HC Deb 24 May 1939 vol 347 cc2423-9

(1) Where any person having any estate or interest in factory premises or a commercial building or any part thereof has, before the passing of this Act, commenced works for the purpose of providing air-raid shelter of an approved type for all or any of the persons wording or living in the premises or building, he may make a claim to the tribunal by which claims for compensation and increases and decreases of rent are determined under this Act for the payment of contributions by all or any of the persons hereinafter mentioned towards the expenses incurred in providing the shelter, and the said tribunal may order the payment of such contributions by such of the said persons as it considers just.

(2) The persons liable to make contributions under the preceding Sub-section are persons having an estate in fee simple or a lease-hold interest in the factory premises or commercial building, or any part thereof, being an estate or interest in existence at the passing of this Act or at the date of the completion of the works, whichever is the later, and not being an estate or interest in reversion expectant on a lease the unexpired term of which is ten years or more.

(3) The said tribunal in determining a claim under this Section—

  1. (a) may set aside or vary the terms of any agreement entered into before the passing of this Act to such extent as may be necessary to give effect to his determination;
  2. (b) may order that the contributions (if any) shall take the form of increases or decreases of rent, or of lump sum or periodical payments, and, if they take the form of payments, may order that they shall be charged on the interests of the persons liable therefor.

(4) In this Section, references to the expenses incurred by any person in providing air-raid shelter shall include references to—

  1. (a) any sum which he is lable to pay as compensation for interference with the use of any part of the factory premises or commercial building during the execution of the works, or for the impairment of the value of any such part by reason of the execution of the works;
  2. (b) if the works are executed in a part of the premises or building occupied by him or impair the value of a part in which he has an estate or interest, such sum as may be just in respect of the interference with the use of that part or, as the case may be, the impairment of its value.

(5) The provisions of this Act relating to the determination of claims for compensation and increases and decreases of rent shall apply in relation to the determination of claims for contributions under this Section.—[Sir J. Anderson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir J. Anderson

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause has been drafted for the purpose of giving effect to a promise I made on, I think, the first day in Committee, when we were discussing a series of Amendments moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Withington (Mr. Fleming) with the object of dealing with the position that might arise where, in the case of a commercial building, shelter work had been started before the passing of this Bill. For that purpose it is unnecessary to make any provision with regard to the Exchequer subsidy, because the Bill already provides for the payment of Exchequer subsidy in the case of shelters provided before the Bill passes into law, but where provision is required is in regard to the adjustment of relations and the distribution of expenditure between the various parties concerned, that is to say, between the owner and the various tenants or occupiers.

The Bill, as drawn, provides certain safeguards with the object of ensuring that those upon whom expenditure may fall as the result of action taken under the Bill shall have a reasonable opportunity of protecting their interests. Those safeguards take the form of a requirement that notice should be served, with a provision for appeal. It is, obviously, a matter of very considerable difficulty to provide that such procedure should be given retrospective effect. What we have sought to do in this Clause is to bring the whole matter in its widest aspects before an appropriate authority—we have chosen the Official Arbitrator—who may go into the merits of the case and, having done so, and having ascertained the views of those concerned, may make such apportionment of the cost as he considers in all the circumstances to be equitable. We empower any person who has an estate or interest in the premises in which shelter is provided to apply for an apportionment to be made. That would cover the case of a tenant who has proceeded because the owner had been unwilling to accept what is generally recognised as his moral obligation in regard to the provision of shelter.

Sub-section (1) also has reference to shelter for all or any of the persons working on the premises. It is put in that form because it seems necessary to deal with cases where someone might have wished to make a start by providing a limited amount of shelter without any definite idea as to the obligation that might be imposed under the Bill. Subsection (3) provides that the arbitrator may set aside or vary the terms of any agreement entered into before the passing of the Bill to such an extent as may be necessary to give effect to his determination. These are admittedly somewhat sweeping and even drastic powers, but this seemed to me and my advisers the only practical method of giving effect to what was clearly the general desire of the Committee that those who had taken action in anticipation of the passing of the Bill, in accordance with the desire of the Government, should not thereby be debarred from securing an equitable apportionment of the financial burden involved.

Mr. Lewis

I understand that the Clause is governed by the sentence at the beginning of Clause 9: This part of this Act…shall apply only in relation to areas specified in that behalf in an Order made by the Minister. There is nothing in the Clause to show that that is so.

