HC Deb 22 February 1965 vol 707 cc135-58

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

So that the House may concentrate on the issue between the promoters of the Bill and those of us who object to it, I do not wish to move the first Motion on the Order Paper, That the Bill be read a Second time upon this day six months.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clauses 8 to 11 of the Bill. I will take the explanation of Clauses 8 to 11 from the statement which the promoters of the Bill have circulated among hon. Members. Clause 8 is explained in paragraph 4 in these words: By Clause 8 the Coporation seek new powers to deal with a growing problem arising in connection with the making of excavations for building and other purposes near streets". At the beginning of paragraph 5 it is stated: Where insufficient provision is made in the carrying out of such excavations for maintaining support for an adjoining street the street may be so damaged or its foundations so weakened as to necessitate the closing of the street to traffic until the necessary repairs are effected". Paragraph 7 reads: It is therefore proposed in Clause 8 to make specific provision to require steps to be taken in such cases to ensure that support for the street is not removed and further to provide that, if in the course of making an excavation support for the street is withdrawn so as to make it reasonably necessary for the Corporation to close the street for public use, the person responsible for the excavation shall be subject to substantial penalties". Therefore, Clause 8 deals specifically with excavations near streets, and if those excavations cause subsidence of the street the person responsible for the excavations is to be made criminally liable and subject to certain rather heavy penalities.

Clause 9 is described in paragraph 10 of the promoter's statement in the following words: Clause 9 deals generally with dangers to the public in streets from building operations including demolition works". Clause 12 states: It is accordingly proposed in Clause 9 that a general duty of care in respect of persons in adjoining streets should be imposed on persons carrying out building operations and that further provision should be made to render the person responsible liable to a fine in the event of an occurrence in the course of such building operations which gives rise to the risk of serious bodily injury to persons in a street". Clause 9 is distinguishable from Clause 8 in that Clause 9 is concerned with building operations near the street whereas Clause 8 deals with excavations near the street.

May I look at the Bill in a little more detail? The person who is to be criminally liable under the Bill, if the occasion so arises, is, according to Clause 8(2): the person responsible for the making of the excavation or the execution of such works as aforesaid". Similarly in Clause 9(2) he is the person responsible for the part of the building operations in the course of the carrying out of which such accident or occurrence happens … The person responsible is again described in subsection (4) of Clause 8 and in subsection (4) of Clause 9. It is stated in the former that the owner of the land on which an excavation is made shall be taken as being the person responsible for the making of the excavation and in Clause 9(4) that the owner of the land or building on which building operations are carried out shall be taken as being the person responsible for those operations. Therefore, both in the case of excavations near the street causing any subsidence to the street and of building operations near the street which give rise to a danger to the public in the street, it is the owner whom the Corporation can prosecute.

Upon prosecution, the owner is then put upon proof of his innocence. He can succeed in escaping conviction under that charge if he overcomes four obstacles which are set out in Clause 10. Under Clause 10, if the owner is prosecuted he will escape conviction only if, first, he lays information against a person who undertook or had in his charge or subject to his direction the execution of the works in question or the carrying out of the operations in question (as the case may be)". Having laid information against such person, it falls to him to prove in court that the person whom he has brought to court in that way is the person who undertook or had in his charge or subject to his direction the execution of the works". Those two obstacles—having laid the information and proved that this was the person who had charge of the work—having been overcome, the owner must then proceed to the third obstacle and prove that he himself has used all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence and, fourthly, that the person whom he has brought before the court committed the offence without his"— the owner's— consent, connivance or wilful default". The House may well think that those are four rather formidable obstacles for an owner to prove if he is charged merely because excavations on his land cause a subsidence to the street or merely because building operations on his land gave rise to a risk of danger to the public in the street.

The Corporation, in its statement to the House, says that these are new powers and new provisions, and certainly they are. They are provisions which previously have been unknown to the law. They are provisions which make an owner criminally liable for the acts of his contractor—not for the acts of his servant or his agent—because a contractor is what is known in the law as an independent contractor.

The existing law is fairly though briefly stated in paragraphs 5 and 6 of the promoters' statement. The second sentence of paragraph 5 reads: Where a street has to be closed great public inconvenience is caused and loss may be suffered both by persons using the street so closed and by other persons who use the streets into which the traffic is diverted. At the beginning of paragraph 6 it states: The Corporation as the highway authority can usually recover from the person responsible for carrying out the excavation the cost of repairs to the street but this is a comparatively small sum. The Corporation seeks to remedy this position of being able to collect only the cost of repairing the street, and no compensation for the inconvenience to which the public is put, not by claiming any compensation for the grave public inconvenience which has been caused, nor by prosecuting the contractor, the person who does the act which results in the damage, but by prosecuting the owner.

