Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £5,693,400, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1939, for air-raid precautionary services, including grants to local authorities." —[Note.—£2,800,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 4.3 P.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Samuel Hoare)
This is the first occasion on which the Air Raid Precautions Vote has been discussed by a Committee of this House. How much we all of us wish it might be the last time. How repugnant it must be to any hon. Members in whatever part of the Committee they sit, to be asked to vote this large sum of money, that the country should be asked to make a great voluntary effort, and that the Government Departments and local authorities should be asked to devote so much of their technical skill for the purposes of protection against a form of attack that ought to be repudiated by every civilised community. However, with the world as it is, we must take these precautions.
The Committee is rightly anxious to know what progress we are making with them, what success we are obtaining in facing a problem of very great complexity and novelty in our national and local life. Hon. Members should remember the conditions in which we are working. Let them remember in particular that the Air-Raid Precautions Act came into operation only on 1st January of this year. Let them further remember that under that Act responsibility for air-raid precautions is placed in the main upon the local authorities. It is the obligation of the local authorities to equip the personnel, to train the personnel, to find the shelters, to find the additional fire 2080 brigade services, to undertake the decontamination work, and so on throughout all the fields of air-raid precautions. Behind the duties of the local authorities is the primary obligation of the householder and of the employer of labour to provide what protection he can for his own household and his own employés. Behind both these efforts, the efforts of the local authorities and the efforts of the private individuals, is the motive power of voluntary service. Never before in our history has this country in peace time undertaken an organisation which involves so great and so complex a measure of national service as the air-raid precautions that we are considering this afternoon.
Let me, after those few words of introduction, give the Committee some information about the progress of our efforts. Let me tell them something of our intentions for the future.
Let me begin with the question of recruitment of the personnel for these various services. When I was speaking a week ago I stated that upon the information available to us about 400,000 men and women have volunteered for these services. since then there has been an addition to these numbers, but I cannot at the present moment give hon. Members the exact figures. They can, however, take it from me that we are getting near the halfway mark of the million volunteers for which I appealed two months ago. When I come to analyse the types of these volunteers and the type of training they are receiving, I am justified in saying that of these 400,000 men and women by far the greater proportion have had training or are in the process of training, and that the remainder, owing to the increased facilities about which I shall say a word or two Later, should receive training without any undue delay. I make that statement as I know that in the early days of recruitment of the personnel there were in some areas not sufficient training facilities to deal with the recruits who were ready to give their services.
When I proceed a little further with the analysis of these recruits I find that, so far as training in first aid and anti-gas training is concerned, 90,000 men and women have been trained by the St. John's Ambulance, 36,000 by the Red Cross, and in addition 11,000 doctors, 1,300 dentists and 22,000 nurses have 2081 passed through air-raid precaution courses. I quote those figures not to suggest to hon. Members that they give any cause for complacency. I quote them merely to show that we have made a start, and a substantial start, with the enrolment and training of personnel; but, what is more important, I am glad to be able to tell hon. Members that we intend from now onwards to make a much more intensive campaign; we intend to take new and special action for stimulating recruiting, and in particular we are hoping to see started in the course of the weeks immediately before us a women's organisation, non-party, non-sectarian, representative, as I hope, of all the large bodies of women workers in the country, acting in the closest harmony with the local authorities—an organisation which would provide a clearing-house for women's voluntary work of this kind. That will greatly stimulate the recruitment of women for those many services in which there is scope for their enthusiasm. This organisation will be under the chairmanship of the Dowager Marchioness of Reading, and I hope that fuller details will be published in the course of the next few days or at any rate the next week or two.
I pass now from the question of personnel and of recruiting to the three main dangers against which we are making these precautions. I wish to report to the Committee the steps that we are taking in each case to make our precautions as effective as possible. I begin with the danger of the high explosive bomb. There has been an impression that the Home Office and some of the local authorities have not attached sufficient importance to the great danger of the high explosive bomb. It has been suggested that we in the Home Office have failed to take into account the lessons of the two wars that are going on in China and in Spain. I can assure hon. Members that so far as the Home Office is concerned that is not the case. We have made a most careful analysis of the experiences of Barcelona. We have interviewed more than one of the principal Spanish representatives, who can speak with weight upon this subject, and we have tried to take into full account the lessons that those terrible experiences in Barcelona should teach us.
Hon. Members should remember the conditions in which we are working here in this country. They should remember, 2082 first of all, that we are working in conditions of peace. They should remember, secondly, that our policy should be so devised as not to involve a very protracted period during which some more complete and perfect programme might be worked out. Thirdly, they should remember that it always has been and it still is our view that the policy of dispersal is a safer policy than the policy of concentration of large numbers of the population into certain given spots. These conditions, it seems to me, make it necessary that in dealing with the danger of high explosive bombs we should not take any action that will bring to a standstill the ordinary life of the country. I mean by that that under war-time conditions the population will undertake almost any sacrifice. In peace time it is much more difficult to carry out a programme that might, we will say, involve digging up the parks and open spaces of our great cities to make trenches and dugouts, and might also make transport in our great cities almost impossible owing to the streets being dug up for excavations.
Again, as our policy is a policy of dispersal, that is to say, that citizens so far as they can should remain in their own houses, and that, if there are to be shelters, those shelters should be carefully sited, it is essential that the local authorities should make surveys of shelter accommodation in their areas and should be able to prepare a scheme with the necessary shelters marked and prepared in the proper places. I am afraid that with the best will in the world on the part of both the Home Office and the local authorities, these surveys must take a certain measure of time to complete. In the meanwhile, however, there is certain action that we can take pending the completion of the fuller plans.
Let me tell the Committee some of the urgent action that we have been taking in recent weeks. We have drawn out of the very big problem of London a more restricted survey of three typical Metropolitan boroughs. We have had a survey made from the point of view of shelter accommodation of the boroughs of Holborn, Stepney and Wandsworth. Each of those boroughs has some feature of its own and is in some way typical of many of the other London boroughs. What has been the result of this survey? As far as Holborn is concerned, it has shown that for the people who might at 2083 any given time be in the streets and the people who live in Holborn whose houses for one reason or another are not adaptable to air-raid precautions, there is ample shelter accommodation in basements and cellars if certain preparations are made to make them more proof against the blast and splinters of high explosives.
§ Sir S. Hoare
They are privately owned, and I am assuming that the owners would place them at the disposal of the public in time of emergency.
In the case of Stepney, one would have supposed that there was little of this type of shelter accommodation. It might have been supposed that Stepney would provide a much more difficult problem for the local authority to face. We find, however, that even in Stepney there are 6,900 basements that might be adapted for shelter accommodation and that, in addition, there are underground places of storage which, with certain improvements, might be used for shelters upon a bigger scale. In the case of Wandsworth, we have a borough in which there are fewer blocks of buildings and in which the inhabitants live in small detached or semi-detached houses. There is less shelter accommodation available, but there is much more open space accommodation for trenches and dugouts. I can assure the Committee that in each of these boroughs, with a certain amount of work of adaptation, the local authorities could find shelter and trench accommodation for all their inhabitants who might either be found in the streets or whose houses might not be adaptable for one reason or another for air-raid precautions.
I come to the second action that we have taken pending the wider survey of shelter accommodation, that is, the survey we have made of the open spaces of London. There are in London, 8,261 acres of open spaces mainly under the control of the London County Council, the Government and other public authorities. We calculate that in a considerably less area we could find trench and dugout accommodation for the people caught in the streets or people whose houses are 2084 not suitable. Over and above the basements and cellars we could in that area find trench and dugout accommodation, if it was properly sited, for between 1,250,000 and 1,500,000 persons. One of the duties of the local authorities aided by substantial grants from the Home Office, will be to have the plans ready for emergency, with the open spaces surveyed and mapped out in detail, and with the material ready to hand for digging the trenches and dugouts and the gangs of labour allocated on the spot so as to be able at the time to carry this work out with the least possible delay.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
That means trench accommodation for people within reach of their own homes or places where they might be?
§ Sir S. Hoare
We have taken both needs into account. We have based our survey upon the fact that some of the people will have to come from a distance. In that case they will want more complete trench accommodation than the people living near by, who might make use of it by running out of their houses to it for either a few minutes or a few hours. In the figure I have given both categories are included.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
They are all within reach in the seven or eight minutes warning that will be given?
§ Sir S. Hoare
Speaking generally, that is so. If we carry the survey further and go into the areas outside the area of the London County Council, we find that there are no fewer than 58,000 acres of open spaces that might also be used in the event of emergency. We have already accumulated 42,000,000 sandbags and orders are in process of being carried out for 275,000,000 more.
§ Mr. Sandys
Does my right hon. Friend mean that so far as he can see at present he does not contemplate the necessity of constructing any public air-raid shelters apart from trenches in London?
§ Sir S. Hoare
It is impossible to answer that question until the general survey is 2085 more complete. I come now to the danger of the incendiary bomb. The Fire Brigades Bill is passing through Committee upstairs, and that will greatly help us with the emergency fire brigade organisation. In addition we have already approved 100 emergency fire brigade schemes, and orders have been placed for some 5,000 trailer pumps and other auxiliary fire appliances. About 320, mainly of the heavier types, have been delivered, and it is expected that deliveries of most of these pumps will be completed by the end of the year. Further orders are in contemplation and we shall then be in a position to meet all requirements. I can, therefore, assure hon. Members that so far as the material and the appliances for emergency fire brigades are concerned, we shall have got well on with the programme by the end of the year.
Lastly, I come to the danger of a gas attack. Some people are rather apt to go from one extreme to another about this. There are some people who seem to think that the only kind of attack against which we ought to take precautions is gas attack. There are others who think that a gas attack is never likely to be made. I suggest it is not wise to accept either of those extreme views. It is essential that we should make effective preparations against gas attack for the obvious reason that if a gas attack were launched against us it is the most likely to lead to panic among the civil population, whatever the number of casualties that might be inflicted. It is against panic, chiefly, that we are making these precautions. So far as the anti-gas programme is concerned, we have now taken steps greatly to extend the training in the local areas. I think we are justified in saying that we have now dealt with that bottleneck that in the early days of the organisation was holding up anti-gas training. We have issued 300,000 gas masks to local authorities for training. We have issued gas masks for fitting on the civil population to 100 local authorities.
§ Mr. Mabane
What is the total number issued to local authorities for fitting on the civil population?
§ Sir S. Hoare
I cannot give the actual number of gas masks, but we have issued them to l00 local authorities and have satisfied their demands. We have also started the process of distributing gas 2086 masks to the various areas. We have taken the view, and all our expert opinion supports it, that if the gas masks are to remain in good condition they must be kept in local depots. It is not safe to distribute them to individual members of the population. We are, however, taking steps to make the depots readily accessible, so that there would be no delay in the event of an emergency in distributing gas masks to the population.
Next, we have greatly extended the Home Office organisation for dealing with these problems. It is no secret that a few months ago the organisation was a very small one, and it was in the nature of things very difficult, with this small but excellent body of people, to deal with this mass of very urgent work. I hope that we have now taken steps so to extend the central organisation as to make it possible for us to deal expeditiously with all the many requests and communications that we are receiving from local authorities. Then I should like to say a word or two upon a subject in which I know hon. Members are interested, namely, air-raid precautions in Government Departments. There has been an idea that while the Government have been inciting local authorities and private individuals to take these precautions they have done little or nothing in the establishments for which they themselves are responsible. I am glad to be able to contradict that charge. I have here some detailed notes, prepared for me by the Office of Works, showing that under all the main heads of air-raid precautions the Office of Works and the Government Departments concerned are making effective air-raid precautions, in the matter of structural protection, of firefighting, of lighting restrictions and of training such members of the Government service as volunteer for it.
So far as new buildings are concerned, all new Government buildings will in future be provided with a measure of additional protection against air attacks, and the more important buildings will be of fire-resisting construction, steel framed or of reinforced concrete, with solid concrete or brick cross walls and partitions. Both floors and roofs will also be strengthened. Refuge accommodation will be provided for the occupants, though this may not necessarily be underground. In new buildings which do not normally re- 2087 quire basements refuge accommodation will be provided above ground. Special attention has been directed towards the protection of telephone exchanges, and it has been decided that in future the telephone switchboards shall not be placed on the top floors. The Office of Works have made a full and detailed survey of some 6,000 Government establishments, and in the case of the older buildings the Office of Works are taking all practicable steps to make the kind of air-raid precautions that we are pressing upon local authorities and private employers.
So also with fire fighting. Government establishments are being provided with a largely increased number of fire appliances and are encouraging volunteers to take some training in fire precautions. As to lighting restrictions, here is an interesting point. Proceeding as we are upon the basis of a black-out in a time of emergency, we are confronted with the fact that in no Government office, so far as I know, are blinds provided. Accordingly, we are now going to provide blinds, in order to enable the various precautions for a black-out to be carried out. I could go on giving hon. Members other details of the same kind, but I will give only one further example, and it is not about Government offices but about the building in which this Debate is now taking place, the Houses of Parliament. As a result of a survey of the Palace of Westminster, the rooms and adjoining corridors on the ground floor facing the terrace are regarded as providing the safest refuge accommodation. The rooms have overhead protection, and the fact that at low water the retaining wall and parapet of the terrace would act as a buttress was a further point in their favour. The windows are comparatively small and could be protected by sand-bags if necessary. It is proposed to instal a special auxiliary pumping plant, fed directly from the Thames, in order to make the fire-fighting arrangements independent of the public mains. A rescue clearance party and a decontamination party are being raised from workmen at the Office of Works depot at the Houses of Parliament. These men are being trained in air-raid precaution measures. I have given these details to show that the Government, so far as they can, are setting an example to the local authorities and to other employers.
§ Sir S. Hoare
What I have said covers the whole building. I come, lastly, to another important section, the field of industry. The more I see of this gigantic problem the more certain I am that however well the local authorities carry out their duties they will need the fullest possible co-operation of industry, both employers and workers, if they are to make their system of protection effective. The problem of industry is two-fold. In the first place there is the problem of structural protection, and in the second place the problem, no less important, of training the personnel and stimulating their interest in this very important work. As far as structural protection is concerned, I am very glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has seen his way to meet the claim of industry in the matter of the assessment of shelters to Income Tax, and that his action is going to be followed up by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health with a Bill making similar provision in regard to assessments for rates. Further, I am very glad that we have been able to permit employers to claim an allowance for maintenance expenditure. When it comes to capital expenditure, that raises very difficult questions which strike at the very roots of our Income Tax system, but I am inclined to think that a generous interpretation will be given of the maintenance exemption, and that in practice that will be found to be a very considerable help to owners of factories and employers of labour.
I am proposing in the course of the next fortnight to meet the Royal Institute of British Architects to discuss with them proposals for embodying in new buildings air-raid precautions of a structural character. The discussions I have had with them go to show that if you make these arrangements when the building is in course of erection the work can very often be carried out at comparatively small expense, and without any great inconvenience to the building as a whole. I have every reason to think that the members of the Institute are most willing to co-operate with the Government in this matter, and that as a result of our meeting we shall be able to issue in the course of the next few weeks a book with full and expert directions as to structural precautions and the way in which they can be most cheaply and conveniently embodied in new buildings.
2089 So far as the other side of the industrial problem is concerned, the side of the personnel, I am most anxious to obtain the fullest possible co-operation from employers of labour and from the representatives of organised labour in helping us to get as many of the employé's trained as we can. The Home Office are very anxious to make that training as easy and as attractive as possible. We might, for instance, give badges to men actually trained in factories or workshops in the same way as if they were trained by local authorities. That is the kind of way in which we are considering a stimulus to training in industrial establishments. I am hoping, in the course of the next week or two, to meet representatives of the main employers' organisations, and also, I hope, representatives of the Trades Union Congress, with a view to seeing whether we cannot create a closer contact between industry and the Home Office and the local authorities, and possibly, if the suggestion meets with their approval, create some kind of joint consultative body to act as a liaison between industry and the Home Office.
I have ventured to make this report to hon. Members not in any way with the intention of suggesting that I or my advisers are satisfied with the results, or are complacent about the existing state of affairs, but to show hon. Members that this great and complicated machine is beginning to start, and that although we may wish for better and quicker results over the whole of the country we are, at any rate, beginning to obtain results. What we now wish to see is greater results obtained in the future at a quicker rate.
There is still an immense amount of work to be done. Let me suggest to the Committee two or three illustrations of the urgency of some of this work. First of all, there is the urgent need of getting personal contact between the householder and the air-raid precautions organisation. I admit that, except for a few cases, we have not at present obtained that contact. I want to see the kind of canvass undertaken over the whole country that a really efficient party organisation would undertake in a by-election.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I am anxious to see every householder busy and told something, possibly given some simple directions on a card that he could hang up in his room. It is urgently important that we should obtain a very large number of air-raid wardens. It is upon them particularly, as the canvassers, that we depend. I appeal to hon. Members on all sides of the Committee to give us their help in their constituencies in encouraging many more men and women to act as air-raid wardens and to make this house-to-house canvass practicable in the comparatively near future. This is a job in many cases particularly for women.
Next, I admit the fact, so far as shelters are concerned, we have only begun to touch the fringe of the problem. I want to see these surveys that are now being carried on by the local authorities finished at the earliest possible date. I want to see the work actually started for adapting basements and cellars, where adaptation is possible in peace-time; and where it is not possible, making those preparations with the material that is necessary for the adaptation and having them ready so that the scheme can be put into operation at a moment's notice.
§ Sir S. Hoare
We certainly do make a grant. The local schemes attract grant under the Air Raid Precautions Act. There is the very urgent question of the public utility services. There has been some misunderstanding as to the position of the public utility undertakings—gas, electricity, water, some forms of transport and so on. On the one hand it is maintained that, as they are not local authorities and are revenue-producing monopolies, they ought to be treated like any private employer and that they should bear the full cost of air-raid precautions, without which they might not be able to make any income in war-time; on the other hand, it has been urged that as they are semi-public bodies with statutory duties imposed upon them they ought to receive grants on the scale of 2091 local authorities. The Government take a middle position between those two views. They consider that public utility undertakings should bear the charges that would be borne by any private employer, and indeed by a local authority also, for giving general protection to their personnel, but as they perform special duties for the community, a grant equivalent to 50 per cent. should be made to them for certain special precautions necessary to protect their vital services. This 50 per cent. grant is somewhat less than the 60 to 75 per cent. grant to be made to local authorities.
I claim that, in the circumstances, that is not ungenerous, and I can tell the Committee that it will mean an Exchequer contribution of several million pounds. We have already started discussions with the services on those lines, and I greatly hope that they will see the justice of our decision and that the very necessary and urgent work that is required will be carried out as quickly as possible. So far as they need any indemnity for expenditure of this kind, I have already given an undertaking that I will include such an indemnity in the legislation that will certainly be necessary in the comparatively near future.
§ Sir S. Hoare
Yes, that is so. In addition to this question, there are two very important branches of the subject in which we have reached a point at which we need to have our provisional conclusions checked with outside opinion. There is first of all the very important question of hospitals. As hon. Members are aware, the Ministry of Health have recently undertaken a survey of the hospital accommodation of the country with a view to air-raid precautions. Although that survey is not entirely complete, it has, at any rate, led us to some provisional conclusions. It has tended to show us that the old distinction that we attempted to draw between casualty hospitals and base hospitals, cannot, in the conditions of air warfare, be fully maintained, and to show us that in the organisation of the hospital system for air-raid precautions the Ministry of Health, with all their expert knowledge and expert personnel, should be the responsible Department. In 2092 the course of our discussions several very interesting proposals have been made to us. I will give the Committee an illustration of one of them.
It has been suggested to us that casualties, instead of being dealt with, say, in the London area, ought to be taken as quickly as possible outside the area of the London attacks. When we are contemplating air attack upon the scale that may be possible in present conditions, it may well be that the attack would be so formidable that it would be difficult for the staff and the doctors of the casualty hospitals to carry on their work. It may well be, therefore, that one of the factors of the hospital problem will be a quicker removal than we have hitherto contemplated of the casualty cases to the areas outside London. It has been suggested in this connection that casualty hospitals ought to be formed in the periphery of London on the lines of the tented hospitals in Etaples during the War. No doubt some hon. Members will remember what they were like. Those casualty hospitals would be outside the main front of the air attack. It has been suggested that as soon as cases could be moved they ought to be taken out to a greater distance, and we have already made some tentative suggestions to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, whether in conditions of that kind, they might not place the colleges of the Universities at our disposal. That is one of the suggestions that have been made to us.
I do not say that we are adopting it in all its details but I do say that it is one of the several proposals upon which we now wish to come to a quicker and more urgent conclusion. It is the kind of proposal in which it is not only important to have official opinion in Whitehall but the opinion of the experts in the hospitals outside. Accordingly I have asked a number of hospital experts to look at this proposal and several other proposals of the same kind, and to give me their views as to which of them they think are most practicable. The gentlemen whom I have asked for their opinion are the following: Sir Charles Wilson, Dean of St. Mary's; Mr. Girling Ball, of St. Bartholomew's; General MacArthur, The Director-General of Medical Services in the War Office; Sir Frederick Menzies, of the London County Council, and the principal medical experts at the Home 2093 Office and the Ministry of Health. I very much hope that in the comparatively near future they will be able to give me their expert advice on these very important questions and that we shall be able to take decisions and start quickly ahead on the work which every hon. Member will agree is of most extreme urgency.
§ Colonel Nathan
Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to explain the capacity and office of the representatives of the hospitals?
§ Sir S. Hoare
I will see that that answer is given in the course of the Debate. As to the more general precautions against air raids—the protection of their personnel and the precautions that ought to be taken by the boards of management of hospitals—we are issuing in the course of the next few days, directions which should be extremely useful to the committees and boards of management of hospitals throughout the country.
Next I come to another question of the same kind, on which we have now accumulated a great deal of material and are at the point where we can take a decision for action, provided we receive the support of opinion outside Whitehall. I refer to the question of evacuation. That question raises so many issues that although we have plans prepared in outline I should be very loath to decide upon any one of them until I felt there was a general body of public opinion behind it. I should not feel happy if the decision rested only with the Home Secretary in Whitehall and his technical advisers. The problem of evacuation is essentially a problem that raises every kind of social and political issue, and on that account I ventured to ask my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) and three others of our colleagues in the House to assist me in arriving at decisions upon the alternatives that we have been considering.
