricity main is injured and damage, for which the public utility is in no way responsible, occurs, the public utility shall not be held liable.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. H. Morrison

I do not complain at my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) having looked twice or three times at any Amendment with which the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) is associated. I do the same. But I find it difficult to resist the argument that if there are works going on, without the consent or approval of the public utility undertaking but over their heads, so to speak, it is a little rough to hold them responsible for something which happens in connection with their physical assets but for which they have no responsibility. Personally, I cannot find any answer to that point which has been made by the Lord Privy Seal and the Chancellor of the Duchy. Nevertheless, the points my hon. Friend has raised, particularly in regard to the phrase "any loss of life," ought to be looked into. It may be that if there is loss of life by any person employed, action would lie against the person undertaking the work, but this ought to be very carefully looked into, in order to see that the injured party shall not be without remedy because of the protection to the public utility undertaking. Therefore, if the Government would be good enough to look into it very carefully, and perhaps confer with my hon. Friend before the Report stage, we might let the Amendment go.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the point ought to be looked into, and I think I can assure him that it will be.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

I would like to direct attention to the fact that, if an employé meets with injury or death at his work, not only is the possibility of compensation ruled out, but the right of a claim at common law will be impossible if the Amendment is passed in its present form. That is a fact to be taken into consideration. I suggest, as the Chancellor of the Duchy says, that the local authorities will take very great care with all these undertakings, and that it will only be where there is the most urgent need that excavations will take place, where there are drains, electric cables or gas mains. It will only be in very special cases where the local authority will give directions for excavations to take place where these things are in existence. In cases where the national necessity demands that this work should be done, surely it is not too much to ask of the public utility company that they should adopt special safeguards arising out of the necessity for excavation work. It may mean not only special safeguards, but a little extra insurance to cover any danger that may arise, either in respect of their workpeople or people who live in the vicinity.

I am of the opinion once again that we are approaching this matter in too casual a manner. If you look over this Clause, and the Amendment which is now suggested, it will be found that very serious undertakings are proposed that may cause a considerable amount of danger to the people in the area, and they are simply being accepted without anyone having ultimate responsibility. You may, therefore, have a situation where the ordinary passer-by or the resident in a particular neighbourhood has no more claim for consideration or for compensation than has a casual walker who is run into by someone carelessly riding a bicycle or something of the kind. There is no reason why there should be this casual approach to the question. It should be possible to find words in connection with this Clause to ensure the free opportunity of local authorities to excavate where it is considered necessary, the taking of measures for greater safety in respect of mains, electric cables and so on, and that adequate care is taken of the workpeople and people who live in the neighbourhood, so that, if an accident occurs, adequate compensation may be available.

Sir Geoffrey Ellis

I hope that my right hon. Friend will see, in looking into this matter, that responsibility must be dependent upon liability, and that whatever else happens, no duty will be cast upon an authority or employer where there is no responsibility to deal with the question. That, surely, is the essence of the matter.

Sir R. Tasker

There is another point I should like to put to the Lord Privy Seal. Very often in the back gardens of property there is what is known as a combined system of drainage, and it may be that in any attempt to put up a shelter they might interfere with the sewer. Whose liabiliy would it be? Will it be a liability of the local authority?

Amendment agreed to.

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

10.22 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

This Clause deals with "the erection of shelters provided by the Crown" but I suggest that the marginal note should be altered so as to read "the erection and removal of shelters provided by the Crown." The removal of these shelters will arise in a more acute form in the near future. It has already arisen in the case of some local authorities where these shelters have been delivered and when there is information that alternative shelter is to be provided by the Government of bricks and cement, which is much better than steel. Already there has been a demand from people who have had these shelters delivered to them that the local authority should take them back. I suppose they consider the international sky is clearing or they want a different type of shelter. In the Bill there is no reference to the circumstances which will arise in the case of a local authority incurring an expenditure for the removal of these shelters. I know one local authority which has already incurred an expenditure of over £50 for the removal of these shelters, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be too stern with them. I suggest that it might be worth while to see whether some additional powers may no be necessary to deal with the conditions under which these shelters may be dismantled or removed.

10.24 p.m.

