HC Deb 03 November 1938 vol 340 cc351-62
24. Mr. Duncan

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he can make a statement on the progress of air-raid precautions schemes in London for the last three months?

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

I suggest that my hon. Friend should await the statement to be made during the Debate.

25. Mr. Duncan

asked the Home Secretary whether the surveys of basements and cellar accommodation for shelter purposes have been completed; and what are the conclusions arrived at?

Mr. Lloyd

Progress has been made with the survey in some areas and during the recent emergency shelter accommodation in basements was prepared for considerable numbers. But the matter must be handled more systematically, and I would ask the hon. Member to await the statements that will be made in the course of the Debate.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Mervyn Manningham-Buller

May I ask whether a recent committee did not report very adversely on the use of basements and cellars as air-raid shelters?

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

Can the hon. Member inform us what alternative accommodation has been provided for the working-class families removed from these cellars and basements in which they have been compelled to live owing to the failure of the Government's housing policy?

Mr. Shinwell

The hon. Member says that this matter is now being handled systematically. What has he been doing all the time?

26. Mr. Duncan

asked the Home Secretary how many gas masks have been distributed in London to storage depots, and how many boroughs in London have these depots?

Mr. Lloyd

Approximately 4,000,000 civilian respirators have been issued to the Metropolitan Boroughs and the City of London. The respirators have been distributed to the public and not kept in local storage depots.

Mr. Duncan

Now that the emergency is over, and in view of the difficulty in many cases of people being able to keep their respirators in good condition, will local authorities have complete discretion to store these respirators if they wish to do so?

Mr. Lloyd

We have made that clear.

Mr. Poole

Is the hon. Member aware that there are areas adjacent to Birmingham in which the people have not yet been measured for their respirators?

27. Miss Ward

asked the Home Secretary whether in collecting material from local authorities on the lessons of the recent crisis arising out of air-raid precautions, he will also collect material from responsible individuals who are in an independent position to offer criticism and praise?

Mr. Lloyd

I can assure my hon. Friend that material from which lessons of the recent crisis can be drawn is being collected from all sources. If she is in a position to give me any more material, my right hon. Friend will be glad to receive it and to consider it carefully.

Miss Ward

Is it the policy of the Home Office to invite specially selected people in areas to offer their observations on the working of air-raid precautions?

Mr. Lloyd

Normally we expect to get information from local authorities.

Miss Ward

Will the hon. Member make a point of asking for information from special people in the area? I think it is most important.

28. Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

asked the Home Secretary to what firms the contract was given for the supply of gas masks, and in what quantities?

Mr. Lloyd

Contracts for the manufacture of 45,000,000 civilian respirators have been made. The respirators have not been ordered as complete units, separate contracts having been placed for the facepieces, rubber bands, inlet valves, components of the metal container and the charcoal. The metal containers have been assembled at factories under the supervision of the Home Office. I will send my hon. and gallant Friend a list of the names of the firms and the components supplied by them.

Mr. McEntee

Will the hon. Member be good enough to publish the list?

Mr. Lloyd

I will consider publishing the list.

29. Mr. Kirby

asked the Home Secretary to what extent the supply of gas masks for the public of Liverpool was, during the recent crisis, found to be inadequate by reason of miscalculation as to the proportion of masks in the various sizes; and what steps have yet been taken to remedy the situation in this regard?

Mr. Lloyd

Liverpool has reported that as a result of a fitting census which was taken in that city during the week ending the 30th September, there was a surplus of 127,320 large size respirators, 37,321 medium and a deficiency of 84,093 small in the numbers supplied by the Home Office, but that these figures were not final. The deficiency of small respirators will be satisfied when further deliveries from contractors are received. There have been discrepancies in the total numbers reputed to be required by the authority: these were due to the fact that Liverpool had not supplied the particulars of the sizes they required before delivery was made to them, and in these circumstances, the proportions of each size supplied had to be calculated by the Home Office taking as a basis the figures obtained from a fitting census conducted by two local authorities, and information ascertained in the office after fitting certain selected personnel.

Mr. Kirby

While thanking the hon. Member for his informative reply may I ask when we may expect delivery of these smaller-size masks?

Mr. Lloyd

Very soon. They are now being turned out at the rate of about 400,000 per week.

Mr. Macquisten

Have Liverpool people got special heads and faces that they require special gas masks?

31. Mr. Watkins

asked the Home Secreary whether his attention has been drawn to foreign methods of defence against aerial gas bombing, which advocate opening doors and windows, as against the Government's recommendations for gas-proofing rooms; and whether he proposes to make any alteration in the instructions recently issued on this matter?