Let me illustrate to the Committee the kind of alternatives that we were discussing. In a plan for evacuation, should we begin with the evacuation of the children? I think most hon. Members would hold the view that, whoever might or might not be evacuated from London or the great centres of population, we should do our utmost, not only on the grounds of physical safety, but on the grounds of peace of mind, to get the 2094 children out of the danger zone. [An HON. MEMBER: "You would have to take the mothers also."] The hon. Member opposite says that you have to take the mothers, and that is just the kind of question upon which I want the advice of my colleagues in the House. There are two schools of thought. One school of thought is that you should take the parents with the children; the other is that you had better get the children out very quickly, and that the fathers and mothers would be prepared to let the children go. I would not myself desire to give an answer as to which of these two schools of thought is right; I want to hear the views of my colleagues in the House as to which they think is the better plan.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I think that on the whole, since so many social and political questions are raised, it is better that the committee should be restricted to Members of the House. They will be free to ask for whatever evidence they wish from outside. Next comes the difficult question: Should a programme of evacuation include a programme of organising the voluntary evacuation of men and women who would not be required to remain for the purposes of work or other duties in London? Supposing that it is necessary to organise an evacuation of this kind, what steps should be taken to prevent a scheme of this kind from becoming simply a class evacuation, of people who have their own cars, who have their own means which enable them to stay with friends in the country? Supposing that evacuation of this kind is organised, and that, as I believe it would, it inevitably includes preparations for evacuating, not only the better off, but the men and women of small means as well, then it would seem to follow that steps must be taken to provide shelter and housing accommodation for these people when they go into the country. That again is one of the questions on which I wish to have the views of my colleagues in the House. Lastly, there is a whole number of very difficult police control and traffic control questions involved in this problem. Here again I shall look forward, not in the distant future but in the near future, to the advice given me by this body, upon which I can make my de- 2095 cisions and we can then go ahead with the completion of the plans which, as I say, we have already in outline.
I have left to the end of my speech a subject of vital importance, and one on which the Committee will rightly need some reassurance before I sit down. Let me put it in the form of a question: Are we taking effective precautions to ensure the working of the Government machine in an air war? Let hon. Members picture to themselves the conditions in which government might have to be carried on. It might well be that the civil line will be the front line of battle. In that event, the home General Headquarters must be as safe as any military General Headquarters in a former war. The operations of civil control must work as quickly and as decisively as any military command. Battle headquarters, whether at the centre or in important areas, must be made as secure as we can make them. The chain of command, in a war in which aeroplanes fly 300 miles an hour, must embrace within its links all the various operations, central and local, of food defence, transport, fire brigades, police, and the rest, to constitute the defence of the civil population, and must at no vital point be slack or undependable. The Government are urgently engaged on this vital problem. No hon. Member will expect me to divulge the details of the plans we have formulated, but I can say that we have advanced very far with our arrangements for an invulnerable battle headquarters, and we have also made arrangements, which can be instantly put into operation by the Government of the day, for co-ordinating the various branches of civil defence in the War Cabinet and avoiding delay and confusion in the execution of the urgent measures that will from time to time be needed.
These preparations are, unfortunately, essential in the present state of the world, but least of any plans can they be described as a threat against any country or as a stimulus to war. We pray that the time will come when no country in the world will need them, and we can set them aside once for all; but, in the meanwhile, let the world note that we are determined to protect our country and our Constitution, and that we intend to make our defence, based upon voluntary service, local patriotism, and national freedom, second to none among the plans and 2096 measures of foreign peoples. I ask for the support of hon. Members on all sides of the Committee in this great task. Let them criticise, if they will, the Government and the local authorities for what They have done and what they have left undone, but let every hon. Member give his aid in the national effort to create an effective system of defence founded upon the twofold base of self-help and voluntary endeavour.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I begin by saying that we on this side of the House have never treated the question of air-raid precautions as a party matter, and I hope we never shall. The Home Secretary ended with some disarming sentences, which make it difficult even to criticise what he said, and I hope he will understand, and I hope the House will understand, that if we criticise to-day, as we shall, we do so, not to hamper or obstruct, but, on the contrary, as he desires, to ensure, so far as we can help to do so, that the air-raid precautions which are taken shall be a real and not a sham protection to the civilian population, and that they shall be worth the money and the effort which they involve. Perhaps I may say also by way of introduction that in my criticism I am not intending to criticise the Ministers who are now responsible for the policy that is being pursued. For my own part, I consider that the Under-Secretary, if I may be permitted to say so, within the limits of the authority, the staff, and the resources, and, above all, within the limits of the decisions which he was given, has shown unremitting zeal and industry, and has produced remarkable results. I think, too, if I may say so, that the Home Secretary has begun to show in the last six months a little belated energy about air-raid precautions. [Interruption.] I am not complaining of what the right hon. Gentleman is now doing, although I do want to draw a rather sombre picture of the position as it stands to-day, and I want to ask the Committee whether the right hon. Gentleman has really faced the essential problem with which we have to deal at the present time, and whether, with his belated energy, he is preparing measures which will give us the real protection that we need.
What is the real problem? It is the use of aviation for a knock-out blow by 2097 the demoralisation of the civilian population. We know quite well that that is a violation of international law, but we know that every general staff has been preparing to do it, either as a knock-out blow in a war of aggression, or by way of reprisals against that knock-out blow if it should come. We know that in fact certain governments are now deliberately practising that doctrine, and are even preaching it in the Parliaments of their countries. While Lord Perth was adjusting the commas in the Agreement which was to bring appeasement in the Mediterranean, Signor Mussolini was making a speech to the Italian Chamber in which he said that Italy was going to have 30,000 trained pilots very soon, that her theories of aerial warfare were based on practice, and that "among their functions," as he added "with emphasis," says the "Times," was the function of "weakening the moral of the civilian population." He said that the importance of that function in wars of the future would be greater than ever, and that the centres of population on both sides would be bound to suffer. He ended by warning the Italian Chamber that they would do well to buy country houses without waiting for the eleventh hour.
What is the practice of which Signor Mussolini boasted? He said what it is. It is the experience of the Italian Air Force, first in Abyssinia, and then in Spain. I do not want to dwell on Abyssinia, but it has its lesson. It showed that mustard gas will demoralise unprotected people, even if they be very brave, and I venture to think that on that ground alone, if on no other, the Home Secretary is right in saying that we must make preparations for gas attack. It showed, too, that fire can be used with great effect. Bruno Mussolini has told us in his book how he made a ring of fire round an Abyssinian town of 6,000 inhabitants, and how, in his words, they all reached "a sticky end." But far more important than Abyssinia is Spain. There it has been shown times without number that towns and villages can be destroyed within a period of hours by a relatively small number of aircraft —so destroyed that not only is it necessary to evacuate the whole civilian population, but that the places for purposes of habitation virtually cease to exist. We have not noticed it very much because most of these attacks—or a considerable 2098 part of them—have been fairly close to the battle line, and we have regarded them as part of the land operations. But, in fact, the destruction of these towns and villages is the first great lesson we should draw from the Spanish war. Among the experiences of the Spanish war there are two "Teutonic experiments," as the "Times "called them, which are of supreme importance. The first is Guernica; the second, the bombardment of Barcelona during the three days, 16th, 17th and 18th March. I want to call special attention to them because I believe they furnish the real standard of what our preparations for aerial warfare ought to be.
What happened at Guernica? A town of 7,000 inhabitants was attacked by between go and 50 aircraft, of which 10 were fighters. In a period of three and a half hours those aircraft, using high explosive bombs of various weights, and great numbers of incendiary bombs, totally destroyed the town. In the words of the "Times "correspondent, they "systematically pounded it to pieces." Two thousand people were killed; great numbers were wounded; telephones were smashed; transportation was smashed; it was impossible to live in the open while the bombardment was going on; the place was useless for habitation when the bombardment was over.
The case of Barcelona was the only systematic bombing of a large city we have yet seen. On 16th, 17th, and 18th March, Barcelona was attacked by modern fast heavy German and Italian aircraft—what the Spaniards call "flying Chamberlains." They made 18 raids in three days—one every three or four hours. They used mostly high explosive bombs. Their incendiary bombs were very ineffective, because the roofs of Barcelona do not lend themselves to fire attack. They used no gas. The high explosive bombs wrought tremendous damage, of which I hope the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) is going to give us his own eye-witness account. With one exception, each of the raids was made by six aircraft only. What was the result? I had a telegram, while the bombing was going on, from a friend of mine, who is certainly one of the bravest men I have ever known. He said:I am certain the whole of Great Britain will have shuddered with horror while read- 2099 ing the news.… The most terrible previsions of aerial warfare have been converted into the most abominable realities."That view was supported entirely by the British journalists who were there. One, who is a man with a splendid record himself, said:An Englishman who had been through the War from Mons onwards, said that the bombing of Barcelona was a thousand times worse than anything he had ever known. An American who has made a fortune in the arms trade, said: ' This is farewell to arms for me.' A self-styled ' trigger-man ' of Al Capone, who for weeks has been making the Ritz Bar resound with his Chicago exploits, has spent the last two days in the basement silently meditating."The journalists told us that 500,000 people left Barcelona in those three days. They told us that the slaughter would have been far greater but for that rapid evacuation. They told us that all over the city people who did not get direct-hit-proof shelters began digging them in the streets. Those who stayed slept in the underground and on the mountainside. Indeed, if I understand the articles written by the hon. Member for Norwood, he still found a great number of people sleeping in the underground and on the mountain-side three weeks after the bombardment ended. He described a certain part of Barcelona, known as Barcelonetta, which, in his words, had been "plugged with bombs from end to end." He added:Even now, several months later, less than one-fifth of the population of this district have consented to return, and then only after the municipality have begun to construct an immense underground shelter for their protection."I submit that it is that kind of prospect to which we have to look forward in this country. It is true that Palma is only 110 miles from Barcelona; it is true that there was no defence; but it is also true that the number of aircraft involved was extraordinarily small. Theoretically, the thing could have been done by six aeroplanes, and it was a city of nearly 2,000,000 people that was attacked. We must expect that, with every allowance for the greater distance from London of our enemy, for our fighters, our balloon barrage and every defence we can prepare, we shall be subjected to heavy and continuous raids of the Barcelona kind. Mr. Anthony Fokker has been proved right when he said that there was no mechanical limit to the speed and load of 2100 bombing aircraft. Now the "Catapult "are increasing their bomb-carrying capacity by four times; and the Germans are already "catapulting "planes off the ground with a total load of four tons. Germany is building 500 aeroplanes a month, and Governments are talking of programmes of 10,000 machines a year, and we know that that is within the capacity of several Governments to carry them through. All this being true, we cannot expect air raids on London and other vital strategic targets in this country to be less intense than those on Barcelona in those three days. I believe, indeed, with the hon. Member for Norwood, that the number of aeroplanes involved in those raids represents but a small fraction of the number likely to get through to their objectives here.
What policy do we require to meet that danger? I want to begin by saying that I think the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have made a profound mistake in treating all parts of the country as though they were threatened with equal danger. It is not so. It is fantastic to have a policy which is applying equal financial provision and equal protection for places where the danger will be very different. I suggest we have certain cities which will be regarded by an enemy as vital strategic targets—London, which the Home Secretary said 12 years ago was the most vulnerable capital in the world, and which, if it could be paralysed, would certainly cause great difficulty to the British nation in carrying on a war; Birmingham, where so vast a proportion of our armaments trade is concentrated; Coventry, which exists almost entirely on motor and aircraft factories, which are all in the centre of the town, amid the working population; Derby, which produces so large a proportion of our aero engines. In such places, I believe we must expect heavy and continuous bombing on the Barcelona scale. If to that is added gas and fire—fire as it was used at Guernica and has not been used since—we have a prospect which the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon does not adequately take into consideration.
I want to follow the right hon. Gentleman through the various proposals which he made, the various measures which he discussed, and to bring in one or two which he omitted. But I want to begin 2101 by saying that before such heavy large-scale bombing of big strategic targets, I profoundly doubt whether the Government's policy, as worked out at the present time, would be of any use at all. An eminent scientist, Professor Haldane, who has spent three months in Spain and has seen a great deal of this bombing, has suggested that the Government's measures would not have saved a single life in Valencia or Barcelona. The foundation of the Government's policy has been what the right hon. Gentleman calls dispersal, which means keeping the householder in his own refuge-room in his own house. We have always believed that there were great gaps in that policy. There are millions of houses which cannot be made gas-proof, bomb-proof, or even, I venture to suggest, splinter-proof without considerable expense. There are millions of people, including 110,000 families who live in London in one room, who cannot prepare any sort of shelter in advance. There are millions of people who cannot afford to purchase timber and sandbags, and first-aid sets, and pumps and scoops and buckets and other things to shore up and strengthen and equip their refuge-rooms.
Unless the Government will decide to manufacture this equipment as a Government enterprise, as they have done in the case of gas masks, and distribute it to citizens free of cost, they will not only make a very inequitable and very dangerous discrimination between rich and poor, but they will also ensure that for a very large part of the population the policy of the refuge room, and also their fire policy, will have no reality at all. This will involve dangers not only for the vast section of the community directly concerned, but for the community as a whole. I hope, therefore, the Government will perfect their refuge-room policy in those areas which are not likely to be heavily attacked, but for the major strategical targets I hope that they will do a great deal more.
Let me give a general review of what is needed and where we stand. I start with something that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention—air-raid warnings, the siren system. We all know that siren warnings are absolutely essential. We have read of the two bombs that killed 1,000 people in Shanghai, of the bomb that killed 300 in a factory in Canton the other day. It is the warning system 2102 that will prevent disasters such as those. If I understand the situation, we have not got the equipment for the purpose and we have not even decided what equipment to get. The local authorities cannot go ahead. Manufacture of the equipment has not been planned. We have no decision as to what is to be done.
I pass on to gas protection. Gas is a real danger, and I think that the Government have there made their most satisfactory preparation. Yet even there I believe that there are gaps. We have not yet heard about that new apparatus which is to save the small children, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us about it to-day. I have not yet heard of any demonstration where gas masks are fitted on to people who want to try them, in which some at least of the people who have tried them have not come out from the gas suffering rather severely after a short period of time. I believe—and my authority is my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest)—that it is not clue to the masks, but to the way in which they are adjusted, and that some even of the expert adjusters at Government demonstrations do not put the masks on properly. If that be true, surely, it means that there must be very careful training of the individual householders. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that some measures to that end are being taken, but I am afraid that they are very far from being complete.
The right hon. Gentleman tells us that the equipment for fire protection will be ready by the end of the year. But I saw it stated at the beginning of May that only 1,000 of the trailer pumps were then available; and I have also seen it stated—and I hope that the Under-Secretary will clear it up if I am wrong—that the auxiliary firemen are to be clothed with seven-piece clothing which is inflammable, instead of the heat-resisting one-piece clothing with which French and German auxiliary firemen are supplied. I have heard the Government plans criticised on the ground that the permanent patrols of auxiliary firemen who are to go round during air raids will suffer very heavy casualties indeed, and that it would be far better to adopt the foreign system of the "fire sector," with a group of firemen for each sector in a protected shelter of their own. I do not intend to 2103 deal with first aid and hospital work as my hon. Friends will speak of that. I know what splendid work is being done by the Red Cross and the Order of St. John. But I gather from questions put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Wandsworth (Colonel Nathan), and now from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman himself, this afternoon, that no main decision has yet been made as to how the different hospitals are to be used, and that, therefore, no hospital preparations can yet be made.
I now come to a subject to which we on these benches attach great importance —evacuation. I am satisfied that 2,000,000 people would have to be evacuated from the area of the London Docks. At least, as an absolute minimum all the children, the mothers, the aged, the infirm, the sick, those without employment, and the families of men on service, would have to go. I think that they would go whether it was arranged or not. Last autumn I received a letter from Canton describing the bombardment of that city. My correspondent told me that he had seen the whole thing, that the bombs actually did not do much damage; but half the population left the city. It is four years since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) told us that the first week of war would mean the evacuation of 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 people from London. The French are making plans to deal with such evacuations. They are planning to reduce the population of Paris from 4,500,000 to 1,750,000 on the outbreak of war. They have every preparation ready. I know that there are other hon. Members who have also heard, as I have, from French authorities themselves the exact description of their plans. They are going to have a great number of special trains—I think 400–12,000 lorries and all the private cars of the citizens of Paris set aside for the evacuation of the population to destinations which are decided in advance. The people will be sent to towns and villages, where the billets are all listed and ready. The Prefects of the provinces have prepared the necessary food stores which will be required. I believe that even the timetables and railway tickets have been printed. That plan is the right one.
I was with Dr. Nansen in 1922 when 1,250,000 refugees came into Greece, a 2104 country which then had a population of 4,500,000, that is to say, the influx was above the maximum proportion of transfer to which we need look forward here. I saw that problem solved by the housing of refugees in churches, theatres, railway stations, warehouses and so on, but chiefly by the principle that any house which would hold one family in time of peace would hold two families in time of war—that is to say, by billeting. If the right hon. Gentleman would make plans on that basis, though it might cause great discomfort to many people, it might avert what might turn out to be a major disaster. The Government so far have shown a tepid interest in the subject, although hon. Members of this House have been asking questions about it for more than three years. At last, with this Debate in prospect they have appointed a strong committee to study the matter. If I understood the political correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph "yesterday, the committee are not to be allowed to do very much. I hope that the "Daily Telegraph "was wrong and that the Government will give the committee a free hand to make any plans which they think right.
I pass on to shelter policy. The Government have told us this afternoon, that they have surveyed 8,000 acres in London, that they have 32 million sandbags, that they will have several hundred million more by the end of the year, and that in a short time they could make trenches in that area for 1,250,000 people. I am glad that they are making those preparations, and I wish that the plans were more advanced. I am still more glad that they are planning to use the cellars of the City. I believe that the Paris cellar system is really by far the best, because the refuges are near to the people who will want to use them. In Paris every cellar which can be used has been listed and labelled, and directions have been posted up in every house about how to find the nearest shelter. A second exit has been provided in every cellar, and a large sum of money has just been voted to make provision not only against the collapse of the structure overhead, but also against direct hit by small calibre bombs. If the message in the "Times "this morning on the power of these shelters to resist high explosive bombs is right, then, I am advised by experts, they are a very 2105 real and serious protection to the people who will use them. They give protection far beyond anything we can hope for from our refuge rooms in the ordinary house. I was glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman has also, at long last, consulted the architects about what can be done to provide refuges in new buildings which are being erected. Suppose the Government had tackled this matter three years ago, how many of the big buildings of London might have had good and effective refuges for those who live within them, instead of being, as they are to-day, veritable death traps to the tens of thousands of their inhabitants.
I am glad of all these measures of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke; but I believe that there are other hon. Members who will agree with me that these measures are not enough, and that we ought to have a policy of constructing deep, direct-hit-proof shelters for a large part of the population. Look at Barcelona. They have 400 actually constructed, and they are building 800 more. They are making deep, direct-hit-proof shelters for 1,000,000 people. They are spending, at a time when, Heaven knows, they have not much money to spare, great sums upon these shelters. Valencia and other towns are doing the same. If war should ever strike us we should do it, too. But we should be far wiser to do it now, and I hope that perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will appoint another of his committees to inquire into this subject again. Up to the present the shelter policy of the Government seems to be rather typified by the fact that for years they told us that the tubes of London could not be used at all, but now, under the pressure of public opinion, they are making an inquiry into their possible uses all the same.
The Home Secretary spoke of the absolute necessity of preventing the national administration from breaking down—Government Departments, local administration and so on. I recall a story saved for posterity by the late Sir Austen Chamberlain of a minute written before the War by the head of the Treasury, Sir George Murray, on a proposal to construct an underground shelter for the War Office in case of air attack. Sir George Murray wrote:This may be safely turned down. No sane enemy acquainted with our institutions would destroy the War Office."2106 We ought not to take Sir George Murray's advice to-day. The French, if I may quote again the practice of an allied Government, have deep direct-hit proof shelters for all their Government departments, and most of them, I believe, are finished. I have seen one myself, and I know that the Under-Secretary has seen others, which are certainly a model of what is required. The French have evacuation plans for each department worked out to the last detail, so that any given Government department can move out to some other safe place in France and find an office for every official, and a telephone system ready to the last instrument, to enable the administration to go on. I am glad that the Government have begun to consider the problem, but I am afraid that they have nothing as far advanced as that. The right hon. Gentleman did not reassure me much when he talked in tentative tones, about plans for the structural strengthening of Government Department buildings under consideration at the present time.
The right hon. Gentleman told us of the great army of 1,000,000 people who are to carry out the work of air-raid precautions in actual practice and said that they were nearing the half million, and that most of them are now trained or in training. I saw a calculation, which I have no reason to doubt, that at the beginning of May only 13 per cent. of the first million were actually trained, and that at the present rate Birmingham would take four years to complete the recruitment of its 14,000 helpers. Derby, I am glad to say, is one of the highest.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Even in Derby, out of the 3,800 they need, they have only 800 trained, which is just over one-fifth, and in Hull, which is certainly a vital target, they have only recruited 700 and have trained none at all.
§ Mr. Mabane
Will the hon. Gentleman distinguish the categories? Does he mean 700 air-raid wardens or 700 of the whole of the 10 categories?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The whole army that is required. In spite of the slightly more comforting words of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, I have heard that all over the country there is a shortage of competent teachers, of equipment, and, indeed, of almost all else that is needed, to make the training of this vast army of 1,000,000 a real thing. In such training as there is, there is a great over emphasis on gas; and there has been virtually no start in the house-to-house instruction which the right hon. Gentleman himself said this afternoon was essentially required.
I believe that one of the reasons for these failures is the defects in the central organisation itself. I am not going to labour the point, because I do not want to weary the Committee, but a "Times "inquirer going round the country a little while ago stated that in going from place to place, visiting air-raid officer after air-raid officer, he found little uniformity, no pooling of ideas, no common standard of achievement and no contact of area with area.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
He says that officers lack authority, local contact, and sometimes they lack even the interests of the committee or authority for which they work. He told of one officer who had to try to organise 200,000 people, in an office less than 15 feet square, which he shared with one inexperienced typist. I know there have been changes since January. I know that Mr. Eady has been brought into the Home Office and that the Central College has been established to train air-raid officers. I know the right hon. Gentleman is increasing the scale of his administration; but not nearly enough. You cannot organise 1,000,000 people in what is a military job, although we are doing it by civilian methods, with a central administration on the scale of that which we have to-day. If you are going to add to the work of that central administration, the study of evacuation, the study of the shelter problem, the study of hospital organisation, the making of actual plans, then the whole 2108 scale of this administration must be increased, and the authority of those in charge must be increased as well.
Let me summarise what I have said, against the background of the history of the Government's action and of the danger by which we are faced to-day. The first public announcement that the Government were considering air-raid precautions was made by the Chief of the Imperial Staff in November, 1933. It was revealed by Captain Liddell Hart a little later that Government officials had been working on it since 1925. They had been dealing with gas, fire, evacuation and the other problems which we are discussing here to-day. Mr. Baldwin told us in July, 1934, that we had reached a point where the preparations could be carried no further without the help of the public. That was four years ago. In December, 1934, the right hon. Member for Epping made his warning, which I have quoted. In 1935 the Government appointed 10 persons to sit in seven rooms in the Home Office to deal with what the Home Secretary this afternoon called a gigantic problem. In 1936–37 the first plans of those 10 persons were issued; and criticism showed at once that they were totally inadequate for the needs. Yet even on those plans nothing was done for two years, while the Government haggled about money with the local authorities.
