HC Deb 07 December 1937 vol 330 cc229-58

It shall be the duty of all local authorities charged with functions under this Act to furnish to the Secretary of State such information as may be demanded by him for the purpose of assisting the preparation by His Majesty's Government of plans for any necessary transference of the civil population in the event of hostile attack from the air.—[Sir S. Hoare.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.13 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Samuel Hoare)

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

Hon. Members will see that the Clause provides that all local authorities charged with functions under this Act shall furnish to the Secretary of State such information as may be demanded by him for the purpose of assisting the preparation by His Majesty's Government of plans for any necessary transference of the civil population in the event of hostile attack from the air. Hon. Members will also see, if they glance at the Amendments in my name to Clause 1, that I propose two consequential Amendments which would make effective the objects of the new Clause. The House will remember that during the Committee Debates great attention was given to the question of evacuation. Several Members in different parts of the House were obviously anxious lest we were not giving sufficient attention to the question of evacuation, or lest, even if we were giving sufficient attention to it, we had not effective powers in the Bill to see that evacuation was included in its proper place in the schemes of the local authorities. I gave an undertaking, having noticed the obvious anxiety of many hon. Members, that I would look into the question again to see whether the powers in the Bill were watertight in this respect. I said, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) that I would see whether, apart from the question of these powers being watertight or not, it would not be wise, on general grounds, to make some allusion in the Bill to this very important question.

My further inquiries have gone to show, first, that the Bill is watertight, and that even without this new Clause, we could, under the regulations and under the existing Clauses of the Bill, insist on schemes of evacuation being included in the local schemes. Secondly, my investigations went to show that it would, on the whole, be wise to make specific reference to evacuation in order to remove doubts, even though those doubts were not justifiably founded, so that there could not be any uncertaintly in the minds of any of the local authorities concerned. Thirdly, it seemed to me, on further consideration, that it would be wise to make more specific a provision to which a good deal of attention was given in the Debate, namely, the provision for refugees, evacuated from one area to be introduced into another area. On that account, the proposed new Clause, first, lays upon local authorities the obligation to provide the Government with the necessary information about evacuation and, secondly, makes it clear that in their schemes they can provide for populations coming in from outside their own areas. It will be remembered that a great deal of attention was given to that point, and the longer the Debate went on the clearer it became that the problem of evacuation, if it is to be successfully dealt with, is a problem which far transcends the boundaries of this or that local authority. It has to be dealt with in bigger areas and, perhaps, in the case of London, which is the most difficult and urgent of all the cases concerned, we may find that it has to be dealt with by some central scheme. The House will, I think, agree when they consider the new Clause and the consequential Amendments that I have dealt effectively with the main point raised in the Committee Debate, and I hope I have succeeded in removing the anxieties of the hon. Members who were doubtful about the Bill in its original form.

I can say, finally, that we have this question of evacuation constantly and vividly before our minds. We realise as fully as any hon. Members, the need for evacuation schemes. We also realise the difficulties that are inherent in any such schemes. We already have provisional plans at our disposal. We now intend to carry those plans a great step further, but a necessary condition of doing so is to have local information from the various local authorities. That information we shall obtain under the new Clause. We shall see in the schemes and information sent in by the local authorities the exact scope of the problem and the application of particular measures to particular areas. We shall see what areas ought to be evacuated and where, in the event of evacuation, populations are to be transferred, and so on. We hope, as soon as the Bill becomes law, that there will be no delay in obtaining information of that kind. The central Government will then be able to deal centrally with the whole problem. Without the information which will be obtainable under this Clause, it will be difficult to be sure of getting all the data needed. Because we regard the question as very urgent and because we need such data, I hope the House will accept the new Clause. I also hope that I have succeeded in removing any anxiety which may have been in the minds of hon. Members during the Committee stage.

4.23 p.m.

Mr. Montague

It will be agreed, I think, that the proposed new Clause is not only an admission that the sense of the House expressed in previous Debates was right, but also an admission of the usefulness of the criticisms which have been made, from this side of the House particularly, upon the proposed machinery of evacuation. The right hon. Gentleman said that the regulations and the Bill, as it stood, without this new Clause, would have been sufficient for putting into operation, fully and effectively, the machinery of evacuation. But I think hon. Members will agree that his subsequent remarks proved the necessity for a Clause of this character, and demonstrated the fact that the Bill, in its original form, was not adequate to deal with this question. The general question of evacuation will be discussed at greater length on the Third Reading, within the limits set by the procedure and the Rules of the House, but there is one point which I wish to make at this stage, and I make it by putting a presumption to the right hon. Gentleman. The proposed new Clause reads: for the purpose of assisting the preparation by His Majesty's Government of plans for any necessary transference of the civil population in the event of hostile attack from the air. May we presume that the Government accept full responsibility for the evacua- tion plans in London and other cities, and not only responsibility for the plans in detail, but also financial responsibility, including responsibility for preliminary expenditure? That ought to be made clear. We want to know definitely whether this also is to be regarded as a sort of reserved subject. The necessity for this Clause and the words used by the right hon. Gentleman in presenting it justify the argument which has been advanced on several occasions that some centralised authority should be responsible for evacuation in general. During the Second Reading Debate the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) suggested the appointment of a director-general of air-raid precautions to take charge of an enlarged and reconstructed department. The hon. Member said: There would be somebody in charge in that case who possessed sufficient authority to take decisions without delay. …. A director-general at the head of an enlarged department would be in a position to get things done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1937; col. 79, Vol. 329.] What the right hon. Gentleman said in reference to the use by local authorities of the powers in the new Clause where it is a question of refugees from one place to another, points to the necessity for a sound central authority. This is not a question which can be handled by local authorities, even large authorities like the London County Council. It involves larger considerations of national policy, and of policy which affects other local authorities. For that reason the proposed Clause implies that the closest consideration should be given to the question of responsibility, and even if it is not a question of appointing a director-general, at least some specific statement should be made before the Third Reading as to the way in which the whole problem of evacuation is to be dealt with when the necessity arises. Even before the necessity arises I take it that we shall have to prepare plans. We shall have to consider plans, not only for the event of war, but for the possibility of the event of war. It is not a question, in London or anywhere else, of the complete evacuation of the whole population, any more than it is a question of the complete protection of the whole population from gas, of getting the whole population into gas-proof rooms, or making complete entrenchments, or anything of that kind. Evidently, all these things will have to be worked in together. It will be a matter of high policy and of taking a wide view of the problem as a whole. Therefore, I suggest that the implications of the proposed new Clause go rather further than hon. Members have realised, and perhaps even further than the right hon. Gentleman himself has realised. In any event, although there are other things which we shall say upon the question of evacuation at the proper time, we welcome this admission by the Government that the trenchant case made, particularly by the Opposition but also by other sections of the House, with regard to evacuation, has served an exceedingly useful purpose by convincing the Government that this new Clause was needed.

