HC Deb 24 March 1938 vol 333 cc1352-60
12. Mr. Rostron Duckworth

asked the Home Secretary whether any of the fire brigades of the country are in possession of adequate apparatus to deal with the type of fires created by incendiary bombs; and, if so, which they are?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

In case of incendiary attack from the air, the fire brigades might be faced with a considerable number of fires breaking out together. The existing fire brigade organisation is not framed to deal with such a situation. Steps are being taken by the local authorities to expand the organisation and to recruit and train auxiliary firemen, and, in accordance with the policy already announced, additional pumps and equipment are being supplied to local authorities in augmentation of their peace-time resources for use in connection with their emergency fire brigade measures.

13. Dr. Haden Guest

asked the Home Secretary whether he proposes to issue any model schemes of air-raid precautions for the use and guidance of local authorities?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir. A suggested form of general scheme for the guidance of local authorities is being issued early next week.

Mr. R. Gibson

Is that being issued simultaneously in Scotland?

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Is any similar scheme in regard to fire precautions under consideration? Many difficult problems arise for local authorities in regard to fire precautions.

Mr. Lloyd

That model scheme has already been issued.

Major Milner

Could copies of it be sent to all Members of the House?

Mr. Lloyd

I will make arrangements for it to be readily available.

14. Dr. Guest

asked the Home Secretary whether he is now in a position to indicate when he will introduce legislation dealing with air-raid precautions for public utility companies?

Mr. Lloyd

This will depend upon the progress of the discussions which are proceeding with the various industries.

Mr. Herbert Morrison

Can the hon. Gentleman say how long these discussions have been proceeding, and when he expects them to be concluded?

Mr. Lloyd

They have been proceeding for some time, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the subject is very complicated. I could not say to-day how long the discussions will take.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that, until legislation is passed with regard to public utility companies, any expenditure by them in connection with this matter will be of the nature of illegal expenditure?

Mr. Lloyd

I could not accept that.

Mr. Simmonds

Is it a fact that discussions are taking place with the water companies?

Mr. Lloyd

Not yet.

15. Dr. Guest

asked the Home Secretary whether he has considered the report of the Metropolitan Water Board, passed at their meeting on Friday, 18th March, expressing their grave disquiet at the delay on the part of the Government in coming to a decision with regard to the Board's scheme for the protection of the London water supply from air attack; and whether he is now willing to receive a deputation from the board?

36. Colonel Nathan

asked the Home Secretary the present position as to the protection against air-raids of the water supply of London?

Mr. Lloyd

I would refer the hon. Members to the answer which I gave to a question by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) on Tuesday last.

Colonel Nathan

Does the hon. Gentleman consider it to be in accordance with the urgency of the matter that it is only now that conversations have been initiated? Further, would not an arrangement with the Metropolitan Water Board require legislation, and, if so, will such legislation be introduced?

Mr. Lloyd

I referred in my earlier answer to the question of legislation. We only received the Metropolitan Water Board's scheme last month, and it is being considered technically.

Dr. Guest

Is it not a fact that conversations with the Metropolitan Water Board have been going on since last June; that the Board feel that they are in a very difficult situation, as they consider that any expenditure on this matter incurred by them at present would be illegal; and that they are anxious that legislation should be passed in order to legalise their expenditure?

Mr. Lloyd

My right hon. Friend appreciates the importance of this subject, and has invited the Chairman of the Board to see him on the matter as soon as possible.

18. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the Home Secretary whether he will now send a mission of experts to study the problems of air-raid precautions in the towns and villages of eastern Spain?

Mr. Lloyd

The lessons to be learned from air raids in Spain are constantly under examination. Much information has been collected, and arrangements are in hand for obtaining more through appropriate channels. My right hon. Friend does not consider it necessary for a special commission to be sent out.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Since the "Times" correspondent in Barcelona reports that experiments are being made as to the efficacy of different methods of bombing, is it not right that the other side also should examine on the spot the efficacy of these different methods?

Mr. Lloyd

We are getting reports.

Major Milner

Is it not necessary that direct information should be obtained from people who can be relied upon?

Mr. Lloyd

We have had many reports from reliable sources.

20. Mr. Sandys

asked the Home Secretary, in view of the deterioration in the international situation, what steps it is proposed to take to accelerate the organisation of air-raid precautions?

Mr. Lloyd

The situation in each area is being carefully watched. I have no reason to think that local authorities are not fully alive to the need for pressing on with their organisation of this very urgent work.