At long last, the Government Bill came last November, but our Debates upon it showed most serious gaps both in the Government's policy, and in their administration for carrying it through. In January of this year the "Times "said:Remarkably little has been achieved; and paper schemes, and publicly announced plans stand for nothing in many parts of the country."Since then six months have passed, and the results have been what I have tried to indicate in, I hope, a helpful spirit. Let us consider where we stand now. Take this circular, which was issued to the local authorities on the 28th March. The warning system, syrens: on that the authorities must wait for further instructions before anything can be done. Reports of casualties, damage: they must wait for further instructions. Gas detection: wait for further instructions. Hospitals: no instructions can be given until a survey has been completed. This afternoon the appointment of a new committee has been announced. The provision of shelters: a 2109 survey has begun but no policy has yet been adopted. Training in the adjustment of gas masks by individual citizens: nothing done. Storage equipment: much of the equipment is not even ready. Evacuation of the civil population—a gigantic problem— a committee was set up a week ago. The training of volunteers: 13 per cent. had been trained at the beginning of May. Central organisation: inadequate in January, inadequate still to-day.
That is the preparation which we should have had if the knock-out blow had fallen last Saturday week. That is how we should have faced the strain of a Barcelona terror. Let us be certain of this, that if the blow comes, it will come like a volcanic eruption that will blast our easy-going national life to smithereens. The Home Secretary said last December that air-raid precautions are our fourth line of defence. I think he has forgotten the men we have to deal with in Europe. Air-raid precautions are more likely to be the first line of defence, both in time and in importance. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will hear the voice of the House to-night, and that the Government will act, both boldly and swiftly, so that in the hour of danger this line of our defences will not fail.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Sir John Anderson
In rising to address the Committee for the first time I crave the consideration which I know its Members always extend to one so situated. I feel that, perhaps, I have a special claim upon the indulgence of the House by reason of the fact that my past training and experience have included none of the usual forms of preparation for Parliamentary activity. I have two main reasons for seeking to intervene in this Debate. The first is the perhaps not wholly adequate one that I used at one time to think that I knew something about this subject. That was a long time ago, and six years absence, during which I had little opportunity to study any problems save those that immediately confronted me, have left me, as I well realise, sadly out of date. Those same years have witnessed grievous and most unlooked-for changes in the situation with which this country is faced; changes which if they leave the general character of the problem unaffected, have completed altered the perspective in which it has to be viewed.
2110 I left the Home Office in March, 1932, but for some years before that date it fell to me to preside over the deliberations of a body of men—the body no doubt to which the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) referred—who were set to work on this question of air-raid precautions. We were told that the contingency against which we had to prepare should be regarded as remote, almost theoretical. In the circumstances, all that we were expected to do was to survey the field, to sketch out a general plan and to indicate certain priorities, in regard to which I will only say that the development of a warning system and precautions against gas were put high. We also set on foot certain technical studies. More than that I cannot properly say in regard to an investigation which was in its nature confidential. I have mentioned the matter only because it gives my own background.
I should like to make it clear at once that in the brief contribution which I shall have to make to this afternoon's Debate I do not propose to trouble the Committee with any views of my own upon the various detailed aspects of the matter. Other hon. Members are far better qualified than I am to undertake that task. I have not been privileged to listen to any of the previous Debates on the subject. I have no exact knowledge of measures recently taken nor of the stage that the preparations have reached under the various heads into which the subject naturally falls. I should have taken up the same attitude even if a certain degree of self-restraint had not been imposed upon me by reason of the fact that I have recently been called upon to participate in an investigation into one very important aspect of the matter. I realise that details are of immense importance and that they involve vital decisions of policy; but running through all the detailed preparations, there is, as I view the situation, dominating the whole field, a vast and novel problem of organisation. It is a problem so complex that the mere contemplation of it might at first produce a feeling of bewilderment, impotence, almost of despair. But I do not take a pessimistic view.
During more than 30 years of public service in varying capacities I have had some opportunity to study problems of organisation, problems of large-scale 2111 organisation. That is my reason for venturing to take up some of the time of the House this afternoon. I saw, for example, at close quarters, in 1912, a vast organisation set up to establish in this country the scheme of National Health Insurance, an organisation transcending in its scope and complexity anything previously attempted in this or, I believe, any other country. It was a scheme that involved the collaboration of officers of Departments, hastily brought into being—really of four Departments, for the scheme involved an experiment in home rule—Departments containing themselves many diverse elements. It involved the co-operation of those officers with a complete system of local authorities of an entirely novel type, and a vast number of voluntary organisations differing widely in size, character and efficiency. It involved collecting and canalising the weekly contributions of many millions of individuals so that the money thus brought into a central pool might flow out through a great system of distributories in measured quantities.
As I have said, nothing comparable had been attempted before, and it all had to be done in the face of fierce criticism and determined opposition from various influential quarters. Moreover, there was an inexorable time factor, the appointed day, which at the outset was only six months ahead. As a matter of organisation that task, proclaimed by many at the outset to be impossible, was successfully accomplished. I believe that there are many lessons to be learned and, for the present purpose, a hopeful conclusion to be drawn from the accomplishment of that great undertaking.
In an entirely different field I was privileged to witness an effort put forth at a very critical time in bringing under control for national purposes the whole of the merchant fleet of this country, and in the concluding stages of the War a considerable part of the allied shipping as well. I shall never forget a conversation I had early in 1917 with a gentleman of great ability who had been connected with the shipping business all his life. He was a gentleman, wholly public-spirited, whose individual contribution to the service of the nation during the War received generous and well-deserved recognition from the highest quarters. Speak- 2112 ing with an unrivalled knowledge of shipping business he said this:Do not imagine that you can attempt to assume control of this highly technical business and make a success of it. I tell you that in the shipping industry of this country we have organisations of incomparable experience and technical efficiency, and it is universally accepted that no one of these organisations can control effectively more than a quite limited number of ships."The apparently impossible was accomplished, not by the methods appropriate to normal times but by those methods adapted to the peculiar circumstances and needs of the moment, and it is only fair to add by a very large measure of cooperation and good will. I could multiply illustrations if it would serve any useful purpose, but I do not want to weary the Committee. The point I seek to make is that we have had experiences in this country, outstanding experiences, in the sphere of civil organisation which do not warrant a pessimistic view—which, on the contrary, justify at least a guarded and sober optimism. I do not think that anyone with actual experience of our peculiar aptitudes in the matter of organisation and of the flexibility and adaptability of our resources could take any other view. I am well aware that there are many people who are inclined to say that we with our go-as-you-please methods can be at best but a poor match for countries which have at their disposal a close-knit organisation, held by authority at every point in an inflexible grip, organisations of whose mechanical efficiency the world has recently had conspicuous and spectacular illustrations. I respectfully decline to accept that view. The elephant is a cumbrous and ungainly creature, and to all appearance singularly ill adapted to the performance of tasks requiring either delicacy or precision, but I have reason to know that he can take one through obstacles and extricate one from situations with which the most highly developed type of mechanical transport would be quite unable to cope.
I think that in this country we shall probably never achieve the degree of mechanical efficiency that is possible, for example, in Germany. It does not follow that we should try and copy German methods. To attempt to do so would be, in my opinion, a profound mistake. Leaders in Germany aim, no doubt from their point of view rightly, at developing 2113 the special aptitudes, I might almost say the idiosyncrasies, of the German people. We must do the same, mutatis mutandis. Mechanical precision is not everything; it may even be a positive disadvantage in dealing with conditions which cannot be precisely foreseen. But if we are to set up, as I believe we can in this country, an organisation equal to the requirements, the very exacting requirements of the case, we must, I suggest, consider with great care the peculiar disabilities to which in this matter we are subject.
If we are to build, as it seems to me we must, on the principles which we have all been brought up to revere, and not on some alien conception, we must have an organisation comprising a hierarchy of officials working in free collaboration with local authorities, voluntary bodies, and with a vast number of individuals giving voluntary service. There is nothing novel in that but it has, I think, this peculiar feature. Every one concerned—and here I am thinking mainly of the official element in the organisation—must be fervently hoping all the time that the results of his labours will come to nought in the end, that the emergency against which he is preparing will never arise. That is not the best spirit in which to approach an exacting task. It is difficult to bring the highest degree of zest and enthusiasm to bear in a supreme effort when one is praying all the time that it may all go for nothing. I do not suppose that this influence is having very much effect now, but I should not be surprised if it has been responsible for considerable delays in the past. There is another aspect of the same psychological factor. As hon. Members have said in previous Debates, the nature of the catastrophe we are organising to avert is such that the mind and soul of man revolts at the very contemplation of it. Enthusiasm in these circumstances—I am thinking more particularly of those who are giving voluntary service—is apt to ebb and flow with changes in the international situation. Effort becomes in consequence fitful and spasmodic. That will not do.
How are these grave initial disadvantages, which I think we must recognise, to be overcome? I think the method—and I suggest the only method—by which they can be overcome is by establishing in the minds of the people, not merely 2114 of the leaders here and in the localities, but in the minds of the great masses of the people, first, a belief that an effective organisation can be brought into being without any sacrifice of the principles upon which our national life is based and, secondly, a conviction that the speedy creation of such an organisation is itself the surest guarantee that the dire calamity we have unfortunately to envisage will never befall us. That is a guarantee which the most complete development of our offensive and defensive organisation, a development which would satisfy, if that were possible, even the sternest critics of His Majesty's Government, would never. give. The most perfect organisation of passive defence involves no menace and no challenge to any other Power. It presents, I hope and believe, no partisan aspect. It will therefore be possible to secure the unity in policy and the unity in action that are essential. The task calls for inspired and inspiring leadership, running down right through the threads of the organisation to the millions of people who have to play their part in varying degrees.
Decisions of policy are essential, and they should not be delayed. But granted those conditions, the composure with which our people always face grave emergencies when they have confidence in their leaders and themselves will, I believe, serve to rule out the hazard of the knockout blow which is the most tempting inducement that we at present offer to any potential enemy. All this calls for united effort on a scale never before attempted. The Departments alone, however efficient —and I do not suppose that any one really wishes to question their efficiency—cannot ensure success. But it is an effort, I suggest, which imposes no impossible task. I do not believe that it even entails recurring expenditure of any great magnitude. I know that there are some who say that if we are in earnest we must subordinate all our normal activities to that paramount need. Personally, I do not believe it. I think that is putting the case much too high. Certainly, there is not time to lose, but I do not think that we need to weaken ourselves in other directions in order to do what is necessary and all that is necessary. I believe we can have business as usual. We may not for a time be able to have fun as usual. It is a feature—I think an agreeable feature—of our social evolution that 2115 people, generally speaking, have much more leisure than ever before. Who would not, at the call of a united nation, be willing to give up some of that leisure for such a cause?
But, to conclude what I have to say this afternoon, I suggest—and I make the suggestion with great diffidence—that there is another and a higher aspect from which this matter can be regarded. Putting out of account altogether for the moment any thought of armed conflict, there have entered into direct competition before the eyes of the world to-day two rival ideologies—fundamentally different. For those who believe in free institutions and in individual liberty, it must be a task of supreme importance to prove that in the pursuit of all worthy aims in life a system based upon those principles can at least hold its own against any rival. From this point of view, as it seems to me, the potentialities of such an organisation as we are considering this afternoon can be regarded as providing a crucial test. If we fail in this higher task, I do not think we shall turn to some rival system. I feel pretty sure that we should fail there too. We shall at best, I suggest, sag down into senility as a nation, having nothing that we or our children or grandchildren can contemplate with pride, except what Disraeli called the "golden promise of a deceptive youth." That, surely, is not to be our fate. It will not be, I suggest, if we approach our present tasks, formidable as they are, late in the day as it may be, in the spirit of:One who never turned his back, but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, sleep to wake."
§ 6.20 p.m.
Miss Lloyd George
I am very glad that it has fallen to my lot to congratulate one who has rendered such distinguished service to his country and the Empire. I feel sure that the whole Committee will look forward to a contribution of equal weight from him in future, although, having heard the speech of the Home Secretary, I could not help wishing that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) had not left the Home Office. In the early part of his speech, 2116 the Home Secretary said that his object was to make the civil headquarters in this country as safe as military general headquarters during the War. I am very glad that he has aimed at such a high standard of safety. I only hope that he will not confine that high standard to civil headquarters, but will extend it also to the civil population of our great cities. The right hon. Gentleman told us of a great many obstacles, he told us how difficult it will be to overcome them, he told us that when certain negotiations have been completed, when certain surveys have been made, and certain committees have reported, he will be able to tell us of the conclusions to which he has come.
It is true to say that, except in the matter of protection against gas, which, as the Home Secretary has himself acknowledged, is a secondary danger, this country is definitely behind all the great European countries in the matter of precautionary measures. The Home Secretary continually emphasises—and he did so again this afternoon—the fact that this is a voluntary effort, that it is largely a matter for the individual householder and employer, and that it is the responsibility of the local authorities to make schemes. But it is the Government, and the Government alone, who are responsible for policy in this matter, and they cannot escape that responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman has been making appeals for volunteers. It seems to me that the first thing to do, before we recruit and mobilise volunteers and instructors, is to come to a decision on policy. The instructors can tell their classes what to do in case of gas attack and how to put on their gas masks—all very necessary—but they cannot tell them what to do if they are caught in the street in an air raid. They can say, "There may be shelters available by that time—we do not know—in the particular neighbourhood in which you live, or there may be trenches in the parks near where you live." But they cannot tell whether there will be shelters available at certain points because the Government have not yet made up their mind on that vital matter of policy. It seems to me that this matter of shelters, to which the right hon. Gentleman paid a good deal of attention this afternoon, is a vital matter of policy upon which the Government ought by this time to have made up their mind.
2117 The "Daily Telegraph "stated yesterday that the Home Office hold the view —and the right hon. Gentleman I think more or less confirmed it this afternoon —that the provision of shelters for every individual is impracticable, and that the individual house offers the best chance of protection against all kinds of aerial bombardment. Would the Home Secretary say that the majority of houses in the East End offer the best chance of protection for the population? There are densely-packed streets, overcrowded houses, so structurally rotten that many of them do not need a direct hit from a bomb to bring them down to the ground, for they are standing up now only because they lean one upon the other. An explosion nearby would bring many of them down of themselves. That has been the experience in the poorer parts of Madrid and Barcelona. Most of these houses have no cellars. What sort of chance does the right hon. Gentleman think he is going to give to the people in those crowded areas? What does he intend to do to protect these people, some of them living 132 to the acre, in these overcrowded houses? What protection is he going to give in an area which is bound to be almost the first and the main objective of enemy bombs? Hon. Members know that in Madrid, if one goes to the residential areas, one wonders in some parts whether there really is a war on; but one has only to go to the poorer parts to find out that there is a war on. Some of those parts have been completely laid low.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the individual house offers the best and safest protection, but on what basis does he make that statement? He said that he has taken account of experiences in Spain. I would like to quote to the House the very remarkable instance of the town of Reus. It has a population of about 27,000, and the shelter provided was for 80 per cent. There was a raid at midday some time ago, and 35 buildings were either partially or completely destroyed, and only three people were killed. They had only five minutes' warning. The other remarkable instance is the town of Castellon, where 180 bombs were dropped, and destroyed 60 houses. Two women and three children were killed in a hospital, which was also bombed; but in the city itself the death 2118 roll was nil. Those two instances do not seem to me to bear out the case that the house offers the safest place to the population.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the survey which is being made at this moment in London, and he told us that it had been completed in three boroughs. He mentioned that in Stepney there were 6,500 cellars, and that there was storage as well which would provide accommodation for a great many more than even the cellars. Can the right hon. Gentleman give any idea, taking not only Stepney but the other two boroughs which he mentioned, of what proportion of the population could be accommodated in the cellars? It is important that we should get some idea, even according to the surveys which have already been made, of what proportion of the population could be accommodated in cellars which are capable of being adapted as shelters. There is no doubt, however, that, beyond that, it will be necessary to build shelters. The right hon. Gentleman's plea has been —I think it was the most important part of his answer—that the cost is prohibitive. Is he quite sure that the estimates given by his Department are not based upon a shelter which is far more elaborate than is necessary? I cannot help feeling that it would be possible to build adequate shelters—it has been done in Spain—at far less cost than the Government estimate.
It will be said that the problem is much greater here than in Spain. In Barcelona they are dealing with a population, including refugees, of under 2,000,000, and in Madrid with little more than 1,000,000, which is smaller than the proportion of the population that we have here huddled round the docks and the river alone. But what a difference there is in the resources of the two countries. Does anyone mean to tell me that we have to measure the cost of the protection which we can afford to give our citizens, by the financial standards of Spain? I believe we could provide adequate shelters in this country at a reasonable cost, especially when we consider the enormous bill which we are paying for armaments, and I also believe that this should be made a national charge.
May I ask the Under-Secretary when he replies to say something about the tubes? The Home Secretary made no 2119 mention of them at all. We wish to know whether the Home Office has come to any definite decision about the possibility of using the tubes as shelters, as was done during the War. It has been said that they could not be used because of the danger of gas, but surely they could be made gas-proof, just as any other shelter can be made gas-proof. It is not more difficult in the case of the tubes, than in the case of cellars or those extensive storage places to which the Home Secretary referred. I understand that the tubes in Barcelona have been utilised and they are not nearly as well adapted to the purpose, because of air conditions, as the tubes in London. I believe that in Paris they have just decided to spend another £1,000,000 on tube shelters which will accommodate about 350,000 people.
If the tubes in London could be used, they would cover a considerable area. It is true that they do not cover a large area in the East End, which is a very important limitation. There are great areas like Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, Stratford and Bow Road which have no tubes, but I understand that at this moment an extension of the tube is in progress of construction. Would it not be possible to construct that extension so as to make it bomb-proof and gas-proof? I should have thought that this was an opportunity. I am told that six years ago in Italy this provision was made and that the tubes then built were made so that they could be utilised as auxiliary shelters. If that were done here, it would provide shelter for a considerable proportion of the population. I believe that the Government will be driven, in the end, to adopt a policy of air-raid shelters, and I suggest that they should reverse the policy which they have followed up to date, and do it sooner rather than later. But I hope that, if they decide on a policy of air-raid shelters, they will have a standard design, because I understand that in Spain, particularly in Catalonia, a great many of the shelters erected were afterwards found to be of faulty construction and useless for their purpose. Therefore, I hope that if these shelters are to be constructed the matter will not be left to the local authorities but that the Home Office will have a standard design which will be safe.
I would like next to say something upon evacuation. The Home Secretary has 2120 pointed to the difficulties of evacuation and everyone must recognise that it is not an easy problem. A great many people say that it will be difficult to persuade people to leave London, to leave their families, or even to allow their children to be evacuated. I am told that in Madrid people refused to evacuate, although in some cases they were told that their rations might be cut off if they remained. In spite of that fact, half the children of Madrid have been evacuated. I believe it is the first instinct of most people who have the means to do so, to evacuate their families if there is danger of air raids. I cannot help feeling that a great many of those whom we think of to-day as unwilling to leave their homes, will be perfectly prepared to do so if they have the means and the accommodation provided for them. I certainly think we should urge them to do so. The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities spoke of the difficulties of a democratic State as compared with a totalitarian State where you can say to a man—or a woman which might be more difficult—" Go," and he goeth. It is said it is not so easy to do that in a democratic State.
We have been told, however, that France, a democratic country has made plans already for reducing the population of Paris from 4,750,000 to 1,500,000 by evacuation. France is a free country which believes, as much as we do, in the liberty of the individual. But I think it is carrying freedom too far to give people the liberty to be killed even if they seem to want it. Elaborate plans are already in existence in Paris. What have the Government done here? They have set up a committee. I feel sure that the committee is an admirable one. I should find it difficult to say anything else with my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) sitting so near me, but if it was thought desirable to have a committee, if all these matters had to be looked into, why was it not done earlier? The Government had plenty of time to think about the problem. We have not suddenly become a democracy. We have been a democracy for all this time, and these difficulties might have presented themselves to the Government earlier. The Home Secretary said that one of the questions which might have to be decided was whether mothers should accompany 2121 their children. I think in all probability the mothers will decide that for themselves.
I do not wish to disparage the persuasive qualities of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green, or my hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities, but I hope that the question to be considered by this committee is not how to persuade people to evacuate, but how a policy of evacuation, if decided upon, is to be carried out. The evacuation of a large number of people will mean a great deal of planning and the provision of a great deal of accommodation in villages and elsewhere. It seems to me that there is a complete lack of co-ordination in the organisation of air-raid precautions. The fire brigades in London are, I believe, under the London County Council. The provision of gas instruction, the distribution of masks, and the application of decontamination measures are all matters for the borough councils. The provision of air-raid shelters is, apparently, nobody's business, unless it be the business of individuals and employers.
I believe someone ought to be appointed to be responsible for the co-ordination of air-raid precautions in London. There are at the moment two officials responsible—a deputy Under-Secretary in the Home Office and an Inspector-General. It is obvious that the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary have not time to devote to this work. Their tasks are very heavy and arduous without it. I would ask the Home Secretary to consider the advisability, indeed the necessity, of having someone at the head of air-raid precautions to put drive into the work, to coordinate all the services, and to be responsible, of course, to the Minister. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has filled us with great confidence that the defence of London is sure. I only hope he may soon pass from the stage of committees and surveys to the stage of action. As the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities has said, what we want at the moment is leadership and inspired leadership.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Gluckstein
We have had a reassuring statement from the Home Secretary and some very gloomy statements from various other Members of the Committee. I think when we consider what 2122 the Home Secretary has said we ought to take heart and congratulate him on the constructive measures which, in the short time he has occupied his office, he has effected in this great service. If the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) has been making speeches in his constituency such as we heard from him this afternoon, it is an extremely queer thing that only 20 per cent. of his constituents have seen fit to enrol themselves in the scheme for the protection of that great city.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I said that 20 per cent. were trained. The position to which I referred has largely arisen from the indecision of the Government and the Home Office.
§ Mr. Gluckstein
I hope the Committee will appreciate that the neighbouring city of Nottingham is not suffering from the troubles described by the hon. Member. Perhaps if he came across there—it is only 14 miles away—his constituents might be better directed and better trained. It is clear that passive defence depends very largely, in the long run, on the great bulk of the population. They have to be convinced of the danger and enlisted in the effort to prevent it. It seems to me that one way of repelling danger is by the road of knowledge. A person, however brave, when faced with an unknown danger, is apt to be frightened. But half the danger will disappear once we show our population what they have to face and how they are to meet it. So, at the outset, I would beg the Home Secretary to make arrangements for training the Members of the House of Commons. I feel a good deal of diffidence in speaking to my constituents about air-raid precautions when it is so difficult to obtain the necessary training—training which could of course be acquired here by hon. Members if the Home Office arranged it. I hope that some step will be taken to enable Members of this House to enrol themselves and to obtain instruction.