Two reasons are given, again in the Corporation's statement, for prosecuting the owner. The first is that he may have a contract by which the contractor pays liquidated damages for delay in completion, and the fear of having to pay those damages may—again I underline the word "may"—make the contractor take risks in trying to complete on time.

It is the argument of the Corporation that because the owner has a normal building contract with the contractor he is to be criminally liable for the acts of the contractor. This liquidated damages Clause is one which is accepted by the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Institution of Civil Engineers and all others who provide normal forms of contract for construction work.

The second reason given for making an owner criminally liable is that he has knowledge of the contractual arrangements. One does not normally need to charge a person with a crime in order to obtain the evidence with which to charge somebody else. If the owner has the evidence on which to charge the person responsible, then the Corporation can subpoena the owner to produce the necessary documents. Has there really been any case in which when a charge has occurred the owner has refused to produce information about contractual arrangements between him and his contractor? It seems to me an extraordinary doctrine to put forward in this statement from the Corporation that one has to charge with a crime the witnesses whose evidence is against the man who really committed the crime. This argument does not hold water, because all building sites and building operations, whether excavation, demolition or building, have to be inspected regularly by a factory inspector under regulations made by the Minister of Labour. It would be perfectly simple for the Corporation to find from that inspector, if from no one else, who were the contractors and who was responsible for the failure to prevent injury from the works.

I do not only say that these are dangerous principles to introduce into the law for the special benefit of the City of London. I say also that there is a great danger, when this sort of provision appears in a Private Bill, that a precedent is set. There must be many other cities where congestion may be pleaded, as the Corporation pleads congestion for the City of London, and where this Clause will become a precedent for its introduction into other Private Bills. I say that to prosecute the owner in such cases will neither prevent nor cure the mischief.

What is the owner to do? Is he to go upon the site and direct the operations? What is the "due diligence" which he is required under these Clauses to observe? The owner cannot effectively interfere with the technical operations on a building site, whether they be excavations or building operations. To be fair to the promoters of the Bill, I do not think that they suggest that. As far as I understand it, they do not suggest that the owner will be forced by the Bill to take any greater precautions. All they want is a ready-made accused whom they can charge with an offence.

It may be said that the owner is perfectly capable of indemnifying himself, by insurance or by securing undertakings from his contractors, against the charge under these Clauses. But one cannot indemnify oneself or insure oneself against the commission of a crime. However much assurance he may have from his contractor, the owner may well be prosecuted and have the stigma of conviction against him, a conviction for a criminal offence carrying heavy penalties. I do not think that this is the way to prevent or cure the mischief described in the Corporation's statement.

I want to turn for one moment from the owner's criminal responsibility to that of the contractor under these Clauses. May I first look closely at the actual offences created by these two Clauses? Under Clause 8(2) the wording starts off with something which I think is merely declaratory, because it obviously has no sanction or penalty to enforce it. It says: Any person who makes, or executes works for the making of. an excavation to which this Section applies shall take, in connection with the making of the excavation, or the execution of such works, such steps as may be necessary to prevent the withdrawal of support (whether vertical or lateral) for any street in relation to which this Section applies to the excavation … A person who fails to do that does not, as I read the Clause, commit any crime. The crime occurs only if the excavation causes withdrawal of support from the street. This is the latter part of the Clause: … and if the making of any such excavation, or the execution of works for the making of any such excavation, causes the withdrawal of support as aforesaid for any such street so that, for the purpose of removing danger so caused, it is reasonably necessary to restrict or prohibit the use of the street to pedestrians or vehicles … the person responsible for making the excavation shall be guilty of the offence.

As I read that Clause, I do not think that if the contractor or the owner showed that reasonable care had been adopted in the excavations it would be a defence. I read this as an absolute criminal liability in which, say, exceptional weather causing flooding, or unknown defects in sewers having washed away the earth and left cavities, and other occurrences which could not be reasonably foreseen, would not, under the wording of that Clause, be any defence. If I am right in that, this is a very objectionable piece of private legislation.

