HC Deb 04 June 1942 vol 380 cc881-8
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Captain Waterhouse)

I beg to move, in page 20, line 5, at the end, to insert: 3. Conditions to secure application of early payments for replacement of essential goods.

  1. (1) Where the whole or any part of a payment in respect of the destruction of or damage to any goods is made on an earlier date than would be allowable under Sub-section (1) of Section sixty-one, and is so made by virtue of the Board of Trade being satisfied that the replacement or repair of the goods is expedient in the public interest, the Board may impose conditions requiring that the sum paid shall be applied in or towards the replacement or repair of the goods, or shall be so applied within such time as the Board may specify, and if any such condition is not complied with the sum paid shall be recoverable as money had and received to the use of His Majesty.
  2. (2) Nothing in this paragraph shall be taken to prejudice the power of the Board of Trade under Sub-section (3) of Section sixty-one to impose conditions restricting the manner of application of a payment."
This Amendment is designed to set right an oversight in the drafting of the original Act. The original Act lays down that the Board of Trade may impose conditions restricting the manner in which the sum paid for destroyed business goods may be applied in the replacement or repair of such goods destroyed or damaged. It was thought that that gave us complete power to specify how any money we paid out should be expended. In fact, we are advised that we have not any such power. We can say how the money shall be expended if it is expended, but we cannot say that it must be expended. Suppose that a man lost a capstan lathe, and we decided that it was in the public interest that that capstan lathe should be replaced, and we gave him £500 to replace it. We could say, "You will spend that £500 on replacing that lathe, and you will paint it blue." If he painted it green, we could get the lathe back. On the other hand, if he did not buy a lathe, but spent the money on having a few months in Blackpool, we could not get our money back at all; we should just be left looking rather foolish. This Amendment is to give us power to say how any money provided by us for a specific purpose shall be spent.

Amendment agreed to.

Captain Strickland (Coventry)

I beg to move, in page 20, line 20, at the end, to add: 5. Payments for damage prior to scheme coming into force. Notwithstanding anything in Section sixty-eight of the War Damage Act, 1941, and subsequent regulations made under the provisions of that Section, payments shall be made to a person who suffered war damage to goods or private chattels prior to the date of the scheme coming into force on such terms as would have applied had the scheme been in force on that date. My reason for moving this. Amendment, which I think will appeal to the sense of the Committee, is that, according to my reading and the reading of a good many friends of mine, when the original Act was before the House it was the intention that those people who were unfortunate enough to lose their private goods and chattels prior to the passing of the Act should come under the same conditions as to compensation and as to premiums as those who suffered damage after the passing of the Act. The general feeling was that we were all in this together, and that we should share alike. Section 68 of the War Damage Act stated that— The Board of Trade, acting in accordance with the regulations made by the Treasury, may make payments to persons in respect of … war damage occurring to goods which … if the scheme in question had then been in force would have been uninsurable … It might almost seem that those words would cover the Amendment I am now moving, but a position has arisen which is contrary to the speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 17th December, 1940, when he said: Out of evil good may come, and this Measure will not only enable us to do justice by securing that the burden shall be shared between those who suffer and those who are fortunate enough to escape damage to their property … It is another principle of this Measure … that all must stand together, so far as the rate of contributions is concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th Dec, 1940; cols. 1125–6, Vol. 367.] When the Board of Trade issued Notice 123, dated April, 1941, Section 1, headed "What the private chattels scheme is," said: If you are a householder, there is free compensation, without payment of a premium. A further explanatory leaflet was issued, known as P.C.S.5, in Section 15 of which occurs the phrase: The War Damage Act also provides for those cases in which the damage occurred before the scheme came into force. You will be treated as if you had a policy under the scheme, and will receive the same compensation as you would have received in that case. A sum will be deducted from your compensation to cover any premium which you would have paid if the scheme had been in force. No mention was made, when the assessments were done on the pre-Act damage to furniture, of any deduction of a-premium where the amounts were assessed by the valuer. That went on right through the year, until January this year, when a further assessment was sent out, showing how much the original assessment was, how much had been paid on account, and the balance to be paid in future, when the war had finished. It was not until the Spring of this year that the first mention was made in official documents of the deduction of a premium which would be paid to the people who suffered damage prior to the passing of the Act. I put down a Question to the President of the Board of Trade on 28th April, and he replied: My attention has been drawn to this case. For reasons of practical administration and for the advantage of many of the claimants, the very large number of claims outstanding, when the War Damage Act became law, have been assessed for compensation as if they were the subject of an insurance policy. No premium is levied where the loss is less than £100 or payment is made on hardship grounds. In other cases the premium is calculated on the actual loss only."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th April 1940; col. 777, Vol. 379.] That means that a married man, living with his wife, may have suffered £300 damage to furniture prior to the Act coming into force, and another man, living in the same circumstances, may have suffered damage to his furniture to the same amount in the following month. One man is charged a premium, or is notified that a premium will be deducted from the £300, while the other has no such premium charge made. I am sure that it is not the desire of the Treasury that this distinction should be made. I am not particularly wedded to this Amendment. I would rather learn that there was a sense of the justice of the thing. If there has been administrative difficulty, I hope there will be some statement from the Treasury that they will meet this case in a just, generous and open way, so that people who suffered before the passing of the Act may be treated in-exactly the same way as those who have suffered after the passing of the Act.