There is a good deal of substance in what has been said by the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) on the organisation of these services. It is clear that the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary, however hard they may work—and they have worked very hard in this connection— 2123 cannot with their other duties give this matter the attention which it needs. We are rapidly approaching a time when 1, 000,000 people will be enrolled in one or another of these services and it seems to me that a whole-time Minister will be required to arrange and co-ordinate their activities, having regard to local difficulties. I admit freely that at first I was very sceptical about the possibility of organising a great service like this, with 1,000,000 volunteers needed, all mobilised by local authorities and all volunteers. I thought it could never be done, having regard particularly to the great peril of fire, which, to my mind, is by far the greatest. The peril of fire seemed to me to be an almost impossible one to guard against. But I am bound to admit, and I do so with pleasure, that my prognostications were wrong, and that the city in whose representation I have the honour to share has shown clearly what can be done and how it can be done. It is for that reason that I desire to address this Committee to-day, in the hope that other boroughs with similar problems may find something of use in what Nottingham has achieved.
The first thing that was necessary was to find some energetic and efficient person to co-ordinate air-raid precautions, and that was done by finding the Chief Constable of Nottingham, who has performed the task most admirably. Then the City Council came upon the scene. It is composed of a majority of Conservative members, with a considerable number of Socialist members, and I want to say at once that the non-party way in which all the members of that council have pulled together ought to be an example to everybody. They have given every possible support to the Chief Constable, and, what is more, they have appointed the leader of the local Labour party to preside over the Air-Raid Precautions Committee, which meets every month, and he does the task very well indeed. It may be that they think that this gentleman may be able to persuade some of his more backward friends rather more easily than could a Conservative. At any rate, the result has been that all the time that complaints were being made that no local authority was doing anything because of what has been described as a haggle about money, air-raid precautions were being carried 2124 out in Nottingham, regardless of whether the Treasury was or was not going to pay. Of course, the city of Nottingham, like every other city and place, was going to have all the money that the Government would give, but they did indicate clearly that they felt a responsibility to their citizens, which could only be met by providing the necessary shelters and protection, whether or not the Treasury paid. The result was that the city got on with the job while other people were discussing whether or not they were to receive any money for doing it.
Another point, which I think is of consequence, is that the council approached the local chamber of commerce to enlist the support of all employers in the district, and as a result of that a tremendous amount of most valuable work and training has been done in the various large industries which are centred in and around Nottingham. For example, there are shelters and trained fire fighters in firms like Boots, Players, and the Raleighs, and, of course, the Council of the City of Nottingham regard the gun factory which is now placed there, and which is likely to attract unwelcome attention should there be a war, as under their trusteeship, and they regard themselves as obliged to protect it and the people who work in it as far as possible.
The trained fire fighters—and there are many hundreds of them now trained—are encouraged to go about their duties by accompanying the fire brigade in Nottingham itself, and they gain further experience practically in this way as and when fires break out. That seems to be a useful principle which ought to commend itself to the Committee. There has been, locally organised by the Chief Constable, a complete scheme which covers all the different things that have been mentioned this afternoon—works, medical services, fires, air-raid wardens, special constabulary, gas, water, and electricity supplies—each with its own director. Once a month those directors meet together, with the Chief Constable, and, if necessary, matters are brought before the city council for their decision.
I hope the Committee will not think that I am saying that this is an ideal and perfect arrangement, but it shows what is now being done as a result of the Home Office suggestions earlier on. This is what is actually done now, and 2125 the people are there, trained. When the hon. Member for Derby said that only 20 per cent. of the volunteers had been trained, I was astonished. We have 95 per cent, of our fire fighters trained and 70 per cent. of our air-raid wardens trained.
§ Mr. Gluckstein
No, all sorts. I cannot say how many wardens we required, but we have 70 per cent. of the establishment trained. I do not know what are the proportions of the total 12,000 required, but actually we shall need, to carry out all the schemes in Nottingham, 12,000 men. We have at the moment 80 per cent. of them trained, and we hope that in three months' time they will all be recruited and trained. The standard of training is fairly strenuous, I imagine.
I propose now to tell the Committee what occurred only 10 days ago, when an exercise was carried out for the purpose of demonstrating what could be done by volunteers. A large crowd of about 15,000 people collected, who were all controlled by the volunteer police, special constables. In fact, the only casualties which were suffered were in the crowd, because it was so very dense. Then there took place an exercise in which the hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) took part. He commanded a local air auxiliary squadron and obtained permission from the Air Ministry to fly over Nottingham at a very low height. I do not know that it alarmed him, but it certainly alarmed a great number of people who saw him come down to as low as about 300 feet. It made very realistic what then happened, because every conceivable feature of an air attack was then carried out. There were the explosives side, the fire side, the casualty and decontamination side, and generally the control and the education of the crowd, which came to scoff and remained to praise. It was an extremely successful demonstration of what these volunteers could do.
Among other things it demonstrated something which is of consequence to all 2126 cities, and that is that you can carry, over a considerable distance of ground, water which is pumped by a fire float on, let us say, a canal or river. For the first time a fire craft was used, and water was carried in pipes some hundreds of yards through the city in order to deal with fire. That is an extremely valuable example, because anybody knows that water mains may easily be destroyed, and, therefore, static water supplies become extremely valuable. I suppose that most cities have running through them either a river or a canal, on which some fire fighting barge could be placed. That is what has happened in Nottingham, and I suggest it would happen in other cities in case of danger, and it is because of the work that has been done there that I am emboldened to say that we are not in so bad a situation as some people imagine, and that if other cities would follow that example, the civilian population would probably feel a great deal safer than is the case in some places now.
I want now to raise the question of evacuation. That problem is indeed one which creates a very harsh dilemma in most women's minds. Are they to remain with their husbands, who are obviously going to stay at work, or are they to take their children outside into the country and abandon their husbands in circumstances of great danger to those husbands? Is it possible that those mothers might be persuaded to allow their children to go, if they thought they were in the care of, let us say, the local school teacher, who is accustomed to seeing the children every day and having their care during the school hours? It is possible—one does not know—but at any rate the committee which is to consider evacuation might explore these possibilities, because it must be obvious that it would be quite wrong to allow whole families, and particularly children, to remain in an area of danger when they could quite easily, with a little organisation, go into the surrounding country. I hope, therefore, that however much criticism there may be of what the Government have done, it will be constructive and helpful criticism, so that the message can go out from this Committee that we are all determined, as far as we can, to make safe the people of this country.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
I am speaking under the handicap of having been appointed, as has the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), on the Committee on Evacuation, which is one of the most important subjects under discussion and one which I feel, in the circumstances, I cannot discuss at all. In the second place, I am under a handicap because the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was so extremely forceful, persuasive, and optimistic that I find it more difficult that usual to disagree with him, although on certain points, on which I may be obliged to do so, I hope that he will take any observations which I may have to make as being an attempt at constructive criticism. I want to ask, first, whether the Members of the Government are all of them sufficiently air-minded or sufficiently air-raid precautions minded. I wonder whether they have all been up in aeroplanes to survey the London area or other areas of importance from the standard of air-raid precautions.
It would appear that, although we have been talking about those precautions for a long time, it is still a subject which is not put into its proper place as an item in national defence. We have the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force as part of the burden of national defence, and their Estimates are calculated in hundreds of millions. We have the Air-Raid Precautions Department, and its Estimates amount, I think, to something like £32,000,000. Have the Government placed that figure as a limit? I do not want to make any exaggerated claims for air-raid precautions, but it is clear, and everyone agrees—the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities himself laid emphasis on it—that in a future war the battlefield will be in the civilian areas with concentrated populations and industries, and it will be those areas which will be the target of attack.
Air-raid precautions, which will help the civilian population to resist—which in fact will be the only thing enabling the civilian population to resist—are as important as anti-aircraft guns. It appears to me that the Government will have to contemplate a very considerable increase in expenditure if they are to meet the liability to produce a really satisfactory air-raid precautions scheme. If this country is to carry on in conditions of 2128 air warfare that will certainly be necessary. I merely mention one thing which may largely increase the original Estimate requirements, which has been mentioned by a number of speakers this afternoon, and very eloquently referred to by the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), that is the requirement of shelters. It is now generally agreed, and it certainly is very actively discussed among all the people concerned in these matters, that there must be a provision of shelters on a greater scale than was originally contemplated. I do not propose to discuss that, because it is impossible to discuss it adequately without also discussing the question of evacuation, on which it hangs. But there are some other points on which I should like to make some detailed criticism.
I confess I was frankly surprised by the Home Secretary's estimate of the total number of volunteers in the country and of the proportion of those volunteers who have been trained. I am glad to hear what that figure is, but the proportion certainly does not apply to many of the districts in London. I know a number of areas in London intimately, and in those areas I should say the proportion of those required—the men and the services—is much nearer 20 than 50 per cent., and the number trained is smaller still. It is not only a question of training. You must of course have air-raid wardens trained, you must have first-aid personnel trained, you must have stretcher bearers trained, you must have ambulance service drivers trained, and you must have the ambulances for them to drive, extra ambulances—which have not yet been provided. But not only must you have these individual services trained, but air-raid wardens must know how to canvass the houses, how to fit the respirators, which is not by any means an easy thing to do. I have seen some lamentable results follow from those who did not understand how to fit respirators putting them on to people and then putting those people into a gas chamber. It is one of the worst advertisements of air-raid precautions to put people into a gas chamber and then find that they all come out weeping bitterly and wishing that they had not gone in. It never happened in my own case, but it certainly can easily happen.
But with regard to these particular services—air-raid wardens, first aid parties, 2129 stretcher bearers, ambulance service drivers, and so forth—they not only need the individual training, but they need practice in working together. Take, for instance, what actually happens in an air-raid exercise. You have a black-out, you have a number of casualties planted round about the streets—people pretending to be wounded or injured, or gassed—and you have the system of communication working as it is in war. The ambulances have to drive in the dark. The stretcher bearers have to pick up people in the dark, the air-raid wardens have to make communications in the dark; and under these circumstances it is extraordinary the mistakes that people—even those very familiar with the area concerned—can make. I am speaking from actual experience. Unless the various services of the air-raid precautions service in general in any local authority are not only trained individually but trained to work together and exercise together, you cannot possibly have the effective service that you require.
Then there is a very important point with regard to the first aid posts. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, first aid posts are, according to the instructions issued by the Home Office, to be established at very numerous points in all urban areas. First aid posts are to be the places to which people will go when they are injured, wounded, or gassed, and especially when their clothing has been contaminated with mustard gas, or when they have been contaminated with mustard gas on their bare skin—the hands, or face, or the arms in the case of women wearing sleeveless dresses. These first aid posts must be very close together. The regulation lays down that they should in an urban area be at no greater distance than 15 minutes walk apart, which means a very large number in a place like London. They must he close because unless people who have got mustard liquid on their clothing get there in 15 minutes—or if on their hands in five minutes—they will suffer as mustard gas casualties, and that is a very serious thing. I should like some information from the Under-Secretary as to how the preparations are getting on with regard to the first aid posts. The whole question of dealing with the possibility of attack by mustard gas depends on the efficiency of the first aid post organisation, and consequently it is an extremely 2130 important thing. How is that getting on? It is a very big job.
Then there is, of course, the accessory to the first-aid posts. People who go into the first-aid posts will have to remove all their clothing, they will have to be supplied with a change of clothing before they can go out, and the clothes which have been contaminated and which they have taken off will have to be sent to what are technically called mustard laundries, in order that it may go through a process of decontamination. Where are those mustard laundries being set up? I know the sites of at least two of them, but I should like to know how far they are actually being set up and how that organisation is getting on; because it is just as essential to have the apparatus for the decontamination of clothing as it is to have the first-aid posts for dealing with those who have been gassed with mustard, if that is used, and it certainly might be used. I may interject at this point that I entirely agree with what has been said to-night by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) and others that, while we must not lay too much emphasis on gas, to neglect gas, and especially to neglect the mustard gas problem, would be exceedingly foolish and excessively dangerous. It is a real and very possible offensive weapon which might be used, and which would be, although not fatal to a large extent, extraordinarily harassing, on account of the large number of casualties which it might easily cause unless we have an adequate system of protection against it.
I want also some further information about the hospital system. I am rather disarmed by the Home Secretary's statement that he has just appointed a Committee consisting of Sir Charles Wood, Dean of St. Mary's; Mr. Girling Ball, of St. Bartholomew's; General MacArthur, Director of Medical Services at the War Office; Sir Frederick Menzies, of the London County Council; and the chief medical advisers of the Home Office.
I was going to ask that. That is a very strong and a very useful committee, indeed I can only say it is a pity it was not appointed a long time ago. It would have been better to get on with this, because there is not only the question of providing the hospital accom- 2131 modation; there is the question of how that hospital accommodation is to be controlled. Take London itself. There are in London a very large number of London County Council hospitals. I have got a map here showing the distribution of London County Council hospitals. There is also a considerable number of voluntary hospitals. How is the control and organisation of the hospital system to be shared and divided between the London County Council and the voluntary hospitals?—a very important question, and one that will certainly have to be settled in a quite definite way. Then the Home Secretary, when he referred to this, did not refer to the rest of the country at all. In what way is the hospital organisation in the rest of the country outside the London area to be controlled? What is to be the authority? Is it to be the county council, or is it to be the co-operative association of a number of county councils, or is it to be a national authority? I believe there is something to be said for making the control of the whole hospital services of the country into a national service. That is of course a matter for consideration.
Then there is the very important question, which the Home Secretary is anticipating to some extent, of how the hospital service required for air-raid precautions is to be co-ordinated with the hospital services which will still be required for civilians, and with the hospital services which will be required for the Army, the Navy and the Air Forces. On that Hospitals Committee which the right hon. Gentleman has just appointed there is General MacArthur, the Chief of the Army Medical Service, and one presumes therefore that they will consider that particular point. But how is the total accommodation to be provided for? Members who can cast their memories back to the time of the Great War will remember that during that War the area of this country was practically speaking a completely safe place. The whole of the country was covered with a network of hospitals, and as the men were brought back from the various fronts in France they were distributed over the whole of the country. What extra provision would be required under the conditions of a modern war? Because undoubtedly if one takes any- 2132 thing like the scale of casualties which have occurred in Barcelona, you might get as a result of one bomb dropped on a big centre of population in this country a number of casualties equivalent to those caused in a first class action in the Great War. I should like to hear from the Government what their plans for hospitals are, if they can say anything more about them. Is there any question of increasing the number of hospitals? What, by the way are the dons of Oxford and Cambridge and the other denizens of those places to do if they are evacuated? I suppose they will have to set up peripatetic universities elsewhere.
One point which seems to be extremely important—and it is one of the weakest links, I believe, in the chain of air-raid precautions—is the air-raid precautions in factories, office buildings, and business premises like large stores and shops. So far as my own experience goes—and I have made it my business to inquire, not only in London but outside London —not very much is being done to give air-raid protection to large factories and business premises. There is of course no actual compulsion on the owners of those premises. What is the Government proposing to ask them to do? I was very glad to hear from the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Gluckstein) of the admirable results which have been achieved in his locality by the help of the leader of the local Labour party, himself, and the chief constable and everybody working together. I do not know what it is—the United Front or the Popular Front—at all events a very extensive front. But unfortunately that is rather exceptional. I will return to that point in a moment because it dots the "i "of an argument which I propose to adduce. If productive and distributive industry is to carry on the employés must be protected. If the employés risk their health and their lives the employers must at least be prepared to provide protection for them. The Government ought to announce some step to bring this responsibility home to factory owners.
Finally, I want to ask—and the answer is more or less conceded in advance—whether the Government's conception of air warfare was really correct. The old conception of air warfare as largely a gas warfare has been practically given up. 2133 Civilians must, of course, have a knowledge of gases in order to avoid panic. It is no use to organise anti-gas warfare alone without organising against air warfare in other ways, because the other ways are so very important. That brings me to a point I want to make with regard to the police. The hon. Member for East Nottingham referred to the success of the Nottingham arrangements and said that they had been taken in hand by the chief constable. I strongly oppose calling on the police to undertake this function. My reason is not that I have any antagonism to the police, but that I think they will have so much other work to do. In this particular case by calling on the chief constable they have called upon a man who is very experienced and well instructed, and who knows exactly what to teach the people and how to arrange the public services.
What is wrong in most cases is that there are not instructors of that quality and calibre. That is one of the great difficulties of the whole system of volunteers at the present time. Take, for instance, the teaching at Falfield, the first civil anti-gas school. It is, so to speak, the university of air-raid precautions. Nearly the whole of the teaching at that school—I have been through the course and taken the certificate—is confined to teaching about gas. The syllabus of the lectures contains, in a series of six lectures totalling 12 hours, only a few passing references to any other agency than gas. There has been much too much concentration on gas, and I suggest that the curriculum at Falfield and at the lately established anti-gas school at Easingfold should be seriously reconsidered and recast in order to bring the teaching into line with all the experience in the last 12 months of those who have studied this question. There ought to be a much greater study of the effects of high explosives and a greater knowledge disseminated of methods of fortification. I am told by engineers that it is possible to increase greatly the resisting power of the sides of trenches by various mechanical devices. These things ought to be taught and known all over the country.
There is no doubt that more schools are required. We ought not only to have one near Bristol and one in Yorkshire, but we ought to have a school on the modern plan to which I have referred in 2134 the London area. I should like to ask the Government what they would be prepared to do for London in that respect and how far they would be willing to finance such a school. Speaking without previous consultation with the authorities I feel fairly confident that if the Government would make a move in this direction assistance would come forward from those in the London area connected with the London County Council, and perhaps those connected with London University, with a view to setting up a real up-to-date air-raid precautions school for the London area. There should also be a school for Scotland and one for Wales. It is not only a question of having more schools. It is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby said, a question of the problem not being the same all over the country. It would be an advantage to have in Scotland a school which would concern itself with the problem as it affects Scotland, and one in Wales to concern itself with the problem as it affects Wales, particularly South Wales. It would not be a great expense and it would be possible to get instructors without too much difficulty. It would enable the grave difficulty of the lack of sufficiently and properly trained instructors, which has strained the organisation of air-raid precautions, to be got over.
There are a large number of other questions to which I might refer, such as warnings and gas detection, but I want to say one or two words about the police. Those words are friendly and appreciative, for I have the highest regard for the good qualities of the police. I do not think it is sufficiently realised that in the conditions of an air raid the police would have a very sticky job. They would have one of the most dangerous kinds of work to do. They would be required to keep order in the streets when the bombs were falling; they would have to prevent people panicking and injuring themselves and others; they would have to regulate the flow of appliances to fires and traffic; and they would in certain cases have to deal with guarding against mustard contamination by putting up notices, closing roads, and so on. They would be fully occupied during an air raid with precisely defined police duties and, in addition, they would probably have to keep up communications in case of telephones breaking down.
§ Mr. Gluckstein
I did not mention the chief constable as the person who will ultimately be in control of the whole organisation. He is organising it now, but ultimately it will be controlled by its own directors.
I am glad I have given the hon. Member the opportunity to make that statement, because I was afraid that what he said might inspire other people to take advantage of the good offices of the police to undertake this organisation. I believe that in the interests of the organisations and of the police themselves it is a duty that ought not to be placed upon them. They will be much too fully occupied on their own special duties. They should be separate from the general air-raid precautions organisations as fire prevention is.
I hope that the Home Secretary will not only give us reassurances, but will not be afraid to give us the facts which are not reassuring. I rather feel that the Home Office has been afraid in the past of telling the public how bad the situation was and how bad it might be. I do not think there is any necessity for fearing any reaction now. It would be to the advantage of the organisation and to the country if we could be sure that the officials on whom we depend and the Minister and the Under-Secretary did not keep back anything. If there is anything we ought to know let us hear about it because I am sure the country is ready to face it. When the Home Secretary made his appeal for volunteers just after a certain disturbance had occurred on the Continent, he got a large response. When he made it on the second occasion I heard some people say, "This must be a put-up job," because there was another disturbance on the Continent. The Under-Secretary is too young to remember that during the Great War—it begins to sound almost prehistoric now—whenever there was a real disaster in France it immediately led to a great rush to the Colours at home. It did not lead to people running away. I urge the Government, therefore, to let the public more into their confidence. I know the situation is improving, but I cannot believe it is as good as has been represented. It would be better if some of the gaps which need to be filled up or some of the deficiencies which need to be made good were represented in their real light to the House and to the country.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys
The hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) said that we had been paying too much attention to gas and too little attention to high explosives. I agree that the Home Office and the local authorities have been paying too little attention to the effects of the high explosive bomb. I do not know whether the hon. Member meant that we had been paying too much attention to gas or merely that we had been concentrating too much upon it to the exclusion of other aspects of the problem.
I meant we had been concentrating on it too much, and relatively not enough on the high explosive bomb.
§ Mr. Sandys
I agree. It would not be right to say we had paid too much attention to the dangers of poison gas. Nothing that the Government have done in connection with gas has been either unnecessary or superfluous. The danger of the gas attack is not so much the casualties which it inflicts as the panic which it may cause. Gas is an unknown quantity to most people, and something which is unknown is always more frightening than something with which people are familiar. If we were caught unprepared it is my belief that there is nothing which would be more calculated to create panic than an intensive gas attack. On the other hand, if our people become familiarised with the danger of poison gas, its nature and the means of combating it, and if the necessary personnel is trained to deal with it, I believe that the gas danger can practically be eliminated as a serious factor in air raids. If that is so, if one out of the three air raid menaces of gas, fire, and high explosives, namely, gas, can be reduced to manageable proportions, then I say how very much worth while all this training and all these preparations are. I hope, therefore, that nothing will induce the Government to relax their efforts in this direction, and that they will continue to do everything in their power to perfect our preparations against the poison gas menace.
I should like to concentrate my remarks principally upon the problem of the high explosive bomb, because that is the real menace, as I see it, in air raids. Before we can examine this question we have to ask ourselves two general questions: First of all, what sort of protection should be provided against the high 2137 explosive bomb? Secondly, whose responsibility should it be to provide it? Now, what sort of protection is needed? The Home Office attitude towards this question is indicated in the "Householders' Handbook "which has recently been issued to local authorities for their observations. If the Handbook does not represent the attitude of the Government my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will, no doubt, interrupt me. I must admit that I am frankly amazed at some of the recommendations and advice contained in this handbook in regard to protection against the high explosive bomb. For instance, on page 8, where it deals with "How to choose a refuge room "it says:A cellar or basement is the best place for a refuge room if it can be made reasonably gas proof."But it goes on to say:Alternatively, any room on any floor below the top floor may be used.""Any room on any floor below the top floor! "Surely my right hon. Friend and his Department must know that it is virtually impossible to make a room on an upper floor anything approaching blast-proof. This handbook, if it represents the attitude of the Government, which I find it hard to believe, would suggest a complete lack of comprehension of the whole problem raised by the high explosive bomb.