Mr. Lathan

The Clause deals with the provision of shelters free of charge, and I should like to take this opportunity of inviting the Minister's attention to the unjustifiable anomaly which is associated with the provision of these shelters. The conditions are that a non-manual worker in receipt of £250 per annum or more is required to pay for the shelter, but no such condition Attachés to the manual worker whose income may be double or treble that amount. The conditions are based unjustifiably on the Unemployment Insurance Act and when objection has been raised over and over again the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health have repeatedly promised to give the matter consideration. These conditions have been advised against by the statutory committee which advises the Government in regard to matters of this sort. The anomaly is so extraordinary, as to invite condemnation straightaway. You may have two employés of a newspaper, one engaged on the clerical or editorial side receiving £5 per week. He will be required to pay for the shelter. But a man on the composing side or in the machine-room who may easily be earning, especially in London, double or even treble that amount, will be provided with a shelter free of charge. There might be a case of a diamond cutter in Hatton Gardon earning £1,000 a year. Under the conditions laid down by the Minister regarding the provision of shelters free of charge, such a man would be entitled to receive a shelter free of charge, whereas a poor insurance clerk or a commercial traveller earning £5 a week would be required to pay for it. Nothing can justify such an anomaly, and I invite the Minister to give it his attention, and to sweep it away.

10.26 p.m.

Miss Wilkinson

I wish to ask the Minister one or two questions on this Clause which are of practical interest to London. I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), who is leader of the London County Council, for bringing up this matter. The questions I want to ask relate to a type of house which is very common in Central London. It is an old house, probably having four storeys, and having what used to be a garden, although nowadays it is usually undecided whether anbody in particular has access to the garden, and usually it is left to the cats and is completely neglected. A difficult situation may arise in such cases. The lower floors are rather more highly rented, and are usually rented by people whose incomes are normally £250 a year or over, but the top flat, the garret, may be rented by somebody whose average income is less than £5 a week. Such a person would apply for and get a shelter. Then the problem would arise. Could he put that shelter in the yard of that particular house? What would happen if the other people objected? Could they object? What would happen in the even more difficult case where the garden was not left to the local cats, but was more or less cultivated, and it was felt that the dweller on the top floor had not done his or her share, being somewhat out of the way, but demanded the right to put the shelter in the garden? Could the dweller in the top flat be denied the right to put the shelter, as supplied by the local council, in that more or less common garden? If that right was refused by the other dwellers in the house, could the person appeal to the local authority?

Or what would happen in a rather more expensive house where one of the people bought a shelter and wanted to put the shelter in the garden and the other people either did not want to buy a shelter or resented its presence in the garden? There again, there might be a good deal of trouble. Would the local authority be the body to whom an appeal could be made, and would it have power to insist that the people, who bought the shelter on the advice of the right hon. Gentleman, should be allowed to have the ground on which to put it, seeing that the common garden belonged to the house? It is not a simple legal case where, say, the dweller on the ground floor has access to the garden. Where there is a clearly stated legal right, it is simple—at least, is it simple? Does the right of the dweller on the ground floor preclude the dweller on the second, third and fourth floors having such shelters as the right hon. Gentleman is providing? I am supposing that the shelters provided by the right hon. Gentleman are of some use. If they are, then surely somebody should have the right to say that the landlord, or the dweller on the ground floor, or whoever is supposed to have the right to the garden or piece of ground attached to each house, should not exclude the other people living in the house. This is rather important because, again supposing that these shelters are really intended to be used and are not merely to keep people quiet for the time being, the only piece of ground to which people have any possibility of access should be open to them. As there has been a great deal of heartburning on this subject in certain areas in Central London, I would like the right hon. Gentleman to give us a Ruling on the matter.

10.31 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

This Clause gives me the impression of an utter lack of responsibility in regard to life and property. Hon. Members opposite are concerned about property. Hon. Members on this side are concerned about life, and although we might arrive at some measure of co-operation in connection with this Clause, I am not ordinarily much concerned about property. Nevertheless here we have the fact that property can be destroyed and that nobody seems to have any responsibility for compensation for that destruction. We are told in Sub-section (3) that if the local authority takes the necessary care in the work which it is doing, and if damage nevertheless accrues, the local authority will not be responsible. Who is to be responsible? According to the Amendment which was accepted, we find that, as a result of this work, men and women in the neighbourhood may be killed or injured but apparently nobody is to be responsible.

