§ The Lord Privy Seal (Sir John Anderson)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement. When I first outlined to the House, on 1st December, the proposals of His Majesty's Government in regard to National Voluntary Service, I promised that at no distant date I would make a corresponding statement regarding my other duties, in respect of Civil Defence, I rise to-day to implement that promise. In the short time at my disposal I cannot attempt to make a comprehensive statement on Civil Defence as a whole; and I therefore propose to confine myself to-day to the problem which I believe to be uppermost in the minds both of Members of this House and of the public at large. I refer to the problem of air-raid shelters.
2881 Much criticism has been directed against the work of the A.R.P. Department on the ground that it has given undue attention to precautions against gas attack. It is true that our preparations against gas are more advanced than other aspects of our air-raid precautions work and that in this respect we are far ahead of all other countries: but, if the risk of gas attack seems less than it did, this may be due to the thoroughness of our preparations. We must now bring to the same state of completeness our preparations against the incendiary bomb and the high-explosive bomb. As regards incendiary bombs, the plans for augmenting our fire-services in an emergency have been fully worked out, and we are pressing forward as quickly as possible with the recruitment and training of the necessary personnel and the provision of the equipment required. To complete our preparations, we must now address ourselves to the task of providing equal protection against the danger of the high-explosive bomb.
A practical shelter policy must satisfy three primary conditions. In the first place, no plan would be satisfactory which made provision only for a proportion of those likely to be exposed to substantial risk. Our aim must therefore be to provide, in the areas vulnerable to attack, shelters which are well distributed over the area and are easily accessible on receipt of an air-raid warning. So far as possible, people must be given this protection in or near their homes and in or near their places of employment.
Secondly, we must recognise the fact that against high explosive there can be no Zoo per cent. protection. Shelters proof against a direct hit are not practicable, at any rate as part of a short-term policy. Apart from the difficulties and delays involved in any extensive scheme for deep bomb-proof shelters, I do not think we are prepared to adapt our whole civilisation so as to compel a large proportion of our people to live, and maintain their productive capacity, in a troglodyte existence deep underground. What we can, and must, provide is, not bomb-proof shelters, but adequate protection against splinter and blast and against the fall of debris.
Thirdly, no public authorities—neither the Government nor the local authorities—can make themselves responsible for 2882 providing this protection, at public expense, for everyone. As was indicated by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in his statement on 3rd November, their responsibility is to provide this protection for all who cannot fairly be expected to provide it for themselves. All who can afford to do so will be expected to arrange for their own protection, but the Government will see that all necessary technical advice and guidance is made available to them.
Having indicated these governing considerations, let me proceed to break up the problem into its component parts. There is no single expedient which will solve all parts of the problem: we must attack it piece by piece.
First, we must see that people are reasonably protected while they are at their work. This is a responsibility which rests primarily on the employer. In the legislation which we propose to introduce, immediately after the Christmas Recess, certain obligations in this respect will be imposed on trade and industry; but we hope that employers are not waiting, and will not wait, for any measure of statutory compulsion. Under modern conditions, it is the duty of the employer to protect his workpeople from these risks, just as it has been his duty hitherto to protect them against dangers of injury or unhealthy conditions of work; and we are confident that employers generally will accept this new responsibility, subject to the necessary guidance being afforded to them. A revised Handbook on Structural Precautions will be issued very soon and, by the co-operation of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the services of the factory inspectors will be made available to assist employers.
Secondly, we must give protection to those who, when an air raid comes, are caught in the streets, away from their homes and from their place of work. For these, communal shelters will be provided—either in trenches such as those constructed in the autumn and now being made permanent, or in other forms of communal shelter to be provided by the local authorities. These shelters must be carefully sited and adequately sign-posted. Advice has already been given regarding the types of communal shelter which could be provided, and steps will be taken to accelerate the surveys which local 2883 authorities have already been asked to carry out with a view to determining what provision should be made—for example, by strengthening large basements in warehouses and offices which could give refuge to numbers of people likely to be in the vicinity at the time of a raid. The provision of underground car parks may also contribute, in the course of time, towards a solution of this part of the problem.