Captain Waterhouse

I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend was able to say that he did not attach great importance to the particular form of this Amendment. Although we cannot possibly accept the Amendment as dratted, for the reason which I will shortly explain, we can do something which will substantially meet the point that he has put so very clearly. If we were to accept this Amendment, it would mean, in these pre-Act claims, that we would have to investigate the amount of free cover to which each applicant was entitled. The Committee will remember that anyone is entitled to a certain amount of free cover for himself, a certain amount of extra free cover for his wife and a certain amount of extra free cover again for his children living with him at home. It would have been a very great administrative difficulty—in all these matters we are dealing with hundreds of thousands of cases—to have had to make such inquiries, and again there would have been the difficulty that a man might have exhausted his free cover but might not have realised the fact and probably would not have realised it. Were he unfortunate enough again to be bombed out of his house—because there are many cases where people are bombed out two, three, and even more times—he might well have expected that he would again be subject to a free cover and would have been extremely disappointed and aggrieved when subsequently he found that he was not covered at all for the second calamity. There are certain disadvantages in that, under free cover, the amount that one can get for any specific article destroyed, such as a motor car, piano or wireless set, is limited to £25, whereas under the policy as a whole it is £50 or 5 per cent. of the total amount insured, whichever is the larger, without any limit for a motor car.

In all the circumstances the Board of Trade decided that it would be best to deduct this small premium—I know that my hon. and gallant Friend will agree with me that although it is an annoying premium, it is a very small one—when the payment came to be made, but subject to two very material provisos. The first is that when an immediate payment is made on the ground of hardship no premium deduction is made at all, and the second, which is equally important, is that no premium deduction is made when the claim is under £100. These two provisions together can make us reasonably sure that no payments have already been made from which premiums have been deducted. We are therefore able to meet my hon. and gallant Friend in this way. The Board have decided that under their existing powers they will in future waive the deduction of premium on the first £300 of pre-Act claims, which will substantially meet the case.

Captain Strickland

Do I understand that in future that will apply to where assessments have already been made?

Captain Waterhouse

I will deal with that. Instructions will be issued that, in cases where the notice of deferred payment showing a deduction of premium has already been issued, such deductions are to be disregarded when the payment comes to be made after the war. If there are any cases in which the deduction has already been made from a cash payment, then we are prepared to refund, but we do not think that there are any such cases. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will feel that that provision substantially meets his case.

Captain Strickland

I would like to thank my hon. and gallant Friend for the way in which he is meeting my suggestion. I know that it must present great administrative difficulties, and it is, as he says, a very small amount to deduct from the point of view of the Treasury, but it is a considerable amount to some of the people who have suffered this damage, and it gave them a feeling that they were being penalised by their misfortunes. I am sure that his announcement will be received throughout the country with wide approbation among these unfortunate people. I beg to ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

I beg to move, in page 20, line 20, at the end, to add: 5. Payments for damage to goods pertaining to places of worship. (5) Where—

  1. (a) war damage has occurred to goods pertaining to a church, chapel or certified place of meeting for religious worship of any denomination, being goods in respect of which a policy has been issued under the business scheme; and
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  3. (b) a representative body of that denomination, whether central or not, has made application to the Board of Trade, either as respects that policy or as respects any class of policies comprising that policy, that any payment thereunder in respect of the goods should, in lieu of being made to the person insured, be made to a body of persons specified in the application,
    • the Board of Trade may, if they think fit and after consultation with the person insured under the policy and any other persons appearing to the Board to be interested, give effect to the application.
(2) Regulations of the Treasury under Section sixty-eight may provide for applying the provisions of sub-paragraph (1) of this paragraph to payments in respect of such goods as aforesaid made under that Section otherwise than under policies.