21. Mr. Sandys

asked the Home Secretary whether he is now in a position to announce the Government's policy in regard to the provision of air-raid shelters to protect persons in private houses, factories, and public places?

Mr. Lloyd

My right hon. Friend is issuing a circular to local authorities early next week, in which guidance will be given as to the policy to be followed with regard to the provision of shelter accommodation.

22. Mr. Sandys

asked the Home Secretary what has been the response in the London area to his recent broadcast appeal for air-raid precautions volunteers?

Mr. Lloyd

Volunteers are being enrolled daily by the Metropolitan Boroughs and the Corporation of the City of London, and no precise or completely up-to-date figures are available, but it is estimated that about 7,000 volunteers have been enrolled in the last 10 days and that a further 7,000 forms of enrolment have been despatched by post in response to requests received by letter or telephone. The London Fire Brigade had enrolled 1,630 volunteers up to 23rd March.

Mr. Mabane

Has a uniform form of enrolment, or contract, been arranged, to cover the whole country? On what terms are these volunteers being enrolled?

Mr. Lloyd

Perhaps the hon. Member will put that question down.

Mr. Sandys

How many volunteers are required for the Metropolitan area?

Mr. Lloyd

100,000. It is, therefore, necessary that more should be enrolled.

Mr. Thorne

Will all these volunteers get holidays with pay?

23. Mr. Gallacher

asked the Home Secretary whether any estimate has been made of the average cost per head of the population of erecting air-raid shelters that will provide protection against blast and splinters, but not direct hits, in London and similar densely populated areas?

Mr. Lloyd

It is not practicable to give figures of any general value because circumstances vary so much, according to the nature of the premises to be adapted. My right hon. Friend is arranging for conferences between his officers and the officers of local authorities as to the line to be taken in making surveys of accommodation which could be utilised for shelter purposes and on possible methods of adaptation.

Mr. Gallacher

Will they also make arrangements for experimenting on the utilisation of these shelters?

24. Sir Thomas Cook

asked the Home Secretary whether he will arrange to supply gas masks to all volunteer firemen who are members of brigades affiliated to the Norfolk Fire Brigades Association?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir. Gas masks for training purposes have already been issued to local authorities. Arrangements for instruction involving the use of this equipment should, therefore, be made with the local authority.

25. Mr. Bull

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that in many districts people who are anxious to offer their services in connection with air-raid precautions schemes find that the local authorities concerned have no schemes worked out and cannot offer them any definite work; and whether he will issue some statement with regard to this matter in order to prevent further discouragement to those willing to volunteer?

Mr. Lloyd

In most important areas courses of instruction have been in operation for some time and are being expanded as additional volunteers enrol. I am aware, however, that in some areas the preparations made by local authorities have not reached a stage at which it is possible for them to arrange for immediate instruction in the appropriate course of all persons who enrol. Generally, however, such authorities are proceeding rapidly with the organisation of the necessary courses. It is important that all persons who wish to take part in these services should enrol as soon as possible, in order that the local authority may know more precisely what provision should be made, and my right hon. Friend has already addressed a request to local authorities to enrol volunteers and to undertake to communicate with them as soon as the additional courses in the service for which they have expressed a preference have been organised in the area.

Mr. Mabane

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the reluctance of some local authorities to pay travelling expenses to these volunteers is acting as a serious discouragement?

Mr. Crowder

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a good deal of overlapping between the V.A.D., the Red Cross and local authorities, which all seem to have the same lists and neither seems to like to give the list to the others?

Mr. Levy

Does my hon. Friend not think it wise that, where local authorities have not dealt with schemes yet, an inspector from the Department should be sent to help them, because some of them, with the best will in the world, have not the necessary experience at their disposal?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir. Our inspectors are in touch with the local authorities. I will look into the matter of travelling expenses. With regard to overlapping, I must point out that the statutory authority in an area is the local authority, and everybody else should co-operate with it.

32. Sir John Mellor

asked the Home Secretary whether he has any further information to give with regard to the progress of his negotiations with the representatives of the public utility authorities concerning the finance of air-raid precautions?

Mr. Lloyd

Discussions are proceeding, but I am not in a position at present to make a further statement.

33. Mr. Simmonds

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that pew buildings in many countries, including France, Germany, and Italy, are now required to be constructed with features designed to resist air attack; and whether he is prepared to develop a similar system in this country?

