HC Deb 24 May 1939 vol 347 cc2429-36

(1) The local authority may advance money to the owner of any premises comprising a dwelling-house in an area specified by the Minister in an order made under Part III of this Act (not being premises the occupier of which has been provided free of charge, on behalf of His Majesty, with materials for an air-raid shelter) for the purpose of enabling the owner to provide in the premises an air raid shelter of a permanent character.

(2) Every such advance shall be repaid with interest within such period not exceeding 10 years from the date of the advance as may be agreed, and the rate of interest shall be such a rate as may be agreed, not being a rate less than one-quarter per cent. in excess of the rate of interest which, one month before the date on which the terms of the advance are settled, was the rate fixed by the Treasury under Section one of the Public Works Loans Act, 1897, in respect of loans to local authorities advanced out of the Local Loans Fund for the purposes of Part V of the Housing Act, 1936.

(3) Any amount due to a local authority by way of repayment of an advance made by them under this Section may be recovered summarily as a civil debt, and shall be a charge on the premises in respect of which the advance was made, and the local authority shall, for the purpose of enforcing any such charge, have the same powers and remedies under the Law of Property Act, 1925, and otherwise as they would have if they were mortgagees by deed having powers of sale and lease and of appointing a receiver.

(4) The Public Works Loans Commissioners may, if they think fit, make loans in the manner provided by the Public Works Loans Act, 1875, to any local authority for the purpose of enabling the authority to make advances under this Section, and the enactments relating to loans made by the said Commissioners shall apply (so far as applicable) to loans made by virtue of this Subsection as they apply to loans made under Section nine of the said Act.

(5) In this Section the expression "owner" in relation to any premises, means the person in whom the fee simple is vested, and includes also, a lessee of the premises under a lease, the unexpired term of which exceeds three years.—[Sir J. Anderson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.39 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

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

This Clause is put forward to deal with a class of case with which I think we all have considerable sympathy. It con- cerns those people who are in such a position that they cannot be the recipients of free shelters and should have the acquisition of shelters at their own cost made as easy for them as possible. The course taken in drafting the proposed new Clause has been to authorise local authorities to make a provision, not for the installation of the shelters, because they are given no powers at all and no duties in that connection, but for the supply of shelters or materials for shelters on terms which involve repayment, subject to a reasonable rate of interest, over a period not exceeding 10 years, the outstanding loan for that period to be secured on the property. This is a somewhat novel provision, but obviously from a public point of view it is of very great importance that those citizens who are considered to be above the level at which free provision should be made at the cost of the State should have it made as easy as possible to provide themselves with shelters.

9.41 p.m.

Mr. Ammon

I presume that the new Clause should be read in conjunction with Clause 67, which reads: Nothing in any covenant or agreement requiring any person to keep specified premises in, or to restore specified premises to, a particular condition shall authorise or compel any person to interfere with any works executed on those premises under this Act, or subject him to any liability of tie does not do so. I presume that the Minister will issue a code to owners and to local authorities describing the proper types of shelters. Otherwise, there will be all sorts of variations, and local authorities will be put into difficulties. It is understood that the new Clause will apply only to shelters conforming to the code which, I presume, the Lord Privy Seal is to issue.

9.43 p.m.

Sir I. Albery

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Boulton) and I have placed upon the Paper a proposed new Clause to deal with this matter. I raised the question on the Second Reading of the Bill and I am grateful to the Lord Privy Seal for putting down his new Clause, but I feel that it only partly solves the difficulty. I am particularly concerned because the proposed new Clause does not cover a considerable number of cases. All the people who have bought reasonably-priced houses on hire purchase will probably be covered as owners, but, on the other hand, there appears to be a section of the population which may be occupying houses upon a yearly tenancy and which may be entirely left out of these provisions. When we come to the section of the population who are probably better off and who have houses on a leasehold basis, we see that they are provided for. It will be generally agreed that houses let on lease for 7, 14 or 21 years are usually occupied by people with better means and resources than are houses taken on a yearly tenancy. The latter class is entirely omitted from the new Clause.

There is one other point. In the new Clause put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Sheffield and myself, which is probably very inadequately drafted, because the matter is a complicated one and not easy to deal with unless one is learned in the law and accustomed to this kind of drafting, we did provide that the burden of providing these shelters with the assistance of the local authorities by way of loan was equitably distributed between the actual owner of the house and the tenant for the time being. My right hon. Friend's Clause, as far as I understand it, throws the burden to a far greater extent on the person who would usually be regarded as the tenant than upon the owner. Take the case of the man who has an unexpired lease of, say, four years. It seems to me that under this Clause he would be entitled to obtain loan assistance for putting up a shelter, but at the end of his lease the shelter would become the property of the landlord, who had made no contribution towards the expense of putting it up. Perhaps, when my right hon. Friend replies, he will deal with that point.

9.47 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Could the right hon. Gentleman be a little more specific in regard to this Clause, particularly as to the phrase: for the purpose of enabling the owner to provide in the premises an air-raid shelter of a permanent character. Does that mean one of the garden shelters which are being issued now, or one of the new brick and cement shelters that will be issued presently; and will the local authorities be given any elasticity as to the amount of the loan? In many cases the opportunity may be taken, and I do not see why it should not, by owners who have acquired small houses from the local authority under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, to make an improvement to the house by building an underground garage. In view of the fact that they themselves are going to pay for it, I do not see any reason why a loan should not be allowed for the provision of such an underground garage, which may at the same time be a useful air-raid shelter. Is it the intention to give the local authorities sufficient elasticity in applying these words to cover a case of that kind? Further, I would like to ask whether there is any intention to ask the local authorities to limit themselves to a certain figure, or whether it is proposed to allow them to make grants up to an unspecified amount?

