§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [4th April], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Sir J. Anderson.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Ammon
In this Debate on a partly agreed Measure we are mainly concerned in getting elucidation of various points and raising matters that have been brought to our attention by those who will be responsible for implementing the Bill when it becomes an Act. There are matters that are of great importance to local authorities. The first question I ask was raised yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison). As far as I know, after having listened to much of the Debate yesterday and after having read the OFFICIAL REPORT this morning, no reply was given to the question. Put shortly, the question is, whether the Lord Privy Seal is to be the co-ordinating Minister, the one authority under whom are to be gathered up all the points relative to air-raid precaution regulations instead of their being distributed over a number of Departments.
The other question relates to the expenses that will be thrown on local authorities. We are anxious that this point should be settled before the Money Resolution is taken, for when that Resolution is passed it will be too late to do anything. I know that the London boroughs are interested in this subject. There are local authorities which have raised the point whether some limit is to be put to the expenditure that is to be thrown on to the local rates. There are precedents for such a limit in other Acts of Parliament; for instance, a limit is sometimes laid down that the expenditure shall not exceed the product of a penny rate. In this matter, if the whole cost is to be thrown on the local authorities it will be a very severe burden, particularly on the smaller authorities, and it will be impossible for them to implement the Act when they are called upon to do so.
Another point relates to factories and utility undertakings. Employers are called upon to provide refuges for their 2812 employés. My question is whether the local authorities are to have some right of inspection of those refuges in order to satisfy themselves that the refuges are fully up to requirements. Such a right would help the local authorities considerably in understanding exactly what is taking place within their areas. Before such works are executed are local authorities to be consulted? The local authorities have the right to be considered in other respects, and it would be as well if they were consulted in this matter. There is another point with regard to owners of commercial buildings. When they provide air-raid shelters of an approved type it may be desirable for the local authorities to be authorised or required, at the request of such owners, to issue to them a certificate that they have carried out their legal obligations in this respect. It would save a good deal of overlapping if the local authorities were empowered to carry out that task in order to be satisfied that all the legal obligations had been met.
Then there is the question of the training of employés. A number of private employers are making arrangements for their employés to be trained in their working hours. It has now been decided that a certain number of them should be qualified to render first aid, and here is a matter on which some local authorities wish for a lead. It is presumed that such training would be provided at the expense of the employer, but Clause 18 does not state whether local authorities are expected to give assistance in providing lectures or equipment. Perhaps the Minister will be able to give a satisfactory explanation on this point. Finally, I would refer to Clause 34 which enables the Minister,after consultation with such persons having professional or other special qualificationsto make regulations, as to the construction or alteration or extension of buildings. The Committee which will consider the Bill may think it desirable that the Minister should first consult also the local authorities. The points which I have raised cause considerable concern. They have been considered by local authorities, who have requested that the matters shall be raised and some answer given, so that they may make the necessary preparations to implement this Measure. The points 2813 vary in importance, but the one of outstanding importance which it might be worth while to consider is whether it is possible, where provision has not already been made in the Bill, to put some limit on the expenditure which this Bill will throw upon the local authorities.
§ 4.16 p.m.
Sir C. Granville Gibson
I would first thank the Lord Privy Seal for the clear and lucid way in which he yesterday explained the Bill. The success of the scheme which he outlined will depend upon the loyal co-operation of employers throughout the country. A number of employers have taken no steps whatever in regard to the provision of air-raid shelters, but there is no reason why we should be surprised at that, because some employers have not known what to do. They have had no code or instructions, or any practical assistance from the Department of the Lord Privy Seal. No doubt when the code has been issued to them during the next few days it will be of very great help and they will have some idea of the steps they ought to take in order to make the necessary provision.
In some cases employers are busy on armament work, and many are prosperous, but many factories and workshops in the North of England, especially in Lancashire and Yorkshire are not doing well at all. Many employers in these cases will find it difficult to provide finance in order to take care of precautionary measures. I know there are to be penalties, but it does not matter whether penalties are in the Bill or not; if a firm has not the wherewithal to meet the cost, the air-raid shelters will not be made. I know the case of a firm in the Midlands which I mentioned the other day. At the present time it is in financial difficulty although it is employing 200 or 300 people. The firm is considerably indebted to the bank and it cannot get any finance from that direction for air-raid shelters. It is carrying on under a moratorium granted by the creditors, and the moratorium has already been renewed once. That firm is not in a position to make any monetary payments at all. What is the use of providing penalties for a case like that? Although such cases may be a small minority, they are unable to put down any money.
I know another case of a woollen manufacturer in the West Riding of 2814 Yorkshire. About 12 years ago his firm spent between £50,000 and £70,000 to build an additional mill. Owing to the bad time through which they have been going they closed down one mill. For 12 years the firm have not paid any dividend to their shareholders, and to-day they are not as well off financially as they were 12 years ago. The point is not that such manufacturers should not be called upon to make provision for their employés, since they have a duty to protect them, but that some assistance should be given. I do not suppose the Government have any power to grant a loan to those people, but, at any rate, I suppose the Government could go to the extent of guaranteeing a loan from the bank, or payment for making the provision required. A loan could be a prior charge on the business and be repaid over a period of, perhaps five, years. If steps were taken along such lines where firms are unable financially to pay for precautionary measures, the situation would be eased and firms would be enabled to proceed as they should, after the information is in their possession. The Lord Privy Seal intimated yesterday that the code will be issued immediately after Easter.
The proposed contribution from the Government of 5s. 6d. in the £ in respect of expenditure on these shelters is, in my opinion, too small. I know that some people will feel that the Government ought to pay the whole or most of the cost, but that would mean that there would be waste. Many people would not take the care which they would if they had to bear a part of the burden. At the same time, I feel that 27½ per cent. of the cost is too low. There are some cases, such as blast furnaces, which are to have a contribution of 50 per cent., and I do not see any reason why the same percentage should not be granted to all firms who make proper provision.
On the question of obscuration and light perhaps the Lord Privy Seal will make the position still more plain. According to my reading of the Bill there is no provision for payment on the part of the Government in respect of obscuration. I was reading an article referring to a statement made by the Lord Privy Seal, which said:The present position is as indicated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 18th March, 1938. A number 2815 of items of air-raid precautions expenditure are allowable as deductible expenses, including the cost of training and equipping employés, providing material for obscuring lights and certain fixtures not forming part of the permanent structure.I believe those are the words of the Lord Privy Seal, relating to an answer by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds). The Chancellor enumerated the items as follow: Civilian duty and service respirators; protective clothing for staff engaged on air-raid precautionary duties; the training of employés in such duties; covering of glass with wire netting; dark blinds, screens and paint to render windows opaque; equipment and stores for first-aid parties, equipment of decontamination squads. Here, on the one hand, it is stated clearly that those are deductible expenses; on the other hand, according to my reading of the Bill, they are not allowed at all. We should be glad to have some information, and the point cleared up.
There is the question of the difficulties of the acquisition of land in some cases.. Very large towns are almost completely built up, and there is no available land on which to build air-raid shelters. No doubt the Lord Privy Seal will remember a case put to him at a conference two or three days ago by one of my friends concerning a firm not far from London who had purchased a number of houses consisting of cottage property in order to have available adjacent to their factory land on which to build air-raid shelters. They paid an average price of £400 per house, but in the middle of the plot one house is left, and the owner of the land is holding out for £5,000. That seems an unreasonable and unfair position to take up, and some power should be given to the Lord Privy Seal or to the local authorities compulsorily to deal with property in a case of that description.
Power should be given to construct beneath existing works, such as railways and roads, tunnels from factories to places where shelters are to be built. In a congested area, the only way to get quickly from a factory to a shelter would be by means of a tunnel or subway. Local authorities or the Lord Privy Seal should have power to grant the right to build, where such tunnels and subways would 2816 be necessary for the safety of the employés in getting quickly to their shelters. Is there any limitation of distance from works to shelters? In most cases shelters might be quite a distance away, and if a warning came employés might not have time to get to them. Who is to be the judge whether the work is satisfactory to qualify for payment? I suppose in such cases it would be the factory inspectors. Are any regulations laid down or suggestions made as to how large a shelter should be for a certain number of employés? What is the minimum of cubic feet that should be allowed for each employé?
Finally, with respect to obscuration, it will entail tremendous cost to firms who have a lot of glass to their buildings. I was wondering whether it would not be reasonable to obviate the necessity and the expenditure of obscuration of lights in factories or workshops, by the whole of the works being blackened out simply by pulling out an electric switch in the electric power-house connected with that factory. In my own works, the whole place can be blackened out by pulling out three switches in one little room, and allowing for pilot lights when the blacking out takes place. This plan could quite easily be followed upon the receipt of an air-raid warning, as long as there were an obligation on the part of the firm that at sunset on any day, or, at any rate, at lighting-up time, there should always be a man on duty at the switch. If that were done, the black-out could take place and employés would be able to leave the works with suitably shaded pilot lights. That would obviate the necessity for enormous expenditure in the case of many firms whose works are run almost entirely by electricity. 1 hope that these considerations will receive the attention of the Lord Privy Seal, and that at the earliest possible moment the code will be in the hands of those of us who are connected with industry, so that we can proceed, knowing what we ought to do—as we have not in the past—to take the steps that are necessary to fulfil the obligations placed upon us by the Bill.
§ 4.31 p.m.
Miss Lloyd George
The Lord Privy Seal, in a public statement which he made the other day, said that people generally had not real appreciation of what this country would have to face if we were engaged in another European 2817 war. I think we must judge this Bill, as we must judge all A.R.P. measures taken by the Government, by the magnitude of the problem with which we are faced. It was made abundantly clear in the Debate yesterday, and it had been made abundantly clear so far to-day, that there is no one who dissents at all in principle from any part of the Bill, but I think we can complain, and we do complain, that it does not go far enough in several respects.
I would like to revert to a question which was discussed by many Members in the House yesterday, but to which practically no reference was made from the Government Front Bench. That was the question of deep shelters. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) said yesterday that the Bill gives no indication of a comprehensive policy on shelters, and he pointed to some very serious gaps that still exist in the Government's policy of this vital matter. So far, the Government have resolutely refused to make up their minds on the question of deep shelters. In the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), which he used some time ago in another connection but about the same Government, they are resolute in their irresolution. They have had time; they have had technical advice; they have had experts of every kind at their command; and if they have now come to the conclusion that on technical grounds they cannot adopt a policy of deep shelters, I think it would be far better that they should say so. The lamentable thing about the present position is that the Government will make no announcement or decision as to whether they think deep shelters are necessary or not.
I should like to quote a body that is making a scientific investigation into A.R.P. The Air Raid Defence League have come to the conclusion, after investigating the matter very carefully, that it is not a question of deep shelters versus shallow shelters. You cannot, they say, adopt exclusively the one or the other. The Government have provided a type of shallow shelter which is said to be blast-proof and splinter-proof, but which—and this is a point that has not yet been met—is not sound-proof, and that is likely to become a much more important matter than, perhaps, we realise at the moment. 2818 We have been warned that the great cities of this country may be subjected to continued bombing, not for hours, but, it may be, for days. That was tried in Barcelona in the later days of the Spanish war, and there was continuous night bombing of villages and towns in Catalonia. We may be quite sure that what was done in Spain will be done here on a scale that has never before been attempted.
When we imagine the nervous tension and strain to which the population will be subjected in a day of continuous bombing, when we remember the large numbers of people who during the War suffered from shell shock and other kinds of shock, and whose lives were completely shattered by it, and when we remember also that one of the main purposes of aerial bombardment is to break the resisting power of the civil population, we must count this shock which will inevitably come as a very definite element against which some kind of protection must be provided, but certainly is not provided by what is called the Anderson shelter. There are certainly areas in this country where the risk of air raids is so great that shallow shelters cannot reduce it to tolerable dimensions. I think that that is a view which is very generally held. Whether it is the view of the Government we do not know, because they have not yet expressed any specific opinion on the matter, but there are certain parts of the East End of London, certain parts of the City of London, certain parts even of Greater London where the industrial concentration is very great, and where it would be of enormous advantage to an enemy if damage were done and great dislocation of the industrial life of the country were created. That is the case also in cities like Coventry, which are almost completely target areas. I hope we shall hear from the Minister of Health later in the Debate something about the problem of evacuation. That is a very important corollary of the shelter policy of the Government, but it does not solve the problem of these particular areas.