Mr. Lloyd

The officers of my Department are in consultation with the architectural associations in the general consideration of the question of incorporating air-raid precaution features in new structures. As a result, my right hon. Friend hopes shortly to issue Notes indicating the standards of construction which are regarded as desirable from the point of view of air-raid protection, but as at present advised he does not think it necessary to go beyond this.

Mr. Simmonds

If these instructions are going to take a long time, will my hon. Friend try to issue some primary instructions so that some guidance may be available for our people?

Mr. Lloyd

These notes will be issued shortly.

34. Mr. Simmonds

asked the Home Secretary whether he has specifically urged upon the Metropolitan borough councils the need for public and private underground shelters to give as much protection as can be arranged in the case of an air attack?

Mr. Lloyd

My right hon. Friend has arranged for a conference next week between his officers and representatives of the London authorities as to the line to be followed in making surveys of accommodation which could be utilised for shelter purposes and on possible methods of adaptation.

Mr. Simmonds

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is urging upon these local authorities the great importance of proceeding with these public shelter schemes?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir, my right hon. Friend has already done so.

Mr. Thorne

Will the hon. Gentleman invite local authorities like East Ham and Croydon to these discussions at the same time?

Mr. Lloyd

All the boroughs are invited.

35. Mr. Simmonds

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that the two Home Office gas schools are inadequate; and whether he proposes to increase this number?

Mr. Lloyd

The question of assisting local authorities to deal with the additional volunteers coming forward for training is being urgently explored. It is not considered necessary to start any futher Home Office gas schools on the lines of those already existing, but many local authorities are arranging their own local training centres and are being encouraged to do so.

Mr. Bellenger

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether there is any delay at the present time in accepting those who wish to take training at the Home Office schools?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir, there are always a number of people who wish to enter the schools.

37. Mr. Tinker

asked the Home Secretary whether colliery districts are scheduled to be tested for black-outs and, if so, which district will be taken first?

Mr. Lloyd

Exercises are being held primarily for the purpose of testing the efficiency of air-raid precautions services. The initiative for holding such exercises rests with the local authorities, and if it is desired to carry out exercises in colliery districts, arrangements should be made accordingly through the local authorities.

Mr. Tinker

Can the hon. Gentleman say what steps are being taken to ascertain the number of burning pit-heaps, so that he may know the extent of the danger that will be caused in those areas from this source?

Mr. Lloyd

That is a matter for the local authorities.

Mr. G. Griffiths

If there are about 20 local authorities on the job, how can one authority act, especially when we know that there are 40 burning pit-heaps in Yorkshire? You want to take it all over Yorkshire.

Mr. Lloyd

The Air-Raid Precautions Act envisages the co-operation of local authorities.

64. Mr. Liddall

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether he is aware that retail newsagents and booksellers are unable to' obtain the necessary quantities of the official air-raid precautions pamphlets; and whether, in view of the large demand, he will take steps to see that adequate supplies are obtainable from wholesale newsagents in all parts of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and at the recognised trade rates?

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Lieut.-Colonel Colville)

There has recently been a sudden and very large increase in the demand for air-raid precautions publications, and I am sorry to say that difficulty has been experienced in meeting demands. Appropriate steps have already been taken, and I hope that by the end of the month it will be possible to meet all demands. In accordance with the normal practice of the Stationery Office, trade rates are given to trade customers.

Mr. H. G. Williams

Have any copies of this pamphlet been placed in the Vote Office?

Colonel Nathan

Will the Financial Secretary say whether these pamphlets include the Householders' Handbook, which is marked "For official use only"?

Lieut.-Colonel Colville

I am only concerned with the production of these pamphlets through the Stationery Office; any question relating to distribution or contents should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary,

71. Mr. Rostron Duckworth

asked the First Commissioner of Works whether he is satisfied that present arrangements are adequate to deal with any outbreaks of fire in Government buildings which might occur in connection with air attack; and whether it is proposed to take any action in this connection during the current year?

The First Commissioner of Works (Sir Philip Sassoon)

All the Government buildings in my charge are being inspected with a view to deciding how much additional fire fighting equipment on the lines recommended by the Home Office will be necessary to give protection in the event of air attack. Provision is being taken in the Votes of my Department to enable a great deal of this equipment to be provided in the current year. I also have under consideration certain schemes to provide an independent supply of water for a number of the more important buildings including the Palace of Westminster and the Government Offices in the Whitehall area. The number of hydrants in these buildings is being increased where necessary.

Mr. Thorne

Is it not the case that when the House is in Session we can all help?