I beg to move, in page 43, line 19, to leave out from "result," to the end of line 23, and to insert:
being, in either case, measures involving a substantial degree of risk to property.The purpose of the Amendment is to bring the definition of "war damage" in the Clause into closer relationship with what the Prime Minister stated was inherent before the Bill was introduced. That was the necessity of drawing a distinction between what was war damage caused by a bomb and what was consequential and indirect damage. This Amendment rearranges the paragraphs in order to make that clear.
I beg to move, in page 43, line 26, at the end, to insert:
Provided further that the expression 'war damage' shall be deemed to include damage to a hereditament consequential on the repair of the damage referred to in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of this Sub-section not having been executed if the Commissioners are satisfied that such repair could not reasonably have been executed.
I move this in order to get some assurance that the consequential damage will be allowed for in some part of the Bill.
This deals with a point covered by Amendments in my name. I am speaking on behalf of the County Councils' Association when I say that they wish to have a clearer definition of the kind of damage. The Bill refers to "direct damage done." That may mean only damage attributable to enemy action or to precautions taken by the Government. It does not say anything about damage done by weather. If there were a row of houses with the windows out or the roofs damaged and it was not possible for the occupier or owner to have them repaired, considerable further damage might be done to the property by the weather, over which he has no control. We think that that damage, which is "attributable," should be included in the damage done, and an Amendment which I put down to exclude the word "direct" would, I think, have covered that particular point. Perhaps the Minister will refer to it when he speaks and tell us what is the attitude of the Government. I have no intention of protecting people who are negligent, after damage has been done to their property, by not protecting it to the best of their ability. I put clown another Amendment which safeguards that position by providing that the compensation would not include any increased damage which had arisen through the negligence of the individual.
I hope that the Financial Secretary may be able to give an assurance that the expression "war damage" will include deterioration due to weather. We all know of cases in which, for various reasons, property cannot be repaired, but it seems to me that on a strict interpretation of the wording of the Bill consequential damage and deterioration might conceivably not be included in the compensation. I am not altogether sure that my hon. Friend's Amendment is quite wide enough. It provides that the expression
'war damage' shall be deemed to include damage to a hereditament consequential on the repair of the damage referred to in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c).
What he has in mind, I think, is deterioration consequent on the non-repair of the hereditament. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman can accept the principle of the Amendment it can, no doubt, be reworded on the Report stage. I think an owner of property who through no fault of his own is unable to repair that property should not have to suffer the loss arising from consequential damage occasioned by wet or snow.
Two points have been raised in this discussion. The first concerns damage which may arise from weather or other such causes before temporary repairs can be executed. The second point concerns damage which has occurred owing to somebody's neglect, and that is a different issue. On the first point I am advised that the Clause as drafted would insure that compensation would be paid for all consequential and latent damage which might be legitimately arising from enemy action, and that, I think, covers the point about the weather. We are quite prepared to make certain that the Clause does cover it, but it is generally believed that that sort of indirect result of bomb damage should be covered. Other Amendments which have not been moved bring in a whole sphere of indirect results and raise a very different proposition. It is not necessary to argue them now, because they have not been moved. The effect of them would be to widen the obligations beyond anything we had in view in the Bill. On the point of neglect, the Amendment which has been moved is, as the Bill stands, unnecessary. What we propose to do is to try to devise an Amendment to be brought forward on the next stage which will secure that where there has been negligence in failing to execute works which if they had been executed would have prevented further damage, then the negligence ought to be taken into account when it comes to assessing payment. I think that is really what is at the back of the mind of the hon. Member—that if the owner just does not do anything he should not get the same amount of compensation as if he had done what a good citizen would do, that is, done his best to restrict the area of damage.