4.30 p.m.

Captain Alan Graham

I think we must all welcome very sincerely the inclusion of this new Clause, but some of us are shocked by the admission, which is implicit in the text of the Clause, that plans have not already been made, and that the information necessary for those plans has not yet been acquired. The Home Secretary must be aware that the vulnerability of London is perhaps the weakest point in all our defences, and consequently it weakens the structure upon which our whole foreign policy rests. Of the various dangers that threaten London from air attack, perhaps the principal danger is that of the inevitable disorganisation and panic which are bound to accrue when a population of 7,500,000 people become a target for air attack. It is the fact of this huge agglomeration of people that makes this question of evacuation so imperative and so urgent. By most of the principal countries of Europe not merely has the question of preparing plans been envisaged, but those plans have been entirely worked out. We are deplorably behind the times. If this is an earnest of the vivid apprehension in the mind of the Home Secretary of the urgent necessity for this Clause we welcome it, but we hope that by welcoming it we shall not encourage any feeling that there is still time for dalliance. An enormous amount of information is essential in the preparation of these plans.

The most vital collection of information that must be sought is that relating to the possible division of the population, of London at all events, into approximately five categories. The first category consists of people who would be moved from London on mobilization by being called into their respective military units; the second, those who could be relied upon to remove themselves from the capital at the first threat of hostilities, or on the first day of mobilisation, and would find their own method of transport to places in the country: people, in other words, whose duties would not entail their presence in London; and the third would consist of people whose duties would involve their presence in London. For those three categories, evacuation would not be necessary; for the remaining two, it would be necessary. These two categories would consist of the families of those people serving in the Forces, who could, however, safely be evacuated to distant parts of the country, and the families of those people whose duties compelled them to remain and work in London, but which would need to be visited from time to time by the head of the family. These, consequently, should not be removed to a great distance from London, but should remain in the countryside not far away. In order to reach those places, of course, all questions of transport will have to be gone into; facts with regard to train accommodation and car accommodation not merely gone into, but co-ordinated with the military authorities, who themselves will have to consider, if they have not already done so, the requisitioning of trains and cars for their own purposes.

Whether this evacuation is to be compulsory or voluntary on the first day of mobilisation is still, I suppose, a question for the Government to decide, but not merely must plans be prepared, but in either event the people must know where they can obtain the vouchers which will entitle them to transport and billets. The question of billeting can only be dealt with by co-operation with the local authorities, who must be made responsible not merely for furnishing information of suitable billets, but for seeing that they are in proper condition, and that foodstuffs, sanitation and water supplies are available. These things have already been worked out in most of the great European countries. To most of us who have already seen so many of our friends sacrificed to the "Moloch of muddling through," there is no virtue at all in being content to abide by that very out-worn principle, which is nothing but the child of national self-complacency and mental inertia. I hope the celebrated "locusts" of lethargy and delay have not yet eaten away our security. The Home Secretary has not much time. He has about three months, I should think, for the skies to be sufficiently clear for the next bombing season to begin.

4.37 p.m.

Mr. W. Roberts

I do not think it is necessary to emphasise, more than has already been emphasised, the desire in all parts of the House that this question should receive urgent consideration by the Government, but there is a matter which I should like again to emphasise, and that is the question of dealing with very large numbers of children. I do not know if it is the intention of local authorities to keep schools open in the event of a national emergency. If so, the problem of providing shelter, not only in people's own homes, but in other places of occupation—which in the case of children will be schools—and of travelling to and fro, will become even more difficult for children than for adults. I would press the Home Secretary strongly to make preparations for moving a very large proportion of the children out of London. They can be accommodated in large buildings in the country districts which are relatively safe, but it is a matter which will need very careful arrangement beforehand. Possibly, they can go with their teachers. That is, of course, only one part of the whole problem of evacuation, which has been pressed upon the Home Secretary and the Government from all parts of the House—possibly more insistently by the supporters of the Government even than by the Opposition. We are glad, therefore, to see that the Home Secretary has put down this new Clause.

I do not know, however, whether I am in the same position as other Members of the House, but it seems to me that the actual wording of this Clause does not carry out the intention which the Home Secretary expressed in his speech. When hon. Members put down Amendments in Committee, in order to emphasise the necessity for local authorities to provide schemes of evacuation, we received from the Government Front Bench several answers. In the first place, the Under-Secretary stated that it was definitely the duty of local authorities. These are his words when he spoke on 16th November: It would be the duty of the local authorities of big centres of population in the provinces to consider this matter in connection with their own schemes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1937; col. 295; Vol. 329.] I take it, from the Home Secretary's speech, that that is still so, and that the local authorities have got to initiate these schemes; but in another part of what he said I gathered that the Government were going to consider the whole problem of evacuation and to prepare their own scheme. I am at a loss to know what the position is regarding the problem of evacuation, as between the local authorities and the Government. The Clause does not state that it is the business of the local authorities to include evacuation in the scheme which they are asked to submit to the Government. The Clause merely states, and states very clearly, that it is their business to supply the Secretary of State with information so that he may prepare a scheme of evacuation. Are we to understand that the whole policy of the Government is now changed by the Clause, and that the initiative is to come from the Government, and not the local authorities? We want to get this matter very clear, because even the marginal note of this Clause does not appear to coincide with the Clause itself. The marginal note states that it is the Duty of local authorities to assist arrangements for evacuation of civil population. The Clause does not say that it is the duty of local authorities to assist the Secretary of State, but merely to provide him with information. Are they to provide transport and accommodation in the districts to which the population is moved? That particular point was the subject of a special query to the Home Secretary on the Committee stage. An hon. Member asked whether the general reply which the Home Secretary gave, that schemes of evacuation were to be a part of local schemes, covered the question of receiving refugees as well as sending them away, and the Home Secretary replied that that was a question which could not be dealt with under this Bill. These are his words: That would be outside the scope of a Bill dealing with local authorities, but we have it very much in mind that we can deal with it either by legislation before the emergency or in what is generally known as the 'Dora legislation' as soon as the emergency begins."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1937; col. 1475, Vol. 329.] That answer was rather disquieting to some of us who are especially interested in this question of evacuation. It seemed to me, at any rate, that it was a matter which ought to be planned long before the emergency arises. We gather that this is rather the view of the Government and that plans are to be made now.