The representative committee on evacuation over which the Lord Privy Seal himself presided recognised that a very high proportion of the central activities of the country is carried on in areas which might be exposed to severe aerial bombardment. They went on to 2819 say that Greater London contained one in five of the insured workers of this country, and that they were informed by the Ministry of Labour that 62 per cent. of the London workers were engaged in industrial groups which would be particularly important in war time for production, commerce and government. The Minister of Transport said last night that the Government did not feel that they were in a position to give advice to industries in this country as to whether they should move out of vulnerable areas or not. I wish, at any rate, that the Government would assure us that they would discourage, and, indeed, if necessary, place restrictions on, the growing concentration of industry in vulnerable areas, and that we shall not have a repetition of the extraordinary decision to put a new aircraft factory in Birmingham, which is already an armament centre and a very vulnerable centre.
What are the Government going to do to protect those areas, which undoubtedly will have a very large war-time population? There are the Anderson shelters; there are the shelters provided by employers, which may or may not be bombproof. I cannot believe that employers—and I say this in no disparagement of them, for I feel sure they will take their part in making their workpeople safe—are in a position to go to the enormous expense, or that they will go to the enormous expense, of providing bomb-proof shelters for their workers, even in these vulnerable areas, and there is no compulsion upon them to do so. What, then, is going to happen to these people? I should also like to ask what plan the Government have in mind for people who may be caught in the streets in an air raid during the rush hour. After all, there were many raids at such hours in Spain. I believe that in Barcelona, Catalonia and Valencia in one month, namely, last January, there were 53 daylight raids and only 10 night raids, apart from the terrible all-night bombing which happened at the very end of the month. Of course, in this country, the risk of daylight bombing will be greater, because the defence will be far better equipper—or at least we hope so. The chances of inflicting damage and injury are infinitely greater in daylight, and there are occasions when an enemy may think that the risk will be worth taking. At any rate, we must 2820 take into account the probability that there will be a very considerable number of daylight raids, and, if daylight raids are made, it seems likely that the time chosen will be the time when the greatest number of people are in the streets.
What do the Government contemplate that these people will do? The right hon. Gentleman may say that there are trenches, and that is true, but there are numerous areas in London where there are no trenches, no open spaces and no parks within 10 minutes' walk, or even more. We are told that there may be only five minutes' warning. I am thinking of places like New Oxford Street and the Mile End Road. I do not know of any great open spaces or parks where there would be considerable trenches for the large day-time population in those two areas. It may be said that there are basements in the neighbourhood. I have not very much faith in the safety of a great many basements that will be adapted for Air-Raid Precautions, but in all probability the basements in the area will have been adapted for the number of workpeople employed in the particular factories or shops to which they are attached. I can visulalise a real panic if an air raid happens in the day-time and in the rush hour in a place of that kind, where there is no special protection available.
Under the Bill, grants are to be made to local authorities for deep shelters. I do not believe that the local authorities are likely on any large scale to build deep shelters on their own account. The financial responsibility will be tremendous if these shelters are to be adequate for the protection of the people. I think that this matter should be one for the Government; I do not think that they should pass the responsibility on to the local authorities. The Government alone are in a position to survey London, for instance, as a whole. They have every possible advice, they have every expert at their disposal, and they will be in a far better position to judge in what particular areas and at what particular points it is essential that public shelters should be built. It is an entirely wrong principle that this vital matter of public shelters should be left to local authorities, and become a great financial burden to them, so that the deciding factor may well be, not the need of an area for shelters but the expenditure that would be involved. 2821 We were assured by the Home Secretary many months ago that this was not a question of expense; and, obviously, in a matter where life and health are concerned, the matter of cost should not be allowed to interfere with the progress of schemes.
But there is no reason why these shelters should be a dead loss. The hon. Member who spoke just now referred to tunnelling. I was disappointed that the Minister of Transport made no reference last night to the Bressey Report, in which there are a great many proposals for relieving traffic blocks in London which would involve tunnelling. There is also the question of car parks. As long ago as 1925, the Automobile Association advocated underground car parks in London: quite apart from the risk of air raids, purely as a practical measure; and the London County Council Committee reported 10 years later, in 1935, that car parks of that kind would save the community an enormous expenditure of time, energy and money. Plans have existed, in a state probably of partial preparation, for years. I think that in November, 1938, it was reported that the London County Council and the Home Office were giving the plans joint consideration. It is said that there are also schemes in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, and in several London boroughs, for car parks, and that the delay in carrying out these programmes is because the Government would not contribute their share to the cost. There is provision in this Bill for a contribution. I do not think the contribution will be very large, because it is merely for the expenditure necessary for adapting the car parks as air-raid shelters. It is very difficult to assess what exactly that contribution will be.
Another question to which I want to refer is that of tubes. Undoubtedly, some of the tubes in London are unsuitable. Some are too shallow, and there is grave danger of flooding in others. In June, I asked the Government whether they were taking steps to survey the tubes, and the Home Secretary said that the Government had plans under consideration for the modified use of all the tubes as transport and their limited use as shelters. I would ask for further information as to whether those plans have advanced: whether a survey is being made, because it is an enormously important 2822 point. If certain tubes could be adapted they would cover a very wide area. I would urge the Government to come to a conclusion about deep shelters. It would add enormously to the confidence of the people. They are still hedging on this vital matter. One of the really significant things about the Lord Privy Seal's speech yesterday was that he made absolutely no reference to a Government policy on deep shelters. The Home Secretary, when he was in charge of A.R.P., said that the provision of deep bomb-proof shelters could be considered only as part of a long-term policy. In that case, I should have thought that the sooner the Government embarked upon it the better. They cannot shelve consideration, and they cannot, and should not, be allowed to cast the responsibility on the local authorities. It is a vital question of policy, and that must be the definite responsibility of the Government. I once more beg and urge the Government to make some announcement on this vital matter of policy, which, I believe, is essential to the safety of the people.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn
The hon. Lady who has just addressed us did so from a disinterested point of view, as the representative of a constituency which, I suppose, would be able to shelter a great many people from the vulnerable areas. I feel that deep shelters, to which she referred, are a matter to which we should give our attention. I know that the Lord Privy Seal has given an enormous amount of attention to this question, and one of the difficulties, I believe, has been the regulations of the London County Council. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) is not here, because I know he is giving his attention to it. If you are going to make deep shelters for use in time of war you must devise shelters which will bring in some sort of commercial return in time of peace, such as car parks. The head of the London County Council Fire Brigade says he will not allow deep shelters to be used as car parks unless there are vents to allow explosions to spread outwards. Should there be a fire in a car park, and should it make an explosion, that explosion must be able to go outwards. If you are to have a shelter for use in an air raid you want exactly the reverse of 2823 this; it must be blast-proof from the outside. That is the difficulty that two or three of the borough councils are in now. I trust that, very soon, the A.R.P. officers and the head of the Fire Brigade will be able to reach a compromise which will enable these shelters to be made.
In regard to tubes, I would point out that in an air raid it would be a matter of great concern to keep the traffic running and to prevent an ugly rush of people whose nerves were not altogether normal, and that there would be great danger, both on the lifts and on spiral steps, far greater than any of the dangers from the raiders. Any regulation in relation to tubes must be a matter of discussion between the authorities, because it is essential to keep the tubes operating for the evacuation of population. I should be sorry if, as a result of this Debate, people were made to feel that they had ready at hand in the tubes shelters to which to remove casualties. This is a matter to which London Transport are directing attention, and I have no doubt that a very good scheme will be evolved before long. There is a great danger that people will get an impression, though I am sure hon. Members do not intend to convey that impression, that we are paying too much attention to the protection of individuals here, and not giving sufficient attention to what really matters most—our offensive and defensive power. It should be said that we recognise fully the importance of seeing that our anti-aircraft guns, and certainly the tactics of counter-attack by aircraft, should be very effective indeed, but I think we must recognise it is the duty of the Government to provide this other protection, because the more effective it is the less inducement there is to foreign countries to attack us.
There are certain problems to which we must have an answer to-day. One is in regard to evacuation. I have in mind a place within 30 miles of London where there are some very essential factories, which have been put up recently, with very great pressure on the existing housing—and other houses are very much wanted. I was astonished to find that that place, where there are 28 factories, some doing work of national importance, is being selected as a place into which people are to be evacuated from London. That is something which 2824 ought to be investigated very quickly, because it disturbs the local authority very much to feel that, apart from their own problems and the risk of a locality like that being singled out for direct attack, people should be brought there from areas in London which may not be so vulnerable. I feel that places where armament works of that character are being carried on ought not to have the business of the local authority made more difficult by having an unspecified number of people brought from London.
I asked the Lord Privy Seal yesterday, before he resumed his seat, whether he could differentiate between factories of national importance and ordinary factories. There are certain factories which have been told by the various Departments of State that, in all circumstances, the production must be maintained and output continued, even in the event of a series of raids. That imposes on the management and those responsible for the factories an additional obligation to their workers over and above that of a good employer. I think there ought to be something in the definition Clause which would make it quite clear that if you have to ask your workpeople to continue to work in all circumstances, and not to disperse, it is no good telling them, as I know an inspector did, that they should lie down by their machines. That is no use. You have to provide more complicated protection in close promixity to their work.
In one factory that I have in mind there are a large number of women workers. It is possible to provide protection for them in deep shelters, but I asked representatives of those women what they would want to do in the event of an air raid, and they all said, with one voice, that the first thing that they wanted to do was to run home and see whether their families were all right. In the case of a factory doing work of national importance, there is an obligation to make the married women workers feel that their children are to be evacuated, which is an additional argument against bringing into an area like that people from London or elsewhere. Factories of national importance might, for these purposes, be classified as public utility factories, or whatever description one might coin for them, and should be put in rather a different category. As the 2825 Bill is drawn, there is no mention of them whatever, as they are all classified as one. The matter is causing great concern to those who are responsible, because it means spending a very large sum of money in providing the proper shelters. That money will not be grudged, but they want to know in what proportion it is to be paid, and whether it is to be paid out of revenue or is to be a capital charge. These are matters upon which, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman will give us some enlightenment.
There is the matter of the training of staffs. One of the most remarkable things in the last few months has been the amazing way in which workers of both sexes, with the representatives of the trade unions, have got together and enabled themselves to become proficient either in first-aid or something of the sort. We are building up now a really magnificent body of trained people in all factories who are able to look after casualties, and so on. If we are to be successful in that, it is necessary to provide casualty clearing stations and accommodation of that kind, especially in a factory where something like 3,000 people are employed. There is no regulation, as far as we know, which enables the management of a factory to collaborate in the general hospital scheme of the district. It is of the greatest importance that something should be done about that, because there are, up and down the country, possibilities of relieving the pressure upon the ordinary casualty clearing stations and the hospitals by improving the accommodation at the factories where first-aid treatment will be given. The staffs who have undergone this training are most proficient and well able to give the attention necessary to the patients.
I should like to ask for some lead from the Government in regard to shipyards. In several cases the people working in shipyards have naturally to work at all hours, and all day long. I know one myself where the local authority insisted that the regulations should be carried out and shelters dug down of the approved type, and in spite of telling them that, being a shipyard, they are almost at sea level and that if they dug down three feet, and the tide came in, up would come the water. But they still had to do it. One of the managers asked one of the officials to read the story of King 2826 Canute and then to pass it on to the local authority. One would think that the best protection would be for the workers to get inside the hulls of the vessels which are mostly warships, which by their very nature are designed to keep out splinters. It is a little irksome when people are doing their best to have little jacks-in-office come down and stick rigidly to regulations without recognising the laws of nature or the desires of man. It may be that in the code something could be done to put some of these people wise as to what we want. I beg of the Lord Privy Seal to repeat his instruction, of which he assured the House when he first took office, to take the public into his confidence and to remove this secrecy which has done so much harm, and is the screen behind which gross inefficiency goes to sleep and prevents good work being done.