9.49 p.m.

Mr. Duncan

Sub-section (4) of the Clause provides that: The Public Works Loans Commissioners may, if they think fit, make loans in the manner provided by the Public Works Loans Act, 1875, to any local authority for the purpose of enabling the authority to make advances under this Section. In Clause 69 the definition of a local authority as regards London includes not only the London County Council, but the common council of the City, the council of any metropolitan borough, the district surveyor, and the respective overseers of the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. Is it contemplated that each one of these authorities should have the right to apply to the Public Works Loans Commissioners for loans for these purposes? I am not quite sure how far it is statutory, but it is the practice of smaller local authorities to work through the London County Council, who either draw money themselves from the Public Works Loans Commissioners or issue stock to the public. I should have thought that, as a matter of administrative convenience, it would have been easier that the money should all be raised through one channel, and that all these small authorities should have the right to go to the Public Works Loans Commissioners for what may in some cases be comparatively small sums. Would my right hon. Friend look into this point and see if anything can be done to make the intention clear, so that the local authorities in London may know to what authority they should go?

9.52 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

This is a somewhat complicated matter, and I must apologise to the Committee if I seem to be somewhat imperfectly equipped to deal with every aspect that has been raised, but there are certain points with which I can deal fairly adequately. First of all, there is the point raised by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) as regards the nature of the shelters for which it is contemplated that local authorities might advance money. The Clause has been drawn rather widely to give scope for administration. It refers to an air-raid shelter of a permanent character. The reason for that is that, if money is to be advanced and is to be recoverable over a period of 10 years, you must have some security, and a shelter which is not permanent does not provide a very satisfactory security. It is not contemplated that the portable steel shelters should be covered by this provision. It may be possible to arrange, when these steel shelters can be put on the market, for ordinary hire-purchase terms, but we are dealing here with shelters of a permanent character, and are thinking primarily of the standard type of concrete or brick shelter specified in the handbook which has been recently issued. These shelters, when installed, become a permanent part of the premises, and would provide security for the outstanding portion of the advance.

Nothing has been put into the Clause of a limiting character which would prevent a local authority from deciding what sort of shelter, provided that it is of a permanent character, should be covered by any arrangements it chooses to make, though no doubt, in the course of the administration of the Clause, advice would be given to local authorities and a certain control would be exercised through the power to grant loans for this purpose. All the authorities which are specified in Clause 69 can borrow from the Public Works Loans Board, though obviously not all of them would wish to undertake the task of making loans for the purposes of this Clause.

As regards the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery), who has put down a new Clause covering very much the same ground as is covered by this Clause, we were forced, on examination, to the conclusion that his Clause, for a variety of reasons, would not be found wholly satisfactory. In particular, we found, when we came to consider the position, that for practical reasons it was necessary to limit the scope of the Clause to the case of a tenant or leaseholder with an unexpired interest of more than three years. It is quite obvious that you cannot fairly ask a local authority, dealing with public funds, to advance money to a person who may be on the point of giving up his tenancy. We thought three years a suitable period to fix. It may well be that, in the light of views expressed by hon. Members on this Clause, my advisers and I may want to look at the Clause again before it comes up on Report, but if the Committee take the view that this is a purpose which should be provided for in the Bill, I would suggest that they should allow the Clause, as drafted, to be incorporated in the Bill.

Mr. Ammon

Is the right hon. Gentleman going to issue a code to the owners of property?

Sir J. Anderson

I thought I had dealt with that. I meant to deal with it when I said that we did not specify any type of shelter provided that it was a permanent shelter, but that what we had in mind was a brick or concrete shelter of the kind laid down in the handbook.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

It seems to me that in the multitude of small owner-occupier houses this will be looked upon as an opportunity to make garages under the houses, and these will be useful shelters.

Sir J. Anderson

I thought I had dealt with this when I said that we had not sought to impose hard and fast rules as to the type of shelter, but the matter may have to be dealt with administratively, and advice given to the local authorities.

9.57 p.m.

Mr. H. Morrison

On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) there is this aspect. If this can be tied up with a code it has the disadvantage that if the owner of the building complies with the code he will have a prima facie claim on the local authorities. But if there is no code the building surveyors might have to be called in, and this might cause a good deal of work for the local authority, and, what might perhaps be more serious, delay for the owner. If the matter can, after consultation with the local authorities, be settled by a code, it will save a lot of trouble, and, if I may say so in confidence, it may save letting some of our professional people loose on all these owners of small property.

Sir J. Anderson

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the suggestion.

9.58 p.m.

Mr. Westwood

In looking into this Clause before the Report stage, will the Lord Privy Seal take into consideration one of the difficulties which is created by the injustices of our present rating system? You are going to assist the proprietor to build a permanent shelter by giving him a loan under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts. The principle is good, but many people will have difficulties in carrying this through. The local authorities have the right to come along, where the shelter is built solely and wholly for shelter purposes, and to increase the valuation. I understand there are difficulties, even in connection with temporary shelters, where local authorities, merely because a garden rake or roller is kept in the shelter, are increasing the valuation, and making it more difficult for people to make use of these temporary shelters, and in some cases are frightening people from taking advantage of these free shelters. If it is possible to avoid penalising a man for trying to build some permanent shelter in connection with his property, it should be done.

10.2 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I gladly promise to look into the matter. I have already had occasion to look into the question in connection with the Act dealing with rating and valuation which was passed last year. The intention of that Act was quite clear, that where an air-raid shelter was used solely as such, it should not be assessed for rating purposes; but I know that in some cases a suggestion has been made that the protection given by that Act is not available when the shelter is used for some subsidiary purpose. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has on more than one occasion dealt with that question in the House, but I will certainly look into it.

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

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