That is an utterly impossible situation to allow to arise in connection with a Measure of this kind. This is supposed to be a Measure for the protection of people against air raids and yet it contains a Clause which would allow damage to take place without any responsibility for compensation. I do not say that damage will be wholesale or will result in many cases, but there is the possibility in every district of damage to property, or accidents to individuals, or the deaths of individuals. The Minister said that these words would be given further consideration. I suggest in connection with Sub-section (3), that where a local authority has shown all necessary care, the local authority should not be responsible for damage but the Department should take the responsibility for meeting any claims for compensation in that connection. If a public utility company can prove that accident, or death, or damage arose directly from work carried out by a local authority, or on the advice of a local authority, then the public utility company should not be responsible, but the Department. Surely the Committee will not allow a Clause to pass which permits of injury to people or destruction of property in a neighbourhood, without laying it down that, in the last resort, someone will be responsible for meeting claims for compensation.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. James Hall

I wish to ask the Minister what type of shelter it is proposed to arrange for part of my constituency where people live 237 to the acre. It is one of the most congested areas in the country. The average density of population for London is 59, and as we have 237 to the acre it will be appreciated that our area is very densely populated. There is no room at any of the houses there for the steel shelters to be erected. None of the houses have basements, and when I went with the present Minister of Mines, who then had charge of air-raid precautions, to see what could be done for the people there, we found that they would have to go at least a mile to find any shelter even against blast and splinter, and they would have to go through a labyrinth of turnings to reach it. I suggest that that is a problem which the Minister ought to keep in mind, and I would like to know what he considers to be the way of dealing with it short of deep bomb-proof shelters.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. E. Smith

A great deal of attention is being paid to London, but I want to ask the Lord Privy Seal to take notice of the fact that in the industrial area of Lancashire and North Staffordshire the density of population is more than double that of any other part of the country. I want the Lord Privy Seal to take notice of the special conditions and circumstances of that area and to give special consideration to them.

10.37 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

A great many questions have been put to me on the simple issue that the Clause stand part. Many of the speeches that have been made did not seem to have regard to the fact that this Clause is concerned only with the circumstances in which a particular type of shelter can be installed. It has never been suggested that one particular type of shelter, as to the efficacy of which there is no doubt at all in the circumstances for which it is intended, could be relied upon universally. As regards the questions that were put to me by the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson), I can only say that this Clause makes provision for the installation of the shelter of the type which is being provided free by the Government where the person for whom it is being provided has land in his occupation on which the shelter can be installed. It is only in that case that the provisions of this Clause are operative. There are undoubtedly numerous cases where other types of shelter have to be provided, but those cases are not dealt with in this Clause. There are the strutted basements, which are dealt with separately, and there are the various forms of concrete and brick shelters, and in certain cases reliance will have to be placed on communal shelters because conditions are not such as to make it possible for private shelters to be installed.

Miss Wilkinson

It is not a question of the people being dissatisfied as to the type of shelter or asking for another shelter, but they want to know whether they can put a shelter on the only land that is available to them although technically it is in the occupation of the landlord, who may live 100 miles away.

Sir J. Anderson

I thought I had answered that question. Where the land is not under the control of the person for whom the shelter is provided, and where that person cannot get control of the land, this Clause admittedly does not help. It is not designed for that case.

Miss Wilkinson

Is there any Clause that does?

Sir J. Anderson

There is provision in the Bill for the earmarking of premises which are suitable for communal shelters, and for strutted basements, and there are the general powers of local authorities under the Act of 1937. We are supplementing here the Act of 1937, and I suggest that it is not a valid criticism of a particular Clause in this Bill which meets a certain limited need to say that it does not go further and provide for all circumstances. That is in substance the point which some hon. Members who have spoken have seemed to contend for.

As regards the distribution of the shelters provided free by the Government in the circumstances dealt with in this Clause, the Government are in this position: they had to decide whether such shelters should be provided free for everybody or whether the line should be drawn somewhere. They decided that it would not be justifiable to undertake the distribution of these shelters free of charge to everybody. Having to draw the line, they had to find a simple objective test. Any test must, I suggest, produce on one side of the line and on the other a number of anomalous cases. All I can say is that we have adopted the test which, in the opinion of the Government, is broadly fair, and if it errs it errs in the direction of providing free of charge shelters for which the persons concerned might in some cases have been reasonably expected to pay.

Mr. Lathan

Does the Minister suggest that it is fair to provide individual A, earning £10 a week, with a shelter free of charge while individual B next door, who has £5 a week, is compelled to pay?

Sir J. Anderson

I suggest that, if the arrangements are open to criticism, they are open to the criticism, not that people who cannot reasonably be expected to pay for their shelters are being compelled to pay for them, but that as the result of the automatic application of the test some individuals will be getting shelters free in circumstances in which they might reasonably have been expected to pay for them.