I feel that in the criticisms brought forward in this Debate, it is very wrong to ignore the tremendous volume of work that has been done by his Department in all branches. The organisation that he has been able to establish will one day be looked upon as the most marvellous piece of British improvisation that has ever happened. The officers in charge of the various departments have been most helpful to local authorities, and all the cloud of confusion that existed in the autumn has to a great extent been removed. The confidence which the big mass of the people have in the system is very largely due to the fact that there is a feeling that under the Lord Privy Seal and his Department passive and civil defence is being put where it should be, but I think also, there is a considerable danger that we might destroy the morale of our own people by making them think that they are rabbits and want to get into holes rather than encourage a great many of them to take part in active defence of the country, which is, after all, the greatest protection that our land possesses.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I regret that I cannot re-echo the penultimate words of the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), because, as Chairman of the Air-Raid Precautions Committee of the County Councils' Association, I presided at a meeting this morning at which there were complaints from all over England and Wales at the way in which it is still 2827 impossible to get from the Lord Privy Seal or from any of the other Government Departments definite decisions on matters of urgent importance in regard to the organisation of civil defence. I read in a book yesterday that in war there is only the present tense, and that is a very important maxim to be borne in mind in the position of urgency in which we find ourselves. Let me take the question which has been alluded to again and again in the course of this Debate of the deep air-raid shelter. I hold no brief for it. I am not a civil engineer. The country did pay me a great sum of money, more than I had ever earned before, when as a sergeant-major in the Royal Engineers during the War I constructed a car park in France that would have been cheaper if it had been paved with sovereigns, because it was thought that, inasmuch as I was a Royal Engineer, I must be able to do any kind of engineering work.
I hold no brief for the deep air-raid shelter, but after the months and months that it has been before the Department, a wrong decision would be better than no decision, because while there is no decision, the local authorities who have prepared schemes for deep shelters are getting on with nothing else, and the people who have not decided one way or the other are waiting for that decision. I hope that before very long the Lord Privy Seal will be able to announce his decision on the matter one way or the other, or he should say that he would leave it to the discretion of the local authorities, and that where he is convinced that they have a sound engineering scheme he will pass it in certain areas, even if he is not prepared to do so in others. Until we get a spirit in which decisions can be taken, I am sure that these complaints will continue.
As I understand that the Minister of Health is going to reply this evening I want to deal first of all, with the question of evacuation. I would take his mind back to the very wet Monday afternoon of last week when he and I went round my constituency, and I was able to show him what his Department has classified as a neutral area. I have never heard him mention in this House a higher figure for the population per square mile in this country than 80,000, but I took him through one ward of my constituency where the population is living at the rate of 90,624 to the square mile, and in six 2828 of the wards in that constituency, totalling 342 acres, 40,000 people are living, that is, over 70,000 to the square mile on an area of half a square mile. I believe that I proved to him conclusively, with the aid of the borough engineer, that in the whole of that area there is not a house or a tenement which has a backyard of sufficient size to accommodate one of the Lord Privy Seal's air-raid shelters. We have been asked how many we want. The answer is that, while we would like to have a great many, we do not quite know what we can do with them. The only suggestion that the Minister himself could make was that we might cut down some of the dividing walls and put a shelter for two houses in the joint back yards of adjoining houses. That is a neutral area. I suggest to the Minister of Health that an area which is liable not merely to air bombardment but to sea bombardment, and where the people are so crowded together, is one which must receive further consideration. I hope that in the very near future the right hon. Gentleman will be able so to revise the scheduling of areas as to make it possible for such areas as my constituency and the greater part of the Tyneside to be included in the area that is to be evacuated.
I want now to deal with a point which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) yesterday. It is a matter which, on behalf of the County Councils' Association, I have urged upon both right hon. Gentlemen more than once. It is the problem of the self-evacuating persons. That, again, is a matter which I brought up personally at the first conference that was held in the presence of the Lord Privy Seal after his appointment. Up to the moment no decision has been reached. We may be faced in an emergency with exactly what occurred in September of people streaming out of London and the other crowded districts, from areas which may not be vulnerable at all and taking up the accommodation that has been reserved by the local authorities for the people who are to be evacuated. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman for his attention.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)
I was discussing with my right hon. Friend the very point which has been made by the hon. Member. Surely, it is very desirable that counsel should be taken upon it. If it is not done at the time, it tends 2829 to be left out altogether. There is no discourtesy intended.
§ Mr. Ede
Really, both right hon. Gentlemen know that I mentioned this point to them, collectively and separately, over six months ago, and, of course, if it is now to be treated as a matter of emergency and to be discussed between them in this House, one wonders what is the use of going on with the Debate.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member is quite unjust. The hon. Member in raising these matters does not expect one to sit like a dummy and make no attempt to deal with them. He knows—as indeed he would discuss a matter with an hon. Friend next to him—that when he puts a point to me across the Floor of the House, the interchange of a sentence with the Lord Privy Seal is not only not discourteous, but courteous to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Ede
I have no intention of giving way on this point at all. If it had been merely a sentence, certainly I would not have complained, but there was a continuous conversation going on during the course of which the right hon. Gentleman was apparently finding some amusement out of the matter which I was putting to him, and that led me to make the remarks I did. We might get back to the position that we had in September where people were streaming out of London and other centres, taking up the accommodation which had been booked in some cases by the local authorities for housing children who were to be evacuated. We must anticipate that again, unless regulations are made to prevent it. I am prepared to admit that we shall always have a lot of people living in less vulnerable areas who will receive relatives from the vulnerable areas, but that should be arranged for well in advance. What I am afraid of is that we shall find during the emergency that someone living in a Welsh valley, who can speak nothing but Welsh, will be receiving a family from the East End of London, on the ground that they are relatives, and who can speak nothing but Yiddish. On the last occasion the most astounding sums were offered for very inferior accommodation by people who were flying from the wrath they imagined was coming.
I can see no reason why there should not be fixed a date by which those arrangements should be completed, and 2830 the receiving authorities should be allowed to schedule certain accommodation as having being reserved for relatives. I can see no reason why people in vulnerable areas who do not think that they can do work of national importance in time of war should not be allowed to go to their local authority and get a certificate saying that they are people who could, with advantage, be evacuated in time of emergency. They should be able to go and register accommodation with a receiving authority, and the accommodation for them should be regarded as booked; but after a certain date it should be made quite clear that that kind of thing cannot go on, otherwise I am sure that if and when the emergency arises and people are taken from the big cities and the towns to houses in which accommodation has been promised, it will be found that the accommodation has been booked during the previous few hours or minutes by people who are in a position to offer, at any rate temporarily, a substantial sum of money in order to secure the accommodation. There should be a decision on this matter at the earliest moment. Unless we get a decision a good deal of the work of the receiving authorities will be very difficult.
The Minister of Health has said, quite truly, that the problem of receiving is ten times as great as the problem of evacuating. Therefore, I would ask him to reach an early decision, that can be promulgated in regulations, which will enable us to deal with this question of the evacuation of persons.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member has twitted me with not having reached a decision. A decision has been reached, as has been stated again and again. We have taken compulsory billeting powers, and there is no intention of allowing any overriding of those arrangements, particularly for the billeting of children, by unreasonable arrangements. That decision has been come to a long time ago.
§ Mr. Elliot
The regulations would only be made under the Defence of the Realm Act. There will be such regulations, and that statement has been made again and again and I make it again now.
§ Mr. Ede
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for his interruption, because it reminds me of a point I have 2831 missed. We were told yesterday by the Lord Privy Seal that this is not a Defence of the Realm Act, but a Defence of the Realm Act will be brought in and regulations made under it when the emergency arises. I do not know how much nearer we are going to get to the emergency than we were in September. We are told that we were only saved by a miracle from having the emergency upon us within a very few hours of the time when the Prime Minister was speaking. The whole point of the remarks that I have been making is that it is essential that these regulations should be made well beforehand. If we are going to wait until we get into the same position that we were in last September, and then at some later stage issue regulations, a good deal of the harm that I have been speaking about will have been done. I hope that the regulations will be published well beforehand, so that everybody will know exactly the conditions under which evacuation and other operations will take place.
I want to allude to a matter which was referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage), and that is the position of the catchment boards and the inland waterways. The Minister of Transport, replying last night, said:My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth ('Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) raised an extremely interesting point about catchment boards and referred to the possibility of parts of Lincolnshire being flooded as a result of damage to sluice gates. In so far as damage to the works of the catchment board might lead to injury either to property or persons in the neighbourhood, the responsible scheme-making authority, which would probably be the county council, could include those works in their air-raid precautions scheme, and could arrange for the catchment board to be their agents and to do the necessary work on their behalf; and if that were approved by the Minister, the work would rank for air-raid precautions grants. The matter is rather better when examined in detail than my hon. and gallant Friend thought"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April, 1939; cols. 2747–8, Vol. 345.]I do not know what the hon. and gallant Member thought, but I should think that nothing could be done which would more overwhelm the county council of one of the three parts of Lincoln, or the county councils in the neighbourhood of the Wash than having to face the possibility of bearing their share, after the percentage grant has been paid, of carrying out these works. In this matter I speak for the 2832 County Councils Association, and especially for the county councils affected. The catchment boards should be put in the same category as canals and similar waterways and treated as public utility undertakings. Inasmuch as both canals and catchment boards are, we understand, in a very bad state financially, they should be allowed a very high percentage grant in securing assistance for maintaining their banks, their sluices and other works necessary to protect the inhabitants from the danger of flooding due to the action of the King's enemies.
The administrative county of the Parts of Kesteven is already bearing a rate of 3½d in the £ in the present financial year for air-raid precautions. We were assured by the Home Secretary, as the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) reminded us, that in no circumstances would the charge exceed a penny rate, but the West Riding of Yorkshire has already a 4½d rate, the Parts of Kesteven a 3½d. rate, and Nottinghamshire just over 3d. In regard to the Surrey County Council so overwhelming were the figures which they were asked to put in their estimates, that they put in a token figure of 3d. in the hope that negotiations during the year would relieve them of the possibility of having to ask for more. To ask the poorer county councils, such as the county councils of Huntingdon, Cambridge, the Isle of Ely, the Soke of Peterborough, the three parts of Lincolnshire, and Norfolk, to shoulder the responsibility of protecting their people from floods through the breaking of the banks of the catchment boards and inland waterways that are embanked, is more than their financial resources will enable them to undertake.
There are many other points with which I should like to deal. I am tempted, like the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon to say "there is another matter" until I have exhausted nearly every Clause in the Bill; but most of these matters are Committee points, except one, for which I would ask the sympathetic consideration of the Minister. There are a number of undertakings of various kinds which have administrative offices in London, the cities and the big towns, while their works are in the country. It may be very desirable that they should be in a position during an emergency to remove their administrative offices from the centre of the city out into the country 2833 where their technical or other works are situated. It will be necessary in such circumstances for them to provide living and sleeping accommodation for a considerable number of staff. I am the chairman of such an authority, and we are in this position, that if we want to erect an ordinary air-raid shelter at our country works, if it is in an area scheduled by the Minister we are released from restrictive covenants and can carry through the work.
It is within my knowledge that the Central Electricity Board have made arrangements whereby their administrative staff will be taken out to a place that I know very well where there were very severe restrictive covenants, but the persons who enjoy the privilege of those restrictive covenants have agreed to waive them if the requirement is for a case of national emergency. My authority is in exactly the same position in providing electricity, but those who exercise the restrictive covenants against us decline to release us for the purpose of providing living and sleeping accommodation for the administrative staff, whose work is essential if the supply of electricity is to be carried on over a considerable area. I have made up my mind that if the emergency arises I shall put up the accommodation and chance what will happen to me, but I do not care to proceed on those lines. Here, again, I think we should be put in a position beforehand, by a slight extension of the principle of Clause 12, to ensure that we shall be able to make such adequate and necessary provision.
There is one final point. I cannot understand why Clauses 50 and 51 are differently worded. Under Clause 50 the Minister of Transport is given certain powers, and Clause 51 gives the Minister of Health certain powers, for the acquisition and holding of stocks and plant. The Minister of Health has taken further provision that he may make arrangements for the acquisition and holding on his behalf of stocks. That provision has not been sought by the Minister of Transport. I should have thought that it was even more necessary in the case of the Minister of Transport, who may be called upon to maintain the vital communications of the country, that he should have the same additional power that is given to the Minister of Health. I hope also that it will be made quite clear that the 2834 Minister of Transport's stocks are held in such a way that local highway authorities who may want to utilise them, may have the opportunity of doing so if the emergency arises, where it is of importance that the restoration of communications should take place at the earliest moment.