I should like to make it clear that my Amendments were not moved because, I understood, they were not called, as preference was being given to the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member opposite. It was my desire that my Amendments should be called, because I think they are more in line with what is wanted, but I had to speak on my hon. Friend's Amendment because mine were not called. I think this Amendment of mine would have met the point of negligence on the part of the owner. It is, in page 43, line 26, at the end, to insert—
Provided also that no payment shall be made by the Commission in respect of indirect war damage unless they are satisfied that all reasonable precautions to prevent such damage were taken by the person otherwise entitled to such payment.
However, in view of the statement made by the Minister, I am willing to agree to the matter being dealt with later.
I think the Financial Secretary misunderstood the purpose of the Amendment, which was to secure a guarantee that where people had taken precautions the Bill did give them proper compensation. Obviously it would be ridiculous to say that people who did not take those precautions should receive the same consideration. In view of the fact that the Financial Secretary is proposing to introduce some new provision in regard to this matter, I will not prosecute this point further.
Notwithstanding what the Financial Secretary has said, I do not feel satisfied that deterioration caused by weather would, in fact, come under the heading of "war damage." Perhaps his advisers will consider the point again, in order to make quite certain that it is included.
I beg to move, in page 43, line 44, at the end, to add:
() The provisions of Sub-section (3) of this Section shall have effect as respects work done on land, damage caused to land, and loss or damage to vehicles or aircraft whether done, caused or occurring before or after the commencement of this Act:
Provided that nothing in this Sub-section shall be construed as affecting any payment under the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, made before the commencement of this Act.
The object of this new Sub-section is to ensure that the provisions with regard to compensation in the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, and in this Bill are co-extensive. As this Bill is to be retrospective it is necessary that the provisions of the Act of 1939 should also be retrospective, but with a proviso that where transactions under the Act of 1939 have been closed nothing further can arise.
May I raise here the point which I mentioned a moment ago regarding the meaning of the words "involving a substantial degree of risk"? Those words remind me of the question, "How long is a piece of string?" It is purely a guess or somebody's estimate of what is a substantial degree of risk. I can see no justification for inserting the words at all. Substantial degree of risk is purely a relative term.
There are certain forms of preparation which, everybody would agree, involve greater risks than others. For example, suppose the enemy were advancing along a road and it became necessary to make preparations by putting explosives under a bridge, and so on; such preparations might involve a more substantial degree of risk than would exist if the enemy's advance had not occurred. Other examples might be given, in which different degrees of risk would be involved, but into which I do not need to go at the moment.
Perhaps I have not made the point clear. Both these paragraphs say:
measures taken under proper authority.
If the measures are taken under proper authority, what is the purpose of the qualification that the damage will be compensated for only if the precautionary measures taken involve a substantial degree of risk to property? If damage is done to property the risk must have been there, and whether it is a substantial degree of risk or not does not make any difference when the property has been damaged. I cannot see why there should be a limitation, if the damage is done as a result of the precautionary measures.
I cannot remember all these things off-hand, but I believe the case I stated would obviously fall within the sphere of the Clause, namely, when making arrangements to blow up a bridge. On the other hand, one might take preparatory action against the enemy resulting in damage of some sort or other, while clearly not involving a substantial degree of risk to property. For example, you might be moving troops about, and, while those precautionary movements were going on, a lorry might run into a shop front and do damage there. Unless you had some words in the Clause to cover such a case, somebody might think that it came within the definition of war damage. No substantial risk would, however, have arisen out of your preparations simply by reason of the fact that a lorry had run into a shop front; but there would have been such risk, if something had happened as a result of the mining of a bridge. There is a distinction between those two cases and there may be many other cases.
If we were making a hole, as an anti-tank measure, no one would say that it involved a substantial degree of risk to property. If it actually caused a landslide and a subsidence of the whole of the property concerned, the preparatory measures, while not apparently involving a substantial degree of risk, would have actually resulted in a substantial degree of damage to the property, but the damage would be ruled out, under the Clause. If the words were something like: "measures resulting in substantial damage to property," they would be more appropriate to the point used by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury; but I will be content if he will look into the matter.