As I see it, the purpose of air-raid precautions is twofold. The first and the lesser purpose is to prevent panic. Incidentally, I was a little surprised at a remark made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary this afternoon when he said:It is against panic that we are chiefly making these precautions."It is not against panic, surely, that we are chiefly making these precautions. It is primarily in order to restrict to a minimum the loss of life and injury to our people. I hope that my hon. Friend, when he replies this evening, will say something to reassure not only Members of this House but the entire nation on that question, because it would be a very serious thing if it were thought that the Government were merely or principally aiming at avoiding panic.
On the question of panic, I ask my right hon. Friend, Will this sticky paper policy, this policy of the refuge room up on the fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh floor 2138 in a great block of flats—any floor except the top floor—stop panic? In peace time, yes. It will certainly stop panic in peace time. It is very reassuring to everybody to be told that they have only to put some transparent paper on their windows and take a few other very elementary precautions in their upper floor refuge room in order to make themselves—as they imagine—relatively immune from the dangers of air attack. But what about war time? After all, it is for war time that we are making these preparations. I say to my right hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that when the first bomb falls it is going to explode the whole of this policy, and, in addition to that, it is going to undermine and destroy the confidence of the people in the Government. It is a very serious thing in time of war for the confidence of the people in the Government to he shaken. They will undoubtedly feel when the window blows in, with the paper and all, that they have been deceived, and their indignation will be very great indeed.
Surely, in itself, the effect of an air raid on the nerves of the population is bad enough. When I was in Barcelona the other day there was no doubt about it, the people were afraid of the air raids. I was afraid myself, and I have no hesitation in saying so. When I saw a puff of smoke in the sky and saw that the guns were shooting I certainly felt alarmed. Everybody else had read in the newspapers that the guns were practising that day, but I had not, and I did not know. When I was told I was certainly most relieved. But when on top of ordinary fear you add a legitimate sense of public grievance, then indeed I say to my right hon. Friend, who, as Home Secretary, is familiar with the problem of preserving public order, you have all the makings of a very ugly situation.
As regards the second purpose of air-raid precautions, namely, the restriction of casualties to a minimum, I say right away that in general principle, apart from the protection afforded by a limited number of bomb-proof shelters, you cannot guard against the direct hit. I think we have got to accept that fact, unpleasant and ugly as it is. Like the soldiers at the front, so too the civilian population will inevitably suffer casualties. But we 2139 must be clear in our minds exactly what is a "direct hit." We must not allow ourselves unduly to enlarge the area which is reckoned as being the area of a direct hit. I would suggest in the case of a medium-sized bomb that three houses might legitimately be reckoned as the area of the direct hit, that is to say, the house in which the bomb falls and one house on each side. What we are mainly concerned with is to guard against the immense indirect effect—of blast caused by a high explosive bomb. When I was in Barcelona the other day I tried to pick up as much information as I could on this subject. There people have suffered death and injury through the collapsing of ceilings, the falling in of walls, flying furniture and things of that sort up to distances of over 100 yards away from where the bomb fell.
I maintain, and I think those who have studied this question will agree with me, that in an air raid there is no safety whatsoever above ground against the effect of blast. As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), in Barcelona in an area where there were no good cellars or basements and which had been heavily bombed, the people came down into the streets and started digging up the roadway. They were determined to get underground somehow. You can imagine the state of mind that people must be in before they start digging up the streets. You cannot now pass along those streets at all because of the great mounds of earth which have been thrown up. The inhabitants had started digging caves for themselves with shovels and picks and crowbars. They very soon, of course, came up against gas mains, electric light cables, sewers and so forth, and very quickly the municipal authorities had to step in and say, "If you must dig, we will do the digging for you." They were obliged to build them proper shelters.
The Spaniards are not cowardly people; nobody is going to suggest that, and I believe that our people would react in exactly the same way. In densely populated districts in vulnerable areas, I am convinced that after intensive aerial bombardment people will demand, and demand more and more insistently, some form of proper protection, either entirely, or at any rate for the most part, below the level of the ground. Therefore, not in 2140 a spirit of criticism, but because I am alarmed at the consequences of this policy, I do earnestly appeal to my right hon. Friend to discard once and for all the idea of the upper-storey refuge room and to substitute for it an altogether higher standard. I ask him to substitute for it the standard of the shelter, the cellar, the basement or the trench.
I now pass on to my second question, "Whose responsibility should it be to provide this protection? "Let us deal in the first place with shelters on private premises. I think the principle should be quite clearly established that as far as it is reasonably possible at a reasonable cost it is the duty of everyone to provide for his own protection and for the protection of his dependants. This principle applies equally to factory owners employing many hundreds of workpeople as it does to the private individual living in his home with his wife and children. The survey which is now being undertaken, and which, we hope, will be finished by the end of the summer, will undoubtedly show, as the Home Secretary indicated, that there are a great number of houses and buildings in this country, which but for the provision of sandbags are entirely suitable for use as air-raid shelters. In addition, the survey will show that there are a large number of further houses with cellars and basements which can, at a very small cost indeed, be made suitable for use as air-raid shelters.
There arises the question as to whether we are to allow this type of accommodation to be wasted. Can the Government be reasonably expected to provide public shelters for people who have, in their own houses, basements or cellars which, at a trifling cost, can be made suitable as shelters? My view is that that would be unreasonable. All available shelter accommodation which is either already suitable, or can be made suitable at very small cost, must first be utilised before the Government or the local authorities should be asked to provide public shelters. How is that to be done? There is only one way. The obligation to make these small alterations must be placed upon the individual occupant of the factory or the house. This is no new principle which I am suggesting. It is a principle which underlies the policy of the Home Office all the way through, although they have been a little diffident, 2141 a little frightened, about saying clearly what they mean. They mean that all right, but they have been reluctant to say definitely that they place this obligation upon individuals to provide protection for themselves. For instance, in the Home Office Circular of 28th March, perhaps the most important circular issued on this subject, they said:It must be assumed that householders will generally do what they can to increase the natural protection of their homes, and that employers with business premises will have made arrangements for such protection and shelter in their business premises as may be practicable.""It is to be assumed "! Surely that is a very broad assumption? My right hon. Friend will not get things done merely by assuming that they have already been done. He must not be afraid to say clearly what he means. I ask him to abandon this rather hesitant attitude and to tell the public bluntly that it is the duty of every individual—if not a legally compulsory duty, at any rate a clear moral duty—wherever reasonably possible and within the limits of his means—to provide at his own expense for his own protection and that of his dependants. If my right hon. Friend tells the people of this country exactly what he expects of them, I am confident he will not be disappointed with the response.
I have dealt with those categories of premises the occupants of which can, at a very small cost or at no cost at all, provide for their own protection. But after we have utilised all available shelter accommodation in cellars, basements and even trenches in gardens, it will still be found that there are many people for whom there is no proper protection and whose houses are such that, to quote again the Circular of 28th March:adaptation to provide protection to any reasonable degree is impracticable."What is to be done to protect these people? That is an important question, and I ask my right hon. Friend to define his position more precisely. I ask him to make it clear to the local authorities in vulnerable areas that there can be no alternative whatsoever but to provide for all these people public shelters at the public expense.
I would like, in conclusion, to say a few words on the subject of evacuation, which is closely inter-connected with the question of shelters. The more one appre- 2142 ciates the expense and effort involved in providing shelters the more one becomes attracted to the idea of evacuation, or, as I would prefer to call it, the dispersal of the population to safer areas. I believe that in any case there will be evacuation. You have the choice between planned evacuation and panic evacuation. Hon. Members on all sides of the House have for some months past been disappointed at the rather hard-hearted attitude adopted by the Government towards this matter. But now a new situation has arisen as a result of the appointment by my right hon. Friend of the special committee on evacuation. The appointment of this committee has created widespread satisfaction. It is evidence that the Government seriously intend that evacuation shall play a big part in their air-raid precaution plans. I do not propose to ask my right hon. Friend how big a part it is to play. The important thing is that he has accepted the principle, and that he is now taking concrete steps to put that principle into practice. I am, moreover, confident that the more he and his committee examine this question the more they will recognise the advantages and for that matter, the inevitability of evacuation upon a very considerable scale.
I should like to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend and his committee to the importance and the urgency of defining the danger zones and the safety zones without further delay. This matter was touched upon by the hon. Member for Derby. All evacuation plans are now being held up, particularly those relating to school children and hospital patients, pending a decision on this question. My right hon. Friend suggested evacuating hospital patients to Oxford and Cambridge. But even he does not know, until a decision has been taken, whether Oxford and Cambridge will be regarded as safe areas. I very much doubt whether they will. Cambridge may very likely be scheduled as a vulnerable area. As for Oxford, it will probably be regarded as a military objective because it is so close to the Morris works which will doubtless be engaged in armament production. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend and his committee will give this matter very early attention.
Finally, let me say that the problem of evacuation raises a host of broad political and social issues. It will be bound to affect the lives of thousands of families 2143 all over the country. It is therefore of primary importance that any decisions which may be reached on this question should be based upon the very widest measures of common agreement. For that reason I am certain that my right hon. Friend was absolutely right in appointing this all-party Parliamentary Committee to study and advise upon this question, and I am sure that the entire House will wish my right hon. Friend and his new committee every success in their most important deliberations.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern
I have listened attentively to the speech of the Home Secretary and to many of the succeeding speeches, and I think that the Government of this country are attempting to make the people believe that there is some real protection by way of air-raid precautions in wartime. They realise that if the civilian population once believe that there is no real protection during air raids the people will be looking for a change of Government and, in the near future, for a change of system. It is the economic system which is the cause of war and is the cause of the danger to the people. Listening to the precautions that have been suggested I could conceive of real protection which could be afforded, but which the Government of this country are not likely to give to its inhabitants, especially in working-class areas. There is a measure of protection for those who can pay for the implements or who have the type of building in which they may get a certain amount of security which cannot be afforded to the great mass of the people.
When I hear anybody talking about protection against gas, I simply say: "It is all nonsense." All my life, from 14 years of age until I came to this House, I have been in the building trade, and I know the construction of houses and have studied every possible type of house. I say that protection against gas is absolute nonsense for the overwhelming majority of houses. The mass of the people live in old dwellings erected 25, 30, 40, 50 or Too years ago. The houses may be built of brick, badly pointed and crocked throughout the whole building, and be subject to gas penetration right through. Pipes go into those houses, and even with the most careful workmanship they cannot be completely sealed after a 2144 certain time. They may be properly cemented to begin with, but the cement, after it has dried, leaves a recess of some kind in the building. In the case of houses in working-class areas a gas attack would probably mean that every human being in the houses would be done to death as a result of the advice given by the Home Office that the people should remain in their homes. The Home Office are wrong to tell the people to remain in their homes during any kind of air attack, because that is the last thing the people are likely to do, even with the greatest amount of care and instruction from the authorities of this country.
We have in Glasgow thousands of municipal houses, newly built, and destined in a very short time to become slums because of the scamped workmanship of the contractors. Many of them would come down with a good push. There are two walls in these houses, an outer and an inner brick wall. The inner brick wall is not built to protect against any form of gas. If the gas penetrates through the outer wall, it will go right through and pass under the floors and up at the back of the plaster work. If the gas goes under the eaves of the roof, which it is impossible to seal, it will penetrate down behind the plaster and into the rooms in a very short time.
Again, in the case of tiled houses, which we have by the thousand in working-class, areas, every tile is open to penetration, and the gas, after penetrating into the very attics, can be dispersed right through the house, again in very short time. Then there are the chimneys. There are a thousand and one places where gas can penetrate. I have a house in a municipal area in Glasgow, built by ordinary contractors, in which the windows move about, and on each side there is almost three-quarters of an inch between the window sash and the window frame. Every one of these windows is liable to penetration by gas. This talk of adhesive tape, gummed paper and so forth is about the greatest Fred Karno tale I have ever heard. The people of this country have to realise that there is no protection in the home against gas, because of the faulty construction of many properties throughout the country.
As regards bombs, the Home Office issue instructions telling people where to go, and telling them to set aside a special 2145 room in a three-storeyed or two-storeyed building, but they are talking, in the main, to tens of thousands of helpless people who are unemployed, who have large families, who are living on low wages, and who have only one and two-roomed houses. In Glasgow alone, 51 per cent. of the population lives more than two to the room, and 39 per cent. more than five to the room. To talk to these people in terms of special implements, special clothing, and special rooms set aside for the purpose of protection against gas, is all nonsense, and it is the worst form of nonsense, because it is a grave deceit practised on the population of this country, lulling them into a false sense of security, because, if they realised that they are being deceived, they would be prepared to take strong and energetic action against the Government.
What measure of protection there is, is not being pursued. There are two methods of protecting human life against bombing—either wholesale evacuation or putting the entire population underground at a sufficient depth to protect them against the bombs that may be rained from the sky. If war came, as war is likely to come, like a bolt from the blue, what protection have the civil population now? This Government have talked of air-raid precautions for years. They have been faced with the possibility of war on a large scale practically ever since they took office after 1931. We are now in 1938, and we can show no real progress in dealing with this question. We have been told from time to time about the bombing of buildings. I have seen numbers of buildings, five and six storeys high, that were bombed, and the bombs went from the roof right to the very cellars. These were not altogether old, dilapidated buildings. I have seen cases where an entire building for 35 or 40 yards on each side was completely destroyed by the bombing that took place, and almost every window—thousands of them—within 300 or 400 yards was blown in by one well directed bomb. There is no real protection against bombing even in many of the cellars of modern buildings to-day. It is true that it is possible o make concrete and steel structures that would prevent a certain measure of penetration and death, but that has not been devised or carried out yet. If that projection is to be given, you should be constructing underground spaces, protected 2146 cellars, if you like, or bomb-proof shelters, that would guarantee tens of thousands of human lives a certain measure of security. And these cannot be constructed very far from the people's homes; they must be constructed very near to their homes.
Let me tell the Committee what happened when I was in Madrid. At half-past one in the morning a bombing raid took place. A friend and I were on the fifth storey of a seven-storeyed hotel, and we deemed it wise to get downstairs. We had different ideas even then. I decided to go out into the public square, while he thought it better to remain in the hotel. There were old women, and women who had dragged their children from their beds in pyjamas and nightgowns, who were fleeing from their homes into these basements to try to get protection. The first thought that comes to me, when I remember the sights that I saw then, is to pray God that such a thing may never take place in this country. But, realising the nature of the economic struggle underneath between the sections that are struggling for power, I see that that hope is vain so long as the present economic system remains.
In the bombing that took place, women rushed, some into the streets, others, into the cellars. A considerable number of people feel that they would rather be outside a building, because, if the building collapsed and they were on the ground floor, even if the bombs did not penetrate the building completely and kill them, the collapse of the entire building on the top of people is a dreadful thing to envisage. Therefore, many people preferred to get out into the open, where at least they could move from place to place. By the light of the searchlights they could see the aeroplanes, and could always feel that they could tell the direction in which they were moving and run in the opposite direction. That may not suit the theories of the high-falutin people who do not understand human nature and how it will operate in a moment of fear of the death, not of themselves, but of their women and children.
I saw the fighting in the sky, and heard the bombs dropping, and felt that I could tell the direction of the planes because of the searchlights. I could see them being chased in the sky, and I felt that I could move, if I wanted to, in the 2147 opposite direction to that in which the planes were. I was not mistaken. I felt that the planes were moving more towards what would be termed the working-class quarter of the town, and, when the bombs fell, the whole earth seemed to shake, and a tremendous fear went through one of what was happening where those bombs dropped. Going round this quarter on the following day, I saw that the buildings, right from the very roofs to the cellars, had been destroyed. In one tenement alone, 59 men, women and children were destroyed in their sleep.
That is one thing that I have never heard dealt with on any platform by any speaker, nor have I seen it dealt with in any of the handbooks I have read. If an air raid takes place, a large number of people may be sleeping at the time. Is anything going to be done to waken the people in these tenements in order to acquaint them that an air raid is taking place? It was stated that practically the whole of those 59 people who had been destroyed were in their beds when they were killed. The bloodstained clothing that we saw taken out from the buildings the next day proved that; the very blood on the walls of the adjoining tenement where people had been killed proved that; the heads and the limbs of women and children in the ruins proved that almost everyone of them had been in bed, either awake or asleep, when the air raid took place. In almost every case, if they had been out of their homes, they would have been saved, because—and it is important that the Home Office should note this—in nine cases out of ten the bombs fell on buildings. We did not discover, in that raid, one bomb that had fallen on the roadway, they all fell on the roofs of buildings, and the planes had been fairly high.
Some people who theorised on these questions, and calculated the weight of the bombs and the height of the planes, said that a 500-lb. bomb had a striking weight of 500 tons when it struck the roof, and therefore penetrated right through the building. I want to ask the Home Office whether they have considered the matter from that angle. Thousands of people in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona and other parts of Spain would have been alive had they been out of their homes instead of in their homes at the time when these 2148 raids took place. I would ask the Home Office to recognise, also, that, no matter what their instructions or precautions may be, they will not be carried out when fear and panic enter into an area where an air raid takes place. One very bad feature is that people may imagine that things are not just so. The displays on the films at the present moment will show them what has been happening in Canton and other parts of China, and in Spain, and they will begin to realise what bombing may mean, and will fear it accordingly.
I want to put this point to the Home Office. I saw in Madrid how people went down by the hundred into the Underground, and how a well directed bomb went down the stairs. I saw the effect of it. Almost the whole of the people there were killed. You can imagine the helpless state of panic, fear and frenzy of even those mothers and children who escaped the effect of the bomb, with the whole of the place jammed with bricks, railings and masonry. They were pinned there by the debris. People told me that the mothers calling for their children and the children calling for their mothers, seemed to be mad when they were extracted. If you had cellars or underground places in different areas deep enough for people to go into and escape the bombs, there would be some hope, but that would cost a tremendous amount.
I realise—and I hope I am not being unjust—that the protection of property and the interests of the ruling class are more important than protection of the lives of the working classes. If that is not so, why should there not have been greater demands made in this House for the protection of the people in their homes, by providing these shelters and underground tunnels to a greater extent than has been the case? The cause of war is the right of Colonial expansion in Africa and elsewhere by the friends of Mussolini, Hitler and the Franco-British group, but men will only die because they think they are protecting their homes, and not in order to protect the interests of British Imperialism throughout the world. When you ask them to protect Imperial interests you are bound to give the greatest measure of protection to them in their homes, or you must admit that your policy is driving them to war and that you are unable to expend the money to make their homes safe.
2149 Then there is the question of evacuation. I know that it is not so simple as it may seem. Evacuation would have to be for the whole period of the war, because every day, every night, every moment, the menace of air attack is there, as long as the war continues; and working-class areas will be hit soonest, because all your armament works are in working-class areas. I found that to be the case in Spain also. It is because those factories must be near the other industrial plants which are necessary for the production of armaments. I am not going to say that airmen aim at working-class houses in order to destroy them. Airmen are often like other human beings. They are instructed by their Governments—it may be the German Government, the Italian Government or the Government of this country—to aim at certain objectives. They proceed on their task, they begin to hear around them the whizz of bullets and small shells; and what is more natural than that a man should carry out his duties, in such circumstances, in a haphazard manner, by dropping his bombs anywhere in order to get back to security? That is often what happens in air attacks. I believe that the policy is to destroy something of a military character near at hand, but the height or the desire to get back to security results in the airmen dropping the bombs on to houses. They drop their bombs quickly in order that they may get back to security, and say, "I have performed my task."
I admit that if you could evacuate the whole of the civilian population into the country areas there would be a measure of security there which you never could have in an industrial town. But how are you going to move the population? The Home Secretary realises quite well that you have not only to move the whole of the population during the period of war, but you have to move with them everything of a serviceable character that is required by that population, and you have to create fresh towns. I remember that the late Member for Shettleston, the right hon. John Wheatley, had a plan for moving the population, though he was not thinking of war. He said, "Your city should be an industrial compound, and you should construct electric railways to run your population out 20, 30, 40 or 50 miles from the industrial compound." He also said, "The time of starting work should be reckoned from 2150 the time the man left home in the morning to the time he arrived back in the evening," which might have meant docking two hours off his work each day. That seems to be a policy that should have been pursued much earlier. Then if war came and bombs were dropped they would fall only in the compounds, and not on the homes of the people and on thousands of women and children. I cannot see the Government taking proper steps, making proper plans and carrying them out, because something of that character is not a six months' or a 12 months' job but a 10 or 12 years' job.
Some people say, "Run the people out into camps in the country." But camps are no use. It means putting children and women to live in tents in the dead of winter in Scotland and other exposed parts such as there are in Wales. If you did something of that character you would train 100 per cent. revolutionaries to get rid of the system which put them at that disadvantage. I see all these precautions, but I see no proper accomplishment of the plans. We were told something by one hon. Member about Nottingham. After he had spoken he went too near that Box to suit me. I wondered whether he had been put up by the Government to make a special case. He spoke of protective measures for Nottingham. I do not know anything about Nottingham, but I know something about protective measures, and if what has been done satisfies him I am quite sure it does not satisfy the thinking population in Nottingham.
I know every part of Glasgow. In a speech the late treasurer of the Corporation, Mr. P. J. Dollan, said that Glasgow was further ahead with its air-raid precautions than any other town in the country. When my wife read it she said, "God help the rest of the country if Glasgow is in advance of other places." He said that we had fire brigades, had had a black-out, had pails of sand, respirators, and things of that sort. That might be all right, but I am thinking in terms of the protection of the population. The men at the front, with machine guns and field guns, and the Navy and the Air Force, are for the protection of the interests of the capitalist class. If there is to be war, if we must have a Government that believe in a system that makes war, we are entitled in this House and in the country to demand that money 2151 shall be expended in 100 per cent. protection, as far as that is possible, of the civil population of the country. We are here to secure human life and happiness as the first thing in the nation, and all the other things come after that.
I sympathise with the Home Secretary in his position, and anybody who knows the task that he has to accomplish realises some of the difficulties which he has to encounter. I would not wish for his task at the present moment in attempting to meet the thousands of difficulties which arise from day to day. If any man gives his time and energy, as he must, to this question, it is bound to sap and undermine his health and energy as it would that of any human being who did the job in a proper manner. I do not suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is not doing his job, but he and I hold different points of view. The question of taking precautions during the period of war is a tremendous task. I see a thousand and one difficulties. I believe that there is no protection against gas in any shape or form. I can understand some of these suggested protective measures being effective in regard to well placed persons in a house or a castle. If the gas was in the vicinity of the house and the house was not struck by a bomb, these persons might to a certain extent be secure.