I do not join in the congratulations showered on the Minister in connection with this Bill. I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney that this Bill is several years too late. The great disappointment of my life has been the Lord Privy Seal. When he came to office I thought that he really was going to show us how a civil servant would be able to show Ministers the way round. Unfortunately the Ministers have convinced him that there are difficulties in administration which the Civil Servants have never comprehended. I am sure that unless considerably more speed is shown in recent decisions to deal with this problem the fate of his Department will be in the balance if an emergency should arise.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick
I propose to keep the House for a few moments only because I want to deal with one point which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will clear up when he comes to reply. Clause 10 of the Bill refers to a code for occupiers of factories. It says:The Minister shall issue a code describing different types of shelters appropriate for different classes of casesWill that code include the provision for some form of deep shelter to meet those cases where no other form of shelter would provide adequate protection? I have in mind one factory which I know well, although there are many others in the country. It is a modern type of factory in which for the sake of light and ventilation the window space has been exaggerated in comparison with the area of the walls. I do not know the precise ratio between plate glass and brick, but it is very high. The whole thing is built of light flimsy steel work, so light that it was not possible to put concrete on the roof as a protection against incendiary bombs. There is no basement worth talking about, and it will be impossible to reinforce the building. Most of the heavy machinery is congregated at the top and in the case of a direct hit it would 2835 not be only a matter of the explosion of the bomb but also of the heavy machinery crashing from the top to the bottom. A most cursory glance shows that obviously the only way to afford anything like adequate protection to the employés in that factory is either by a good system of trenching in the neighbourhood or by deep shelters. In this case trenching is an impossibility, and so we are left with a deep shelter or nothing. I believe there are many cases like that throughout the country.
But deep shelters also brings up a question of finance. In the Financial Memorandum £4 a head is given as a rough estimate of the cost of a shelter, but I am afraid that in the case of a deep shelter the cost would be much higher, so high, indeed, that even prosperous firms ready and willing to strain their financial resources to protect their employés would find the task altogether beyond their powers. It is absolutely necessary that Clause 17 should be interpreted in the most generous manner in cases where deep shelters are the only possible thing, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give the House some reassurance on that point when he comes to reply. There is not merely an obligation on the part of employers to do what they can for those employed in industry; there is in many cases a direct obligation on the Government itself. There are many factories in this country which will have to work day and night, and unless some adequate provision is made it will not be possible to do that.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Salter
We are in this Bill constructing a mechanism for a very novel purpose. It is necessarily very elaborate and intricate, and a great deal of the Debate, though not all of it, has been devoted to discussing the skill with which this mechanism has been constructed. But in examining any mechanism you must consider also two other questions, first, the motive power which is going to be available to drive it and, secondly, the purpose for which it is going to be used. It is on those two questions that I propose to say a few words. I think that the motive power which is behind this necessarily rather cumbrous machinery is not sufficient. If we look at the inducements and compulsion which are here placed behind local authorities and employers 2836 and ask whether it is really enough to get the job done quickly, the answer I think cannot be doubtful. We need to link up the whole of this mechanism to a much more powerful impulse from a central power station than we have at present. I fully recognise that the Lord Privy Seal in the five months in which he has held his office has done a great deal more than his predecessors in the Home Office in five years, and if I am now about to criticise him I would ask him to remember that I am doing so by the high standard which he himself has set in the rapidity with which he took his decision on deep shelters.
There is now, however, an almost universal impression that for the needs of the present time he is not going far enough or fast enough. This may result partly from the nature of his authority. He is executive as regards part of his work but for the rest his functions are those of co-ordination. If the job is to be done his co-ordinating authority must, I think, in regard to matters which an essentially related to air-raid defence amount to a compelling authority. I dc not know whether it does or not. If, for example, he comes to the conclusion that as regards one particular zone within a vulnerable area the conditions are such that basement shelters and steel shelters together cannot give anything like tolerable protection, that conclusion must be brought into direct relation with the scheme for evacuation for that zone, that is, a very much higher proportion of the people must be moved from it. I do not know whether at present the Minister of Health who has the execution of evacuation schemes now makes his own policy or, as I have suggested, takes it from the Minister for Civil Defence.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman has been impressed by the way in which every hon. Member who has spoken has referred to the question of deep shelters. There is a strong and very deep feeling throughout the country that this matter is not being satisfactorily dealt with. I agree that the demands on this matter are sometimes extreme and unreasonable. I do not take an extreme view about deep shelters. I recognise that if and when—I emphasise the if and when—the Anderson shelters are provided and installed wherever suitable, and if and when—and I here doubly emphasise the if and when—basement strengthening is carried out 2837 in all suitable cases so as to give an equivalent shelter to that which the Anderson shelter provides, then I think the risk for a great majority of the population, even in what are called evacuation areas, is reduced to tolerable dimensions. You an: however left with a relatively small proportion, but still a population of a considerable number, perhaps between five and ten million people, for whom some additional shelter is absolutely necessary.
Incidentally, when I say "if and when" in regard to these two protective measures, I think it is extremely important to realise how far indeed we are at this moment from having satisfied this condition. Only a very small proportion of steel shelters have actually been installed. A lot are left about in back-yards. Moreover, only few people outside the class to whom they are being given free arc getting them at all. I entirely agree with free delivery to people under the limit of £250 and I might agree also in regard to priority of supply, but it should not be a monopoly of supply. I do not suspect this Government of trying to establish the rule of the proletariat simply by keeping alive only those who have not more than £250 a year. But the actual position at the moment is that if you have more than £250 a year you are not getting these Anderson steel shelters. Let us, however, assume, though it is now a remote assumption, that we have carried out these two measures of protection, that is the basement shelter and the steel shelter. There are still a number of cases for which deep shelters, not complete bomb-proof shelters against a direct hit, but some extra shelter to that which is at present contemplated, is absolutely essential.
I think the extra shelter required will be for very different purposes and must be adapted to different conditions. In many cases it will not be so much a bomb-proof shelter as a shelter which will protect against near hits, nearer than the Anderson steel shelter will. The Anderson steel shelter not only does not protect against a direct hit but it does not protect against a near hit, though how near it has to be I do not know. May I state the cases shortly in which I think this extra protection is necessary? In the first place, there are certain zones within an evacuation area which are immensely more dangerous and immensely less capable 2838 of being adequately protected by the present measures than the rest of the evacuation area. I would instance a district like the East End of London, where further shelter is absolutely essential. In the second place, some streets will remain busy even after measures of evacuation have taken place. I again urge upon the Government that it is absolutely essential to erect enough shelter arrangements of one kind or another at different points so that, having made their calculations, they can put up notices in peace-time to the effect that if the people are caught there they should "Go to such and such shelter." If the Government do not do that there may be panic rushes which will mean a greater loss of life than if there was no protection at all.
In the third place, there should be deep shelter accommodation for regions such as important munitions factories. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) referred to the necessity of having a respite against the continuous danger and noise which certain districts may have to suffer. If you have raids repeated day after day and week after week on a munition area it will be essential, if the workers are to go on with their work, to provide shelters which will do more than protect from splinters and blast. They cannot go on indefinitely without some better protection. The raiding may be such that they will not be able to go home and it may be such, going on week after week, that will try even the strongest nerves. There will have to be shelters that give greater protection, and also protection against shattering noise, from which the men will get, not protection every time there is a warning, but a respite after they have stood a good deal. In many cases there will have to be a place in which to sleep.
I urge the Lord Privy Seal to realise the strength of the feeling throughout the country that more must be done in the matter of deep shelters. The right hon. Gentleman realises, as I realise, that in many respects the public demand has been put extravagantly high and has not taken into account the extreme difficulty of large communal shelters because of the necessarily short notice of the warning that will be given. I realise those difficulties, and if the right hon. Gentleman will look at the Bulletin of the Air-Raid Defence League, to which the hon. 2839 Member for Anglesey referred, he will see that considerations of that kind are taken very fully into account. But it will be fatal if, because of those reasons which apply only to the extravagant demands, he either delays longer or interposes a negative to almost any kind of deep shelters beyond the shelters which he has himself provided.
May I say in this matter that wherever there is some provision in the Bill permitting the construction of deep shelters, it will need a great impulse from the centre, rather than discouragement, if advantage is to be taken of those provisions? The provisions in the Bill for encouraging the construction of deep shelters are not very strong, and if they are to be made to work, they will require a great impulse from the Lord Privy Seal. What have we had? Practically the only relevant remark in his speech was the remark relating to car parks, in connection with which for a moment I thought something was going to be done. This remark was, however, of a distinctly discouraging character. I do not want to press this matter too far, but it is essential that we should have a positive policy for providing deep shelters in special cases, where necessary, and that then the right hon. Gentleman should put all the weight of his authority behind that policy.
I should like now to address a few remarks to the Minister of Health with regard to evacuation. I think the right hon. Gentleman has made very great progress, and I have no adverse criticism to make, concerning the arrangements he has made for the evacuation of school children; but here again, I suggest that in specially dangerous, vulnerable and congested areas—in zones such as the one to which I have referred—a very much larger proportion of the people must be evacuated, and that quite a different criterion is necessary. Yesterday, I was horrified to hear the Minister of Transport say that the Government would not take any responsibility for telling industrialists where they should go or what kind of risks they should run, and that in general they must look after themselves and decide from which places they should go and to what places they should go. The right hon. Gentleman to some extent modified that a little later, but I could not help feeling that it was his first statement rather than the modification which 2840 reflected his mind. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will consider whether in such places as East London and the City of London enterprises that can do their work elsewhere should not be actively encouraged to go out to more suitable regions.
There are two final points that I want to raise. The first has reference to the blackouts dealt with in Part VI of the Bill. Yesterday, the hon. and gallant Member for Central Wandsworth (Colonel Nathan) gave the House a picture of the sort of thing that might happen in a blackout to which people were not accustomed. I think there would be a good deal of difficulty of one kind and another if the blackout were complete and the people were not accustomed to it; but I am more concerned with the danger that if a blackout were suddenly ordered under the powers given in this Bill, it would be nothing like complete. I suggest that there ought to be repeated experiments with blackouts in order to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are workable.
Lastly, I wish to refer to publicity. I am sure that the Minister will need to do a great deal more, when he has taken vital decisions on principle—some of which have not been taken—to make them effectively known to all whom they concern; that is to say, in part the local authorities and in part the general public, whether air-raid wardens or other people. I wish to make a suggestion in regard to each of those classes. As I have said, I am sure it will be necessary to provide additional motive power to make the whole of this cumbersome and elaborate machine work. Could not the Lord Privy Seal use the Regional Commissioners and their deputies, who have now been appointed, in this capacity before a war comes? If they are to do their work and to carry out their very important task, they will have to become acquainted with the whole mechanism of protection against air raids before a war comes. Could they not be now given the responsibility, not to enforce, but to watch and report to the Minister how matters are getting on in their areas? I believe that with their authority and prestige, and the knowledge that they were going to exercise these powers in war they would be able to perform a most useful function now in this respect.
With regard to the general public and air-raid wardens, anyone who is in touch 2841 with air-raid wardens knows that the great bulk of them are in despair because they do not know what they have to do when warnings come, and they are conscious of being ill-equipped to tell people what to do if an emergency comes. A great effort will be required to give them knowledge of the duties that will be required of them, and indeed of the public generally. I venture to repeat a suggestion that I have made before, namely, that the Lord Privy Seal might be able to make a very valuable use of the great private societies of every kind, not only for the purpose, which I previously suggested, of recruiting volunteers, but also of spreading knowledge as to the duties of different people in case of emergency. All these suggestions come down to the same main point—I entreat the Government to expedite their decisions on the main questions of policy on which they have not yet given a decision. There should then be a much more powerful impulse from the centre in order to make this great, cumbersome and intricate machine work more rapidly than we can rely upon it working as it is at present.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Magnay
I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes. I want to put to those Ministers concerned with the development of this scheme one or two matters which interest hon. Members representing the Tyneside, and particularly some matters affecting my constituency, Gateshead. At the outset, I wish to compliment those responsible for the drafting of this complex and intricate Bill. The first thing that occurs to me is that this is a Defence Bill, and that civil defence is part and parcel of National Defence, and therefore ought to be considered and dealt with, as a national responsibility, by the Government. In working this Bill, the local authorities will act as agents for and on behalf of the State in this kind of defence, just as in other ways the Army, Navy and Air Force may work in conjunction with the local authorities. The principle in the two cases is precisely the same. To prove that this is so, let me remind the House that every politician is constantly saying that areas such as the Tyneside are in the front line, which will be the first to be attacked by any potential enemy. If war broke out, within a few hours the Tyneside would know all about it. It seems to me to be logical 2842 that if the Tyneside is in the front line, and has to carry out these defensive measures under the co-ordinating scheme of this Bill, under the Lord Privy Seal, it must be considered that the Bill is in fact a Defence Bill.
