HC Deb 24 November 1938 vol 341 cc1934-43
49. Mr. Duncan

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he can now state what steps local authorities should take regarding those trenches dug during the crisis which are suitable for retention?

52. Mr. Price

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he has now decided on the best type of trenches suitable for the shelter of the civil population in air-raids; and whether instructions have gone out to the local air-raid authorities advising them on the best types for their district?

58. Mr. D. M. Adams

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether local authorities have yet received instructions as to the action to be taken with regard to the trenches prepared during the recent emergency; and, if not, when such instructions will be dispatched?

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir John Anderson)

As the House knows, the decision that properly sited trenches should be made permanent was taken some days ago; but if that decision had been communicated to the local authorities at that stage, a detailed scheme of the work to be carried out would have had to be submitted for approval in every case before the local authority could know whether Government grant would be available. This would have involved a large amount of correspondence and much delay; and, in order to avoid this, I decided that it would be preferable to defer sending any circular to the local authorities until we could give them clear guidance showing what type of permanent construction would be approved for purposes of grant. A standard plan, with a general specification and a bill of quantities, has now been prepared in consultation with public works contractors and technical officers of local authorities; and I am communicating this forthwith to all local authorities, so that they may proceed at once with the knowledge that, if they carry out the work in accordance with this plan and within the cost indicated in the specification, the expenditure will rank for grant under the Air Raid Precautions Act, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will also be prepared to agree that the expenditure falling on the local authorities shall be treated on a loan basis. The details of the arrangements for giving unemployed labour opportunities of paid employment in connection with this work are included in the circular.

Sir William Davison

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the strong opinion among experts and many well-informed members of the public as to the great dangers attaching to trenches as air-raid refuges, and will he take into full consideration the question of whether they are suitable in view of the dangers connected with them?

Mr. G. Strauss

Are the many long, straight trenches which were dug during the crisis considered perfectly sited?

Sir J. Anderson

That point is raised in another question.

Mr. Stephen

Will the trenches that have been filled up be re-opened in the event of another crisis?

Sir J. Anderson

I am advised that there are technical reasons which make it rather risky to attempt to open trenches that have been dug and recently filled up.

Mr. H. G. Williams

Will my right hon. Friend place a copy of the designs in the Tea Room, so that hon. Members may study them?

Sir J. Anderson

I shall be very glad to do so.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Are local authorities given no option, or may they adopt alternative methods, such as shoring the trenches up with timber or filling them with cement?

Sir J. Anderson

Of course, I will make the circular available. The point of my answer is that if local authorities choose to proceed in accordance with the suggestions in the circular they may take it for granted that the expenditure will rank for grant. If they proceed with plans of their own, they will have to submit those plans for consideration before a grant is made.

53. Mr. Price

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he is aware that in many rural areas the only instructions which air-raid wardens have received have been in the properties and methods of combating gas; that gas attacks in remote rural areas are very unlikely; and whether he will take steps to see that other forms of instruction are given in those areas?

Sir J. Anderson

The subjects in which air-raid wardens should receive training have been set out in the publications issued by the A.R.P. Department for the guidance of local authorities, and cover various matters in addition to methods of combating gas. I am aware that in a number of districts the training of wardens has not been of a sufficiently comprehensive character. Amplified instructions on the subject are about to he issued to local authorities, and every endeavour will be made to ensure that all wardens are given a full course of training on the lines laid down by the Department.

Mr. Price

Does the right hon. Gentleman envisage the kind of work which will fall on air-raid wardens in rural areas in the event of raids?

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in some parts of East Scotland the necessary equipment for training is not available?

Sir J. Anderson

I am aware of that.

54. Mr. Price

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he is aware that in certain towns and areas vulnerable to air attack the construction of shelter-trenches is difficult owing to water from rivers and canals coming in; and whether he is advising air-raid authorities on the type of shelter which is more suitable for such places?

Sir J. Anderson

I assume that the hon. Member has in mind areas where, owing to the water-level, it is not possible to carry trenches to a sufficient depth. The plan which I am issuing to local authorities can be adapted, in such areas as these, to allow part of the structure to be above the ground level with appropriate covering.

59. Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will make a statement on the position of the Highlands of Scotland with regard to the question of removal of urban populations in time of war?

Sir J. Anderson

I am not at present in a position to make any statement regarding the application to the Highlands of any evacuation arrangements which may be made in Scotland; but my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health and myself are this afternoon receiving a deputation from the representative associations of all local authorities in Great Britain to discuss the whole question of evacuation.