Mr. Lloyd

The policy, which it is understood has been adopted in one foreign country, of allowing windows to remain open during an air raid, is a precaution against the effects of blast from high explosive bombs and has no reference to gas bombing. The instructions issued by this country about methods of protection against gas remain unaltered. The second part of the question does not, therefore, arise.

Mr. Watkins

Is there not in this country and abroad a very considerable consensus of expert opinion in opposition to the Home Office policy; and that a gas attack would be preceded by a high explosive attack and in consequence windows would be broken and cracks appear in buildings? Is not the foreign policy, and the policy which I understand has been adopted in Berlin, safer for our population?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not think it is possible to make a comparison quite as quickly as the hon. Member is disposed to do. In this case much depends on the fact that windows in this country are of the casement type and not sash type.

Mr. G. Strauss

Have any experiments been made as to whether the effect of blasts is diminished by keeping windows open?

Mr. Lloyd

It is a fact that windows are less likely to be broken if they are casement windows if they are left open.

Mr. Gallacher

Is the hon. Member aware that in Scotland a large proportion of the houses will not keep out rain, never mind gas?

Mr. Watkins

Will consideration be given by the Home Office to the point raised in my question?

Mr. Lloyd

The technical branch of the Home Office is always investigating these matters.

32. Sir Gifford Fox

asked the Home Secretary what would be the approximate cost of providing permanent camps for the total number of people whom it might be desirable to evacuate from crowded and industrial areas in the event of war; and whether he proposes to carry out any experiment by the erection of such a camp?

Mr. Lloyd

As was pointed out in the report of the committee over which my right hon. Friend presided, it is doubtful whether extensive use could be made of camps for very large numbers, but as was stated in reply to a question on Tuesday the arrangements necessary in a long-term policy of evacuation are at present the subject of study and investigation.

Sir G. Fox

Will the hon. Member have the figures worked out as to what would be the cost of providing camps per 10,000? Will he give the information during the course of the Debate this afternoon?

35. Mr. Hall-Caine

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that during the recent crisis in several cases the price of sandbags supplied for air-raid precautions work was raised to more than six times the normal price; and whether he will take steps to ascertain the names of those who were responsible for such profiteering with a view to preventing it on any similar occasion in the future?

36. Mr. Day

asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the sudden increase in the cost of sandbags and other materials required for air-raid precautions during the recent crisis; and will he consider the appointment of a committee to investigate the cause of same, and for the further purpose of introducing legislation that will protect the public from having to pay similar extortionate prices for materials that may be required in any future emergency?

48. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the Home Secretary what was the extent of the rise which took place in the price of sandbags bought for air-raid protection during the crisis week in September; and whether steps are going to be taken to prevent a similar occurrence in the future?

50. Mr. Dingle Foot

asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the difficulty experienced by local authorities in obtaining an adequate supply of sandbags for air-raid precautions during the recent crisis and to the complaints of excessive prices for such sandbags; and what steps it is proposed to take to avoid difficulties of this kind in future?

Mr. Lloyd

Evidence that my right hon. Friend has been able to obtain so far does not support the view that the price of sandbags prepared for air-raid precautions purposes was generally raised. Investigations are still proceeding and if any proved case of profiteering on such sandbags is revealed, appropriate action will be taken. It is to be appreciated that there is little normal trade in this country in sandbags other than for Government requirements. These, including requirements of local authorities for essential A.R.P. purposes, are catered for by standing contracts which secure deliveries at the rate of 2,000,000 sandbags a week, a rate of delivery which was increased during the crisis at unchanged prices. In these conditions, the abnormal demand by miscellaneous buyers during the crisis led to jute bags of all qualities and sizes becoming pressed into service. It is naturally more difficult to form a clear view how far the prices of other jute bags which were pressed into service may have increased. The progressive accumulation of reserve stocks which are part of the existing programme will ease the position but my right hon. Friend is considering the position further in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Prseident of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Foot

Is it not a fact that the manufacturers have at all times been ready to supply sandbags at a reasonable price, approved by the Home Office, and would not all these difficulties as to a shortage of sandbags have been avoided if the Home Office had purchased and distributed a sufficient number to the local authorities in time?

Mr. Day

Will the Minister say what will be the appropriate action which he will take in future?

Mr. Lloyd

For example, in the case of firms which might be Government contractors, their position would have to be considered.

Mr. Hall-Caine

Has my right hon. Friend made inquiries of the public authorities which have made complaints on this subject, and if not, will he do so?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir. This answer naturally is based on a very large amount of information from the local authorities.