Gateshead and Newcastle are deemed to be vulnerable. I wish to make a suggestion which I hope will receive consideration from the Lord Privy Seal. Should not the measure of relief be determined by the need for special forms of defence owing to geographical position, as well as industrial and dangerous occupations? I regret that this Bill has been cluttered up by the 1937 Act—perhaps that is too strong a term to use, but at any rate the Bill has been hampered by the 1937 Act. The whole position now is different from what it was in 1937. Since that time, amazing experiments have been carried out in the test tube of Spain, and all sorts of amazing results have come from those experiments, and may be used against us. In 1937, the Home Secretary assured us that we need not be alarmed about the cost, which would be only a rate of 1d. in the £; but at that time, when he was asked whether he would limit it to a rate of 2d. in the £, he refused to do so; so that it seems to me now, as it did then, that he had little faith in the recipe which he propounded.
I submit now, as I submitted then, that the rate basis is the wrong one. The criterion should be life and not property. The matter should be on a population basis. Let me point out what is the position in regard to Gateshead and Newcastle. In Newcastle, a 1d. rate realises £10,000, whereas in Gateshead a 1d. rate realises £2,000; the population in Newcastle is 225,000, as compared with 110,000 or 120,000 in Gateshead. The product of a 1d. rate in Newcastle is five times as much as it is in Gateshead, although the population is only twice as great. I suggest that one has only to state the proposition to see how absurd and indefensible it is. I suggest that the basis should be one of so much per head, with special consideration for vulnerable and distressed areas, such as the Tyneside and particularly Gateshead.
I was glad to hear the Lord Privy Seal say, in connection with the financial position of the local authorities, that the 1937 Act would be reconsidered next year 2843 or perhaps sooner. I may be allowed to quote the right hon. Gentleman's words:With regard to the general financial position of local authorities, naturally enough we have had to consider from time to time the position in which authorities, and especially the poorer authorities, are finding themselves, in view of the obligations which rest upon them to take action under the Act of 1937, and now, if this Bill is passed, under this still more comprehensive Measure. The hon. Member will recollect that the Act of 1937 provides for a review of the position of local authorities not later than three years from the coining into operation of the Act, that is to say, not later than the end of 1940, and I have no doubt whatever that that review, when it is made—and possibly it ought to be made rather earlier than was originally contemplated—will have to be an effective review"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April, 1939; col. 2658, Vol. 345.]That is a promise upon which I am bound to rely and the sooner that is done the better. This is a matter which affects, not Gateshead only, but many other areas, and I would like to know how a distressed area like Gateshead is to carry on in the meantime. That is what bothers me. I know that deputations representing the mayor and corporation have been to see the Lord Privy Seal twice in the last month or so, but from what they told me it appears that they have not got any clear and decisive answer, because, I imagine that the Lord Privy Seal, with the best intention and will in the world, cannot give such an answer on a matter of policy. But in Gateshead and some other places the cost is not to be measured in pence in the pound. It may be shillings in the pound, and how on earth are we to do it? In the Explanatory Memorandum it is stated:So far as can at present be estimated the amount of expenditure which will fall to be borne by local authorities from rate funds will be of the order of £300,000 … It is not possible for the reasons explained to estimate the amount of this expenditure.If the "powers that be," in London, cannot estimate this expenditure, how are we to do it? It may be any old sum. This is not a businesslike way of proceeding and it is difficult for me, as the representative of a constituency like Gateshead, to counsel my folk on how they are to act in such circumstances. To borrow, knowing full well that we could not repay, would not be honest. We cannot increase the rates. They are now about 16s. in the £ and cannot be put 2844 any higher, if we keep in mind the advantage to the town of inducing industries to go there. Even if there were only a token vote of say 3d. in the £ while we waited to see how the cat jumped next year—would that be honest? I think the Government ought to come to a definite decision in regard to the distressed areas, especially those areas which are vulnerable points and danger points because of the industries in them. We have everything that is dangerous on Tyneside, and that is one of the reasons why the Air Ministry would have nothing to do with establishments there, and what was true in that respect is equally true in this respect. Therefore, I ask the Lord Privy Seal to meet the municipal authorities' association as early as possible in order that plans may be discussed and matters arranged in this respect. I speak in no critical or carping spirit, but I hope that before the close of this Debate we shall have a very definite answer on this very serious matter, or at any rate that we shall have such an answer when we enter upon the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. Green
This Debate has been rather striking. In the first place there has been an endeavour on all sides to deal with the Bill in a constructive rather than in a critical and party spirit. I think every Member is impressed by the necessity for the Bill and desires, as far as is reasonably possible, to expedite its progress. The Debate has been marked by another striking feature. As far as I have heard, no Member has voiced serious objection to any principle embodied in the Bill, but practically every speaker has severely criticised omissions from the Bill. It is difficult to frame a Bill dealing with problems which are so unfamiliar and one does not envy the task of the Lord Privy Seal and his colleagues in putting through a Bill of such an unusual character. Its provisions are very costly, and when we take into account the amount of money which is envisaged as being necessary to implement them we wonder whether even when all that money has been spent on operating the Measure, we shall not still be in the position of having no adequate or reasonably effective protection against air raids. However perfect the Bill may be when it emerges, in the end it will have 2845 to be administered by local authorities, and the relationship between local authorities and the Government will determine in large measure its effectiveness.
I regard the Bill from the point of view of a local administrator. I have spent most of my life on a Metropolitan borough council and I am fairly familiar with the position in which those bodies are placed with regard to air-raid precautions. A remark made to me only yesterday by the town clerk of a Metropolitan borough summarises the position. He said, "If an emergency arises within the next week or two our plans will be perfect—on paper." The borough engineer of a Metropolitan borough within the last few days remarked to me, "It is simply heart-breaking. We may get out schemes and specifications and put up plans, but we simply cannot get decisions from the Ministry." Is it not possible to cut out some of the circumlocution which at present exists in the relationships between local authorities and Government Departments? One of our weaknesses as a democracy—and the most democratic of us are the most conscious of it—is that we do not seem to have the mental outlook or the adaptability necessary for carrying out plans other than by the ordinary, every-day, peace-time method. We seem incapable of getting away from what has always been regarded as the normal procedure. If a local authority in London wishes to develop air-raid precaution plans, it has first to go to the Ministry of Health, then to the Home Office, then to the London County Council, and then to the district surveyor. By the time it has finished the war may well be over. A prominent local government officer in London the other day said, "If an emergency occurred this week-end, for all practical purposes we should be in well-nigh as deplorable a position as we were in during September"
Has the Minister not considered some means by which all this intercommunication between various bodies, which may involve questions of life and death to the population, could be avoided? Could there not be one central authority to which the local government body, say the borough council, could go and from which it could secure swift and direct decisions? In our borough we want to purchase a house and a piece of ground 2846 for use as a decontamination centre. The property was in the market at a fairly cheap price. We put in for it. We knew that others were in the market who were prepared to offer more than the borough council. Consent had to be obtained before the purchase could be completed. That consent was asked for 19 days ago. Up till to-day it had not been obtained and if the borough council had not been prepared to "chance their arm" and purchase the property, not-withstanding what might happen afterwards, the opportunity for doing so would be gone. These are instances which are causing among local authorities, particularly in London, a feeling almost of dismay.
I mention another case. It was found necessary by our borough council to obtain a deep underground shelter for a report headquarters. We have in the borough an educational institution connected with the London University, where such a shelter could be constructed. The authorities of that institution placed no obstacle in the way. We were told that we could make the underground shelter in the grounds of the institute and plans for it were prepared. But I learn from the borough engineer that the college authorities approached him and asked him to get the job done during the Easter recess while the students were away. He was flabbergasted at such a request. He will be lucky if he can get the job through by the August recess. These difficulties ought not to arise and instantaneous decisions ought to be reached on these matters.
Further I wish that the Government would trust the local authorities a little more. Personally, I have a profound regard for the genius which has made our local authorities the pride of the civilised world. For 30 years I have been acquainted with their work and I know what they have accomplished throughout this country. Yet in matters of expenditure they are not fully trusted by the Government. They can spend 15s. on something which they require in connection with air-raid precautions, but if the price of the article reaches 15s. 6d. they have to go through all the procedure of obtaning consent from headquarters. I know that these plans are being made with the best intentions but in order to make them effective in a time of emergency, I beg of the Minister to devise a 2847 method by which the existing delays can be avoided. I can give many instances and I dare say every borough in London could supply similar instances.
For example, we wanted certain buildings for use as first-aid posts. The only buildings available were schools. We selected certain schools, which we thought were suitable, and what are we told by the London County Council? We are told that it is impossible, as an air-raid precaution committee, to do anything while the school is in being. We cannot get in, we cannot adapt any of the rooms, we cannot bring in any of the machinery that will be necessary for a first-aid post until war actually occurs. The borough engineer also naturally has his point of -view about the work. It is all inoperative until an emergency is actually upon us. Then we can go into the school -building and make the necessary adaptations. These are not fairy tales, they are not imaginings; they are feelings which are shared throughout the whole of local governing London, and if something is not done, it may be that in the first instance the local authorities will be blamed, but the real blame does not rest with them.
In conclusion, I urge that some steps should be taken to make it easy and expeditious for local authorities to carry out the work that they are prepared and anxious to do, and that they are exercising the great self-sacrifice in doing, and yet they are met with these obstacles. I venture to assert that there is hardly a municipal official in London who is not suffering from a very severe sense of frustration, a feeling that all his best efforts are being curtailed and rendered ineffective because of all this circumlocution, which ought not to be necessary now that we have reached a time that appears to be so near to an emergency.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Sir Irving Albery
As far as I understand this Bill, it makes the provision that we all know of for the poorer sections of the community to get their shelters, and it makes many provisions in reference to employers, but there does not appear to be any provision to encourage the small householder who has a larger income than £250 a year to do something independently to provide a shelter for himself and his family. It would be a great 2848 advantage if there was some such provision, so that he should not have to wait but could get on with something "on his own" I believe that the local councils in some of the boroughs would like to have power to borrow money with a view to facilitating the hire-purchase of shelters for this section of the population which comes just above the £250 income level. As far as I can see, that would not cost the Exchequer anything. In the ordinary way, on a hire-purchase contract, the payments are fairly big. It is not necessary, if anybody puts up a shelter, that it should be paid off quickly, but, on the other hand, the contractors would not want to wait for a long period for their money. The suggestion merely is that, if it be possible, the local authorities should be authorised to borrow money with a view to making advances to people in these towns, so that such people could immediately get on with putting up shelters of their own and be able to pay for them on the hire-purchase system over a longer period of time than is usual with articles which are not of immediate necessity.
I hope the Lord Privy Seal will consider that point. I am sure that it would be of very great assistance to a very large section of the population, and that it would lessen the pressure on the Anderson shelters and would be some inducement to this large class of persons immediately to get on with the job. As they would all be doing it locally and employing local labour, with local contractors, I think it would very much speed up the provision of shelters for a very large section of the population. I hope the Lord Privy Seal, or whoever replies for the Government, will try to give some indication as to whether this provision can be made.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
I have risen largely to draw attention to one part of this Bill, namely, Clause 35, Sub-section (2), relating to the extinction of glare from burning pit-heaps. This is a very serious problem, and undoubtedly it is one that comes definitely within the ambit of air-raid precautions and civil defence. Many hon. Members, I am sure, are familiar with the attitude that we, as miners, have taken in relation to these pit-heaps. We have argued continuously, in season and out of season, that these heaps could have been largely or entirely prevented by 2849 different methods of mining, such as stowing underground and so on, but the Government have never paid heed to our arguments, and to-day the question of burning pit-heaps is a much worse problem than it has ever been before, in that the new methods adopted show an entire neglect of consideration for anyone living in the immediate neighbourhood of these heaps, which, by new mechanical arrangements, are made conical in shape, rising up towards heaven.