Mr. MacMillan

In view of the decrease in population in the Highlands, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that some part of the Highlands would be suitable for evacuation on a fairly large scale?

6 Mr. Henderson Stewart

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he has taken steps to collect the views of local authorities, air-raid precautions chief wardens, and other responsible persons on the errors and deficiencies of the schemes of evacuation proposed to be carried out during the recent crisis; and whether he can now give an assurance that these bodies and persons will be consulted in the detailed preparations of any future schemes?

Sir J. Anderson

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health have under consideration reports on these schemes from local authorities and from other sources. As I stated in reply to the previous question, we are receiving this afternoon a deputation from the local authorities and we shall, of course, consider any suggestions which they may put forward regarding future procedure.

Mr. Stewart

Will my right hon. Friend take special note of the views of the chief air-raid wardens, who perhaps know more about this matter than even the local authorities?

Sir J. Anderson

We hope that the chief air-raid wardens, who are appointed by local authorities, will communicate their views to the local authorities.

62. Mr. Davidson

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he intends to establish a training centre in Scotland for the full instruction of Scottish air-raid wardens?

Sir J. Anderson

No, Sir. The duty of training air-raid wardens rests upon the local air-raid precautions authorities.

Mr. Mathers

Is it correct that the work which has been done in this regard in respect of air-raid precautions by the railway companies in Scotland has been discontinued by them, and is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that he has ways and means of replacing that work?

Sir J. Anderson

That point has not been brought to my notice but if a question is put down I will look into it.

Mr. Davidson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that out of 43,000 air-raid wardens only 11,000 in Scotland have received adequate training because of the lack of training facilities in Scotland and of their having to travel to England?

Sir J. Anderson

The hon. Member is under a misapprehension. Air-raid wardens are not under any necessity of travelling to England for training. The training which is given in England is given not to air-raid wardens, but to air-raid precautions organising officers, and is an entirely separate matter.

Mr. Thurtle

Is it not in any case a very pleasant thing for Scottish people to travel to England?

64. Sir John Mellor

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether the form of insurance policy under which local authorities are authorised by the Home Office to insure members of the auxiliary fire service provides for any payment in case of temporary partial disablement?

Sir J. Anderson

No, Sir.

Sir J. Mellor

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the auxiliary firemen ought to be compensated for temporary partial disablement, and if that is the case, is it not reasonable that local authorities should be able to insure against the risk; and meanwhile, will any payments made by local authorities by way of compensation for temporary partial disablement rank for grant?

Sir J. Anderson

My hon. Friend will realise that the insurance scheme relates only to the training period; and as regards the latter part of his question, the position is that reasonable expenditure of the local authority by way of recompense for medical or for out-of-pocket expenses to auxiliary firemen temporarily partially incapacitated may rank for grant.

65. Mr. R. C. Morrison

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether any facilities are available for unemployed ex-service officers and men who have qualified as air-raid wardens to obtain further training, with a view to qualifying for full-time employment in the air-raid precautions service?

Sir J. Anderson

I am not quite sure what kind of further training and employment the hon. Member has in mind; but if he is referring to the courses of training provided at the Home Office Air Raid Precautions School in London for the air-raid precautions organising officers of local authorities, I would point out that the demand for vacancies in the courses at this school is such that they can be allocated only to persons already in the service of the local authorities.

Mr. Morrison

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed the tendency on the part of certain local authorities to appoint as full-time air-raid officers elderly persons who are already in receipt of considerable pensions, and is it not better to give ex-officers and ex-service men an opportunity of undertaking the training necessary to enable them to quality to obtain the position?

Sir J. Anderson

I must assume, in the absence of information to the contrary, that the responsible local authorities take all relevant considerations into account in making their selection.

Mr. Morrison

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the local authorities have to insist upon a certain standard of qualification, and that it is impossible for unemployed ex-service men and officers to get the necessary course of training to obtain that qualification.

Mr. Davidson


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Mabane.

Mr. Davidson

On a point of Order. May I ask you very respectfully, Mr. Speaker, in view of the fact that cannot ask a supplementary question on a London question, to keep irresponsible London Members out of Scottish questions?

66. Mr. Mabane

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he can yet say by what method and under what authority air-raid warden officers, namely, divisional wardens, head wardens, etc., are appointed; whether he is aware that they have no security of tenure and the local authorities no certainty of service by them; and what immediate steps he proposes to take to regularise the position and remedy the anomaly?