Communal shelters of this kind will, however, serve the needs primarily of those who are caught in the streets. It is only in exceptional circumstances that communal shelters could cater for people who, when an air-raid warning is given, are at their work or in their homes. It is not possible to contemplate a system by which, as a general rule, people at home or at work would rush out, on hearing an air-raid warning, at any hour of the day or night, to a public shelter some distance away. Such a system would lead inevitably to panic and confusion, and there would be grave risk of people being injured, and perhaps killed, in their struggle to find a place in a public shelter which in all probability would not be large enough to accommodate all who wished to take refuge in it.
The hard core of the problem is, therefore, to provide protection for the ordinary citizen in, or close to, his own house. This is the problem on which my Department has been concentrating its attention since I undertook the responsibility for measures of Civil Defence, and I can now indicate to the House the lines on which the Government believe that a solution has been found. The method of protection must vary according to the type of the building and its surroundings. In houses with basements, the most practical means of providing shelter is to strengthen the basement; and we are making arrangements to produce a standardised fitting—consisting of light steel sheeting to be fastened to the ceiling joists of the basement, and steel supports to carry the weight from the strengthened ceiling to the level of the foundations. The steel sheets will be fixed in peacetime, but this will be done with the least possible disturbance of peace-time user; and the steel supports can be stored and need not be put finally into position until an emergency arises. In co-operation with the local authorities, we shall carry 2884 out a survey to see to which houses this method can profitably be applied.
In blocks of flats or tenements, the most satisfactory course will be to provide structural support—either in the basement or in the ground floor of the building—which will afford a shelter sufficiently large to accommodate the persons living in the other parts of the building. In buildings where an exceptionally large area can be strengthened in this way. arrangements will be made to enable the shelter to serve, not only the people living in the building, but also others living nearby for whom no other shelter is available. To this extent these buildings will play their part in the provision of public shelters. For houses without basements—primarily the two-storeyed house not very solidly constructed—we have, with the assistance of certain eminent members of the engineering profession nominated by the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and with the co-operation of the steel industry, evolved a special type of steel shelter which is in sections and can be easily put together, without any technical skill or professional assistance. To secure the maximum degree of protection, this shelter should be placed outside the house close to the house-wall—in a garden or yard—and should be sunk about two feet in the ground, the displaced earth being piled up over the top of the steel frame. In such a position it would be readily accessible from the house.
And now a word as to finance. The provision of the equipment for these private shelters is not a matter which could readily be undertaken by a number of local authorities up and down the country. It calls for central purchasing and central control. The Government therefore propose to reserve to themselves the responsibility for accumulating the necessary stocks of equipment, and so far as these private shelters are concerned the Government will bear the whole cost of the material. We shall proceed at once to place orders for a very large quantity of steel equipment. For the smaller type of house we shall arrange for a supply of the special steel shelters sufficient to afford protection for 10,000,000 people; and for the strengthening of private basements material will be accumulated progressively as we proceed with the necessary survey of the houses to be strengthened. The cost of providing all this material, which 2885 will be borne entirely by the Exchequer, will be of the order of £20, 000,000. This is a very large sum, but we are satisfied that it is necessary expenditure, and there are two important considerations which can be offset against the ultimate net cost to the Exchequer. First, the production of these large supplies of equipment will lead at once to increased employment in that part of the steel industry, particularly the steel plate section, in which there is at present considerable unemployment because it has been but little affected by the rearmament programme. Secondly, if happily there should be no occasion to use this equipment for the purpose for which it was intended, all the steel left in the hands of the Government would have a residual value, while the special shelters designed for the smaller type of house would probably have a considerable re-sale value.
These shelters for the poorer sections of the population in their own homes, will, as I have said, be provided by the Exchequer; but a balanced shelter policy is incomplete without the public shelter for persons caught in the streets and those for whom protection cannot be given in their own homes. The duty of providing these necessary public shelters remains with the local authorities. It is still an urgent and an onerous duty; but the Government's decision to make this provision for private shelters at the expense of the Exchequer will sensibly reduce the burden which would otherwise rest on them. The Government therefore feel confident that they can look to the local authorities—even the poorer authorities, for they are likely to benefit most from this new decision—to press forward without delay with the provision of public shelters to the fullest extent still necessary. The Exchequer contribution under the Act towards the cost of these public shelters will amount to several million pounds; and the whole programme which I have outlined is designed to provide protection for nearly 20,000,000 people.