It says in this Sub-section that the Minister of Health may serve on the owner of any mine in connection with which there is any accumulation or deposit of refuse which is burning or likely to take fire a notice to extinguish such fire within the period of that notice. We have this Clause in the Bill because of the possibility of air raids. We have had pit-heaps and wars before this, but there has never been any question hitherto about the extinction of these fires. The necessity has not arisen, inasmuch as we were likely to be bombarded only from the sea or by invasion, but now that we have aeroplanes, these pit-heaps would act as beacons and guiding points, not only to the immediate place where a particular heap is situated, but to the countryside far and wide. In Northumberland and Durham and, as the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) said, on Tyneside we have works of national importance—Admiralty shipbuilding yards, armament works, and so on—and because these burning heaps would act as beacons to districts some distance from them and thereby create a national danger, we have this Clause in the Bill.
I want to draw attention to the grant that is to be given towards the extinction or the subduing of these fires—a grant of 50 per cent. towards the capital cost. Notice is to be served on the owner, but he will pass it on, and I want to say that I have very little consideration or regard for the owner in this matter, because the owners in the past have had no consideration for the people who have had to suffer all the inconveniences, ill-health, discomfort, and spoliation of what was probably a beautiful countryside. As far as the actual capital cost is concerned, after the 50 per cent. grant, there is the other 50 per cent., and that may be a very considerable sum of money. That will be passed on. and under the method 2850 of calculating miners' wages, this will be charged to the industry as a cost other than wages. Therefore, the miners themselves will find 87 per cent. of this 50 per cent., and I think that will be very unfair. The miners themselves have had no say or jurisdiction in the matter; they are not consulted whether pit-heaps shall be there or not. That is the responsibility of the owners and of the managerial side of the mine. To me, it seems just as logical to charge such an amount to the working miners' wages to meet this cost as it would be to say that where you have a dangerous piece of rock. running out to sea, and the necessity of building a lighthouse, the parish or district council where the lighthouse is situated should find the cost of building and of maintaining that lighthouse.
In extinguishing these pit-heaps national purpose will be served in defending the life of people far remote from our coalfields. Therefore, I would urge the Lord Privy Seal and the Minister of Health further to consider this question, because it seems to me that this applies throughout our coalfields—87 per cent, in Northumberland and Durham, 85 per cent. in other districts. The fact remains that whatever is the cost of this 50 per cent. over and above the grant, whether in Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, or Scotland, that cost will be a cost other than wages charged to the industry, and that 85 or 87 per cent. of whatever that cost is will be borne by the miners themselves. Therefore, I think that in putting this forward I am on fairly good grounds, in that it really is inequitable, and I trust that further consideration will be given to the point.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Tasker
I desire to draw the attention of the Lord Privy Seal to Part VIII of the Bill, in which it is declared to be the duty of every local authority to collect and furnish information necessary for the transference of the civil population from one area to another. A schedule of groups has been issued by the London County Council, under which first consideration is to be given to school children and their teachers, then to expectant mothers, then to the aged, and then to the blind, but there is one particular section of the community in which I think we are all intensely interested, though we do not say very much about 2851 them. I am referring to the disabled ex-service man. That patriot, Sir Oswald Stoll, is confronted with the problem of finding means of transferring 138 such men with their families from the homes which he founded in Fulham. So that this question goes further than taking away children, aged persons and the blind. With the disabled ex-service man it is necessary to take with him his home and his remedial treatment. It also means great difficulties in transport. When men have to get about in wheeled chairs they cannot be wheeled 20 or 30 miles out of London. No provision seems to be made for that part of the community. It is all very well for us to talk about our compassion for these men; we ought to put it into practice. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will be able to indicate to the authorities under Part VIII that something should be done to make provision to transfer these men and their families in the scheme of things instead of leaving them to go with the general population.
I would like to make reference to shelters and the like. Permit me to point out to Members of Parliament who have been members of the London County Council—I think they number more than 100—that an advisory committee was set up by that body in 1932. They reported in 1935. Among their recommendations was that the provision of garages which could be used as shelters under the many public open spaces such as the squares, presented no physical or insuperable difficulties, but nothing had been done by that great authority. Had the advice of that committee been followed many of our difficulties would have been resolved to-day. We would not have the horrid spectacle of Lincoln's Inn Fields being a mass of mounds, nothing being done but the digging of trenches and leaving their sides to fall in.
There are many well-meaning people who have been very busy pressing the Lord Privy Seal and those who are helping in connection with A.R.P., and asking why what they are pleased to term "bomb-proof" shelters cannot be provided. These people know nothing of the penetrating power of the bomb. They request that these deep shelters shall be provided under the whole of the streets of London. They have not the foggiest idea that the streets of London are something like 7,500 miles in length. I suggest to 2852 my hon. Friends on both sides of the House that those who have no knowledge of engineering or building construction should be less vocal in advocating things which are quite impossible. If they would only reflect on the cost of running a tube under the streets of London and realise how long it takes, they would not be quite so vocal and they might leave it to the Lord Privy Seal and those who are assisting him in his difficult task and not make his task more difficult than it is.
It would not be fair to pretend that many people in London are satisfied. There is a feeling that it is difficult to get decisions. There ought to be no difficulty in getting some decisions. I know that not only the London County Council, but the borough councils and other people in London are perfectly willing to give their time, energy and experience in helping the Government to avert peril. I have no doubt that there are thousands of suggestions pouring into the Lord Privy Seal's Office, many of them impracticable. They can surely be dismissed and their A.R.P. ideas can be deposited in the W.P.B., but when local authorities show a disposition to help the Government it is a little disheartening to find that no decision can be arrived at. There are many minor decisions which might be determined by the Lord Privy Seal and those who are assisting him, while there are major decisions which should not be decided in haste. I believe I shall voice the sentiments of every Member of the House when I say that we are all willing to do what we can to aid the Lord Privy Seal in his enormous task and in the execution of the duty which he has so valiantly undertaken.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
This has been a remarkable Debate for the number of brief and excellent speeches It has been all the better because of their brevity, and still better because of their excellence. I hope that I shall not be out of step in brevity, although I cannot compete in the matter of excellence. I wish to deal with only three points and to put them in the form of questions? My right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), in opening the Debate yesterday, read a letter which drew attention to the fact that in the constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) there was still 2853 an incomplete distribution of gas masks. That is not by any means the only bare area, either in the matter of gas masks or fire-fighting appliances. The other day in the "Manchester Guardian" I read a report of a meeting of the Cheshire National Service Committee, where it was stated that the lack of equipment and training facilities is acting as a brake on recruiting for the Civil Defence services. I should like the Minister of Health to say how recently a census has been taken to discover in what areas and to what extent of population there is still no complete distribution of gas masks, fire-fighting appliances and other training facilities.
I should like to have the assistance of the Minister of Health in connection with a problem which was recently addressed to me by one of my constituents. This Bill deals with civil evacuation. One of my constituents writes to say that he has accommodation in his household for one child which entitles him to a payment of 10s. 6d. a week. He is an unemployed man with one child, and that entitles him to 3s. a week. He desires to know whether in those circumstances there are to be at the same breakfast table two separate economic standards, one for the evacuated child and one for the child of the unemployed man; or whether there is to be at one end of the table a banana and at the other end of the table no banana; or whether there is to be a merging of the resources of the household to the disadvantage of the evacuated child compared with the more advantageous position in which it would be if it happened to be housed next door in the establishment of an employed person. I confess I find any answer to the conundrum impossible. The Minister of Health may be able to provide me with one.
In the matter of deep bomb-proof shelters, the Lord Privy Seal said in the last Debate that he was not going to be kicked or stampeded into a premature decision. I have tried with as much imagination as I can manage to command to visualise the Lord Privy Seal in the act of stampeding. It is a grave disappointment to me that what I am sure would be a deliriously enjoyable and amusing spectacle so far defies my most imaginative moments. It seems obvious, however, that if the Lord Privy Seal is to reach a decision about deep bomb-proof shelters, 2854 he will have to be kicked or stampeded. In the same Debate the Lord Privy Seal talked about the encouragement of a defeatist attitude, but nothing more encourages that attitude in this connection than the constant change of policy on the part of the Government in Civil Defence. It seems only a year ago that we were discussing gas and nothing else. Indeed, the gas pamphlet is still available and contains all the necessary advice for making a room as gas-proof as it is possible to make it. It also gives the assurance that if you cannot do these things it does not matter. Indeed, so much virtue did the Government at one time attach to their gas-proof devices that the Under-Secretary to the Home Office, with evident enjoyment, described the remarkable discovery that the gas mask was good for asthma.
Now gas has gone and there have now come what are called the Anderson shelters. You cannot have gas-proof Anderson shelters. I do not deny that they are desirable, and I was strongly impressed with the point made by the Lord Privy Seal that in many circumstances the proximity of this shelter outweighs a number of other disadvantageous considerations. What corries a number of my hon. Friends and me is this. There are a considerable number of houses—we do not know how many, but the Government should know—in the East End of London and in the great industrial cities, such as Sheffield and Leeds, where, either because the backyards are paved or too small, or because there are no backyards at all, it is impossible to erect even an Anderson shelter. What sort of survey have the Government taken in connection with this matter? What information have they as to the number of houses where these shelters cannot be erected, and what provision is proposed to give some assurance to the people who occupy these houses that some kind of protection will be afforded to them? It would seem that the problem of deep bomb-proof shelters must be solved for these people apart altogether from the general considerations which have been so eloquently urged by my hon. Friends.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
We have had a very large number of quite short speeches, and I will emulate those who have spoken before me. I do not wish 2855 to enter into a discussion of the details of the Bill, but to deal with rather broader considerations. I, and I think many on this side of the House, feel that this Bill is very late, but though it be late it is nevertheless hasty. The right hon. Gentleman has not got that amount of active co-operation and support from the local authorities which he ought to have if he wishes to carry out his scheme with success. Though this is a long Bill, I should have liked to have seen a much more comprehensive one, but introduced at an earlier stage; but the right hon. Gentleman, having decided upon this Bill, might have given fuller consideration to the claims of the local authorities. Many of my hon. Friends believe that he has not, if I may say so, quite "played the game" by the local authorities, who are being called upon to bear new and heavy responsibilities. I realise the complexity of the problem which he has to face. Administratively it is one of the most difficult problems, that of getting a new unified service operated by the State and local authorities in co-operation. That is not an easy thing to do, more especially when we are dealing with various services and various types of precautions—services which have not been used for this purpose before and precautions which are entirely new.
My complaint against the Lord Privy Seal is that, although his range of vision is gradually widening, the scale of operations which he regards as adequate does not appear adequate to me. I am certain that he has been doing his best, but I think he started with a wrong conception of the size of the problem, and it is no good to keep trying to stretch and stretch a scheme which was conceived on too narrow lines at the first. I think that is one of the weaknesses of the Bill—that it is not broad enough in its conception to deal with the problems of to-day, and with the fact that we have now swiftly to make provision of a kind which has never had to be made so fully before.
I said the other day on the public platform that our Maginot Line was not the British Navy but our system of Civil Defence. The new factor of terror from the air means that, as in all war, it is the spirit of the people that in the last resort makes victory possible, and in these 2856 days it is more than ever important that every conceivable step should be taken to fortify the spirit of the people. Our Maginot Line is Civilian Defence in all its forms. If that be so, the right hon. Gentleman, in spite of this rather long Bill, has not yet provided the people of this country with the outlines of a scheme adequate to meet what may fall upon this country at any moment. Had the First Lords' statement precipitated certain potential enemies into swift action, the right hon. Gentleman's head would have been on a charger to-day, because it is undoubted that the right hon. Gentleman's plans are but little further ahead than they were when we were in the mess and muddle of September last. I would not give comfort to any foreign Power, but it is no secret to say that at that time Britain was defenceless as regards its primary Maginot Line, and though six months have since elapsed the right hon. Gentleman cannot say to-night that if the worst were to happen, and if the planes zoomed over London and provincial towns, he has an effective system of Civil Defence to meet them. That is a very serious situation.
I have noticed during my visits to the provinces, including the visit I paid last week-end, that there is a different spirit among the people from the spirit of last September. There is no feeling of panic among the people of this country now. There was last September.