Mr. G. Strauss

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the West Riding, the price of sandbags went up from 1½d to 10d., according to the official report of the clerk of the council; that there were similar rises in the prices of other materials, such as pickaxes and timber, for air-raid precautions; and is it not obviously necessary for some drastic steps to be taken to prevent profiteering in all materials connected with air-raid precautions?

Mr. Lloyd

I have said that this matter was to be taken up with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade; but I would like to point out to the hon. Member that he has failed to observe the significance of the distinction drawn in my reply between sandbags prepared for air-raid precautions purposes, which are coming forward at the rate of 2,000,000 a week, and more during the crisis, at unchanged prices, and the bags of various kinds, not necessarily sandbags normally prepared in any way for air-raid precautions purposes, but for miscellaneous commercial purposes, which were pressed into service suddenly, although not normally prepared for that purpose at all, and in the case of which it would be more difficult to decide how much the increase was.

Mr. G. Griffiths

Is it not a fact that Sir Charles McGrath sent a report to the Home Secretary in which he stated definitely that sandbags had risen from 1½d. to 10½d. on the same day, and they were sandbags which could not be got from the Home Office?

Mr. Foot

Does it not follow from the last reply that the numbers of sandbags purchased and distributed by the Home Office were entirely inadequate to meet the emergency?

Mr. Lloyd

We are engaged in accumulating a large stock of sandbags. At the time of the emergency there were 80,000,000, but on the programme there are 275,000,000.

Mr. Griffiths

Has the hon. Gentleman got that report?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Griffiths

Thank you.

40. Mr. McEntee

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that the Midland Bank, Limited, has issued instructions to its employÉs not to volunteer for air-raid precautions work; and whether he proposes taking any steps to enable those employÉs who so desire to offer service for this work?

Mr. Lloyd

I have seen a copy of the circular referred to in which it is stated that there is no objection to any member of the staff offering his services for A.R.P. or similar work on condition that it does not interfere with his attendance and duties at the Bank. The circular further states that owing to the encouragement the Bank is giving to its staff to join the Territorials and other branches of the Defence Forces the staff would, in an emergency, be so seriously depleted that they cannot spare further members for A.R.P. duties during working hours.

Mr. McEntee

I admit that the question is somewhat misleading, but does not the circular actually say that if they volunteer they must not volunteer for this or any other similar service if it interferes with their business duties? Does it not go on to say that these business hours will be extended, and does it not further say that those who have already volunteered must withdraw the offer they have made if it in any way interferes with their business hours, and does he not really think that that state of affairs ought to he changed?

Mr. Lloyd

I think that is a matter which would probably be taken up further with the Bank in any more general view of air-raid precautions.

Mr. Macquisten

Do not banks close at 3 o'clock?

44. Mr. R. C. Morrison

asked the Home Secretary whether he will indicate, for the convenience of local authorities and the public, the policy of his Department with regard to trenches dug and partly dug in parks and open spaces during the recent crisis?

Mr. Lloyd

Perhaps the hon. Member would await the statement to be made during to-day's Debate.

46. Mr. Simmonds

asked the Home Secretary whether he can give an approximate estimate of the cost, during the recent crisis, of air-raid precautionary measures both to local authorities and to the Exchequer, severally?

Mr. Lloyd

Returns from all local authorities have not yet been rendered but on the basis of the information available it is estimated that the gross expenditure of local authorities was of the order of £3,300,000. Grant is payable in accordance with the terms of the Act under which the rate of grant varies, but on the average it may be taken that two-thirds of the approved expenditure would be met by grant. In addition further expenditure was incurred by the Exchequer in respect of supplies and equipment to be furnished centrally, but it is not practicable to isolate emergency expenditure from expenditure incurred under the normal programme.

Mr. Simmonds

Would my hon. Friend have investigation made into the proportion of these amounts which has been permanently lost owing to the temporary expedients employed, so that, in future, a longer range policy may be considered?

Colonel Nathan

Is the hon. Gentleman able to say how much expenditure is attributable to sums expended quite outside the local authority, for instance in respect of hospital accommodation, and what is the responsibility falling upon the Exchequer in regard to provision for casualties by hospitals not under local authorities?

Mr. Lloyd

I could not say without notice.

Mr. Dalton

May I ask whether the Government, in view of all that has occurred, will not make a clean sweep of this and pay the whole thing out of the National Exchequer, and not put it on the rates at all?