The Amendment relates to the operations of the war damage business scheme as operated by the Board of Trade. In present circumstances the operation of the scheme is a contractual arrangement with the particular person who arranges the insurance on the part of the particular denomination or church or chapel. The Bishop of London's Committee, which embraces representatives of all the religious bodies of the country, has decided that this Amendment is necesary in view of the eventualities of our time. For example, evacuation has taken place in many districts, air raids have destroyed churches and chapels, and trustees are concerned about their insurances against war damage. This Amendment aims at releasing the Board of Trade from the obligation of dealing with the particular person who carries through the insurance policy and ensures payment to the representatives of the church or chapel affected by the insurance itself. I need not elaborate the matter, but, in the circumstances in which we live, people are often out of touch, and some of the persons possibly who have effected an insurance may be non-existent or untraceable. An insurance can be effected by a particular person on behalf of a particular church or chapel. In the Roman Catholic Church we have a diocesan committee whose responsibility is the maintenance and continuity of church or chapel arrangements. That body would be the proper one to receive the compensation if it was paid under the provisions of the principal Act operated by the Business. Committee of the Board of Trade. I understand that the Board of Trade is friendly to this Amendment being introduced into the existing legislation, and I have received a friendly smile from no less a person than my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Denman (Leeds, Central)

I think there is nothing I need add to the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) except to endorse what he said about this being an Amendment which is proof of the collaboration of all the main Christian bodies in this country. It is a very happy collaboration in considering the problems of physical reorganisation after the war, and this is an exceedingly useful product of that body. I had a letter to-day from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Luton (Mr. Burgin) asking me to add his name on behalf of the Methodist Church, so it will be seen that the main Christian bodies are united in this request. The purpose of the Amendment has been clearly explained by the Mover, and I think it will be for the convenience not only of the Churches but, I hope, of the Board of Trade as well. The principle of a negotiation between a central body of State and a central body of the Churches is accepted in the first part of the War Damage Act, and I think that principle will be conveniently applied to the insurances under the business section of the same Act.

Captain Waterhouse

An Amendment on these lines was first brought forward in another place by the Bishop of London when the original Bill was under consideration. At that time the Lord Chancellor, while expressing doubt as to whether or not that particular Amendment could be accepted, was most sympathetic to the general idea underlying it

"Section three, subsection (6). The word 'immediately' shall be omitted. First Schedule, paragraph 5 (1) (6)."

In page 21, line 16, at the end, insert:

"Section nine, subsection (4). For 'immediately before the occurrence of the war damage' substitute 'at the date by reference to which the disposal of a value payment in respect of war damage thereto is under the preceding provisions of this section to be regulated.' First Schedule, paragraph 6."

In line 20, at the end, insert:

"Section twelve, subsection (2). For the words from 'if the mortgage' to 'share shall' substitute 'if the mortgagee receives the payment or share he shall be liable to account as if it had been paid in full, but if not it shall.' First Schedule, paragraph 8."

and promised that on the first suitable subsequent date, if the matter was raised again, it would be most sympathetically considered. This, of course, is the first such occasion and, as the hon. Members who have moved and supported it have pointed out, it has been agreed by all the main bodies of the Churches in the country. There are adequate safeguards, we think, for the rights of the insurers. After all, it is up to the Board of Trade to see that those rights are properly safeguarded. If the parochial council of any particular Church have taken out an insurance policy and some other body; of that denomination thinks the payment should be made to the diocese or to themselves rather than to the insurers, the first thing the Board of Trade have to do is to consult with the insured.

Sir P. Hannon

If they can be found.

Captain Waterhouse

Yes, if they can be found. If they had been blown up it would be difficult to consult with them. But if they can be found consultation will take place with them, and it is also our duty to consult with any other persons who seem to us to be interested. We feel that these safeguards are sufficient and that the object of the Amendement is desirable, and, therefore, we are very glad to ask the Committee to accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.