The hon. Member who has just spoken regretted that the plans were not further advanced than they appear to be, at any rate for London. I do not think we are at all clear as to the position, and I hope that we may have further enlightenment on this point. It is a matter of importance for the local authorities to know whether they are to initiate the schemes or whether the Government will do so, and for another reason, that one section of the population may have to be evacuated, and I hope will be evacuated in large numbers, namely, those people who are living in houses which cannot be gas-proofed. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) estimated that the numbers of these people would be between 7,000,000 and 8,000,000.

If the intention of the Government is to deal with even a small proportion of those people it will not be necessary for the local authorities concerned to provide the other form of protection which has been indicated by Government spokesmen as another means of affording some protection, namely, shelters. Those who live in bad property, slum property, which cannot be properly or adequately gas-proofed are, we learn, to have provided for them by the local authorities shelters which can be made gas-proof and also splinter-proof and blast-proof. If large sections of these people who are living in overcrowded and dangerous houses are to be evacuated, obviously that will remove the burden from the local authority, to some extent, of providing such shelters, but it will place a very heavy burden on those local authorities who are to receive the evacuated population.

The hon. Member who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench raised the point as to how the finance of the evacuation is to be arranged. That is a point which I would strongly emphasise. If the Government are going to take the initiative in evacuation, are they going to remove the responsibility for providing accommodation, transport, and possibly the maintenance of children and women who cannot support themselves in the areas of the local authorities to which they are sent? Therefore, I would ask that we may have a little more definition on the question who is to initiate the policy, and who is to pay for it when it is carried out.

4.49 p.m.

Mr. Ede

By this new Clause the Secretary of State is introducing a new feature into the framework of the Bill and a piece of machinery that will be outside the general machinery of the Act. Hitherto, the Bill has been put before us as a Bill for empowering and requiring local authorities to prepare schemes. The marginal note of Clause 1 says: Duty of certain local authorities to provide and submit air-raid precaution schemes. When we come to Clause 3 (2), the Bill says: It shall be the duty of every local authority to discharge such functions as may be imposed on the authority by this Act or by any scheme in force thereunder. The general understanding was, as explained on Second Reading and in the Committee stage, that the local authorities would be responsible not for the preparation and submission of the schemes, but for a very considerable part of the working of the schemes that had been approved by the Secretary of State. But when we get to evacuation, apparently a new principle is to be introduced. The local authority is to have no other part, according to the new Cause, in the preparation of a scheme than the submission of such information as is called for by the Secretary of State, and he is empowered to call for this information only from a very limited number of local authorities. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that only a very limited number of local authorities are charged with the duty of supplying the information, because the duty is limited to those local authorities charged with functions under the Act. They appear to be defined in Clause 1 (2) as county councils, county boroughs and certain selected non-county boroughs and county districts, which are allowed to prepare their own schemes, although normally the scheme would be prepared by a county council.

I gather that those are the only people who are charged with functions under the Act, although the local authorities who have power to levy a rate or a precept for a rate under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, may spend money. We may find ourselves in this peculiar position that some of these county district authorities who have been given permission to prepare a scheme, and are given powers under this Act to provide expenditure, may be preparing their own evacuation scheme quite independently of the Secretary of State, because during the past two years of delay the most extraordinary things have been happening in the case of some of these local authorities. They have gone on with their own schemes. I have met one or two chairmen of parish councils, and they think that it is part of their job to repel the air raider. They think that the most effective precaution against an air raid is to prevent the air raider getting through. I am not sure that the definition in the Act of the power of a local authority to spend money does not include the parish council, because they precept on the rating authority, the rural district council, for the collection of their rates under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925.

I cannot think that the right hon. Gentleman wants to have these duties in the machinery of air-raid precautions on such entirely different lines from the general line that has been pursued. I agree that it is going to be a very difficult matter, especially if it is carried out according to the programme of the hon. and gallant Member for Wirral (Captain Graham). If the people who have their own cars are to be encouraged to go first and the people who have no cars of their own are to be put into a fourth category and have to wait until they have seen these other people go, and have seen their men folk join the Forces, or some of their men folk have been taken for other purposes, I am sure the chaos that some of us foresaw will be certain to result when these schemes have to be put into effect.

Captain Graham

I did not mean categories of time.

Mr. Ede

Did the hon. and gallant Member mean an order of social precedence?

Captain Graham

No, Sir, but simply the division of people to be dealt with into various types or classes, giving special consideration to each special type.

Mr. Ede

Then it was purely accidental on the part of the hon. and gallant Member when he got these people into the somewhat extraordinary order that he did.

Captain Graham

It is a very minor point the hon. Member is raising. It is not a question of class consciousness on my part.