Clause 9 is even worse in its wording, in imposing liability without any defence for reasonable care or reasonable foresight. Under Clause 9(2), again after the preliminary declaratory sentence, the Bill says: … and if in the course of the carrying out of such building operations there is any accident or occurrence which gives rise to the risk of serious bodily injury to a person in a street … The words are, which gives rise to the risk of serious bodily injury". I wonder what occurrence in the course of building operations adjacent to a street does not give rise to the risk of injury to those people in the street. Tools or materials may be dropped from the scaffold; the very erection of the scaffold itself may give rise to risk to a pedestrian walking into the scaffold on the pavement; the movement of lorries over the pavement; the unloading of lorries from the street on to the building site; the unloading of machinery; cranes on the site—all these things must necessarily give rise to risk of bodily injury to a person in the street. If that is the case, then the very carrying-out of these building operations is to be a crime, and the Clause would bring building operations to a standstill.

These are the sort of risks which are covered by third-party insurance by the ordinary contractors, and the public to that extent is protected. But the public is also protected, without any Clause in this Bill, by the Building Construction Regulations. It is true that the Construction Regulations are designed primarily for the safety of those working on the site and that they apply to a contractor and an employer of workmen", which is the description of the persons who may be charged under the Regulations. But in fact, the Regulations also afford protection to the public in the street as well as to the workmen on the site if they are properly enforced. I will come back to that point later.

I have here, for example, the Building (Safety, Health and Welfare) Regulations, 1948, which cover, in some 30 or more paragraphs, scaffolding and means of access and go into very great detail about the construction of scaffolding, lifting appliances, chains, ropes and lifting gear, special provision as to hoists, the secureness of loads, excavation, demolition, health and welfare on the site. They are so extensive that they protect the public if these works are being carried out adjacent to the street.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

May I draw the hon. Member's attention to the statement put forward by the Petitioners? In the last paragraph the Petitioners say, It is conceded that the law relating to the control. inspection and authorisation of works adjacent to the highway needs reconsideration and codification and that it is not at present satisfactorily and effectively observed and enforced.

Mr. Page

If the hon. Member has patience to bear with me a little longer, although I have been talking for a long time, I hope to come to that very important point. But I first wanted to point out that there were Regulations covering building operations, excavations and demolitions, under which the Minister of Labour's inspectors can and do inspect the site and the work being carried out there.

To complete that side of the story, I will mention the Construction (General Provisions) Regulations, 1961, which cover such things as supervision of safe conduct of work, safety of working places and means of access, excavations, shafts and tunnels, and demolitions, and the Construction (Lifting Operations) Regulations, 1961, which, again, deal with cranes and lifting appliances, chains, ropes, lifting gear, and hoists. Not only are there those provisions, but the common law duty exists on every contractor to take all reasonable precautions to ensure that no one and no other property is harmed as a result of his operations.

There are, too, the provisions of Part II of the Public Health Act, 1961, which deal with building Regulations, particularly with building structures as they may be a danger to people in the street. I refer specifically to Sections 24, 25, 26 and 29 and to the provisions in regard to demolition under which anyone undertaking demolition work must inform the local authority and the local authority can require certain precautions to be taken.

Again, for example, under the Public Health (London) Act, 1936, the London County Council has power to make bye-laws relating to demolitions. Yet further provision is made in Sections 144 to 150 of the Highways Act, 1959, for the protection of persons in the street from building operations; and that Act will apply to London on 1st April, 1965, although in the meantime there are similar provisions under the old Acts—the Metropolitan Management Act, 1855, and the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1890.

It will be seen, therefore, that there is plenty of law for the safety of the public. The trouble is that its administration is scattered among so many different authorities. The Ministry of Labour deals with the Factory Regulations, which I quoted. The Ministry of Public Building and Works deals with the Building Regulations, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government deals with the public health provisions, the Minister of Transport deals with the highways legislation and the local authorities with their several byelaws.

I assure the House that I fully appreciate that a problem is raised in the Bill, but it is a general problem for public legislation and the way in which the Bill deals with the problem will not solve it. There have lately been occasions of great inconvenience to the public caused by subsidence of the road due to excavations near the road. There have been tragic occurrences of the collapse of building equipment, particularly of cranes, into the road. I should like to know whether the Government intend to produce any general legislation to deal with this matter.

The Association of Municipal Corporations raised the point in connection with the draft Building Regulations and suggested that they should deal with the safety of the public as well as the safety of those working on the site. Has anything been done in any Government Department about that proposal? The Ministry of Housing and Local Government made inquiries from the local authorities after the collapse of a building in Victoria Street about 12 months or more ago. Has anything been done as a result of the representations of local authorities to put the law in order?