On these lines we can build up a properly balanced shelter policy. For persons at work, protection provided by the employer at the factory or office. For persons at home, protection in private shelters within or adjoining the house. For persons caught in the streets and for those for whom no private shelters can be made available, communal shelter—either in trenches or in shelters specially con- 2886 structed in the basements or lower floors of offices, warehouses, blocks of flats or other large buildings.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
Could the right hon. Gentleman inform the House how he reconciles his estimate that these shelters will cover 20,000,000 of the population with his former statement that if we are to have shelters we must have them for the whole of the population? Secondly, will he inform the House how it is proposed to finance all the expensive work in connection with tenement dwellings, including municipal tenement dwellings?
§ Sir J. Anderson
The answer to the first part of the question is this: I said that in the view of the Government the shelter policy must be comprehensive in the sense that it must provide reasonably adequate protection against splinter, blast and the fall of debris for persons exposed to substantial risk. That is the first qualification. The second qualification I made was this: That the Government do not propose to provide shelter of this kind at the public cost for those persons who might reasonably be expected to provide it for themselves. The figure of 20,000,000 which I gave is the figure of the persons for whom protection will be provided under the special provisions which I have described this afternoon. It does not represent necessarily that proportion of the population to whom ultimately in one way or another protection will be made available. As regards the provision of public shelters, as I pointed out, the scale of the provision required is now reduced by the arrangements to be made for providing private shelters for persons in their homes in congested districts. Apart from this, the responsibility for public shelters remains unaffected by the statement I have made. The financial responsibility for public shelters is at present divided between the local authorities and the Exchequer, and nothing that I have said to-day involves any alteration in that respect, except that the scope of that responsibility is very substantially reduced.
§ Mr. Lansbury
Do any of the proposals that the right hon. Gentleman has outlined deal with high explosives? Will he tell us which part of the scheme will protect the people where high explosive bombs are dropped?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I made it quite clear in my statement, I think, that this scheme does not contemplate provision against what would be regarded as a direct hit by a high explosive bomb. It contemplates providing reasonably adequate protection against splinter and blast from a high explosive bomb falling close by, and provision also against the fall of debris as the result of such explosion.
§ Mr. Lansbury
There is no provision here for protection if a high explosive bomb drops in the middle of one of the very big blocks of dwellings?
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Are we to understand from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the Government reject deep tunnel shelter, which would of course meet the point of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury)? Do they reject it solely on the ground that people do not want to live in them? Has the right hon. Gentleman assumed that if such deep tunnels were made the people would need to live in them, any more than in other forms of shelter? The right hon. Gentleman did not answer my question as to how the finance could be settled, the very considerable finance of the strengthening of tenement dwellings, principally municipal dwellings.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I apologise. I did fail to answer one part of the right hon. Gentleman's questions. As regards the strengthening of buildings with basements, such strengthening can be provided by the sort of device I have described, that is to say by fixing to the lower part of the ceiling-joists of the basement or of the lower floor a certain type of pressed steel and by providing steel supports which could be stored and quickly put into position in an emergency. So far as private shelters are concerned, that is included in the scope of the proposals for which the Government will bear the whole cost. As to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's last supplementary question, I tried to make it 2888 clear that I was endeavouring to enunciate a short-term policy, a policy which could be put into effect very rapidly. I said that the provision of deep bomb-proof shelters could not, in the opinion of the Government, form a part of such a policy. The considerations that arise in regard to such shelters are not merely considerations of cost. There is the question of delay, and providing suitable access and exit in the case of shelters which presumably would have to accommodate very large numbers, and there is the question of how far, if resort had to be had regularly to such deep underground shelters, the better solution might not be the evacuation of the population. These are all matters which deserve very close consideration, but they are outside the scope of the statement I have made to-day.
§ Sir Edward Grigg
Can my right hon. Friend give any idea as to the period in which these shelters could be completed?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I should prefer not to be tied down too closely to an actual date. We propose that orders shall be given practically at once. The advice of the engineers and representatives of the steel industry who have collaborated with the consulting engineers, is that the manufacturing operation is a simple one, that the supplies of raw material available are already adequate and that, after an initial delay while plant was being got ready, production would proceed at a very rapid rate. But I think hon. Members will agree that my best course will be to lay before the House the report that I have received from the engineers. It will probably be found more informative on points like that than my statement has been.
§ Mr. Montague
The Minister has said that protection will not be given to people who could reasonably be expected to provide protection for themselves. In view of the pressure that there would be on the steel industry and other industries for raw material, has the Minister considered the question of protecting the rest in respect of the possibility of high prices in materials?