Mr. Ede

Perhaps it is a result of two or three hectic nights in Paris which the hon. and gallant Member and certain of his friends have recently spent, studying this problem in the midst of the other distractions which, we understand, are part of the night life of the French capital. At any rate, apart from the strictures that are ordinarily directed by hon. Members opposite to their Front Bench, it would appear from the hon. and gallant Member's speech that the programme he outlined is one that indicates that the Government have a great deal of work to do in this matter. I am sure that everyone on this side of the House will express their surprise with the hon. and gallant Member at finding that we are only now beginning to make a start. I am more concerned with the impingement on the whole matter of local government framework of the scheme as a whole.

I had imagined that it was the intention of the Government that these schemes should be as free from complication as possible, and I cannot understand how with great complications of machinery they are going to run the ordinary scheme of the Bill, as originally printed, with this part of the Bill, under which the local authorities have no share in the schemes, where the Government are going to prepare a scheme and where, so far as I can see in this Clause, the Minister takes no power to compel the local authorities to participate in carrying out the scheme when it is finally evolved. That proves what has been stated many times from this side of the House during the Second Reading and the Committee stage that if these schemes ever have to be brought into effect, they will never be brought into effect on the basis of local authority administration. They will be brought into effect on the basis of what was called D.O.R.A. legislation by the Under-Secretary during the Committee stage of the Bill. Then we shall get back, perhaps, to some form of unity on the whole matter. It would be as well, in view of the original framework of the Bill, to try so to frame the Clause as to make it an essential part of the framework of the Bill that any alterations that are to be made in the case of emergency may be as simple as possible, and that the whole thing may proceed on the basis of unity of command which, as far as I can see, cannot be preserved in the way that is provided by the new Clause.

4.59 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

I welcome the new Clause, which, I think, will commend itself to hon. Members generally. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) was anxious to show that the decision of the Secretary of State to introduce the new Clause was attributable to the efforts of his colleagues on the Opposition benches. I am sure that none of us wish to quarrel as to who shall get the credit for the new Clause. The Secretary of State has rightly pointed out that the Clause is unnecessary and that he has introduced it mainly in order to reassure hon. Members in all parts of the House that this matter of evacuation is present in his mind. I thought myself of putting down a Clause of this nature on the Committee stage, but having looked at Clauses 1 and 4 I was satisfied that the question was already adequately covered.

Nevertheless, I am inclined to think that this new Clause will definitely make the Bill more easily workable than it would otherwise have been. As I understand it, under Clause 4 it was possible for the Home Secretary to oblige local authorities to work in co-operation with one another, and that would no doubt have been the Clause which would have been applied in the case of evacuation schemes. But I think it would in practice have turned out to be extremely inconvenient if, for instance, you were evacuating people from London to an area quite remote from London, say in Wales or the West country, to have to ask the local authorities in London under Clause 4 to work in close co-operation with the authorities in some distant part of the country. This new Clause clearly indicates that the Government are going to take over the question of evacuation and to prepare the necessary plans centrally. For that reason I welcome it.

Then there was the question of finance, which was raised by the hon. Member for West Islington. I agree with what he said. In evacuation schemes the burden of the expense will fall in the main, not on the authority whose people are to be evacuated, but on the authority in the area, to which they are sent. It is they who will have to make the arrangements for billeting, provisioning, victualling, water supplies, and so forth. It would, therefore, seem to be unfair to impose upon local authorities the cost of making arrangements for the populations of areas other than their own. Equally it would be extremely difficult to ask the local authorities of the area from which the people are to be evacuated to bear the burden of the expense without having any direct say in the arrangements. Therefore, it seems to be logical and convenient that the expenditure in this case, in regard to the whole question of evacuation, apart from the collection of information, which will be a minor factor, should be borne by the National Exchequer.

The hon. Member for West Islington supported the suggestion which I made, and which, I think, was made in a slightly different form by my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) in the Second Reading Debate, namely, that there should be a Director-General appointed to supervise and organise air-raid precautions. I agree with the hon. Member that, while the appointment of a Director-General and the enlargement of the Air-Raid Precautions Department are desirable from every point of view, it is more necessary in the case of evacuation than in any other matter. On the Second Reading and Committee stages doubts were expressed in all parts of the House as to whether the Government were fully alive to the importance of preparing plans for evacuation. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, by introducing this Clause and by his speech this afternoon, has given us some very material reassurances in this matter. Therefore, in common with other hon. Members, I warmly welcome the new Clause.

5.5 p.m.

Dr. Haden Guest

Like other hon. Members, I welcome this Clause, and I am very glad to know that the Home Secretary has expressed his agreement with the general view of the House on this matter, but I would like to point out, with regard to this question of evacuation in the case of air attack, that there are only two alternatives. One is to clear the area likely to be attacked as soon as possible of all the persons who do not actually need to be there while you are able to move them in their normal health and well-being, and the other is to leave them until they have been bombed and then remove them as casualties. There are not any other alternatives. If you leave a large number of people around an area near any docks, whether it be at Newcastle, Glasgow, or London, who do not need to be there, near to a point which is likely to be heavily bombed, you will have to move them after the bombing as casualties, and that will be not only more difficult and more complicated, but will also entail, apart from the humanity or rather the inhumanity of the business, very long treatment of those people and the establishment of very large numbers of hospitals for their treatment. When, therefore, the Home Secretary talked about the great difficulty and complexity of the problem, which I have tried to realise and which I hope I do realise, but which is so great that I am not quite sure whether I do, because it is really a tremendous problem, I would say that, however great the difficulty of evacuating people may be, it is better to evacuate them while they are well and can walk than when they have been bombed and have to be carried on stretchers.

I think the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) made a good suggestion about evacuating schools. There is an excellent institution in the education service—what are called "School Journeys." It would be a very good thing to send all the children at school on a school journey into some remote part of the country if hostilities should begin. It seems to me that the way in which the Home Secretary has drafted this Clause is the best way of doing it, if I may say so. I do not see how it could be done by individual local authorities themselves. If you think of the Greater London area, involving not only London itself, but Middlesex and all the Home Counties round and about, right down to the East Coast and the South Coast, and going up to Oxford, quite a long distance out—you have only to take an ordinary map of the Underground Railway to see how far you go out—nothing less than governmental authority can deal with that situation, otherwise you will have to improvise an authority of all the local bodies concerned, which would not have, of course, the same power behind it as the National Government have. It is, therefore, desirable and essential, in my opinion, that it should be done by the Government as such.