If the Bill were aimed at improving the inspection of sites, enforcing the existing law and drawing together in the hands of perhaps one set of inspectors the innumerable statutory provisions for the safety of the public, I would have no objection. But in the Bill the City Corporation seems to wish to abrogate its duties for inspecting sites and seeing that work is done safely for the public, and putting in the place of that duty a nice easy process whereby the Corporation can say, "If anything happens, if the road collapses, if there is a risk of danger from the operations you are carrying out, we will prosecute the owner because he is the easiest person to grab."

This will not protect the public. This should not be put into private legislation. If there is a problem it should be dealt with by way of public legislation and the Government should take the initiative to bring that legislation forward. I hope that the House will approve this Motion for an Instruction.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)

I respectfully urge the House not to allow the hands of the Committee to be fettered in the way advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). To eliminate Clauses 8 to 11 would be to murder Part II of the Bill, which is not designed, if I may quote words used by my hon. Friend— inadvertently, I am sure—for the benefit of the City of London, but designed to enable the City of London to fulfill its duty of protecting the citizens in and about their business.

I concede at once that there are matters in this Measure that require careful discussion and investigation. I concede that it imposes drastic duties and liabilities upon the owner, as defined, but those are matters that can be investigated in Committee in the way in which Select Committees always investigate such matters. They can be provided for by way of Amendment. Indeed, the promoters of the Bill have themselves already proposed that in Committee an Amendment should be made to insert a provision in Clause 9 to exclude liability for a fine where it can be shown that all practicable steps have been taken to avoid accident. I see no reason why there should not be a similar Amendment to Clause 8.

The provisions in Clause 8 to 11 to which my hon. Friend takes exception are designed to meet the very real difficulty and the very real danger to the public that is peculiar to the City of London, and arise from the extreme value of land there and the extremely overcrowded condition of the buildings. It needs no words of mine to indicate that reconstruction, demolition and rebuilding are proceeding at a quite startling rate in the City at the moment. Many hon. Members must have had my own experience of going to a street that one has not visited for some years, looking for a familiar landmark and finding that the whole landscape has changed.

That process has been going on for some time. It is greatly to the interests of developers in the City of London to speed up their redevelopment. Speed is the order of the day, and I fear that sometimes this speed may be detrimental to the public and to the safety of the public. For instance, in making excavations it is must easier to dig quickly and not to take trouble to shore up the sides.

It is very easy to build rapidly and not take necessary and right protective action. When damage inures to the public as a result of such a procedure, it is sometimes extremely difficult to run the real culprit to earth. Nowadays, in the development of any big public site, and particularly valuable sites in the City, there is perhaps behind it all a great City company, which has leased the land to a developer, who has received the rack rent in due course, who has employed contractors, who employed sub-contractors, who have architects and all sorts of other persons intervening providing new services and a variety of installations in the building.

This is why it is vitally necessary that, if these Clauses are to go forward at all, the City authorities should be able to pinpoint somebody and say, "You are the person responsible. We look to you. Unless you tell us and can show whom of the numerous underlings you employ is responsible, you are the person to whom we must look for a remedy and you must pay the penalty when damage enures to the public". It is for this reason that the Clauses attach liability to the owner.

That is not new in our legislation. Similar provisions prevail in the Factories Acts, which are designed for the protection of workers in factories and factory buildings. Clause 10, which was criticised by my hon. Friend, is modelled upon Section 161 of the Factories Act, 1961, which enables those pursuing a factory owner for some breach of the provisions of the Act to say to him, "You will be responsible, but you may bring in whoever you say is actually responsible for what has happened". I am paraphrasing complicated legal language, but I do so in layman's terms.

There is nothing new in the principle which is brought to bear in Clauses 8 to 10. The damage and injury—the evil—which these provisions are designed to meet are very real, because in the last few years there have been numerous examples in the City of London, in the peculiarly overcrowed conditions of the City, where injury and grave inconvenience have been caused to the public by excavations not properly protected—that is what Clause 8 is designed to deal with—and by buildings going up too quickly, without proper precautions being taken.

When modern buildings replace old buildings in the City, nowadays the excavations normally go down much further than hitherto. The greater height calls for deeper foundations. In the foundations it may be necessary—it is certainly desirable—to provide car parking space, so that sometimes floor after floor of garage space is provided. This is something wholly new in city development in this country. I say "new" within the context of the last half century.