Mr. Lloyd

I am not in a position to make a statement on that now.

47. Mr. Ede

asked the Home Secretary how many children the Croydon Borough Council were authorised to evacuate in the event of a national emergency; what transport was proposed to be placed at their disposal; and what grant was promised to the council?

Mr. Lloyd

During the recent crisis, arrangements were made in considerable detail for the removal of school children from the inner areas of Greater London, but the question whether it was practicable to extend such arrangements to outer areas, such as Croydon, had not been finally determined when the crisis ended. The scope of evacuation plans is now under examination with the object of preparing schemes of a more permanent character.

Mr. Ede

Are we to understand that any expenditure incurred by the Croydon Borough Council in preparing for the evacuation of the children there, will not rank for grant?

Mr. Lloyd

I could not make any statement on that now.

Sir Percy Harris

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that many of these outer boroughs, especially East Ham and other places in East London, were in far more danger and were more liable to air attack even than the inner zone of the County of London; and why did the Government ignore these outer areas?

Mr. Lloyd

The scheme was in process of being extended. It had already been extended to East Ham and Walthamstow, and the question of further areas was being considered.

51. Mr. Foot

asked the Home Secretary the number of sandbags that have been purchased by his Department and distributed to local authorities?

Mr. Lloyd

The number of sandbags purchased to date is 88,000,000, of which some were required by the Navy, Army and Air Force. The number distributed to local authorities is 66,000,000. Eight millions are now in stock.

Miss Wilkinson

Will the extra profits on these sandbags be available for some kind of National Defence contribution?

Mr. Lloyd

I explained earlier that there were no extra profits. There was an increased output.

52. Mr. Silverman

asked the Home Secretary whether in view of the fact that a memorandum of his Department advises local authorities to purchase sirens for air-raid precaution purposes exclusively from a particular firm whose name, address, and prices are therein quoted, his Department have withheld, or threatened to withhold, financial assistance for any local authority desiring to purchase sirens from firms other than the firm alone recommended by them; and, as other firms producing sirens, not inferior to those recommended by his Department, are being forced out of business, he will reconsider his policy in this respect?

Mr. Lloyd

The Home Office circular to which the hon. Member refers names all the instruments which, after long and extensive trials, the Department was able to recommend as suitable for air raid warning purposes in urban areas. Where a local authority inquires regarding the purchase of other instruments, it must be told either, in the case of instruments included in the trials, that they have not proved so efficient as the recommended instruments, or, in the case of instruments not tried, that their relative efficiency is not known; but in no case has approval for purposes of grant been withheld in the case of instruments purchased during the recent emergency. In the absence of trial, my right hon. Friend is not able to accept any untried instrument as being as good as the recommended instruments.

Mr. Silverman

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that firms other than the firm now recommended were invited to submit a type quite different from that which is recommended now, and that they are being penalised because the type which they were asked to submit is not in accordance with what his Department required? Does he further realise that these firms are capable of producing, and have in fact been producing, comparable instruments to the one which was recommended, while the policy of the Department has been to grant a monopoly of them to Leicester which is comparatively prosperous, and to deprive Lancashire, which needs the work very badly, of this manufacture?

Mr. Lloyd

There is no question of setting up a monopoly, but there has been some misunderstanding in this case. The firm which, I think, the hon. Gentleman has in mind did not inform the Department that they had a siren of the particular type which afterwards was recommended. As a result, a siren of larger power was tested and proved less efficient than the siren of smaller power. The matter is in process of being straightened out now that we know that there is such an instrument.

Miss Wilkinson

Was there an adequate supply?

Mr. Speaker rose

Miss Wilkinson

On a point of Order. On a matter of such importance as this, surely I am entitled to ask that question?

Mr. Speaker

I must point out to the hon. Lady that there are 137 Questions on the Paper and that there must be some limit put to the number of supplementaries on each question.

Mr. Silverman

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will take an early opportunity of raising this matter on the Adjournment.

55. Mr. Kelly

asked the Home Secretary whether he will place before the House a copy of the letter of instruction given to municipal officers during September in the matter of protection from war?

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

In time of war it would be necessary for the Government to take certain action which falls outside the sphere of ordinary local government. The instructions which the hon. Member no doubt has in mind were confidential instructions on such matters. Action was not in fact taken on them, and they have been withdrawn.

Mr. Kelly

May we now have those instructions laid, so that Members of the House may know what instructions were given over the heads of the muncipal authorities in this country?

Sir S. Hoare

No. We could not publish confidential instructions, but I propose to deal with this question in the course of the Debate.

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