There is one point, however, to which I want to call attention in this connection. When 10,000 or 100,000 people are being moved, you cannot just move them casually, as the Home Secretary knows very well, into an area, but you have to be certain that the area to which they are to be moved has not only housing and water, but means of sanitation, because if you do not move them into an area where arrangements for ordinary living, especially water and sanitation, exist, you will then add to your troubles by enormous epidemics. If, for instance, you were to allow a flood of people to leave London at a time of crisis and flood down to the South Coast, to the seaside towns, then the sanitary systems of those towns would break down, and you would have epidemics on a very large scale. That is to be avoided, and that is another reason why the Government are the only authority which should deal with this question. I hope the Government will see to it that every area which may possibly be a point of attack will in fact be asked to give information with regard to methods and schemes of evacuation. As I read this Clause, it would not be the duty of any local authority to initiate such a scheme, and it would only be the duty of a local authority to assist in the preparation of such a scheme by His Majesty's Government when they had been asked to give that information. I hope there will be no doubt at all that all the authorities which might require to have evacuation schemes for the benefit of their population will be in fact asked by the Home Secretary.

For my part, I feel to a certain extent reassured by the course that the Debate has taken on this Bill and by the existence of this Clause, by which arrangements for evacuation of the civil population can be made. It is not only reassuring in itself, but it is, I think, reassuring as an indication that the Government are really getting down to the very serious consideration of the matters involved and are really facing the great gravity of the situation, which I confess, in the beginning of these Debates, was a matter about which I was not at all sure. I feel assured now that the matter will be grapled with, and I would say to hon. Members who say that they do these things so much better abroad, that at any rate this country has one inestimable advantage over any country abroad, and that is in our system of local Government, which provides for independent action by the local authorities and has a long tradition behind it, which, I believe, is without parallel anywhere else. I think that, by using that to the full and getting their co-operation, as I hope the Home Secretary will succeed in doing, we shall be able to put up a scheme such as will make this country, as far as is possible under the lamentable conditions of an air attack, a safe country, and I say that, not only from the standpoint of immediate safety, but because I consider that if that can be done, it will be an assurance of national safety in the sense that it will make attack very much less likely to occur.

5.12 p.m.

Major Sir Ralph Glyn

This Clause seems to me to be the only possible Clause if effect is to be given to the wishes expressed in different parts of the House, and for this reason: Hon. Members have talked about evacuation as if it was a very easy and simple business. It is one of the most complicated things that can be done, and each local authority, unless it is to work through some central organisation, may complicate the position rather than relieve it. There is one personal example which I may give, of a very large city in the Midlands where this question was ventilated, largely on the Debates in this House on the Second Reading, and articles appeared in the newspapers suggesting that certain tunnels on the railway would form the most admirable shelters for large numbers of people who would be evacuated from that city in the event of an air raid. It may interest the House to know that, to take the seating accommodation of the whole of the rolling stock of every railway in this country, it is only a little over 3,500,000 seats. That means the rolling stock operating to the North of Scotland, in Wales, and in every part of the country. I hope, therefore, we shall not lead people outside this House to believe that the moment there is an air attack it will be possible to move large numbers of the population by rail, be- cause it is physically impossible, and we have no right in this House merely to give lip service to ideas unless we see some means of carrying them out.

It has been my business in connection with the railways to study this problem, not only here, but to study what has been done in Germany and France. I was astonished to hear an hon. Member declare that schemes in Germany and France deal with apparently the complete evacuation of the civil population. They do no such thing. It is clearly laid down in Germany, Italy and France that people living near strategic and tactical points, which will obviously be targets of enemy attack, shall be evacuated, because they rightly assume that such points as that will be the first objective of an enemy. Under the ordinary laws of humanity you should remove women, children and old people from these particular places. Is it not far more important to do that than to lead the whole population of a great city to think that they have all to flow out and choke up every means of communication and thereby prevent the very people who will be exposed to the greatest danger from being evacuated either by rail or by road?

Captain Graham

If by any chance my hon. and gallant Friend is referring to my speech, as showing the position in categories, I was not referring to whole populations but only to certain people, when it was essentially possibly to move.

Sir R. Glyn

My hon. Friend did say something of the sort but he did not confine it to the evacuation of people living near strategic points, which, I want to emphasise, can be done only under central direction. It should be done in conjunction with local authorities, if there are dangerous zones from which you want to evacuate people. I should have thought that that was a fairly clear way of dealing with categories or classes or anything else, to evacuate those who are in the most dangerous positions. In Germany they do not encourage the population to go away from their own habitations, but deliberately instruct those who are engaged in factories, if they are not provided with shelters and anti-gas protection, to go to their homes as fast as they can. The German Government make no provision for whole evacuation from large cities because they recognise that the railways and the roads will be sub- jected to a very heavy attack and that the roads and railways will become targets. It will be the objective of the enemy to paralyse your railway communications as well as to paralyse communications by road.

Therefore, these matters must be taken into account by the Government, and it is only for the Government to say how, when and in what manner you should evacuate. The Clause of the Home Secretary makes it quite clear that any schemes which the local authority put up to prevent panic will be abetted by the central authority, but we must not encourage panic by making in this House speeches which will enable everybody to think that there will be the means of evacuation for very large numbers because that is not possible. It may be an unpopular thing to say in this House, but it is easy to paint rosy pictures. It is our business to tell the truth as we see it, and to say exactly what are the limitations.