Similarly, buildings are going up much higher. In the old days under their local authority powers the City, like other local authorities, could say, "Put up a hoarding to protect the public". A hoarding is no longer a protection when a building towers perhaps 50 storeys above any hoarding which could be erected. In the old days it was possible to erect what I believe were called fans. This is the type of projecting protection which is seen around buildings so that water does not drip on the heads of passers by. Fans are useless when something drops from 25 storeys up and is carried away beyond the fan and perhaps way beyond the street in which the fan is put up for protection.

The result is that there have been numerous incidents in the last few years, first, with regard to excavations, of streets being undermined and falling in and of such streets having had to be closed to traffic as a result, and, secondly, grave risk of injury to the public by demolitions carried out too quickly and by cranes falling.

A short time ago there was an instance of a crane falling and cleaving through the top of a bus. Fortunately, the people inside the bus had a lucky escape, which, unfortunately, cannot be said of another incident, which the House will remember, on the Hendon by-pass, not long ago, just outside the range of the city and, therefore, of my speech.

If I may give the House one or two examples of what has happened in recent years, in November, 1959, Old Bailey had to be closed. I am not referring to the courts. None of my learned friends was out of work as a result of this, I understand. When it was opened it was opened only to single-line traffic because an excavation adjacent to it had been ineffectively protected. In October, 1961, in Carter Lane, there were site excavations adjoining a street; the street subsided and had to be closed for a considerable time. In 1963, in Moor Lane, the road had to be closed for approximately four days owing to unsupported site excavations. In the Barbican, the classified road had to be closed for five days in December last owing to badly supported site excavations which let down a water main under the street. The water main burst and washed away the road foundations.

These are circumstances which the ordinary law of tort, or the ordinary right of the local authority to get compensation for the nuisance caused, is wholly inapt to meet. The grave inconvenience which is caused to the public by having streets closed for days at a time, if not weeks, simply cannot be compensated by the sort of compensation which the local authority can insist upon for the nuisance of putting a street right.

Mr. Graham Page

Can my hon. and learned Friend tell the House, in face of any of those examples, whether the owners refused to supply information about the contractors and who was really responsible for the damage?

Mr. Grieve

It would be quite irrelevant to the citing of these examples for me to tell my hon. Friend whether that is so or not.

Mr. Page

It is wholly relevant.

Mr. Grieve

No, it is quite irrelevant to the examples which I am citing. At this stage, and at the time of these happenings, the local authority had no power to go to the people responsible such as is sought in the Bill under discussion.

Turning to the sort of dangers and evils which Clause 9 is designed to redress, they fall under three main headings: first—I have already alluded to this—in the construction of new buildings, and especially tall ones, from which articles may be carried a long way from the fans which have hitherto been a more or less adequate protection on the ordinary sort of building in the city. Then there are those resulting from the demolition—

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)


Mr. Grieve

If my hon. Friend will give me a moment, I will finish what I am saying and then I will give way.

Then there are those resulting from the demolition of existing buildings, especially where there is a penalty clause in the contract with the contractors so that they are hurrying for all they are worth to finish quickly. Finally, there is the damage caused by the collapse of cranes, scaffolding, and so forth.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend could tell the House what sort of legislation protects people in the United States of America where, I understand, high buildings have been erected for a number of years?

Mr. Grieve

I have confined my researches in this matter, which have been extremely short, to this country. I have not ventured to the United States. I cannot help my hon. Friend.

I should like to give examples of the three categories which I have cited. In Farringdon Street, in November, 1963, scaffolding which was being dismantled collapsed into the street. Half the street and one footway had to be closed and single-line traffic had to be operated. I am sure that hon. Members know the degree of traffic in Farringdon Street in an ordinary day.

In September, 1964, a new block was in course of construction opposite Cannon Street Station. Each floor of the block was being lifted by what I understand is called the lift-slab method from the ground in its entirety on to its own level in the course of the erection of the building. It was observed that two columns had suffered serious deflection after one of the slabs had been hoisted to the top of the building. It was leaning towards the street and if it had fallen it would have fallen into the street and taken a tower crane with it. It was immediately over the main entrance of Cannon Street Station. The station had to be closed during the rush hour and passengers had to be diverted to other entrances.

In Addle Street part of the scaffolding of a building collapsed in October, 1964, on a section of the building which bridged the street. The adjoining scaffolding on either side came to rest overhanging the street which had to be closed. In the course of demolition at the Old Bailey in September, 1959, as a result of the use of a ball and chain, the front elevation of a building collapsed into the street which had to be closed for seven days. At Great St. Helens, in December, 1963, buildings which were being cleared in connection with an area development fell into a street which had to be closed for a week. I am told that quite recently City officials came upon a case where a four-storey wall standing alone next to a street was being demolished by the ball and chain method, clearly to the greatest possible danger of any people who were passing by. I am not saying that those on the spot were not trying to take such precautions as they could but the street had to be closed.