Sir J. Anderson

That is a question that arises apart from this Clause. I undertook at an earlier stage to introduce on Report an Amendment, not confined to the case of a commercial building but dealing also with the case of a factory building, to meet that particular case. I undertook by an Amendment on Clause 10 to deal with two points. One was the case of a shelter provided in a non-specified area, and the other the case of a shelter which had been provided in anticipation, before the employers' code had been issued, which though not exactly conforming to the code of approved shelter, was reasonably equivalent to that standard. That will be dealt with by an Amendment on Report. [Interruption.] It is not "factories and commercial buildings," but "factory premises or a commercial building." "Factory premises" has a special meaning under the interpretation Clause. The only difficulty which arises is in the case of a commercial building, where the owner is made responsible for the provision of shelter and has to apportion the cost among the occupiers. In the case of a mine or a factory in the ordinary sense, it is the occupier on whom the responsibility is placed, and none of these complication arise.

Mr. Spens

The only point that I have on the Clause is that it is governed by the sentence: for the purpose of providing air-raid shelter of an approved type.

Sir J. Anderson

Here we have reproduced the words that exist in an earlier Clause, which would be defective if they were not interpreted by an Amendment, which I have promised to submit, on Report, to Clause 10.

9.23 p.m.

Dr. Guest

I am strongly in favour of getting the Bill through as early as possible for public reasons, but the Clause is such an extraordinarily complicated legal document that I feel I should like to have the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown on its legal aspect. It deals with a large number of complicated matters—compensation, increases and decreases of rent—and gives power to set aside and vary the terms of any agreement. I should like to be assured that it does not introduce a new complexity instead of simplifying matters.

Sir J. Anderson

I can give the hon. Member the assurance that, while it is wide in its scope, it really, in effect, leaves all the questions that arise to the determination of the Official Arbitrator. It does not introduce any new complication.

9.24 p.m.

Mr. Fleming

There is one difficulty as regards Sub-section (2). This is a question of the owner recovering from his tenants the expense to which he has been put in providing certain shelters. He is limited to 10 years. The case I have in mind is where there is a freeholder who has let on a lease of, say, 99 years and then there is a sub-lease of, say, three years and the sub-lessee is in occupation and he has, say, three years to run. He has the responsibility of providing the shelter. The owner can look to the sub-lessee for the recovery of his outgoings in the form of rent, but he has only a period of three years in which to recover them. That covers three-tenths of his expenses. The Sub-section says: not being an estate or interest in reversion expectant on a lease the unexpired term of which is 10 years or more. That means that the owner is limited to three years in which to recover his expenses. Does it mean that for that period of three years he can recover the whole of his expenditure, or must he look to the lessee when the sub-lessee's term is finished, for the remaining seven-tenths? This may sound a complicated question, but the point is, who is to bear the burden eventually of the cost of these air-raid precautions?

9.36 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

The answer is that the intention is that the Official Arbitrator should so proceed as to put the parties as far as practicable in the same position as if the work had been carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Bill after the Bill had passed into law, care being taken, everyone acting reasonably and taking due care at every stage, to ensure that persons on whom obligations were being put, or who might be required to contribute to the cost of the works, were given the fullest opportunity of protecting their interests. That will be the function of the arbitrator and that is the purpose that we have endeavoured to achieve in this Clause. Drafting has not been a simple matter in this case.


Mr. David Adams

I should like to ask about the tribunal which is, I understand, to consist of an official arbitrator. We do not know the official arbitrator in the North of England. We have never met him or heard of him. Is he to act alone, to have advisers, or to be supported in any particular way? He has a very important function for one individual; may I inquire whether his position is to be like the umpire under the Unemployment Insurance Acts and against whose decision there is no appeal? Is there any appeal against the decisions of this tribunal which is to consist of one individual only?


Sir J. Anderson

I would point out to the Committee that there is already in Clause 59, which deals with compensation, a reference to the Official Arbitrators appointed for the purpose of acquisition of land under the Assessment of Compensation Act, 1919. These functionaries are fairly well known. Their jurisdiction extends throughout England and Wales—I am not sure of the position in regard to Scotland. I understand that the position is different there, and that will be a matter for the Scottish application Clause. Unless I am mistaken, the official arbitrators are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice, the President of the Surveyors' Institute and the President of the Law Society, acting together. These gentlemen make the panel of the official arbitrators.

Mr. David Adams

And there is no appeal against their decision?

Sir J. Anderson

Except by case stated on a point of law.

Mr. Westwood

I understand that on the Report stage the necessary adaptation will be made in regard to the position in Scotland?

Sir J. Anderson

Yes, Sir.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.