One of the most urgent matters of which we have to think is the prevention of the choking of the means of communication in a time of emergency. I do not know whether the House realises the enormous tonnage which is now conveyed by coastwise shipping, but all that tonnage will suddenly be thrown upon the railways or the roads. There will be abnormal traffic going in all directions and it will mean a certain amount of disorganisation. We have in the railway personnel of this country a magnificent body of men who have never yet failed, but every man will be wanted if we are to keep the lines open. That can be done only if we have the assistance of the police and the local authorities. Hon. Gentlemen will remember perhaps that when they came home on leave during the Great War, when an air raid was going on in London, how suddenly the tubes became packed with people to such an extent that there might have been disaster. There would be a disaster in the event of gas attacks unless precautions were taken to prevent people taking shelter in places like the tubes. Therefore, in talking about evacuation we must not allow an expectation to be raised in the country which is not justifiable, and it is our business in our own constituencies or anywhere else, if there is a point of danger or one that is likely to be attacked, to see that the people who are in that position are placed in safety.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the bench opposite who said that one of the greatest problems would be that provided by those who possess their own little motor cars. It will not matter if their motor cars are laid up and they have not licences. They will bring out their cars and will be the first lucky ones to get away. But all the roads will be congested, and unless the problem is dealt with by a central authority there will be complete confusion. Therefore, the Government have taken the only possible course open to them, and I believe that this evacuation can be carried out only with the assistance of local authorities and with the assistance of the Government. No doubt, under D.O.R.A. or some such regulation, all transportation will have to be very strictly nationalised and operated. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It will have to be done in that emergency. It is the only way in which it can be done, and obviously it cannot be done by local authorities alone.

Therefore, we should make it clear that, in dealing with the most dangerous positions, and recalling that the ports and harbours will be very heavily attacked and that all luxury traffic will have to be denied the use of the railways and the roads because there will not only be troops to move but munitions and food supplies, that we cannot afford, as our whole future may be at stake, to have communications blocked by unnecessary traffic. I welcome this Clause because I believe that, with the assistance of local authorities, we shall get order instead of chaos.

5.23 p.m.

Mr. David Adams

I merely rise because I happen to be a member of an air-raid precautions committee of a local authority, and I desire to know whether the Home Office or the Government have decided to abandon the Circular which was sent out in July, 1935, upon which local authorities of the country, even up to the present moment, have been working. In response to a question addressed to the Home Secretary last week I was informed that 150 or so local authorities had already prepared and sent in schemes to the Home Office based entirely on that Circular. According to the Circular the local authorities were the bodies authorised to prepare the whole of the necessary schemes. Do we understand that, in the matter of evacuation, they are to scrap such schemes, and that the Government themselves will undertake the full responsibility? In my judgment, many of the statements which have been made as to the impossibility of local authorities carrying out this work are not well founded. It will be quite impossible for the Government to do it without co-operating actively with the local authorities of the Kingdom, and particularly in the case of actual air raids.

If there are portions of the population to be removed, the local authorities must be depended upon to keep the thoroughfares open and to effect the necessary repairs, and, in the new areas, to see that water supply and so forth are carefully preserved and handled. If this is to be a joint scheme of co-operation between the local authority and the Government, with supreme command in the hands of the Government, then, I think, it will be workable, but are the local authorities to be advised from now that they can take no further part in their preparations? The authority of which I am a member has made very close and elaborate preparations for evacuation, and if, in fact, these preparations are no longer necessary, the local authorities ought to be apprised of the same forthwith.

5.25 p.m.

Sir Richard Meller

I only want to say a few words on this subject because one or two speakers in the Committee stage have referred to some observations which I made upon the Second Reading of the Bill, particularly with regard to evacuation. I have always regarded the Bill as one which dealt almost entirely with the functions of local authorities. When the discussion arose upon evacuation, it seemed to me that it was going outside the intended scope of the local authorities in this matter, which, if it were practicable at all, was certainly one which ought to be taken in hand by the Government. In the course of the discussion I said that some of the suggestions made with regard to evacuation rather intimated that the local authority would be placed in the position to whisk away large portions of the population to spots of safety. We also assumed that the local authority or the Government were in a position to determine where these safe spots were to be found. From the very early stages of the consideration of air-raid precautions by local authorities, it has been an assumption that attacks would be in the nature of a surprise, and the local authorities have been told that they must make their preparations in anticipation of the fact that they would not have more than from one to four hours in which to work. Therefore, in preparing plans it must be largely upon the prevention of panic and the alleviation of suffering which might arise.

The proposal which has been put forward with regard to evacuation is a totally different proposition altogether. It first of all assumes that hostilities are likely to remain for some time. The preparations you are to make in that case will involve the placing of people not for a day, but for many days in districts far removed from their homes, and, as has rightly been pointed out, it will also necessitate the provision of sanitation, water and food supplies. That is obviously a duty which must fall upon the Government. I believe that this Clause is rightly drawn, at least in giving the Home Secretary the opportunity of calling upon local authorities to make a survey of their districts, to assist him as to the possibility of placing large or small numbers of persons in a particular area, and to state also whether there would be land, houses or buildings available where water supply and other things would be necessary.

As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) pointed out, it is not right that we in this House should lead people outside to believe that this Measure will provide safety for all and that there will be evacuation, and that food will be supplied. That is not what the Bill provides, it is not what the Government intend, and it is not what local authorities are to provide. It is intended that we should render the greatest assistance possible in the greatest emergency, but you cannot provide protection for all. If we are to assume that protection will be provided and that nobody will suffer, then we should be obliged to have precautions which go far beyond the financial possibilities of this or any other country. I am glad that this Clause has been introduced, but I want it to be understood that we have not arrived at a stage which provides absolute safety for all, and that the people will understand that even with the best possible arrangements it is not possible to guarantee the safety of everyone.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Simmonds

In view of the observations of one or two hon. Members during the last half hour I feel that I must say something on this matter. There are several views on the subject of evacuation. The hon. Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Meller) seems to suggest that unless you can promise safety for all it is not worth considering evacuation at all; at any rate that evacuation is not a major problem.

Sir R. Meller

If the hon. Member will study what I said and do me the honour of reading the OFFICIAL REPORT, which he has had in his hands for several days, he will not again say that I ridicule the idea of evacuation. Indeed, I am sure he would say that he is exceedingly sorry that he has given such an extraordinary version of my observations.