In Shoe Lane, in 1960, during the construction of a new building a tower crane collapsed across an adjoining building. Fortunately, no injury was caused. In Great Swan Alley, in August, 1961, in the course of demolition, the building crane jib hit a girder resulting in a 30-ft. high wall collapsing into the street and causing considerable damage to vehicles parked there. Fortunately, there were no passers-by at the time. In Leadenhall Street, in April, 1964, in the course of demolishing a building, the jib of a crane collapsed, falling on a bus. This is the incident to which I referred earlier. It sliced completely through the top compartment of the bus and came to rest two feet above the driver's head.

The Bill is designed to deal with these kind of incidents of which the examples I have given could be multiplied. It simply is not good enough for my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby to say that if this sort of protection has to be given in the City by the creation of a special criminal offence it will repeatedly be followed throughout the rest of the country. The conditions prevailing in the City can hardly be met by example anywhere else, save perhaps in the most crowded parts of Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow and not even then because nowhere else could the redeveloping of land lead to the speed and sometimes to the sort of recklessness which has resulted in the incidents to which I have referred in the City of London.

I quite agree that the Clauses to which my hon. Friend refers require most careful examination. Far be it from me, having practised in the law, to suggest that any criminal offence should be created without the most careful scrutiny. But it is precisely for such careful scrutiny that our Committee procedure is designed. The Bill will be carefully scrutinised in Committee, and many of the objections raised by my hon. Friend will be met by Amendments which the promoters themselves will propose.

To remove these four Clauses from the Bill now would destroy the principal part of it, the rest of the Bill being confined to financial matters, street trading, and so on. In my submission to the House, the Committee should not be fettered in the way proposed by my hon. Friend, and I trust that he will seek leave to withdraw his Motion.

9.26 p.m.

Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

The hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) has covered the ground very fully. I wish to say just a few words in an effort to assist the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), whose opinions I value very highly as a rule but who, on this occasion, I feel, has rather slipped from the path and is urging a course which, in his heart of hearts, he must know is not one which can be adopted.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a series of Acts and regulations dealing with the very point with which these Clauses are intended to deal. What he overlooked is the fact that, in spite of all these regulations and Acts, it still remains true that many incidents of a previous nature including those mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Solihull, have taken place. I suggest that they have taken place because the laws and regulations prevailing hitherto have not been effective.

Mr. Graham Page

I do not deny that these things occur. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will assist the House by explaining how an owner, if he is made criminally liable, will go about inspecting scaffolding, how he can trouble himself about the lift-slab method or see whether the ball and chain is being used correctly. How can an owner do this sort of thing?

Sir B. Janner

If the owner were made criminally liable, I am sure that he would find ways and means of doing it either by himself or by arranging that someone competent should do it for him. The whole intention of these provisions is to make an owner sufficiently cautious and careful about operations of this kind so that he will not find himself in difficulty. I understand that to the purpose for which the City of London has introduced these provisions.

We cannot deal with this matter in a vacuum. A most serious situation exists now. Buildings are going up at great speed. Land owners, being human and anxious to make as much profit as they can—some would not blame them for that— are not always as anxious as they might be about the speed at which buildings are erected on valuable sites in the centre of London. Every hour every day makes a difference to them. It is important that the City of London should ensure that the citizens are protected so far as the law can protect them.

The hon. Member may regard the falling of a crane on somebody as an unavoidable incident, but the City of London does not, and, in my view, it is to be encouraged in trying to cope with such a situation so that the passer-by may be properly protected if this is at all possible. Cranes and concrete slabs often fall on people owing to negligence on somebody's part.

The hon. Member knows as well as I do that his Motion is intended as an obstruction. It is not an attempt to remedy the situation. It is an attempt to obstruct the passing of these Clauses in a Bill which has been drafted not with a sinister intent but to provide protection and prevent the obstruction of facilities which are so important in the City of London. If a busy centre in London is closed for two or three days, it means a terrible amount of inconvenience as well as a terrible loss.

It is the duty of those governing the City of London to ensure that protection is provided by way of legislation. They may have erred in respect of some of the provisions in these Clauses. It may be that the hon. Member for Crosby is cautious—we all have to be—about the introduction of penalties. But in Committee some further protection may be given to owners. The hon. Member is sensible and has considerable legal experience and knowledge, and he must realise that something has to be done to cure the present state of affairs.

