HL Deb 23 March 1948 vol 154 cc1013-5

2.38 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a Third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Morrison.)


My Lords, before this Bill passes into law, there is a point in it which I think deserves your Lordship's attention for a moment or two. I would like to say straight away that I have no complaint about the Bill itself, nor with regard to any of the parties to it. As your Lordships have not copies of the Bill in your hands I will read a short passage from it. The Bill includes the making of a tunnel under a river and Clause 17 says that: In order to avoid…injury to the houses and buildings within one hundred feet of such works it may be necessary to underpin or otherwise strengthen the same. Therefore the Corporation at their own expense may, and if required by the owners or lessees of any such house or building shall…underpin or otherwise strengthen the same and the following provisions shall…be binding on the Corporation,"— The clause then goes on to say that if any parties, the lessees or owners of any house or building, object to the house being underpinned they have to put in an objection, and the notice to be given by the Corporation is ten days. I would point out to your Lordships that an objection can be brought by a lessee, even though his lease may be nearly up and it may be to the interest of the owners. Then the matter goes to the arbiter and the necessary works are decided by an engineer appointed under the Act.

The Bill goes on to say: If in any case in which any house or building has been underpinned or strengthened on the requisition of the Corporation"— and that is the way in which this will usually begin— such underpinning or strengthening proves inadequate…in every such case unless such underpinning or strengthening has been done in pursuance of and in the mode prescribed by the arbiter the Corporation shall make compensation… The point that occurred to your Lordships' Commission, to whom this Bill was sent, was why, under these circumstances, the undertaking should be carried on by the Corporation at the risk of the property owner, provided that they find an engineer to prophesy that the house will not fall down. If, in fact, it subsequently falls down, why should the Corporation be free of any liability in the matter? The Corporation were quite ready to meet the point and all parties were agreed. Accordingly, in the Bill we find Clause 18 directly contradicting Clause 17, which says that in any case where there is a collapse the Corporation shall give compensation.

Your Commission asked why Clause 17 was drawn in that form, and the answer given was that it was the common form. Instead of Clause 17 being altered, as the Commission thought probable, the common form is maintained, even though it appears to be unjust, and is now corrected in Clause 18 of the Bill before your Lordships. I am very much interested in this question of the common form. Your Lordships will appreciate that ten days is not long notice. If the common form is eminently fair and equitable it may be a reasonable thing to have very short notice. But if the common form is in any way inequitable, then the shortness of the notice becomes a distinct grievance to the subject. The very fact that Clause 17 has not been altered in the Bill before your Lordships, but has been entirely repealed, as it were, by Clause 18, supposes some great sanctity in these common forms—a kind of vis inertiae of wrong. If there is no real reason for the maintenance of the clause in this form, I humbly submit that it should be altered. I believe that a Committee are sitting on this matter at the present time, and I suggest that it should be referred to them. If, however, that is not the case, I would ask my noble friend who is in charge of the Bill to accept what I have said this afternoon as a question not for oral answer, in order that the Government's answer on the matter may be published in the proceedings. That is all I have to say on the matter, and I hope my noble friend will draw the attention of the authorities concerned to it.


My Lords, I have listened with interest to what the noble Lord has said and I will certainly direct the attention of the Secretary of State to the point. As I follow him, he does not desire any alteration in the present Bill, but is content that it should go through as printed. With regard to the last point made by the noble Lord, I have made some inquiries and I doubt whether it would be possible for a statement to be published, in the form that he asks, in the official record of the proceedings of the House. I will consult with the noble Lord later, but to achieve his object it may be more satisfactory if he will do as he has suggested, and put down a question not for oral answer. A written reply will then appear in the Official Report. I hope the noble Lord is satisfied, and that the Bill may now proceed to its Third Reading.


Perhaps the noble Lord will let me have the official answer to what I have said, and then I shall be able to formulate a question. I will certainly adopt the course he suggests.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.