I am not going to help to deceive the population of this country and I am not going to exaggerate the difficulties, but I can see no protection against gas. We know the effect of the incendiary bomb. One can imagine a large post office being burnt out from the effects of one well-directed bomb, leaving nothing but the walls remaining; or art galleries being burnt out. You can take certain measures to stamp out fires, but with regard to gas, I can see no proper protection for the people. To ask people to remain in their homes during an air raid is the height of lunacy. In almost every city in Spain the people' killed in night air raids were killed in their beds and in their homes. If they had been in the streets probably so many deaths would not have taken place.
While sympathising with the Minister in his job, it is our duty to demand from the Government, as they see the threat and danger of war—I am against war and against the system—to take measures 2152 for the protection of the people of this country. The job is not being faced up to in a proper and energetic manner by the authorities in this country, or by the Government, in providing money to enable whatever precautions can be taken to be taken. In so far as energy and intelligence are required, it is our duty to expose the whole air-raid precautions as a farce and a fraud and to show that what protection can be made for the civil inhabitants is not being made. It would take at least 10 or 15 years, even if they were energetic, to carry through such plans to a proper state.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Sir Alan Anderson
We have listened to a solemn, moving and gloomy tale. We cannot help feeling gloomy. We have been discussing a terrible disease which has come upon the world—wholesale murder by any great country upon any of its neighbours. As time goes on the range of murder will increase, and science will invent new methods of murder. We have been discussing the palliatives. We have not been talking about the cure at all. The real precaution against an air raid is not to have an air raid. What is better than the presence of mind in a railway accident. The absence of body. What are the rules which make for peace, and which protect and should protect us, from air raids? We should be friendly in policy and in word, and in trade with our neighbours. We should be united and strong. These, I think, are the greatest protections against air raids. I believe that we are friendly, united and strong at the moment. There is much that we ought to do to press forward our friendship between the nations, but if we looked round the world, I believe that we should find that every nation would say that this nation of ours is the most friendly in trade, it is strong, and it is united. I think every country in the world would say that of us.
§ Sir A. Anderson
I think so. [Interruption.] We are discussing palliatives. If you must have an air raid the palliatives are, to hit back, and to side-step the blow. In discussing this matter we are all agreed that the safety of the public is the first duty. 'This is no party question. We all put our heads together with the object of pushing forward the Government to secure the utmost safety in the 2153 shortest time. In the tactics of progress —the Home Secretary said something about it—there is one tactic of driving the reluctant flock before you, and another tactic is to let the need be known. I quite agree with the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) that we should not have any lulling. The more the people know the facts in this country, the more rapidly they will push forward with their own ideas of what ought to be done, and the more pressure that is put upon the Government will be all to the good.
In each trade and each group of trades it is important that the technical people should examine their own problems and see how the curious change brought about by the new development of war is going to affect that part of our national economy which they look after. In my constituency I have been consulting some of these great trades on which we shall depend in a war, and one of them is that of ship-owning. They study, in common with other people, air-raid precautions in trying to train their staffs and to provide shelters, and all that has been generally discussed to-night. But they have a particular function, a duty which is put upon them for the common good, and that is to keep open the overseas supplies and to control the Mercantile Marine. In my constituency, and in one or two other cities, there are gathered together in a few narrow streets the nerve centres of a great part of the Mercantile Marine.
I accept what has been said by those who have been to the seat of war in Spain about the terrible effect of explosive bombs. None of us knows exactly how far the enemy can be kept off the target of the centre of London, if we get into war. As we do not know, then we must prepare for the worst, look the ogre in the eye and assume that the nerve centre of our essential trades will be paralysed by explosive bombs, unless we take action in advance, and all those who are responsible for that great service take thought. If one trade takes thought and has its shadow office outside the danger zone, with its records of what will be needed to control its ships, in one part of the country, and some other essential trade chooses some other part of the country, and the Government, with its shadow offices, has gone somewhere else, the confusion on the first day of war would deepen into hopeless fog. I sug- 2154 gest that someone should be appointed by the Home Secretary to take up that problem. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about the vital need of preventing the machine of government from being paralysed by attack, and there is the same need to prevent the machinery for essential supplies being paralysed.
There is the question of the insurance of war risks. We who trade on the seas know what war risks mean, and we found out before the last War that without Government insurance it is impossible to cover war risks in modern warfare, and impossible to keep trade moving. It might interest the Committee to know—because we have had complaints of delay in recent times in getting things done—the delay that took place before the last War in regard to this matter of war risks. It was necessary for the State to cover war risks because to do so was beyond anything that the insurance companies could do. The matter was first referred to a committee under Sir Austen Chamberlain, in 1907, but no solution was found. Another committee was appointed in 1913, and it reported in 1914, but the report was treated as confidential and not disclosed to any of the people concerned. Nothing happened until the Sunday evening before War broke out.
The hon. Member may, perhaps, connect this argument with air-raid precautions, but I am afraid that it does not come under the air-raid precautions for which the Home Office is responsible.
§ Sir A. Anderson
I was passing from the insurance of war risks at sea to the insurance of war risks on land, which is new. I do not know what Department would take it on, but I suggest that it is of the utmost importance, because there is enormous value in property on land. We have had these risks before at sea, and we now see that the same risk has come to the land, but the people on the land have not realised it and have not prepared for it. Therefore, I suggest the question should be considered.
There are two Votes on which this matter might come—the Board of Trade and the Treasury. I do not think it is a matter—the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong —with which the Home Secretary or the Home Office has anything to do under this particular Vote. 2155 Sir A. Anderson: I bow to your Ruling the more readily as you have allowed me to indicate what I wished to say. There is need to protect the people as far as we can from the terrible effects of raids. There is also the need of keeping going our essential supplies, and I submit that these two things go together. In regard to the question of evacuation, it appears to me certain that a large number of people in cities which will attract attack should be moved out, will desire to move out, and ought to desire to move out, for two reasons. One is the risk, and the other is that the employment for them cannot continue in the danger zone.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee
I listened with particular interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) and the speech of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), because both of them dealt with actual war conditions which they have seen in their own experience. When the hon. Member for Shettleston was speaking it occurred to me, as a building trade worker who has had many years' experience in the building trade, that I could not agree with him in regard to the impossibility of giving protection against gas in modern houses. I do not know whether the hon. Member has had experience of the training school near Bristol, to which some of us went.
§ Mr. Ammon
On a point of Order. I notice that the Home Secretary has paid no attention to the Debate. He has been asked for his guidance in regard to war risks and insurance. That is a very important matter, and I think the Committee is entitled to a little more consideration from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I was not aware that there had been any appeal to me. If so, I make an apology to the Committee at once. With regard to the question of war risks, that is for the Treasury and the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. McEntee
I was speaking about protection against gas. I agree with the hon. Member for Shettleston that, broadly speaking, in the very poor houses, and even in many of the newer ones it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible—it will be impossible in many cases—to have 2156 any adequate protection against gas; but I do not agree with him when he says that it is impossible to have any protection against gas in houses. The effect of gas lasts for a certain time. The hon. Member spoke about gas coming through pipes and cracks. That may be true during a very prolonged gas attack. In cases where there is a renewed gas attack, the gas may get into any house, but because we cannot protect against gas in every case, it is not necessary to say that we will do nothing at all. It has been proved possible by simple methods to protect houses in many cases, and in those cases we certainly ought to encourage people to know what they should do in the event of an air raid.
§ Mr. McGovern
I did not suggest that no precautions of any kind should be taken, but that I was against lulling the people into a false sense of security, because from a close study I have made of this problem I cannot see how you can give complete protection in many working-class houses, even if you take any measures.
§ Mr. McEntee
I thought the hon. Member said that it was impossible to protect against gas in any case. I think it is possible in some cases, and that it is even possible in many cases. The instance of which I am speaking was not the case of a house specially constructed. It had quite wide apertures around the door, and although I was in the room without a gas mask on I experienced no ill effects from the gas which I could see through the window outside. My point is that the method of protection was simple and in that case effective, and speaking as a building worker with a knowledge of modern buildings, and some very ancient ones as well, I say that the simple method which was adopted in this case would be effective in a great many cases. I agree that there are large masses of houses in London and elsewhere where it would be almost impossible to apply, with any degree of efficiency, the method I saw. I think the Home Office admits that, and if that is so, what are we going to do for the people who live in houses which cannot be reasonably or adequately protected against gas? Several methods have been suggested. It has been suggested that they should go down into the tubes, that they should be evacuated, and that shelters should be provided for them. I 2157 am wondering which is the best and whether it would not be better to adopt all of them.
The hon. Member has said that if you stop in the house you are liable to be hit by a bomb, and that it is far better to be outside. My experience of air raids has led me to the same opinion. When an air raid occurred in my neighbourhood —we sustained a considerable amount of damage and no doubt the area will be affected again—I got out into the open and felt more safe, but I knew that most other people were in their homes and remained there taking the risk. The risks at that time were nothing to compare with the risks which will have to be taken in the next war, and I think the soldier who is actually fighting gives us an example of the best protection we can get. If I experience another war and have to make some protection for myself I shall get down into the ground, not sufficiently deep, of course, to protect myself against a heavy bomb, because that cannot be done, but deep enough to protect myself against a bomb which explodes upwards and not downwards. I think the best protection is in a trench. The Secretary of State made a reference to parts of London and to open spaces, and I understood him to say that the Home Office were advocating that the parks of London should be available for the public and for the building of trenches to accommodate them. I wonder whether any organisation on this line has been carried out by the Department.
May I ask another important question? London is an important place, but there are dormitory towns just on the outside which are as likely to be subject to an air raid as London itself. I live in a town in which we produce war materials of all kinds. We are on the edge of Epping Forest, and on the edge of other open spaces, some of which we own and some which we do not. Has any attempt been made to get into touch with the Commissioners of Epping Forest and similar people, so that similar arrangements might be made as have apparently been made with the London County Council and with the owners of London parks for the protection of the people within the Metropolitan area? Have any arrangements been made with regard to the population of Walthamstow and Levtonstone and other towns on the 2158 borders, and, if not, will the right hon. Gentleman get into touch with the responsible officers in these places who may be interested? I know that up to the present they have had no communication from the Home Office that any such protection is contemplated, and I am quite sure that they would like to know what is being done in that direction.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to telephones, and he told us that instead of having the telephone machinery on the top of a building they were going to have it on the ground floor. The hon. Member for Shettleston gave an instance of a whole building being burned down by one bomb in Madrid. The same thing is likely to occur here. Have the Home Office any alternative to the present telephone system? I understand that in America they have instruments which are portable, which can be carried on a man's back or taken in a motor car. I understand they are now used by the American Navy and Army and by the fire brigade and police, and have proved to be effective. Has the right hon. Gentleman's Department any knowledge of such an alternative system in the event of the telephones being put entirely out of use, as may very well be the case? I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give us some information on that subject.
There is another matter, perhaps a small one when compared with the subjects we are discussing, which needs immediate attention. My own borough is one that would normally come under the authority of the county air-raid officers, but because of the nature of the town, its closeness to London, and the fact that it is entirely different in outlook, and everything else from the rural areas which, in the main, constitute the county, it has asked the Minister to give it authority to get on with its air-raid precautions work, which it believes it can do very much better itself than under the authority of the county officer. That applies to several boroughs of the same sort. For some weeks the borough of Walthamstow has been asking for a definite settlement, and until it can get that settlement it is held up to a considerable extent. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give immediate consideration to this matter, to come to a settlement as soon as possible, and also to give us that for which we have asked, because we know far better than anybody can tell us what is best for us.
2159 The right hon. Gentleman said that he considered it of great importance that there should be contact between the air-raid precautions authority and the householders in its area. Are the Government using all the methods that they might use in order effectively to get that contact which everybody agrees is desirable? A long time ago I mentioned to the Under-Secretary a method which I think could be used, namely, the local Press. Every town has its local Press, and almost every citizen reads it, either in his home or in the public library. Why not make more use of the local Press by some sort of central method. Above all, I ask that the pamphlets that are circulated should be written in simpler language. I have received air-raid precautions pamphlets, and read them over and over again, but I know that 999 people out of 1,000 would never read them as carefully as I did, because they are so confused by the way in which they are written. They are not simple, brief or easily understandable. I wish that we had Robert Blatchford back to teach those who write these circulars the way to use simple English so that people can understand them. Why should there not be house-to-house instruction? Why not have trained people available who, on request from householders, would go to the houses and examine them to see what precautions should be taken in them and to assist the householder to be ready to take those precautions if an emergency should arise? If that were done, the householders would know what it was necessary to do when the time came.
I was interested to hear the statement of the right hon. Gentleman concerning the removal of casualties to places outside London. If casualties arising in London were dealt with outside, it would assist in preventing second casualties. The attack would be on London, and if the injured people remained in London, they would be more liable to be injured the second time. Another matter which is important in that connection is that, in case of war, there is bound to be a shortage of doctors and nurses. Therefore, the doctors and nurses who deal with the casualties should have as much protection as possible, and obviously they would get more protection if they were moved from London to other areas.
2160 In regard to the larger question of evacuation, how do the Government propose to deal with the transport, and, having dealt with the transport, how do they propose to deal with the people when they have got them out of London? Do they propose to build a number of small towns round London? If that were done, it would not make very much difference to the likelihood of there being casualties among the people so removed. The suggestion was made that these people would have to live in tents, but my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston replied to that suggestion by asking what was to be done in mid-winter, because women and children could not live in tents then. The suggestion I make is that in such an eventuality the people should be billeted. When it is necessary to do so, the Army is billeted, and payment is made. I remember speaking once in an all-night sitting of the House on the question of billeting officers and men. I think the Government ought at least to consider the possibility of billeting a considerable number of the evacuated people with people who live in areas where the population is less dense that it is in London.
I am glad that the Home Office are now moving in regard to air-raid precautions, although it took them a long time to do so. However, it is a waste of time to criticise what has happened in the past; the question is whether we are to make any real progress in future. I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary are very earnest in carrying out the task which they have undertaken and that they are doing their best, but with all due respect to them, I do not think their Department is the best means of making preparations for the emergency that may come. My opinion is that there should be a separate department and a separate minister to deal with air-raid precautions. It might be that the right hon. Gentleman himself would remain at the Home Office to look after the other parts of that Department, which are very important, and I suggest that the Under-Secretary would make an admirable head of a new department, which might be called the Air-Raids Protection Department. Such a department, having a separate minister and a separate staff, could concentrate on the problem of air- 2161 raid precautions, which is quite a big enough problem for a department and a minister.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Sir John Mellor
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a very welcome announcement with regard to public utility authorities when he said that it was proposed that a grant of 50 per cent. should be given to them to assist them in protecting their vital services. I know that it will be necessary for the expenditure upon these services to be approved in each case. Details will have to be considered in each particular case, because the cases will differ very much one from another, and it will be impossible for any general regulations to be made; but I think that, in view of the long delay which has taken place already before arriving at this still rather indefinite arrangement, it is most desirable that, in approving particular cases of expenditure to rank for the grant, there should be no unnecessary administrative delay.
I suggest that it is not easy to find any items in our air-raid precautions scheme more important than the services which are under the control of the public utility authorities. I assume that the idea is that the 50 per cent. grant shall be given only in those cases where the work done and the expenditure incurred, are exclusively for purposes of protection against air raids. But no doubt there will be cases in which expenditure can usefully be incurred from two points of view. On the one hand, it may serve a valuable purpose in providing protection for vital services. At the same time it may serve a useful purpose with regard to the normal services. It may be possible sometimes for the public utility authorities to kill two birds with the one stone. In such cases, would the Secretary of State be prepared to give a grant on a somewhat lower percentage basis in order to encourage public utility authorities to carry out measures which would not be worth while from a purely commercial point of view, but which, assisted by a percentage grant, would be justified, having regard to all the circumstances.
The Secretary of State referred to the promise made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, that air-raid shelters would be exempted from the incidence of Schedule A Income Tax and from the 2162 incidence of rating assessments. He went on to confirm what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has consistently said, that no relief could be given from Schedule D Income Tax with regard to expenditure of a capital nature. To-day the Home Secretary explained that that would involve great complication and I recollect that it was in almost precisely the same language that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in December last, resisted the suggestion that exemption should be extended to shelters from the incidence of Schedule A Income Tax and rates. I hope that just as it has been found possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to solve the question of liability to Schedule A Income Tax and rates so also will it be found possible to solve the question in relation to Schedule D Income Tax.
The expenditure involved in creating shelters, in so far as they are exclusively designed and used as air-raid precautions, is entirely non-productive and it will be rash on the Home Secretary's part to assume that all employers will undertake the works necessary for the protection of themselves and their employés in their factories, unless he either gives them financial encouragement, or imposes some degree of compulsion. He has told us that it is proposed to give a generous interpretation to the maintenance provisions. Something more than that is required. With regard to the construction of new buildings in such a way as to provide shelter facilities, it is desirable that some assistance should be given which would enable owners to write off, within a certain period, the increased cost solely attributable to the construction of shelters. It is desirable for this reason—that it is impossible for them to expect that such increased expenditure will ever bring them any increased revenue.
The Home Secretary referred to the survey which had been conducted in three London boroughs with regard to the possibility of providing shelter by the strengthening of buildings and otherwise. I wish to ask whether the Home Secretary will, if not now, at some early date, give some estimate of the cost of such measures to those whom it will concern? I entirely agree with him that by far the most satisfactory way of proceeding is, not by the construction of vast shelters designed to give protection to a large number of people, but by preserving the 2163 idea of the dispersal of population and providing many shelters, each for a few people, in different places. Some estimate of the total cost ought to be offered in order to give us an idea of the total amount of effort required to provide this form of protection.
Hon. Members have had varied experiences with regard to recruitment and training in different parts of the country. In Warwickshire it appears that both recruitment and training have proceeded in a most satisfactory manner and great credit is given locally—and I should like to endorse it—to the way in which the police have assisted. In this connection I welcome the assurance given the other day that, in so far as police officers are engaged on whole-time air-raid precautionary work, grant will be attracted in respect of their salaries on the higher basis of the air-raid precautions grant, that is to say on a 60–75 per cent. basis instead of the ordinary 50 per cent, police grant.
The Home Secretary said that we had only begun to touch the fringe of the problem of shelters. We have only begun to touch the fringe, also, of the problems of evacuation. Those two problems are complementary. It is inevitable if we are to have central finance in the form of a contribution from the central Government, that there must also be maintained a high degree of central control and central control involving some administrative delay. In the past, the Air-Raid Precautions Department of the Home Office has been seriously understaffed. I most warmly welcome the statement of the Home Secretary to-day that that staff has been and is being largely increased, and it will be possible now to expedite the dealing with applications from local authorities. I think they have suffered a good deal of discouragement recently through the long delays, which have been, I suggest, inevitable with so small a staff at the Home Office for dealing with their requirements.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. C. Wilson
I think the Committee will entirely agree with the view that the Home Secretary expressed towards the close of his speech this afternoon, when he prayed that the time might never come when he would have to put into operation a good deal of what he had been speaking 2164 about. I think we should all regard it as a deplorable necessity that in this twentieth century, with all its enlightenment and with the powers that we have in our possession, we should be obliged to be considering a matter of this extremely serious character. Another and very much more effective and cheaper way is mentioned in Handbook No. 1, to which, however, I will refer later.
I would like first to refer to one case of an air-raid warden. I do not want to attribute any blame to the Home Secretary in connection with it, but rather to suggest to him that very great care needs to be exercised in the means which are being applied for the enrolment of wardens. Here is the case of a man of 74, who, late one night, was called upon by a constable, and had to be brought downstairs out of bed. He was unwell, having retired two years ago owing to heart disease, but he was told by the constable that he would have to undertake service as a warden. One of his sons complained to the chief constable, and the matter was supposed to be adjusted, but a fortnight later another constable called upon him and requested him to attend a lecture for wardens. I am sure it is not the desire of the Home Secretary or of anybody else that old people of 74 suffering from heart disease should be brought into perform work of this character, but I think it is very unsatisfactory that any police constable should be placed in the position of having to go into someone's house and tell him that they must undertake duties of this kind. That may come if we get conscription, but we are not there yet.
In 'the discussion which we have had this afternoon several things have not been made sufficiently clear, and one is that if war comes, there may be no declaration, and things may all happen very suddenly indeed, in which case a good many of the preparations that have been referred to may not be carried out with that smoothness which seems to have been suggested to-day. When the Home Secretary was speaking of explosive bombs, he referred to splinters only, but it seems to have been made quite clear from other speeches during this Debate that those are by no means the most serious results of explosive bombs. May I remind the Committee of what the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the 2165 Co-ordination of Defence said on 27th January:For a 500-lbs. semi-armour piercing bomb 20 to 25 feet of concrete and a certain amount of earth are necessary to keep it out, and anybody can see that it is impossible to erect buildings for the protection of persons on that scale."There is no guarantee at all as to the character of the bombs which may be used, and we shall certainly have devastating effects from bombs of even a much less weighty character than those to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary suggested too that in the case of an air raid people might go into their cellars in places like London, where that would be possible. Surely that overlooks what is contained on page 14 of Handbook No. 1, where it is made quite clear that gas is likely to permeate into cellars and that cellars will become in consequence very dangerous places. There was no reference either to the question of gas mains, not only in places like London and even smaller places, but in the colliery districts, where you may have gas mains running very considerable distances from the collieries to the towns and villages in the locality. In one's own particular area there is a great deal of that kind of thing. Nor was there any reference to how the main sewers are to be protected. We have in the East End of London a main outfall sewer at a. higher level than a considerable number of the population, and there is no means of protecting that sewer. If you had a bomb dropping on it, you would have an amount of flooding in the low-lying areas of East London which would cause a very great deal, not only of inconvenience, but of real trouble to the inhabitants.
With regard to the question of respirators, there is in this handbook, on page 25, a most extraordinary statement, where it says:The respirators which are described in this Chapter have all been designed to give protection against all types of gas which are likely to be used as war gases. The protection which they give against these gases is fully satisfactory, but it must be emphasised that they are not intended to afford protection against other gases which may be encountered in industrial processes or in everyday life. They do not, for example, protect against carbon monoxide which is present in coal gas, exhaust gases from motor 2166 cars and gases from sewers or drains, nor from petrol vapour in confined spaces, ammonia or similar toxic and noxious gases and vapours. These respirators should not therefore be relied upon for protection in the presence of peace-time dangers."We are accustomed to think of these peace-time gases as very much less dangerous than those which are used in war time, and surely there must be some sort of explanation why a respirator which will protect against these very dangerous war gases will not protect against gases of a very much less dangerous character. There must be something behind that, of which we ought to have some explanation. We have to remind ourselves too that, so far as respirators are concerned, in time of war people have to carry them about with them, whether by day or by night, and I think you will find considerable difficulty in getting people to do anything of the sort. For instance, what will a mother with two young children do, when she is either out or at home? Is there any respirator which it is possible to fit on to these young children and which they will keep on?