The hon. Member says that a general Act should be passed for this purpose. But the general Acts that we have already had have not done the job. Cranes continue to fall owing to some negligence and many other difficulties are encountered. Those Acts have not remedied these things. Surely we should let the City have an opportunity in Committee to explain why it considers that their proposals will remedy the situation.

Let us not sidestep the fact that vested interests are involved here. Of course, I do not claim that vested interests are always wrong, for many of them are not. But those vested interests which are involved in this matter may not take the same point of view as those who wish to prevent vested interests from not being as cautious as they should be—I am using very careful language here—because their lack of caution may result in very serious injury and, in many cases, death.

I ask the hon. Member to withdraw the Motion in the knowledge that everything he has said tonight will not only be very carefully considered in Committee but that, even after that stage, he will still have an opportunity to deal with the position if he considers that the Committee has not acted correctly. On the other hand, of course, after that Committee, which is impartial, has reached certain conclusions, he may believe that things are not as bad as far as the legal precautions were concerned and that this is not such an attack on the rights or freedoms of the individual as he has feared.

I am not only concerned with the fact that serious injuries have been caused; some of them miraculous escapes from death, when a crane has fallen or similar incidents have occurred. I am also deeply concerned that this may be a progressive danger and that we must do something about it because buildings are going up higher and higher, with graver dangers. More careful handling must be considered by owners, contractors, sub-tractors and everyone else concerned. Not only is their liberty at stake but the liberty of the individual entitled to protection of life and limb.

This will go before a Committee which will have the right to investigate in the manner the hon. Gentleman would desire. It will be able to examine all the essential evidence that he, with his trained legal mind, would want investigated. This will be far better than a casual talk across the Floor of the House. All his points will be considered in the fullness of a legal investigation. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can think of no better way of going into the position. In these circumstances, I hope he will withdraw from his attitude and allow the Bill to go on to its Committee stage.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve. I have no rights in any property in the City of London, but, as a user of the City, I am a supporter of the Bill. I could not help feeling that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) went a little far in saying that the Building (Safety, Health and Welfare) Regulations were some protection 'to the public. I understand that those regulations were brought in under the Factories Acts and that, although they are a protection to the work people employed on the buildings, they are not a protection to the public, and it is the public whom the Bill seeks to assist.

The City of London is an extremely complicated place, with networks of narrow streets, railways and undergrounds. Building operations in the City are probably more dangerous than they are anywhere else in the land. Anything we can do to see that the public going about its lawful business, as I have to do from time to time in the City, is protected against the accidents which can occur on very high buildings should have our respectful attention, and I hope that the Bill will obtain a Second Reading.

Mr. Graham Page

Can my hon. Friend assist the House by saying in what way the public will be protected by making the owner criminally liable for errors in technical building operations, which is what these Clauses seek to do?

Mr. Gresham Cooke

By pinpointing the responsibility, and putting it on the owner, for seeing that these things are put right.

9.43 p.m.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

It is clear that the Corporation of the City of London has pointed to a major problem, and it is evident from the speeches we have heard and from our own knowledge that there is an increasing danger from modern building methods in urban areas. These are problems which require examination, and for the first time the matter has come before the House.

While I agree with the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that this is not the most suitable way in which to deal with the problem, we could have a catastrophe in the City any day, and the Bill is at least a beginning. I share many of the doubts expressed by the hon. Member for Crosby about increasing the number of possible crimes, but the problem put forward by the City of London must be carefully examined. The Select Committee will be able to consider all the evidence in detail and far more thoroughly than is possible in the House.

If, after the Bill has gone through Committee, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are not satisfied with the outcome, they will have another opportunity to raise the matter.

9.45 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

I intervene briefly to explain the Government's attitude to the Bill and to the objections made by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). I can be brief because the hon. Members who have intervened have considerably lightened my task in expounding some of the points. However, naturally, the House would expect a representative of the Ministry of Transport to intervene because my right hon. Friend and I have heavy responsibilities for maintaining the safety and convenience of public use of the highway. We are therefore very concerned with some of the provisions and proposals put forward.

It is surprising, on the face of it, that the hon. Member for Crosby should put forward objections tonight in the form of an Instruction to omit certain Clauses from the Bill, because he is so closely associated in people's minds with road safety proposals and is particularly concerned for pedestrians. The provisions in the Bill aim to give additional protection to pedestrians in the City of London.