§ Sir J. Anderson
Yes, that has been considered and I shall be prepared to say something about it on a later occasion.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
Will the forthcoming legislation also contain provision for ensuring the continuity of public services such as water, gas and electricity?
§ Mr. Simmonds
Whilst congratulating my right hon. Friend and the Government on their praiseworthy action, I would ask whether it is proposed to accede to the unanimous request of industry that in regard to shelters there should be some relief under Schedule D of Income Tax?
§ Sir J. Anderson
At this moment I cannot add anything to what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on that matter on 18th March last.
§ Mr. Logan
In view of the natural difficulty of evacuation in a city like Liverpool, with a population in congested areas, would the right hon. Gentleman not give facilities to the local authorities there to take straight away what are natural sites rather than to consider the question of evacuation?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
Can the Lord Privy Seal assure the House that by the time we return after the Recess he will be able to tell us what proposals there are for providing deep-shelter accommodation, particularly in the more congested areas?
§ Mr. Lansbury
Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to go and visit the East End, especially the low-lying parts of Hackney Wick and Stratford, and tell the people there what he proposes to do for them?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I have already gone into that matter. I should have thought that in these low-lying parts very deep shelters would have presented specially great difficulties.
§ Mr. Lansbury
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have not suggested anything of the kind? I do suggest that 2890 he ought, if he believes war may come, to evacuate these people now and not wait.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The right hon. Gentleman raised the same question about 10 days or a fortnight ago, and I immediately instructed my advisers to go into the particular problem to which he called attention. I shall be very happy indeed to place at the disposal of the right hon. Gentleman the advice that my advisers gave me and to go into the matter.
§ Mr. Lansbury
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the Home Office inspectors who went to that district said that there was no chance for any of the people except by evacuating at least 80 per cent. of them?
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
Has the right hon. Gentleman given consideration to one aspect of local authority cost? In Westminster a penny rate yields £45,000, and there mostly employers and rich people live, who under this scheme will be doing their own work; but in places such as Poplar and Bermondsey a penny rate yields only about £3,000 a year?
§ Sir J. Anderson
Yes, I have indeed. The scheme I have put forward is designed to go some way towards redressing such inequalities.
§ Mr. Bossom
Can my right hon. Friend make the report to which he has referred available to all Members of the House as soon as possible so that we can examine it and talk intelligently when we meet again?
§ Mr. Hicks
While in no way diminishing the value of the right hon. Gentleman's consultations with the civil engineers on the question of providing shelters for the civil population, on which subject every contribution is welcome, in so far as the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with buildings and other air-raid shelters, does he propose to consult other sections of the 2891 building industry? I am not asking merely for consultation with operatives. I am speaking about architects, surveyors, technicians of every sort, employers and operatives, who have a point of view not only upon the lateral bomb but upon the angular effect of a bomb. Does he propose to consult with them? In addition there is the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) regarding structural alterations to buildings. While in the case of old buildings it is a matter of importance, in the case of new buildings it is fundamentally important. Will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to the question of a financial contribution?
§ Sir J. Anderson
The question of new buildings will probably be dealt with in the forthcoming legislation and I prefer to say nothing more about it at present. As regards consultation with architects and surveyors and other sections of the building industry, I am most anxious that there should be the widest consultation. I only referred to consultation with civil engineers in relation to a particular aspect of the solution that we are offering to the House. In regard to the structural strengthening of buildings in general, if we are to make the progress that I hope we shall make the widest consultation will undoubtedly be necessary, and I hope to enlist the co-operation of all those sections of the industry to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
§ Mr. Sandys
Can my right hon. Friend give the House any indication of the radius of the area which will come within his definition of a direct hit under that scheme?
§ Mr. Lipson
My right hon. Friend used the phrase "areas vulnerable to attack." May I ask him whether he proposes to inform individual local authorities whether they are authorities which are responsible and come within that category or not?
§ Sir J. Anderson
It is quite clear that we shall not make any real progress at the maximum rate in our civil defence preparations unless we are prepared to face the necessity for classifying areas.
§ Mr. Hopkin
Has the right hon. Gentleman any plans prepared for the clearing up of the debris after an aerial attack?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the immediate provision of deep shelters for docks and munition factories, since the deep shelter has proved to be indispensable in Spain during bombardments?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I have given priority of consideration to the immediate problem—the short-term problem—of providing such shelters as I have described. I will, of course, consider all other aspects of the problem as rapidly as possible.