With regard to evacuation, I represent a constituency around which there are the towns of Rotherham, Barnsley, Chesterfield and the works of the Staveley Coal and Iron Company at Staveley, and Samuel Fox at Stocksbridge, and a large number of collieries within that area. It is absurd to think that there is anywhere where you would be able to evacuate the population of such an area as that, and, even if you did evacuate it, it is just one of those areas upon which bombs would be dropped, even if they were not dropped upon the immediate objective. That took place before.
Then, I think, there are one or two other matters of a really serious character to which the Home Secretary did not make any reference at all. Something was said about hospitals for casualties, but there was no reference whatever to the hospitals, with all the people in them, nor to asylums, nor any suggestion as to what was to happen to the small children. If we have any responsibility in this matter we surely have a great responsibility to those who are least able to help themselves, and that applies to the hospitals and asylum patients and the children in the schools. I think the discussion has shown that little of all that is proposed is really going to be 2167 thoroughly and certainly effective. Then there is one paragraph in this handbook No. 1 to which I think attention ought to be drawn, and it is this:The use of poison gas in war is forbidden by the Geneva Gas Protocol, 1925, to which this country and all the most important countries of Western Europe are parties, and the Government would use every endeavour on an outbreak of war to secure an undertaking from the enemy not to use poison gas."Now if an attempt is to be made to secure an undertaking from the enemy that poison gas is not to be used when war has once broken out, there surely is no reason whatever why some approach should not be made to prospective enemies, to see whether there could not be an undertaking not to use gas at all, and to go even further than that and get an undertaking that bombs of any character should not be used. If something of that sort could be arranged it would certainly save us this enormous expense, and it would be very much more effective so far as the whole population was concerned, and sooner or later someone must take the lead in such a matter. The Home Secretary said this afternoon that the time might never come for these arrangements to be made use of, and I hope the time will never come when Britain will not have the moral courage to take the lead in trying to do away with this diabolical system of war.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr
I believe it was the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) who, at the beginning of this Debate, said that the utmost warning we should receive of the approach of enemy aircraft would be five or six minutes. I intend to trespass on the patience of the House for just that length of time, and I hope I shall convince hon. Members how short that period really is. I believe we should approach the problem of air-raid precautions from the point of view of the ordinary householder. Now what does the average householder expect of air-raid precautions? I believe he expects two things—the greatest amount of safety with the greatest simplicity. An illustrated diagram used in the training courses for air-raid precautions shows that the average householder requires a number of objects to make his house safe from incendiary and gas attack. He requires blankets to hang in front of his window, 2168 and adhesive tape to put round the window sills. He requires a first-aid set, a candle or torch in case the electric light fails, a rake and a shovel with which to tackle incendiary bombs. But unless all these objects are concentrated together in one spot, there is bound to be confusion when the emergency arises. Probably the shovel is in the backyard, the blanket in the family cupboard, the string and scissors required somewhere in the kitchen.
Therefore I should like to suggest that the Home Office authorise the issue of a standard air-raid precautions equipment. It would be quite easy to assemble all the objects I have mentioned together in a three-ply box, with no great expenditure. But even this expense might be too much for the poorest households in this country. Would it not be possible, therefore, for local authorities to levy a penny a week per head from each household so as to enable the poorest citizens over a period of time to purchase the necessary equipment to make their houses safe from this frightful menace? My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in the course of his speech, referred to the fact that an illustration of how to make a roam safe from gas attack might be hung in a room of each house. The ordinary man learns far more quickly with his eye than from even the simplest written instructions, and I could not help being struck by this idea. To this illustration might be appended certain items of information, such as "The nearest shelter is in such-and-such a street," or, if there is a telephone in the house, "The telephone number of the fire brigade is such-and-such a number," or "The telephone number of the ambulance is such-and-such a number."
Just one point about fighting incendiary bombs. I believe that certain areas will suffer far more heavily than others. It may, therefore, happen that the fire brigade responsible for certain areas may have far more work than it is able to do. Would it not be possible, in order to overcome this difficulty, to hand out, when the emergency comes, to the air-raid warden pipes or hoses which could be attached to the water hydrants in the streets. If the fire engines were not able to come to the scene they would enable the local workers to overcome fires. I understand that, when an incendiary bomb falls on a house at the present 2169 moment, a householder is immediately supposed to put on his dark spectacles, then to throw sand on the bomb and attempt to rake the bomb on to a rake or shovel. When the bomb is on the shovel he carries it to a metal container which is then removed outside the house. May I say with some diffidence that this strikes me as a somewhat elaborate proceeding. Would it not be possible to design a metal container, one side of which came down on the flap principle, and allowed the householder to rake the incendiary bomb directly into the container without the use of a shovel? I venture to place these few observations with great diffidence before my right hon. Friend.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
Listening to the Debate to-day one cannot help feeling that a great deal of attention is being given to London. One cannot complain of that, but there is a great part of the country which is outside the London area and ought to receive the kind of attention that is being given to London. I represent a constituency on the North-East Coast which is situated at one end of the most thickly populated part of the country. Two wards in my constituency and one ward in Gateshead were described in the social survey that was made on the Tyne as the most thickly populated places in Western Europe. Between Newcastle and the sea there are 1,000,000 people concentrated on a narrow strip of land. It has a waterway which is magnificent in time of peace, and, for many purposes, magnificent in time of war, but as a guide to aircraft it makes this area one of the most vulnerable in the world. I should think it would have been the duty of the Home Office, when they were taking surveys of three London boroughs, to have made a survey of an area such as that in order to see how far shelter and other accommodation can be provided.
There is not much in the way of public open spaces in some of those areas in which to deal with the people in the way that it is hoped to deal with them in, for instance, Wandsworth, which is one of the most fortunate of London boroughs in the large area of open space that it contains. A considerable portion of my constituency consists of railway lines, the River Tyne and the sea, and 120,000 people are congregated in an area where there are no open spaces worth speaking of I hope that the Home Office will give in 2170 attention to these provincial populations because, while it is true that London may be the General Headquarters of civil Government, some of these provincial areas are the General Headquarters of munitions and Admiralty practice and workmanship, and it would be very disheartening to the people in those areas if they thought that the problems that concerned them were not receiving as much attention as is being given to the problems of London. We are told that the General Headquarters of civil Government is to be removed. It used to be understood in the Army during the late War that the General Headquarters was never bombed, the understanding being that the field marshals on both sides had agreed that they would live and let live as far as they were concerned. One cannot apply the same principle to the General Headquarters of the civil Government for the word civil has no meaning in that connection. I do not know where it is proposed to move the Government, but you cannot move the General Headquarters of munitions and Admiralty work, and the Government must take adequate steps in advance to protect them.
The Secretary of State alluded to the public open spaces in London and gave a figure of just over 8,000 acres. I take it that that does not include the London squares, which are private open spaces?
§ Mr. Ede
I wanted to be assured that the private open spaces of that kind were included. The right hon. Gentleman went on to speak of an area of 58,000 acres in the area generally known as Greater London. Can we be informed within what area that 58,000 acres is situated? There, again, the right hon. Gentleman used the phrase "public open spaces." Does this area of 58,000 acres include the great private parks that are to be found within that region? One must expect that in a state of emergency, even if the Home Office had not expected the private parks to be used, people who are voluntarily evacuating themselves from London, seeing a big open space over a fence or a wall, would probably turn it into a place in which they could take refuge. In such a state of emergency, whatever may be the views with regard to private property peace time, we could not blame them 2171 for doing such a thing in war time. With regard to the public open spaces one understands that there is to be some authority responsible for seeing that when the emergency arises they will be prepared, if they have not been previously prepared. Will a similar survey be made of the private parks and arrangements made for their being used where they are suitable, and adequate preparations made for putting them into a condition that will make them safe and usable? That is a thing to which the Home Office should give its attention so that, if necessary, people can be provided for in a private park instead of having to go some miles to reach the North Downs or somewhere where there is an open space available for them.
Can the Under-Secretary tell us anything about the arrangements by which local authorities will know whether their schemes are being passed for grant? It is desirable now that a real move should be made by some of these authorities in actually getting down to details of schemes, adapting buildings, and carrying out other necessary work. I understand that they will get grants only on approved schemes. I do not complain of that, because every member of a county council knows that if urban and rural district councils are given powers to go on without telling them they must first have a scheme approved, they are apt to spend a great deal of money on which it is afterwards difficult to make a grant. I hope that the forms will not be too complicated and that when the grant is made, or the indication of a grant is made, it will be forthcoming with reasonable speed, so that the local authorities will be able to get on with the job. Over the greater part of England the county council will be the authority which is in correspondence with the Home Office, but the actual work will be done by borough and district councils, and if there is any great delay in the chain of communications it may mean that the work will be held up for a considerable time. I heard with some satisfaction what the Home Secretary said with regard to gas, because in the first Debate on this problem which we had in this Parliament I ventured to suggest that we needed to preserve a sense of perspective in this matter, and I shall probably save time if I repeat now what I said then: 2172I hope this matter may be put into its proper perspective, because in my view a great deal of the effectiveness of gas as used on both sides in the late War arose from its mystery in the eyes of the common soldier who had to meet it, whether English or German. I knew men who thought that because it was gas one must he able to light it, and I will guarantee, if there are in the House this afternoon other Members who served in the ranks, that they will know of similar views among the troops. No one wants to create a feeling of unreasoning horror and terror at dangers that are not really in existence, or to create fears which will cause needless panic among the civil population." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1936; cols. 755–6, Vol. 309.]I said that on 27th February, 1936, and I am glad to know that two and a-quarter years afterwards it is the view taken by the Government. I only hope it will not take them two and a-quarter years to come to my views in regard to some of the other things I have mentioned. But while an instructed public will not fear gas as much as an uninstructed public, that does not relieve the Government from the duty of providing adequate protection for an instructed public. An instructed public will probably use the precautions and safeguards a great deal more readily and with more efficiency than an uninstructed public, but I hope that even when the Government do see the thing in its proper perspective they will not neglect the duty of seeing that adequate and proper protection is provided.
One must deplore the delays in the past, and I think the right hon. Gentleman must agree that there has been shown to-day a reasonable measure of charity in agreeing to overlook some of the shortcomings which appear to have occurred before he was in office. We do not want to rake up the past, because it is of urgent importance that we should now get on with the job of getting these schemes ready. If one is to believe only a small part of what one hears of some of the dangers in which we were during last month it is very essential that the public should be protected as far as possible, but that can only be done now by expediting decisions. I think it is deplorable that we are only now to have a committee appointed of four very estimable Members of this House to consider this problem of evacuation.
I have had to consider the problem of evacuating probably 60,000 children from one county, because if we take suburban Surrey it is now so honeycombed with 2173 small munition works that no one can say there is any place in it which is not a reasonable military objective for an aeroplane that does not regard dropping bombs as a work of precision. On the western border of the county also, we are in close proximity to Aldershot, and we have the Military College at Sandhurst and another at Camberley. I am not sure that anybody who bombed those two places would not deserve to lose the war, but whether that be so or not they must be regarded as legitimate military objectives, and the problem of evacuating so large a population of school children is of enormous magnitude. One cannot contemplate moving anything like that number without having secured beforehand adequate supplies of water, and making arrangements for sanitation upon a scale which becomes almost frightening, and at an early date the House and the country ought to be put in possession of the Government's views on this aspect of the matter. If the population is not to be evacuated let us know. If it is to be evacuated, it is clear that the local authorities in the areas which have to be evacuated and those which will receive the evacuated population have to face problems which will call for a great deal of thought, skill and energy.
While I listened with respect to what my hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) said about billeting, the amount of billeting accommodation available is limited, and in the sparsely populated areas even more limited still. A census was taken in two areas in Surrey to ascertain how many people would be willing to have their children evacuated on a voluntary basis. One area was the poorest part of Mitcham, and the second was a part of Surbiton lying along the Kingston by-pass road. We found that 7 per cent. of the children of the poorest of the population would probably be evacuated to friends, and that 10 per cent. of the remainder of the elementary school population would probably be similarly evacuated to friends. I asked where some of these children would go. Two children were going to Plymouth. I am not sure whether Plymouth would be less of a military objective than the Kingston by-pass road. Personally, I should think one was moving into trouble by going off the Kingston by-pass into Plymouth.
§ Mr. Ede
I am glad of that confirmation. The idea that though the population may move west it will not "go west" is quite a delusion. An incident such as that proves the necessity for the Home Office reaching a speedy decision as to whether evacuation is to be a policy in certain areas, so that the local authorities can get on with the job of arranging for it. Above all, one must re-echo the hope of the Home Secretary that we shall never have to put these precautions into practice, but I would emphasise what was said by the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) in the speech he made earlier in the Debate that while that thought may sometimes have a deadening effect on the hand of the administrator the issues in this case are so great that we must prepare with all energy for the emergency even though we hope it may not come. In fact, the more we hope it may not happen the more we should press on with the job of getting ready to meet it if it should happen.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Ammon
During all the years I have been in this House I do not remember sitting through a more depressing Debate. It is a very sorry commentary upon our so-called civilisation that we should be sitting down now to hold what is practically an inquest upon it accepting without any demur that we are bound for war and making preparations to that end. Listening to this Debate has been like reading one of the phantasies written a good many years ago by Mr. H. G. Wells in which people had got to the point where they lived in fear of a moonlight night.
Although there has been very little of what one would regard as party controversy, I should not be doing my duty if I refrained from saying that the Government have brought us to this position, and that while they are apparently unable to keep us out of war they appear to be unable also to give protection to the people, should we be plunged into war. That is the situation in which we are placed at the present time. That observation leads me to comment on a remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. C. Wilson) that some agreement should be reached among the nations as to the use of poison 2175 gas. I have no faith in such arrangements and I think it is sheer nonsense to talk about humanising war. If war once breaks out, no country will stop at anything to secure victory if it is driven to desperation. The only ground for complaint that any nation had in the last War about anything that was used and that was considered barbaric, was, as we shall admit if we are honest about it, that the other nation thought of it first. We have to set all that aside and to face the grim and ugly fact that we are, in this year of Grace, contemplating the possibility that our civilisation may be blotted out in a very short time and that we are thinking how and when we can save some shred of it.
I come down now to air-raid precautions, for the discussion of which the Debate has been arranged. I imagine that neither the Home Secretary nor the Under-Secretary of State will have any complaint at the criticism which has been offered, which has all been on sound lines and has endeavoured to be constructive, even though it may have been concerned with some shortcomings of the Department. At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman gets away all right because whatever is wrong was done or not done before his tenure of office and he has inherited it. There is some real criticism; whether it is well-founded or not remains to be seen, but it has to be dealt with if matters are to proceed smoothly and harmoniously. For instance, it is apparent that the Home Office have not the confidence of the local authorities. I am not speaking without the book because, without asking for them, I received two letters yesterday, one from a Metropolitan borough council and the other from a town council in the Midlands, in which they are evidently speaking on behalf of all the other council authorities. They complain in a resolution of the dilatoriness and the lack of co-operation between the Home Office and themselves.
Their complaint may be summarised in the resolution which they passed. I did hear unofficially of a conference that took place the other day among town clerks who had come together for self-protection because, as they said: "If there are to be accusations later on of delay we are going to say that it is not we who are 2176 to blame and we shall see that that delay is ascribed to the right quarter." This is the resolution which they passed:In the opinion of the Association "—
§ Mr. Ammon
I believe that comes out in the resolution. It was the Association of Municipal Corporations.the proposals contained in the draft Air-Raid Precautions (Approval of Expenditure) Regulations, which require prior approval of the Secretary of State to expenditure before local authorities can proceed to execute their schemes, will undoubtedly result in considerable delay and, in order to minimise such delay, the Secretary of State ought to amend the regulations in such a manner as will enable local authorities to proceed with schemes with the utmost dispatch; otherwise, local authorities cannot accept any responsibility for the delay which they believe must inevitably follow in preparing air-raid precaution schemes."That is from the Metropolitan boroughs. I have here a resolution on similar lines from one of the Midland towns, passed at the annual meeting of the Association of Municipal Corporations last Wednesday. This problem was ventilated, and a special resolution was passed by the Association, drawing the attention of the Government to delays which had occurred, and pointing out that as long as the present system was in existence local authorities could not be responsible for delay. I have been informed, even while I have been sitting on this bench this afternoon, that the Chairman of the Supplies Committee of the London County Council has a complaint to make on somewhat similar lines. He alleges that the unbusinesslike conduct of the Home Office, and particularly their inability to give decisions, is causing real and unnecessary delay in the preparation of air-raid precautions.
§ Mr. Ammon
Yes, in the purchase of air-raid precautions equipment. I submit to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Under-Secretary that those complaints from the municipal association and the largest county cannot be lightly set aside. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will remember that I voiced a complaint a little while ago of the lack of co-operation, the waste of time and the inability to get decisions from the Home Office when important matters were being 2177 discussed. One of the absurd little things that irritate local authorities more, perhaps, than the outstanding difficulties, is that when they get approval for a scheme they have to submit every single item of expenditure to the Home Office before they can do anything with it. If they want to buy a quire of stationery they have to send up to the Home Office and get approval before they can do so. Such a state of affairs is utterly ridiculous. If approval is given to a scheme you must trust the authority to carry it through, and the scheme must be considered as and when carried out.
A little while ago the Home Office sent to some of the local authorities and suggested they should send some of their officials to be trained as instructors in gas drill. They asked them to send two persons. One local authority sent two of its officials to be trained, but one was sent back. They were told he was one too many and that they could have only one, although they were the authority for a borough with a population of 250,000 people, where there were only two trained instructors. It is that sort of thing which holds up to ridicule the arrangements that are being made in connection with air-raid precautions.
I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary laughed just now when I suggested that the town clerks were taking steps to safeguard themselves against any accusations against them, but let me remind the Committee of what my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) said at the beginning of his speech, namely, that, although air-raid precautions were first mentioned in 1935, the Air-Raid Precautions Act was not passed until last December, and it was not until that Act was on the Statute Book that anyone could look upon it at all seriously. It has only been in practical operation for less than six months, so that there is very little ground for complaint against the authorities as regards delay in that respect; the delay all along has been at headquarters.
We have had impressed upon us the seriousness of the position with which we shall be faced, and the importance of doing all we can to prevent demoralisation of the civilian population, and it is as well to remember that probably money will be just as well spent on this as on 2178 armaments. This, after all, is going to be our first line of defence or attack. In any future war, the attempt will undoubtedly be made to demoralise the civilian population and bring the nation to its knees in that way. The few millions that it is proposed to spend on these measures are wholly inadequate, as I shall endeavour to show, and something further needs to be done in that respect.
I would like the Under-Secretary to say a word as to what arrangements, if any, have been made with the railway companies in regard to evacuation and to the part they are going to play in the scheme of things. I think I am right in saying that the Home Secretary did not mention that in his speech, and some of my friends are anxious to know what is being done in that respect. My attention has also been drawn to the fact that, under the authority of the Government itself, at a certain railway junction a large number of buildings have been erected for the housing of the workers who are to work in the arsenal which has been opened there, and which is to be partly manned from Woolwich. These buildings—and they are quite modern structures—have been erected without any provision whatever for air-raid precautions, shelter, or meeting the possibilities of attack. One would have thought that that was a very elementary point in new buildings in proximity to arsenals, which are bound to be an object of attack should war come.
I know that the Home Secretary said something with regard to hospitals, both municipal and voluntary, but I do not think he made it quite clear under what authority they are to be if and when trouble arises. Are they to be under the local authorities, or are they to be under the direct control of headquarters? I do not want to say any more on the question of the delay which has occurred between the passing of the Act and the first mention of air-raid precautions, and which is largely responsible for the position in which we now find ourselves. I should, however, like to ask the Home Office whether they can make up their minds with regard to the construction of air-raid shelters. They are still in a very hazy state of mind about that, because the Home Office circular issued on 28th March of this year to the local authorities said in effect that there was no occasion just 2179 now to make any preparation for evacution, while the education circular of January of this year laid it down that preparations should be at once put in hand for evacuating the children. Surely there must be an association between the two Departments; surely it is not proposed to evacuate the child population and leave the adult population alone, without knowing what preparations are being made for receiving the children and accommodating them?
Undoubtedly the real reason for complaint is that the Home Office have not yet made up their mind on the question of evacuation, and that they have not given any definite lead to the local authorities; and it can be no cause for wonder if the local authorities are a bit disgruntled, and do not know which way they are to turn or what action they are to take, when the Home Office, apparently, is simply waiting in the hope that something may turn up among the local authorities and that they may suggest something, because the Home Office, apparently, has not an idea.
The position we have to face is that London and other large centres of population will be subjected to repeated aerial bombardment, which will not be confined to military objectives, but will include intensive bombing of the civil population. Moreover, the attack will probably not be confined to a week or two, though a rapid knock-out blow may be attempted. What preparations are being made in that respect? As far as I can see, it is not going to be an easy problem. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) made reference to a population of 132 to the acre. In parts of my constituency there is a population of 1,000 to the acre, and, what is more, there is not an open space for miles. It is along the line of attack that probably suffered more severely from aerial bombardment than any other part of London during the last War. It is in line with the river, and there are other industrial objectives which would probably be an attraction. There would be great difficulty in evacuating a population of that description. What arrangements are being made to shift them; how are they to be got out? The distance to which they will have to be taken is tremendous. Seeing how closely packed they are, it seems to me, also, 2180 that it will be a considerable problem even to provide some sort of shelter for them.
These are the kinds of problems to which the Government will have to apply their minds, and I suggest that they ought to do so as soon as possible and give satisfaction to the community as soon as they can. As far as I can see, although it is not a case of evacuation or shelters, the one does to some extent bear upon the other. For instance, if we are going to decide on large schemes of evacuation, obviously that will diminish to a great extent the need for providing shelters or some means of protecting the people in or near their homes. Again, evacuation to a large extent will have to take place even before war, or at the very first suggestion that there is a possibility of war, and an attempt will have to be made to move the population from the very large centres. The only alternative seems to me to be a perpetual system of shelters and trenches to guard against splinters, blast, and gas. That would mean, however, the destruction of our amenities to a large extent, and our being compelled to live under conditions so intolerable that one feels one would sooner run the risk, whatever it might be, when war comes, than live perpetually under such conditions.
What about the cost? I do not know, but figures have been quoted. A figure has been quoted so far as my own borough of Camberwell is concerned. The authorities responsible reckon that if shelters have to be provided, it is going to cost that borough at least £2,000,000. Assuming the accuracy of those figures, one can imagine what it is going to be if that is multiplied throughout the length and breadth of the country. On the other hand, it seems to me that here is an opportunity that the Government might take, of putting into operation a certain number of works that could be definitely called public works, and utilising a large part of the great army of unemployed. I see that the last figures show that something over £44,000,000 was paid out by the Unemployment Assistance Board. A great deal of that could have been well expended in putting these men to work on providing air-raid shelters and other protection.