Mr. Simmonds

Although I differ from my hon. Friend in this matter I have no desire to misrepresent anything he has said, but it will be within the recollection of hon. Members that in his speech he seemed to suggest that those who thought evacuation an important part of air-raid precautions were not looking at the realities of the situation. I put it no higher than that. Whatever he may have intended, that I think is the impression he gave to hon. Members. Some hon. Members say that because evacuation does not provide safety for all it is not one of the major aspects of air-raid precautions. Others suggest that evacuation is a kind of "general post" where you have everybody rushing in and out of cities daily and weekly, or perhaps at longer intervals. I fancy that the Secretary of State does not regard evacuation in anything like that light. He regards evacuation—and he is right—as being the means of reducing the intensity of population where attacks are likely to be made most frequently, and if that is not an intelligent proposition I cannot understand air-raid precautions at all. The hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) suggested that because heavy responsibility would be placed on the shoulders of railway companies evacuation could not be carried out promptly and that, therefore, it was a matter which should not be regarded as of prime importance in air-raid precautions measures.

I believe that evacuation may take one, two or three weeks from certain target areas. As the war proceeds, if one can foresee at all what will happen, we shall have an increasing intensity of air raids, and unless we have complete mastery of the air those who remain in these target areas will suffer an increasing number of casualties, not necessarily an increasing proportion, because the population will have been thinned down. Although evacuation may take weeks surely it is not to be pooh-poohed for that reason. The hon. Member opposite suggested that my friend and I who had been in the French capital discussing these matters with some of the French authorities spent our evenings in discussing other things than air-raid precautions. I can assure him that that is not the case, and that we discussed this matter all the time that was available. Whatever may be said about evacuation, I can, without giving any secrets away, say that the French take a realistic attitude in regard to air warfare and have decided that of the 4,500,000 population in Paris, 2,500,000 will be evacuated in the first few weeks of war.

London is a similar target area to Paris, in so far as the inner circle of the Metropolis is concerned. Nobody would suggest that the suburbs of London need be evacuated, but I have always maintained, since I have had discussions with those interested in this problem abroad, that it will be essential to evacuate the population who need not remain in the centre of target cities. In common with other hon. Members I should be loth that the country should get the impression that evacuation is a complete solution of the problem of air raids and that all casualties will be avoided if we get early plans for evacuation, but I should be more disturbed if it went out to local authorities that this House did not think evacuation was one of the prime responsibilities of public authorities in time of war.

Mr. Boothby

When the hon. Member refers to evacuation, does he for example refer to banks and Government offices, so far as London is concerned?

Mr. Simmonds

I am speaking geographically of the centre of London, and I cannot imagine that in the next war anybody will stay in the centre of London who is not considered essential by the Government. That is a matter which will have to be decided when the emergency arises. As I have said before, I hope the Government will have made plans for their own evacuation in the event of it being necessary. I hope sincerely that the Secretary of State will be able to assure the House that although some hon. Members have poured cold water on the proposal he regards it as of prime consequence.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

I consider the Amendment as important because unless evacuation is properly prepared for and dealt with the whole of our air-raid precautions will break down. Evacuation is a central fact, and only if it is adequately dealt with can other air-raid precautions be effectively operated. I rise only because some hon. Members seem to have peculiar confusions in regard to the situation which is likely to arise. I heard one hon. Member talking about the situation in Germany and comparing the situation there with the situation here. Anyone whose mind is working along such lines cannot possibly understand this question. If a war should break out the great mechanised army of Germany will be rushed every day over the roads to the east and west, roads which have been prepared for a great mechanised army, and the civilian population will be in as great a danger from the German army as from a foreign army. They will take possession of the roads and these juggernauts will be driven continuously along them. Any of the unfortunate population which gets into these roads will be swept away by the Germany military authorities without any hesitation. The big problem for Germany in the event of war is to keep the roads clear for her army to go east and west.

In this country it is not a question of keeping the roads clear for great armies to pass to and fro, although there will be certain military movements. What we shall have to face is an extreme attempt to destroy the morale of the civilian population. There will be the most terrific effort to bomb the main centres of population. The lesson of the intensive submarine campaign should be learned by every one. It was carried out with the specific purpose of demoralising the civilian population of this country. This will be the main danger so far as this country is concerned. I come to the question of the necessity for preparing for evacuation. No one has had any experience of the problem; experience will have to be gained. Are we going to wait until war starts? Are we going to wait until the bombing planes come over? Is it not obvious that it would do no harm and might do a lot of good, if the Home Office invited the principal local authorities to work out in their own way small experimental schemes of evacuation, just as you have experiments going on in connection with the putting out of fires and rescue from gas attacks.

Surely it is possible for the principal local authorities to gain experience in evacuation to places which are considered safe, and as to the ways and means of getting the necessary food and water supplies to these people quickly. They could experiment now and get some understanding of the problem and how it can be overcome. No greater problem will face the people of this country once war breaks out. Surely no hon. Member is going to suggest that we should train men to act as volunteers to put out fires and render aid in the case of gas attack, and not face the greatest and most difficult problem that will confront us, that of evacuation, and make no preparations and no experiments with regard to it. Is it not possible to start in the immediate future some small experiment in connection with the evacuation of London in order to see what are the difficulties? As a result of such experiments, we could attempt to get a grasp of the difficulties, so that when the emergency came, we should not be taken unawares, but would understand the difficulties and be prepared to deal with them. I suggest that the Amendment is inadequate. I think there should be an Amendment advising the principal local authorities, in areas where there are great masses of population, to begin now to prepare small schemes of evacuation and experiment with them.

5.46 p.m.

Sir S. Hoare

I shut my ears to no suggestion, from whatever quarter it may come, and during the Debate I have tried as much as any hon. Member to learn anything that is useful. I feel that this is an uncharted problem of immense complexity, and I should be the last person in the world to say that we have said the last word as to how to deal with the difficulties. We have to take into account the experience of other countries, although I will say in passing that I agree with the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) as to the danger of generalising too much upon what is suitable in different conditions from our own. That is one of the troubles about the whole of this problem. There is a great variety of conditions, different in one country from what they are in another, and different in one town and in one area from what they are in another town or another area.