Mr. Graham Page

I regret if I did not make my argument clear, but this was why I said I want a general law on the subject and that the administration of the present law was ineffective. I want the public to be protected in a proper way and not piecemeal by private legislation.

Mr. Swingler

That was one of the things said by the hon. Gentleman, but I took the general tenor of his speech to mean that these provisions would be ineffective and this was not the right way to tackle the matter.

The question which arises is whether in the City of London there is a special problem in this regard, and, if there is, whether it calls for new measures to tackle it. The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) showed that there is a particular and, maybe, increasing danger in the City of London because of the tallness of the buildings under construction and that this calls for special measures. I can understand many of the reasons why the hon. Member for Crosby disagrees with the form of these provisions, and I think that he may well have demonstrated that they are not perfectly drafted. But we believe and recommend to the House that the Bill should be allowed to go through so that it can, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) said, be thoroughly examined in Committee and the case for it well weighed up.

I remind the House that when we give a Second Reading to a Private Bill it does not necessarily mean that we approve all the principles contained in it, but we say that the customary opportunity should be given to consider the expediency of the measures. We in the Ministry of Transport think that the Clauses in the Bill are worthy of examination in Committee.

The value of Clause 8 must, I think, be apparent to anybody who walks round the City of London and observes the immensely deep excavations going on at sites where the foundations are to be laid for very tall buildings. This is a special feature—and it may be part of the answer to the hon. Member for Crosby—of the City of London which calls, as you well know, Mr. Speaker, for special measures. It is obvious that unless proper support is provided when these excavations are proceeding there is the danger of undermining adjoining streets. Roads are thereby made dangerous and may have to be closed to traffic, as has happened. The traffic then has to be diverted to other streets with all the consequences of increased congestion, lengthened journeys and general inconvenience to the public.

Under the present law, it is often true that the developer who causes a considerable and substantial nuisance of this kind gets off very lightly. It is true that the highway authority can claim damages for the cost of repairing the highway, but the public is in no way compensated for the loss and inconvenience that result from the closure of a road necessitated by excavation on adjoining land.

Clause 8 of the Bill would control excavations within 30 ft. of a public highway to preserve support for that highway. If the support was inadequate according to the standards of the Corporation, those responsible would be guilty of an offence and liable to a financial penalty.

Clause 9 deals with a different sort of nuisance which may be caused by activities on building sites. This Clause requires persons carrying out building and demolition operations near the street to secure that no danger is caused to passers-by. Under its existing powers, the Corporation may require builders to put up hoardings, but new building techniques have introduced new dangers, some of which have been mentioned by hon. Members in this debate. There is a new exposure to risk for pedestrians in the streets from objects which fall from these very tall buildings or past these hoardings on to narrow footways.

I believe that the promoters of the Bill have recognised the need for more up-to-date control over building operations in the interests of public safety in the streets and that the Bill is a valid attempt to try to deal with this problem. We, therefore, are in considerable sympathy with the Bill. This does not necessarily mean that the Clauses as drafted are not open to criticism and objection and should not be scrutinised carefully. They may well require modification. They do, however, seek to protect the safety and convenience of the public in an area of London where these are particularly liable to be adversely affected by building operations. The public has a right to safe passage on the highway and the Corporation, as highway authority, has both the right and the duty to assert that public right.

If, therefore, in the special circumstances in the City of London the Corporation feels that the general law does not at present give the public adequate protection, it is proper that it should come to this House and seek new powers to deal with the problem. The Clauses of the Bill may have their defects, but I believe, and I hope that the House will agree, that we should give the promoters an opportunity in Committee to see whether these defects can be put right.

9.53 p.m.

Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)

I do not want to add much to the debate, but we should realise that the promoters are seeking in the Bill to put upon the owner of land a responsibility concerning which he has no knowledge to enable him to carry such responsibilities. A number of cases have been cited of happenings which are serious and which obviously require examination and attention so that they should not be repeated. I have not, however, heard any hon. Member tonight say anything which indicates that placing the responsibility upon the owner of the property would have any effective result.

Obviously, the people who have the responsibility, and who have the knowledge to carry out that responsibility, are the contractors. I hope that we will not be so persuaded by a long list of cases, of which we do not know the circumstances, to believe that it is a good thing to end that string of cases by making the owner responsible prima facie in these matters. If the Bill goes to Committee, I hope sincerely that that will be carefully reconsidered.

Question put and negatived.