§ Mr. Greenwood
It is not due to the right hon. Gentleman that that panic has been dispersed. The reasons I will not enter into now. They are very largely political, very largely concerned with the feeling that Britain is now apparently recovering its soul and knows what it means to do if it is properly led by the Prime Minister and the Government. In my native county of Yorkshire last weekend I was very much struck with the quiet, calm confidence of the people, and with their spirit, but the right hon. Gentleman has not fulled his responsibilities to them. They will be brave enough when the hour comes, but they are deserving of a good deal more adequate protection than the right hon. Gentleman still has in mind. I would not criticise him for one moment; I have gently tried during several Debates in this House to 2857 encourage him to greater efforts; but he is still halting by the wayside. He is still putting too heavy a financial responsibility upon local authorities. He is still not prepared to believe that in this tremendous duty which falls upon all of us the local authorities will play fair. I know as well as many people in this House—and one wants to be careful of one's words—the rather costive nature of the Treasury mind. They do not like to part with money. They can always find reasons for not spending money, overpowering reasons for not spending money; just as Ministers of the spending Departments, like the Minister for Health, if doing a great job, adore the idea of spending money.
This is essentially a national problem. We are dealing with the fourth arm of National Defence, as important in its nature as the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, but by the nature of things it must be very largely in the hands of local authorities to administer. But while I think that is inevitable, it does not mean that the burden ought to fall upon the ratepayers. Take the East Coast for example: from the poverty-stricken areas in the north to the agricultural counties further south, those areas are the first line, so to speak, over here, and the fact that they are poor ought not to deprive them of the resources which are essential for the defence of Britain, quite apart from the defence of their own particular areas. I say to the Government that to think in terms of £25,000,000 is but the beginning of their thoughts.
Every penny of the additional expenditure required for national defence ought to be a national charge. It is the duty of a local authority to have an efficient fire brigade service on a scale adequate to meet all the calls likely to be made upon it in normal circumstances. It is not the business of a local authority to shoulder the cost of providing the auxiliary fire brigade service which is essential in the event of war. If the local authorities can be trusted, as of course they can, to run their fire brigade services in the way they do now, they ought, in this impending danger and time of greater responsibility, to be trusted, without any fear that they will try to filch money from the Treasury, with the administration of the full cost of schemes which are an inevitable and essential part of our system of defence. 2858 I hope, therefore, that while the spirit of our people is as it is to-day, the Government will think in much broader terms and show greater imagination in dealing with this problem than they have done hitherto.
We on this side cannot, of course, resist this Bill, it would be foolish of us to try, but we do not regard it as being adequate for the responsibilities which are in the right hon. Gentleman's hands. I am not pretending that his task is an easy one. It is a task which I should not willingly wish to shoulder at short notice—I am a good adviser, anyhow—but we feel, and I believe many hon. Members opposite share the views of my hon. Friends here, that the Government's mind is still not sufficiently open to a realisation of the scale on which these services ought to be conducted. Though it might mean heavy financial sacrifices and greater direct taxation that fact ought to be faced, because I think it is the Government's first duty, its rearmament programme being in hand, to do all it can to keep up the spirit of our people and to give them that confidence without which we cannot win a victory should a war come.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am sure that none of us has listened to the heartening and encouraging words of the present Leader of the Opposition without a feeling of renewed confidence. The tribute which he paid to the spirit of our people is a well-merited one. Those who, like myself, have gone about the country in recent weeks can all bear testimony to the firm resolution with which the people are facing these new and unparalleled difficulties with which they are now confronted. Perhaps the word "unparalleled" is not fully justified for, after all, the defence of the people against hostile attack is one of the oldest responsibilities, not merely of the national but of the civic authorities in this land. Let us never forget that we have had to face grave dangers before, and the word "burgh," whch means a town fortified against raids, bears testimony to that. Raids are no new experience of our people, and defence against those raids is no new thing either. In fact one may quote from one of my favourite ballads. We remember howHoratius kept the bridgeIn the brave days of old2859 We remember also how a council of the city fathers was held and how the Consul gave the warning:'Their van will be upon usBefore the bridge goes down"'and how the city fathers turned out and defended the town. We remember, too, how compensation afterwards was given from the city lands—a grave dereliction of duty, because it was a transfer from community possession to private ownership.
There is still the Financial Resolution to be debated, but we have now come to one of the important points in the long two days' Debate in whcih we are engaged—the Second Reading of the Bill which is now before the House. It is common ground that that Second Reading will be passed without a Division. The House is eager and anxious to get down to the more detailed examination of the Bill. The fact that the Committee stage of the Bill is being taken on the Floor of the House will enable every Member to contribute his or her share to the discussion and, let us hope, to the improvement of the Bill.
It is certainly no party Measure. It is a Defence Bill in the widest sense of the word, and a Defence Bill, as hon. Members in all parts of the House have said, which brings the local authorities right into the picture. It cannot be worked without the good will and the assent of the local authorities, and the local authorities, as we know, are of every political complexion. Therefore, if it were being passed by a party Government in this House, which will not be the case, because I believe the House will give it an unopposed Second Reading, it would have to be operated in the widest non-party sense in the country. For unless the local authorities take it up with enthusiasm our efforts at the centre will be of no avail.
It has been said by hon. Members that there is a sense of frustration in the minds of the local authorities, and a difficulty in getting decisions, and those of us in the central Department also feel that difficulty. Every complaint that could be made against circumlocution can be borne out from the experience of the central Department itself. We none of us are guiltless in that respect. We shall have to do our best by a spirit of co-operation 2860 to deal with these problems as expeditiously as we can. The Parliamentary Secretary and I, myself, have done what we could by holding regional conferences, going down to towns where representatives of the local authorities have been assembled, in Bristol, Exeter, Cardiff, Tyneside and elsewhere, to try and short-circuit some of those difficulties. I believe that only by personal intercourse shall we get rid of the enormous flood of paper which is pouring from the central Departments upon the heads of the unhappy officials in the towns and counties in the Provinces. Those of us who go down and see the local authorities are told by them that it is almost impossible for them to take on more work, that the difficulties of keeping up with this civil reorganisation which is going on just now are very great indeed. Often when I myself am tempted to send out some new circular to jog the attention of the local authorities I remember the local authorities' representatives whom I have met who say, "For pity's sake don't jog the machine any more. It is already taking a full bite into this problem. Extra stimuli from the central authority do not accelerate, but in some ways actually slow up, the rapid progress which we all wish to see."
There is no golden rule to success, however. I am sure that a Debate such as we have had to-day will do a great deal to bring about the acceleration which we desire. A great many practical points have been raised and we have had many short speeches full of point. The House will realise that in putting so many points hon. Members have made it more difficult for me to be at once succinct and comprehensive in my reply. It would not be fair, however, to leave out. of account the numerous questions which have been asked to-day and yesterday. There was one in particular put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) and again at the end of the Debate by the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley). They referred to the provision of gas masks in certain areas of Cumberland and elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hackney paid tribute to the fact that an enormous number of gas masks have been made and very widely distributed, and he considered it all the more strange that in certain areas of the country the distribution was still incomplete.
2861 There are, in fact, enough gas masks for the whole population, but in the emergency of last September there was a certain number of over-issues here in London, while a certain number of gas masks which were issued were damaged by the population, who did not realise, I think, how very important it was that they should be preserved against another emergency. Therefore a reserve has had to be built up and is being built up, which will be of use here or in the more distant counties which have been mentioned. But the first necessity is to collect an adequate reserve, because it is very desirable that in the most dangerous areas a reserve should be kept, so that extra issues can be made. That is why for the time being an extra distribution has not been made in certain areas such as Cumberland, The hon. Member suggested that I take a census of the bare places. I dare say these bare places are very well known in the distant areas which will not be subject to the first shock of attack, but I cannot give the list just now. I will, if he wishes, collect the information and try to let him have it.
There were certain other questions raised yesterday and again to-day. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) put several points, and it is a striking example of the other preoccupations which face hon. Members that both the hon. Member and my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) intimated that they would have to leave at a fairly early stage of the Debate, the hon. Member for Camberwell to attend an A.R.P. meeting, and the hon. Member for Abingdon to attend a meeting in connection with the Territorials. Every Member of this House in some way or other is preoccupied with the administration of those measures which we are discussing this afternoon as well as with the legislation which we are now putting on the Statute Book.
The hon. Member for North Camberwell asked, first of all, whether the Lord Privy Seal was the co-ordinator, whether it was to him that Members had to apply in regard to details. The answer is "Yes"; he is the Minister for Civil Defence, upon whom the responsibility lies, although we his colleagues do our best to assist him in certain aspects of the problem. With regard to expenditure, the hon. Member asks, Would there be a statutory limitation of the rate which 2862 the local authority could expend, and the answer is "No" It may be that in certain points, such as the protection of a hospital, a specific service can be limited to a rate of one-tenth of a penny or some other very small figure. But in general there will not be a statutory limitation of A.R.P. expenditure. I shall have a word more to say on finance, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy will speak at greater length on that when he is dealing with the Financial Resolution.
The hon. Member asked. When an employer is called on to provide a refuge would the local authorities have the power of inspection? They will not, of course, in factories, where the Home Office inspectors would have the power of inspection; but for commercial buildings and houses local authorities would have the right of entry and inspection in order to carry out all their duties under these Acts. He also asked whether they would have power to give a certificate for the purpose of grants. The answer is "Yes"; they must have because somebody must certify that the work has been satisfactorily done if a grant is to be payable. He asked whether the training of employés was to be carried out at the expense of the employers—that is so; and whether the local authorities would give assistance if they were consulted. The answer is "Yes"; under the Act of 1937 the local authorities are expected to give assistance in training courses of that kind. He asked also whether in the extension of buildings the local authorities would be consulted. We shall certainly see that local authorities are consulted in such matters.
The hon. Member for Pudsey and Otley (Sir C. Granville Gibson) made some points with regard to the difficulties of firms who are in financial straits in carrying out the demands made upon them for the safeguarding of their employés under the Bill, and asked whether Government-guaranteed loans or some such facilities would be given. I am afraid the answer to that is "No." The necessity for an employer to safeguard his employés under this Bill is exactly the same as the necessity of his complying with factory legislation. If an employer failed to bring his factory into a condition which would satisfy the factory inspectors, then it would be impossible for that factory to carry on its operations; and air-raid 2863 precautions are in exactly the same category. The hon. Member complained that the contribution was too small and asked whether the operations to be carried out could rank for deduction of Income Tax. The answer is "Yes." That is not in this Bill because it is not an Inland Revenue Bill, but we have the assurance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the matter. It is under the régime of the Chancellor that deductions will be made and claims allowed. My hon. Friend asked whether property could be compulsorily acquired. The answer is that for public purposes it could be, but it would not be possible to allow private companies compulsorily to acquire somebody else's property for their own advantage.
My hon. Friend also asked whether there was a limitation of distance between the shelters and the works. No limitation is laid down. I do not think one can make any hard and fast rule. We can all tell whether a shelter is near enough to the works to be useful to the employés or whether it would be too far away. I should not like to lay down any definite number of yards or feet as a cast-iron criterion. He asked when the new code would be out; the Lord Privy Seal said that it would be out very soon. He asked whether it would be laid down how large per person a shelter should be in cubic feet of space; that information will be in the code. He asked also as to the obscuration of light, and whether it could be done by means of a main switch in the factory. The answer is "No," because the obscuration of light has the general purpose of obscuring the light during the whole period of the war and is not a matter of merely pulling out a switch by a wave of the arm. The purpose is to ensure that if a factory is darkened it will not be seen by aeroplanes from a distance, and can continue production unimpaired.