Sir J. Anderson

Air-raid wardens are appointed by local authorities in pursuance of the obligation specifically imposed upon them by Regulations under the Air Raid Precautions Act, 1937, to organise services of air-raid wardens. The present service of wardens is a part-time and voluntary service; and as at present advised I have no reason to suppose that an adequate service cannot be recruited and maintained on this basis. I am, however, reviewing the question to what extent the air-raid precautions' services ought to include numbers of volunteers who will agree to give whole-time paid service in war, and what obligations those who volunteer for such service should be required to undertake.

Mr. Mabane

Arising out of the first part of the reply, is not my right hon. Friend aware that local authorities do not in fact appoint voluntary air-raid warden officers, that there is no letter of appointment, that there are no terms of appointment, that they are entirely voluntary in their services and they really do not know how long they ought to remain?

Sir J. Anderson

That question is under consideration.

67. Mr. Mabane

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he is aware that the clear understanding given to the House during the passage of the Air-Raid Precautions Act to the effect that the out-of-pocket expenses of volunteer air-raid precautions personnel would be met from public funds has not been carried out; in how many areas local authorities have made general provision for meeting these out-of-pocket expenses; and what immediate action he proposes to take?

Sir J. Anderson

As stated in previous replies to my hon. Friend, it has always been the intention that training should be provided without cost to the volunteers, and in the memorandum in July explaining the Air-Raid Precautions (Approval of Expenditure) Regulations, for instance, it was stated that the Secretary of State was prepared in advance to approve for purposes of grant reasonable expenditure on such items as the travelling expenses of volunteers attending for training, or the issue of handbooks, etc. This memorandum went to all local authorities, and wherever a local authority has proposed reasonable repayments of expenses incurred by volunteers approval has been given. I have no reason to believe that such expenses are not being repaid, where repayment is desired, but I am not in possession of information showing how the matter is being dealt with in the area of every local authority, and I would point out that repayment, although it attracts grant, is primarily a matter for the local authority concerned, and is within its discretion.

Mr. Mabane

Will my right hon. Friend investigate the position in Leeds, where the local authority undertook to make the payment of 7s. 6d. for out-of-pocket travelling expenses and the proposal has been rejected by the Home Office? Will he inquire why that proposal by the local authority has not been allowed to take effect?

Sir J. Anderson

I will look into that matter.

Mr. McGovern

Will the right hon. Gentleman take care to see that the clothes used have no pockets, because that would save the whole business?

Mr. Austin Hopkinson

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind in this matter, as in all other matters connected with his Department, that every penny spent on passive defence leaves us with one penny less to spend on the more important matter of active defence?

68. Mr. Mabane

asked the Lord Privy Seal what was the total number of air-raid precautions volunteers as revealed in the full returns obtained from local authorities in the middle of June; whether any further periodical return has yet been made, and, if so, what was the total number revealed by that further return; and why these figures have not been made public?

Sir J. Anderson

The total number of volunteers enrolled on 31st May, as recorded in the returns from local authorities which were referred to in the answer given to the hon. Member on 26th May, was 466,958. The corresponding number on 31st October was nearly 1,100,000, but as the returns are not yet quite complete I cannot give an exact figure. A figure of over 1,000,000 was given on the 1st instant in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds).

Mr. Mabane

Will my right hon. Friend publish these figures monthly as they are received from the local authorities?

Sir J. Anderson

I will consider that.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that he does not overload the local authorities with an enormous amount of clerical work in continually making returns?

69. Mr. Day

asked the Lord Privy Seal what arrangements have been made for the purpose of ensuring that medical practitioners in this country who have volunteered for air-raid precautions duties receive specific training in the treatment of various types of gas poisoning and/or casualties?

Sir J. Anderson

Specially selected and trained medical practitioners were appointed by the Home Office in 1936 and are available throughout Great Britain to give to members of the medical and allied professions, whether they have volunteered for air-raid precautions duties or not, free training in the general and medical aspects of anti-gas measures so as to enable them to give skilled treatment to gas casualties.

Mr. David Adams

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether any special courses are provided for anti-gas drill?

Mr. G. Strauss

On a point of Order. The Lord Privy Seal did not answer a supplementary question which I put previously, on the ground that he would be answering a similar question later. As he has not done so, may I repeat my question as to whether the long trenches built during the crisis are suitable for retention?

Sir J. Anderson

The hon. Gentleman will realise that I did not do so because the question was not called. My answer is, that special attention has been given in the instructions to the importance of limiting the length of straight trenches. When the instructions, which are going out to-morrow, are available, the exact position will be quite clear.