It looks as if the Government have abandoned all hope of ever finding work for these men. If that is 2181 so, have they also left out of mind the possible use of them in a crisis? Here is an Opportunity to use them in a crisis, where, at any rate, the money would be better spent in giving them something to do. It would raise their morale by making them feel that they were doing something and that they were needed. That would be one practical measure that could be put in hand almost immediately. There must be plenty of people capable of doing this work, and by the very fact of putting them back to work we should increase employment in other trades. I have an extract from a speech by the right hon. Gentleman which might give some key to the difficulty which is experienced in getting enough money for air-raid precautions. On 7th December, 1937, the right hon. Gentleman said:If air-raid precautions are out of scale, a tremendous financial burden will be placed upon the country, and, what is much more serious, setting aside the gravity of the financial burden, will be excessive concentration on purely defensive measures and the creation of a dangerous bias in the national mind towards passive protection rather than vigorous attack.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1937; col. 280, Vol. 330.]Was it that he was rather more concerned about the "vigorous attack "than about protecting the civilian population at home, and that, therefore, we are not getting the money spent as it should be? But surely he has the wrong perspective altogether. According to the experts, our main concern should be to prevent the civilian population being panicked in the event of another war, because there is the nation's weakest link. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has appointed a committee to consider the question of evacuation. There is an equally strong case to be made for a committee to consider the provision of air-raid shelters. Those two things ought to be considered by committees sitting at the same time. He would have the advantage of their respective reports, and we should be able to contrast them and see whether there was anything really effective or worth while in them. I can only conclude almost as I began, regretting the necessity of this Committee having to discuss at this time Measures of this description, and deploring very much that the Government, having landed us into this trouble, seem incapable of giving protection to those who are likely to be placed in danger.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
We have had a most interesting Debate to-day, and I would be the last to complain of the tone of the speeches which have been delivered by Members of the party opposite.
§ Mr. Lloyd
Very naturally the hon. Gentleman who began the Debate, and some of the other speakers have endeavoured to place upon the Government the whole responsibility for the fact that our whole air-raid precaution scheme is not in a more advanced state than it is at the present time. I do not accept that responsibility, and I say to the Committee, what I really think everybody will agree with, that that responsibility has to be shared, and the party opposite cannot escape their share of responsibility.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I can remember the days, not so very long ago, when we were fighting for the recognition of air-raid precautions as an important movement in the national life, and we would in those days very much have welcomed speeches in the kind of tone which have been made from the Front Bench opposite to-day. Only a year ago I remember a speech made on the subject of air-raid precautions by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), and at that time, far from the enthusiasm and exhortation he has given us to-night, there was an atmosphere of querulous complaint that anything had been done at all. I agree that the important thing is that now we all have to do our best to get this movement moving forward as quickly as possible. I can respond to the appeal made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Islington (Mr. Guest) not to hide the gaps in the air-raid precautions position as it is at the present time. I can tell the Committee that we will not conceal anything. We believe that the right policy is neither to exaggerate nor to minimise the danger of air raids, and, in order to get a response from the country, to tell the country the exact truth with regard to air-raid precautions.
2183 I assure the Committee that we approach this whole question with an open mind. The task is so big that we have to accept from time to time changes and development in our plans. We are very ready, therefore, to listen to constructive criticism and suggestions, and we particularly value, for example, the speech made to-night by the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee), and shall pay very careful attention to the suggestions he made, and also to suggestions made by other hon. Members. Perhaps I had better deal rather shortly with a number of smaller points upon which I have been asked to reply at this stage. With regard to the responsibility for the hospitals, the casualty hospitals are, by the regulations, the responsibility of local authorities, and the base hospitals are the central Government responsibility.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I think that what I have said really applies to all hospitals. We have been in touch with the railways and they are co-operating very well in all the black-out exercises. They are training their employés, and we are in negotiation with them for the purpose of air-raid precautions grants for this special side of protection, which is open to public utility undertakings.
On the question of finance for local authorities, there are two points to be borne in mind. On the one hand, we want to get ahead with this work as speedily as possible, and, on the other hand, the Government have a financial responsibility to this House in regard to the grants made to local authorities. Therefore, we have to steer a middle course between these two considerations. Naturally, we have been co-operating with the local authorities. We have given them the draft regulations, we have listened to their suggestions, and I understand that we have, in substance, met practically the whole of the points that they raised. I believe, therefore, that we are going to get a system which will, to a very considerable degree, result in the local authorities proceeding with their work without having to report each individual proposal to the Home Office, but, 2184 at the same time, not doing anything that would be contrary to the financial responsibility that this House would assume.
In regard to the question of open spaces, the figure of 8,261 acres includes public and private spaces. We have always assumed that any private owner of space or garden which was worth while for inclusion in a sheltered scheme would be compelled in time of war to give it to the local authorities, and that if he agreed in peace that it would be used as a public trench shelter, any cost in accumulating materials for purposes in connection with the shelter which the local authority proposes to incur, would rank for grant under the Act. The boundary of the Greater London district would extend to Guildford, Sevenoaks, Watford and Barnet.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I will ascertain and communicate with the hon. Member, but I think I am right in my statement. With regard to the device for the protection of babies, I am able to say that this is now going into mass production. There are a number of other subjects to which I should like to refer at greater length. The first subject is that of warnings, which are fundamental to air-raid precautions. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) seemed to think that nothing at all has been done in regard to that question. I ought, therefore, to explain the position to the Committee. The air-raid warnings system is an elaborate and carefully-worked-out piece of mechanism. The country has had to be mapped into over 100 "warning districts "and arrangements have been made with the Post Office to transmit air-raid warning messages by telephone very rapidly to those districts from the main centres, where particulars of the latest moves of hostile aircraft will be collated. There has been prepared a list of officials of police, fire and local services and the most important 2185 industrial establishments, and messages would be at once distributed- to them by telephone. The local authorities in urban areas are asked to arrange for sirens to warn the population as a whole. In industrial areas the warnings can be given by the existing works sirens, but they will need to be supplemented where there are not enough industrial sirens.
When the Home Office began to inquire as to suitable instruments for this purpose more than a year ago they found that there was very little information as to the travelling of sound in built-up areas and, therefore, they tried experiments on a very extensive scale. It was quickly shown that there was a surprising difficulty in hearing sirens over any considerable distance in built-up areas, and a large number of instruments had to be discarded. Finally it was concluded that it was only possible with the best instruments to be fairly sure of an average range of one mile. That is, I may say, a. longer range than seems to be expected by many foreign countries, and I am glad to be able to inform the Committee that it was achieved by British instruments and by British instruments only. Experiments were made with a certain type of steam siren, and one type of electrical siren, and one very interesting type of compressed air siren, which had been developed by the chief engineer of Trinity House during the time when the Home Office were making these experiments. I should like to express, on behalf of the Home Office, our gratitude to Trinity House for the experiments they made, and for making this siren available to the Department. These arrangements, have been communicated in a circular to local authorities and they have been asked after a survey of existing sirens to report what further instruments are necessary.
An hon. Member opposite asked me a question about the instructors. He wondered whether we had made arrangements for a sufficient number of instructors and also thought that the instruction was too confined to gas instruction, and should be extended to more general air-raid precautions instruction. We agree with that view. He also wanted us to have more gas schools, and referred to those at Falfield and Easingwold and thought that there should be similar schools for London and possibly for Scotland. I must point out to the Committee that Falfield and Easingwold must be 2186 regarded as central gas schools for instructors, and that they are turning out people who are themselves capable of being instructors able to train other people. Therefore, when we consider the 2,400 people who have already come from these schools it will be seen that you get a snowball system of training which will train a very large number of people. But with the considerable rush of volunteers in the last few months there have been difficulties about the number of instructors and, therefore, we have adopted a new plan. Roughly speaking, it is this, that the instructors now can not only train other people but give other people certificates for them to be instructors in certain aspects of anti-gas work.
Broadly speaking, ordinary anti-gas training can be given by instructors who have been trained by Falfield and Easingwold instructors, but in regard to the training in decontamination, which is really the most important and by far the most difficult and delicate instruction in anti-gas work, this should still be confined to the Falfield and Easingwold instructors. I think that anybody with experience in this matter will agree that that is right. Nevertheless, these arrangements have undoubtedly secured already, and will secure even more in the immediate future, a very great increase in the number of instructors, and we hope that the difficulties from the point of view of the volunteers will be overcome by the new arrangement.
On the question of schools, we want the local authorities to establish their own schools, and not merely to have classes. The hon. Gentleman said that he thought there might be a school for London. Certainly, we hope that there will be not merely one, but many schools for London; and as a matter of fact, already there are some schools in London, and I understand that the council have converted one of the council buildings into an anti-gas school. It is not our intention that the training should be confined to anti-gas training. The wardens will be trained, not only in anti-gas work, but also in elementary first aid, in protection against blast from high explosives, and on the part they will play in the report and communications system. We also expect training to take place—and it has started in some districts—for the specified personnel who will engage in the report 2187 and communications system. The actual training in that work has been carried to a considerably higher point by Southampton, where there is a trained communications centre entirely run by women personnel. We are also recasting, and hope considerably to improve, the first-aid training. That we have done, of course, in agreement with the St. John's Ambulance Association and the Red Cross, and we are aiming at a national standard for the members of the first-aid parties and those responsible for first-aid posts. We are really raising the standard in those respects, but, on the other hand, we are making slightly more simple the course for the auxiliary members of the first-aid posts. We want to see model first-aid posts set up in each area, because we attach very great importance, not only to theoretical training, but to practice in the operation of the first-aid posts.
With regard to the instructors, is the curriculum at the Falfield and Easingwold schools to be modified to include something more than the present anti-gas instruction?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I think that it is best to keep the Falfield and Easingwold Schools to the real purpose for which they were organised, that is, the anti-gas training; and I think that the training with regard to high explosives would be done better through the machinery of the technical officers of the Air-Raids Precautions Department, in consultation with the borough engineers and the surveyors, because this side of the work is not nearly as complicated as anti-gas work and is much more a question of studying the directions and carrying them out in a commonsense way. With regard to the question of fire-fighting, there is no difficulty with regard to instructors, because they can be provided by the regular fire brigades, and in fact, there is a very large number of classes going on at the present time for the auxiliary fire brigades. There are 33 classes for auxiliary fire brigades at the present time in the City of Birmingham, for example.
I want to emphasise at this point that, as in the question of first aid, so in the general training of air-raid precautions volunteers we have not got to stop simply at theoretical classes, where lectures are given and perhaps notes taken, but the training has to be carried on to the point 2188 of practical exercises. We attach great importance to that. The number of exercises has been increasing enormously in the last few months, and our information is that the increase will continue in the next few months. I have here a report from the Inspector-General about the great exercise which was held at the Nore last night. I will not weary the Committee with details, but what emerges is that the standard of training was shown to be very much higher than that displayed at previous exercises in the same area a few months ago.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Has the training in that area been different from the training in other parts of the country?
§ Mr. Lloyd
No, the training has not been different, but there, as in many other parts of the country, a great impulse has been given to progress among the local authorities concerned.
I come now to the question of evacuation. The Committee will not expect me to add a great deal, in regard to policy, to what my right hon. Friend has said. But I want to point out that as a technical question the evacuation of large numbers of people from London is not difficult if the actual decision that evacuation is to take place at a given time, is made in time. Much detailed work has been done in the Home Office on this question. We have heard a great deal about the French plans for evacuation. We heard, for example, that those plans would enable the evacuation of 2,250,000 people to take place in about 10 days. We have gone into this question with the railway companies, in considerable detail, and time-tables have been worked out upon the basis that 3,500,000 people could be moved 50 miles or more out of London by rail in 72 hours. This accepts the need for complete mobilisation traffic proceeding at the same time and also for the continuance of essential goods traffic.
On the other hand, we have considered what the position would be if the railway terminals were damaged, and we had to fall back on road transport. Although in our opinion road transport is, on the whole, technically not as efficient for the movement of large masses of people as railway transport, we have consulted the London Passenger Transport Board with regard to this problem, about the collection of refugees from London and their 2189 radial distribution at some of the distribution centres. I may also say that we know something about the food problem in connection with the evacuation problem and how to tackle it. As regards railway tickets—mentioned by an hon. Member at the beginning of the Debate—we should dispense with them completely in such a situation. Plans for the reception of refugees and their dispersal over country areas have been worked out and could rapidly be taken further. There is also the question of the voluntary evacuation of school children accompanied by their teachers. That has been worked out and could be arranged.
I emphasise to the Committee that I have been speaking on this point entirely about the technical side of evacuation, but the social and political questions such as, where shall the people go, and who shall go, and shall they be made to go, and shall some be given facilities or not according to whether or not their services are needed in London—these are questions for the Anderson Committee to consider. But I thought hon. Members would be interested to know that on the technical side we have done much more work on this question than has been generally realised.
I come now to the question which has really, I think, largely dominated the Debate to-day and which is, of course, as many speakers have pointed out, connected with the question of evacuation, and that is the problem of high explosives and the problem of shelter from them. With the permission of the Committee, I should like to consider this problem in a little greater concrete detail than has been done so far, and first of all I think we should clear our minds as to the actual effects of high explosive bombs. Bombs kill and wound in three ways—either by directly falling upon and hitting and exploding upon what they fall on; secondly, laterally, by throwing out splinters; and thirdly, laterally, by blast, which is not an ordinary wind as some people think, but a pulse or wave of pressure of very short duration. Also all our information goes to show that the great majority of casualties from high explosive bombs are caused by blast and splinters and not by direct hits.
That brings me to the point that in our view dispersal is a key principle of 2190 protection against high explosives. I do not think I need labour this point, because I believe it is accepted by all who have studied this problem. Certainly anybody who flies about this country and considers in his imagination the effect of bombs falling on congested urban districts, on the one hand, and on new housing estates, on the other, can see with the utmost clarity the importance of the protective power of dispersal. There is one other point. It seems certain that the principle of dispersal will retain its value whatever technical changes may occur. For example, a great increase in the size of bombs may make some hitherto bomb-proof shelters dangerous, but it will not affect the validity of the principal of dispersal.
I think our problem can be stated in this way: What can we do quickly, under peace-time conditions, to prepare the maximum protection in case of war? What is the best practicable policy for the next few months? I think it is true that we have a considerable advantage in that our people, broadly speaking, are more dispersed over the ground than those who live in most Continental cities. Our people live much more in small houses whereas Continental people tend to live in big fiat-buildings, and this is a real advantage, because it results in more natural dispersal. If we could get added to this factor of dispersal the factor of protection against blast and splinters, we should have made very considerable progress. Therefore, the Government want to see everyone with blast and splinter protection in their own homes and places of work, and I would say to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) that the Government definitely advise householders to do what they can to increase the natural protection afforded by their homes, and I would also say that the Government take the view that employers have an obligation to provide protection for their workers.
What I want to put to the Committee is this: How far is it possible that protection against blast and splinters can be secured for the people on such a large scale as we desire? I would like to put a certain number of points to the Committee in regard to shelter accommodation. The first instinct under bombardment, as we all know, is to go underground, and that is sound, because underground you 2191 get lateral protection from the whole body of the earth. That is the essence of the protection which is afforded by a cellar. For example, the overhead protection given by a cellar does not really depend upon its being a cellar, but on the number and strength of the floors above, and particularly on the strength of the cellar roof itself. In general it may be said that a cellar with a strong roof gives good protection. Therefore I think it can be said that people who have cellars, either with strong roofs or with roofs which can be made strong, have good protection against blast and splinters.
It follows for very much the same reason that a trench also gives similarly good protection. I think it is true to say that there was one subject on which I found complete unanimity among the air-raid precautions experts of Germany, France and this country, and that was the great value of trenches as air-raid precautions protection. Therefore we can go a step further and say everyone who has a garden or who has easy access to an open space has the possibility of good shelter available. Here, indeed, is an unexpected advantage of the very large number of gardens in this country, and I think I am correct in saying that there are, in fact, a very much larger number of gardens, even in the centres of our big cities, than many people realise.
But I think it is wrong to take the line that only underground accommodation gives protection against blast and splinter. We have carried out a number of experiments on this question, and of course there is a great body of knowledge from our war-time experience, and we know that 13½ inches of brickwork, one foot of reinforced concrete, one and a-half inches of steel, two and a-half feet of sandbags, or any combination of these various methods, do give protection against splinters. Also it is generally known that any protection which serves against splinters also serves against blast. Therefore it is true to say that good protection can be had against blast and splinters by strongly constructed buildings, if necessary reinforced with sandbags, etc. Here we have the elements of a very considerable system of potential protection which is capable of being organised comparatively quickly. I believe it is a system which would commend 2192 itself to the approval of many Continental experts. We have a large part of England, namely, the villages, the medium-sized towns, and certainly the outer parts of the large cities, where the population is well dispersed, and where conditions exist in which it is possible to organise shelter accommodation which is well fortified against the blast splinter effect of bombs. If this view is correct, it throws into even greater prominence that our really difficult problem is the congested areas of the great cities. I wish to make three preliminary points in regard to that. Even here our congestion is less than in the central areas of foreign cities, and it should be noted that, with the progress of housing and overcrowding policy, the position is gradually but steadily improving in that respect. It is obvious also that evacuation on the lines on which the Committee has been discussing it this afternoon will also reduce the congestion. There are in these areas a great many private houses and industrial establishments which possess good shelter against blast and splinter.
I now come to the really crucial question raised by the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. What about those who live in homes which are really not strong enough to give protection—those houses which, for example, will collapse easily under the effect of blast—which was a point made with great emphasis in the Committee—and also what about those caught in the streets? The formal position in this matter is quite clear. Under the Act and the regulations of my right hon. Friend, the local authorities are to provide such shelter as is necessary for these people, and the cost will rank for grant under the Act. Local authorities have been asked by my right hon. Friend to press on with the survey of this problem, and special tests have been carried out in London. In London we chose three typical boroughs. We chose Holborn as a predominantly business district with a high day-time population and a small night-time population. We chose Wandsworth as a residential district and Stepney as a congested crowded central district with a high population both in the day time and at night. I visited Holborn and Stepney a few days ago and saw the actual shelter accommodation which was being selected.
I would like to give an account of how this work was done. It is a matter of 2193 great interest which will be repeated in various parts of the country. Stepney was divided into 26 districts. In each area the police, 100 of whom were engaged, made a count of the people during the peak period of the day. The people in the shops were included for this purpose as if they were people in the streets. It is of interest that the Stepney authorities sent out 8,000 postcards asking shopkeepers for a reply by return stating the number of people they normally had in their shops at certain times, and replies were received from practically all of them. At the same time, the public health and rating departments calculated the number of houses and the population in them which were unsuitable as shelter accommodation. That was supplemented by the visits of 91 officers who inspected the actual premises. I was very much surprised at the amount of shelter accommodation that is to be found in a district like Stepney and also at the amount of open space that exists there. It is fortunate that it is very well dispersed among some of the districts which most need extra shelter accommodation. There exist enormous cellars in and near the dock areas. I went into one cellar which would be capable of accommodating 1,000 people, although, of course, it ought not to be used for the purpose unless it was efficiently divided by proper blastproof divisions. There are also a great number of smaller cellars. I visited some extremely good ones near Commercial Road where there was accommodation for a
§ reasonable number of people in strong modern concrete buildings.
§ I think that the Committee will take the view that the results of this test survey are reassuring. The results will be communicated by the Home Office to all local authorities in order to help them carry out their own surveys, and we shall urge them to complete these surveys as soon as possible. When that is done the Home Office will be ready to approve expenditure on this work as expenditure under the Act. I will conclude by giving the Committee, and particularly the hon. Member for Anglesey, some points with regard to the Tubes and Tube shelters in London. It must be recognised that the Tube system would be a vital underground transport during a time when perhaps surface transport might be interfered with. We have plans under consideration for the modified use of the Tubes as transport and their limited use as shelters. Some parts of the system close to the surface have sewers and mains near them, and it will be impracticable in peace time to alter that arrangement, but some stations will have to be closed and bulk-heads provided to prevent flooding. There is also the question of the river entering and the taking of special precautions for that part of the Tube.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £5,693,300, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 95; Noes, 174.2195
|Division No. 230.]||AYES.||[11.1 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Grenfell, D. R.||McGovern, J.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||MacLaren, A.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Mathers, G.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Maxton, J.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Groves, T. E.||Nathan, Colonel H. L.|
|Batey, J.||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Noel-Baker, P. J.|
|Benson, G.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Bevan, A.||Hardie, Agnes||Paling, W.|
|Broad, F. A.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Parker, J.|
|Buchanan, G.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Burke, W. A.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Pearson, A.|
|Cape, T.||Hicks, E. G.||Poole, C. C.|
|Chater, D.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Price, M. P.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hollins, A.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Riley, B.|
|Cove, W. G.||Kelly, W. T.||Ritson, J.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Daggar, G.||Lathan, G.||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Dalton, H.||Lawson, J. J.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Leach, W.||Shinwell, E.|
|Ede, J. C.||Leonard, W.||Silkin, L.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Leslie, J. R.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Foot, D. M.||Logan, D. G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Gallacher, W.||Lunn, W.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Stephen, C.||Tinker, J. J.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Stewart, W. J. (H'ght-le-Sp'ng)||Viant, S. P.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Stokes, R. R,||Westwood, J.|
|Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Summeskill, Edith||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)||Mr. Adamson and Mr. Anderson|
|Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Gower, Sir R. V.||Plugge, Capt. L. F.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Grant-Ferris, R.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Allan, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhaad)||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Porritt, R. W.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (So'h Univ's)||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (Cmb'rw'll, N.W.)||Radford, E. A.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Assheton, R.||Hannah, I. C.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Harmon, Sir P. J. H||Rankin, Sir R.|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. t. B. (Portsm h)||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Beechman, N. A.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Higgs, W. F.||Romer, J. R.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Holdsworth, H.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Hopkinson, A.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Horsbrugh, Florence||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Bull, B. B.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Hulbert, N. J.||Salt, E. W.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hutchinson, G. C.||Sandys, E, D.|
|Cary, R. A.||James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.||Scott, Lord William|
|Channon, H.||Joel, D. J. B.||Selley, H. R.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Clarke, Frank (Dartford)||Keeling, E. H.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Latham, Sir P.||Somervell. Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Cox, H. B. Trevor||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||Spens, W. P.|
|Crooke, Sir J. S.||Leech, Sir J. W.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Lees-Jones, J.||Storey, S.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Liddall, W. S.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Lloyd, G. W.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Loftus, P. C.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Lyons, A. M.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Davison, Sir W. H.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Denville, Alfred||Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Touche, G. C.|
|Doland, G. F.||Macnamara, Major J. R. J.||Turton, R. H.|
|Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Duggan, H. J.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Eckersley, P. T.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Mills, Major J. O. (New Forest)||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Emery, J. F.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Errington, E.||Munro, P.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Nail, Sir J.||Wise, A. R.|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Fleming, E. L.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Wragg, H.|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Palmar, G. E. H.||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Fyfe, D. P. M.||Peake, O.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Gluekstein, L. H.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Petherick, M.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Goldie, N. B.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Mr. Grimston and Mr. Furness.|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.