I suggest to the hon. Member for West Fife that there is nothing in our Amendment that will not make possible experiments in the future, if we think it wise to make them. Indeed, I think it would be more difficult to make experiments without this new Clause than it would be if the new Clause were passed. I would also point out to the hon. Member, in relation to his remarks about small experiments, that one of the troubles with evacuation is that small experiments may teach us very little. It seems to me that the essence of the problem is its magnitude, namely, great bodies of men, women and children, it may be hundreds of thousands of them, crowding on the railways, on the roads, on all means of communication. Although I do not wish to dogmatise on the point, I can conceive that an experiment on a small scale would teach us no very useful lessons.

It seems to me that there have been three questions raised by hon. Members in the course of the Debate. The first question was, Who is responsible for the new Clause? Was it hon. Members on the benches opposite, was it my hon. Friends behind me, or was it the Government Bench? Let me say at once that I am quite indifferent about the source of the Amendment. I am very anxious in connection with this Bill, and still more when the Bill gets on to the Statute Book, that any claims of this or that section should vanish into the distance, and that we should regard it as a House of Commons Bill, passed through the House with a general measure of support from all parties, and that any credit that may arise as to this or that part of it should be shared by the whole House, as an Assembly, rather than by any particular party.

Two questions were asked by the hon. Members for West Islington (Mr. Montague) and North Islington (Dr. Guest) who bring to the matter expert knowledge. They asked, first of all, whether I could make some further statement as to whether or not the machine of the Air-Raid Precautions Department would be adequate to deal with all of these difficult problems. With the hon. Members' permission, I will say a word or two on that subject in the Third Reading Debate. The hon. Members' other question, which was also asked by one or two other hon. Members, was, Who is to pay for these schemes of evacuation? That question leads me inevitably to the further question, asked in the first place by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), as to whether, under the new Clause, we were introducing some new principle into the Bill, and whether we were not taking over from the local authorities duties which it had originally been intended should be carried out by them. We must clearly draw a distinction between peace time and war time as far as the expense is concerned. During peace time, before the emergency, the expense in connection with evacuation, urgent and important though the question of evacuation is, will be very small. The aspect will be the preparation of schemes, and I imagine that that will involve quite small sums of money. Any expenditure incurred under that heading would, of course, receive the appropriate grants. Any expenditure that we might make separately, as Government expenditure, would be met out of our general powers to make Defence expenditure of that kind.

As to the duties, the hon. Member for South Shields was right up to a point, for the Clause does introduce a certain new element, but to a very limited degree. It introduces a new element in so far as it enables the Government, under the Bill, to deal with the co-ordination of these evacuation schemes. The reason for that is that we found earlier in the Bill that inevitably, when dealing with evacuation schemes, there must be a central authority to co-ordinate. Nothing more than that is intended by this Clause. I think I can entirely reassure the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. D. Adams) when I say that we intend that the local authorities should draw up their schemes and that those schemes should be based, as far as possible, upon local administration, but that the Government should come in as the co-ordinating body to deal with the kind of questions raised by the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), namely, questions concerning the transference of population some considerable distance. Apart from that, the Clause introduces no new element into the Bill. It makes that small addition to the powers of the central authority without which no evacuation plans could be drawn up.

Mr. Sandys

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the financial aspect, will he make clear what are his intentions? Does he mean that local authorities into whose areas people will be evacuated, that is to say, local authorities which will have to make preparations for the laying on of water supplies and so on, will have to incur expenditure which will not be paid 100 per cent. by the Exchequer?

Sir S. Hoare

No, Sir. We shall have to treat the question as I expect we shall have to treat the question of base hospitals, and it will not be a local charge. When the emergency has come upon us, when war has started, that expenditure, I feel sure, will have to be borne separately.

Mr. Montague

The right hon. Gentleman has said that the preliminary expenditure will be small, and from that I gather that the expenditure will be divided by the local authorities. When the emergency comes, there will arise the question of big Government schemes for the transfer of population. But has the right hon. Gentleman considered the possibility that there will be involved some preliminary work causing heavy expenditure? I have in mind at the moment one definite piece of work, the desirability which might arise for huge camps, with tents, and so on. That ought not to be left until the emergency, but to be done beforehand.

Sir S. Hoare

I think the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) will see, on closer consideration, that that is the type of question on which we cannot give a definite opinion until we have the local schemes. In the particular case which he mentioned, that of camps, he will realise, on further consideration, that many local difficulties are raised by it. Can one be sure that the sites of the camps will be, at some uncertain date in the future, comparatively safe, and so on? It is that sort of difficulty which we must take into account when we have the local schemes. Without the local knowledge and the advice of the local authorities, we cannot say here and now what exactly will be the preparations under any particular scheme.

Mr. Sandys

May we take it that before the emergency, the local authority into whose area people may be evacuated will not be asked to shoulder any great burden?

Sir S. Hoare

Certainly, that is our present opinion. I give the House an undertaking that these proposals are concrete only to the extent of our knowledge as at present. If a new situation arises in future which changes the whole picture, I give the House an undertaking that we will meet the local authorities again and discuss the question in view of the new conditions. As at present advised, we take the view that the expenditure involved by the local authorities will be very small. The first step is the preparation of the schemes.

I would not like to conclude without saying once again that my colleagues and I regard this as one of the most important questions connected with air-raid precautions. We realise the difficulties, but none the less we shall do our best to surmount them. I feel certain that we shall be in a much better position to gauge the difficulties and to come to wise conclusions as to how to deal with them when we have the survey to be made by the local authorities and the proposals which they make on the subject. I hope the House will agree that, far from being what I think one of my hon. Friends described as the locusts of apathy and inertia, we have this question very much in mind. I realise there is still much to be done in connection with it, and as far as I am concerned, the sooner it is done, the better I shall be pleased.

Clause added to the Bill.