The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) spoke at some length upon the shelter policy and regretted that more has not been laid down in the Bill. The powers with respect to that policy are in the Act of 1937, and it is not necessary to lay down further powers in the Bill. She was complaining that administration ought to be more vigorous in this matter, and that certain decisions ought to be promulgated on it. 2864 My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal will be speaking later on that point and I do not think the hon. Lady will expect me to deal with it any further. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon and others who mentioned that considerations of passive defence should not overshadow those of active defence, and that considerations regarding the number of shelters and so on should be part of a general plan leading up to positive attack and the pushing of all these locusts of death further away from our shores. That is the other half of our problem. Preoccupation with passive defence may lead, in the long run, to a result very different from that which we desire.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of shelters I am sure that the House is anxious to hear whether the Government have an opinion in regard to deep shelters and, if so, what it is. Secondly, whether the Government have faced the fact that local authorities upon whom shelter powers are conferred have not in many cases the financial resources with which to provide deep shelters, and that it is also a matter for doubt whether local authorities have the technical, engineering and architectural ability. Those are questions about which hon. Members on all sides of the House want to hear from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Elliot
The Lord Privy Seal will be speaking later in the Debate. The points just raised by the right hon. Gentleman are of general importance and are not such as I can fairly deal with when going over the points made during the Debate.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
The right hon. Gentleman says that the Lord Privy Seal will be speaking later in the Debate; when will that be? On the Financial Resolution? If so, will he not be tied down to the terms of the Resolution?
§ Mr. Elliot
I hope very much that none of us will draw the attention of the Chair too much to the terms of the Financial Resolution. I can only hope that none of the remarks which are made now will be overheard by the Chair in the later stages of the Debate, and I am sure that the House and the Chair will not desire to limit in any way the scope of the discussion. The Lord Privy Seal, having 2865 exhausted his right to speak on this occasion, cannot speak again on those points in which the House is so very interested, unless he takes the opportunity of the Financial Resolution. It is on that stage of the Bill that he will speak.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon referred to the special responsibilities of defence areas, highly important areas which, although not themselves reception areas, should not, from their character and that of the areas adjacent to them, be used as reception areas. Certainly, in considering this we shall have to keep that point in mind. There may be islands in the reception areas in which we should do our best to avoid billeting. But this may raise a difficulty because we must keep it clearly in mind that when we are making inroads into the pool of billeting accommodation, we are at the same time increasing the number of people who must remain in the dangerous congested areas. These are conflicting claims which we can only balance up the one against the other. I fully recognise his point and we shall do our best to meet it.
An interesting review was given us by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) of the difficulties of county councils and of the highly congested borough which he represents in this House. He complained that county councils felt there was difficulty in getting decisions, but, as I say, we cannot remove that complaint by mere assertion. We can do it only by making consultation in every way as informal as possible and by speeding up, even in the passing of this Bill. In all these matters we have to remember that we are working in a state of emergency for which all of us will have to make allowances. He desired a re-scheduling of the areas on Tyneside, but, as he knows, I have undertaken to send the officer in charge of evacuation at the Ministry to hold a conference with the local authorities there on the whole subject. These things take time. This is a case in point. We have to discuss that matter with the evacuation authorities and with the reception authorities. If I could say at once that South Shields would be evacuated as well as Gateshead or Newcastle, I would do it, but these things depend on the local authorities as much as upon anyone else, and upon the pool of accommodation available.
2866 The hon. Gentleman spoke of the problem of the self-evacuating person, and of the danger that people from the great towns would absorb in advance the transport upon which we are relying to take away the children. I hope that I am able to dispel his fear that no decision has been come to on that point. He said again and again that we had done nothing to take compulsory powers for billeting. But that would be a matter for a Defence of the Realm Act. I can assure the hon. Member that no danger such as he fears would be allowed to reach unreasonable proportions. It was interesting to note that he thought we should enact a Defence of the Realm Act now. That is rather a steep order, and might not lead to the acceleration which he desires. If the Lord Privy Seal came to this House with D.O.R.A. to-day I am sure that he would not succeed in persuading the House or in (a) gaining any greater power for the local authorities or (b) in accelerating the progress of these preparations. The hon. Member spoke of the burden of rates and mentioned that rates in the West Riding of Yorkshire would have to bear an additional burden of as high as 4d.
§ Mr. Elliot
I looked up the figures, as far as I could get hold of them, for 1938–39 and those which I have been able to obtain do not correspond with the figures given by the hon. Member. It does not go over 1.24d
§ Mr. Elliot
Yes, I thought that was probably the difference. The figure is certainly smaller than that which he gave. As he knows, we have an undertaking by the Lord Privy Seal, and this we shall carry through. We shall have to take into account those rising figures which, in some cases, go far above what were contemplated when my right hon. Friend introduced what is now the Act of 1937. The hon. Member next spoke of the desirability of being released from restrictive covenants in respect of some movements of headquarters, some of which he was carrying out himself. As he said that he was raising this point later in an 2867 Amendment. I think we may leave it to be discussed on that Amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Patrick) said that there were certain firms who were carrying out plans for an altogether different type of shelter, and that they would need to be provided for. It is possible to increase the grant in exceptional circumstances. Judging by his description, that was a factory in which those exceptional circumstances existed. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter), who made a constructive and very interesting speech, complained that the motive power was not enough. He suggested a grid of some kind being coupled up to increase the voltage passing through the wires. I waited for some time to find out more about the place from which the voltage was to be derived. I saw an extra set of lamps requiring extra amperage. He suggested that the regional commissioners should be brought in, but I think he will agree that they could derive power only from the central dynamo; but I could not find any suggestion by which the central dynamo could be driven at a higher speed.
§ Sir A. Salter
I thought the dynamo was the right hon. Gentleman himself and his colleague on that bench. I suggested the commissioners as a grid to transmit more of the energy.
§ Mr. Elliot
I had hoped that when he spoke of connecting it to a grid he thought of connecting it up with a source of power, and not a source of consumption. If his view is that the Lord Privy Seal and myself should work harder, then we must just do the best we can, and if we should come to this House and ask for a modest rise of salary, no doubt we could safely leave the matter in the hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University. He spoke of the dissatisfaction existing in regard to deep shelters; that is a point which has to be cleared up. He spoke of the Anderson shelters and was anxious to know the speed at which those shelters were being delivered. I am able to say that at present we are turning them out at a rate which is giving new shelter to 200,000 persons a week. I think that that is a very creditable figure, which shows great energy, and drive in the 2868 original decision and the speed with which it is being pressed forward.
§ Sir A. Salter
Does that figure relate to delivery only, or is installation proceeding at the same rate?
§ Mr. Elliot
This figure represents delivery to the householders themselves. I could not quite say whether the installation is proceeding at the same rate. If a shelter is delivered into a backyard, it can be very quickly put into position to shelter the inmates of the house. The hon. Member spoke of the desirability of having many kinds of shelters. I agree with that. We shall have to deal with the shelter problem, not by any simple formula, but by a number of devices. My hon. Friend spoke, and I think the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey also spoke, of the desirability of some respite from noise and so on, particularly for people working for long periods in dangerous areas. Whether that respite can be best gained by means of deep shelters or by some form of relief in rotation, like moving troops out of the line, I should not like to say. Those of us who have been in the front line will recollect how difficult it was to get any respite from noise, even in the shelters available to us, and, therefore, from time to time it was necessary to move out of the line if you were really to get any respite, which I admit, if you are to keep up the productivity of the workers, is absolutely necessary.
As regards the problem of evacuation in difficult areas, the hon. Member said that different criteria would have to be applied in different cases, and that is true. If, for instance, the docks on the eastern side of the country were subjected to long-continued bombardment, clearly those docks could not be used. In that event, the traffic would have to be transferred to the other side of the country, and a new set of criteria would come into play. Obviously, whatever shelter you might provide for the men, there is no shelter that you could provide for the ships, and, if the bombing continued to such an extent as to wipe out, say, the dockside of London, it would be useless to attempt to carry on a great part of the nation's trade through those docks. The hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. W. H. Green) spoke of the question of finance, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir I. 2869 Albery) made the interesting suggestion that it might be possible for a loan to be made by the local authority for the hire-purchase of shelters. The point is an interesting one, and we shall look into it. It might be possible to do something in that direction.
§ Sir I. Albery
If that is being considered, is there any possibility of its being prevented by the terms of the Financial Resolution?
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not think it would be prevented by the Financial Resolution. It would not impose an extra charge. Such a loan would naturally be a loan for purposes of hire-purchase, not a subsidy, and I think that in those conditions it would not be out of order.
The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) expressed the hope that the provision with regard to burning pit-heaps would not result in that charge becoming a charge on the industry. The Bill, however, which was brought in by a number of hon. Members on his side of the House, and which has now reached the stage of Report and Third Reading, does in fact put the charge exactly there, so I think it is a little unfair to ask us to go further than the hon. Members responsible for that Bill went in their own proposals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn (Sir R. Tasker) spoke of the desirability of evacuating disabled ex-service men, a very special class of those who are infirm and for whom we all have the greatest sympathy. Finally, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wake-field (Mr. Greenwood), although he said that we had a wrong conception of the size of the problem, nevertheless admitted that this is a Bill to provide, not £20,000,000, but £45,000,000, because he talked about the steel shelters coming in as well. It may be that this is still an insufficient provision for our necessities, but it is at any rate a formidable and gigantic provision, and I think it may be truly said that the Government are not allowing financial factors to be the governing consideration in their attack on the problem.
I should like now to say a word about one or two general points which have been raised in the Debate, and on which I think the House would wish to hear something from me. The problems of evacua- 2870 tion and the hospital problem were raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Wandsworth (Colonel Nathan), by the hon. Member for Islington North (Dr. Guest), who has a special right to speak on these matters, and by a number of other hon. Members. With regard to evacuation, the hon. Member for Islington North suggested that the Government are not carrying out the recommendations of the Anderson Committee, but surely the opposite is the fact. The Committee recommended that reliance should be placed mainly on billeting in private houses, and that a plan should be prepared in complete detail for the transference of children school by school. They said:Until a complete survey of available accommodation in the safer areas has been made, it will be impossible to determine the scale on which evacuation can be carried out without overtaxing the resources of the country. We believe that accommodation will in fact prove to be the limiting factor, in the sense that there will not be room in the relatively safe areas for all who could theoretically be spared from the vulnerable industrial areas.We have carried out the survey which the committee recommended, and we have been brought up against the limitation which they anticipated, that is to say, the amount of accommodation available in the safer areas. The returns of the local authorities are now practically complete. They cover a population of 15.500,000 out of the total of 16,000,000 in the receiving areas, and, therefore, we know how many people can be billeted. We have taken the standard of one person per room, and if billeting is pushed above that limit, there is a danger of destroying the primary object for which billeting is carried out, that is to say, keeping up the morale of the civilian population. There may be areas in some districts in which a higher concentration will have to be endured, but for the country as a whole, over a long period of time, it may be unwise to depart from that standard if we can possibly help it.
On the basis of one person per room we have taken a very great deal of action. Each local authority has now been informed of the number of persons allotted to its area. We have worked out a timetable under which the transport authorities will provide for the evacuation of the 3,000,000 persons in these priority groups—a colossal task. The movement of the original British Expeditionary 2871 Force to France in 14 days at the beginning of the War in 1914 was regarded as a great feat of railway organisation, but here we are attempting to move 3,000,000 persons, not in a matter of weeks, but of days. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney commented with some uneasiness on the fact that the railway companies, on going closely into the time-table, found that a three-day period instead of a two-day period would be necessary, and that, in the case of certain railways, four days might be required. Conceive what a colossal task it would be to carry out the time-table of a move of that size and running at that speed. It reflects the greatest credit on the transport authorities that they have been able to work out such a scheme. It will not be like the state of affairs that we had last September, when people were simply shovelled into trains and taken out into the country; it will be carried out according to detailed plans, whereby the children will be despatched in an orderly manner and receive accommodation ahead, prepared for them in reception areas which have been fully warned and are actively engaged in the organisation of their reception.
§ Sir Percy Harris
Would the right hon. Gentleman deal with the point I raised as to whether his Department will be in a position to "marry" the schools in the evacuation areas to those in the reception areas, so that contact may be made between the school authorities in London and those in the country as smoothly as possible?
§ Mr. Elliot
Whether or not we shall be able to do that fully I should not like to say. When a train comes up, it must be filled, and the train must stop. Whether we shall always be able to transfer to a certain area the children whom we desire to billet in that area, I should not like to say. We shall do our best to inform the local authorities in the receiving areas, as and when we are able to do so, of the schools from which the children will be coming to them, but whether we shall ever get so far as to send to a school in Dorsetshire children from a certain school in London, in all the chaos and confusion of a great war and the impending atmosphere of calamity which might overhang such a move—whether we shall be able to 2872 take a particular school in Hackney or Bethnal Green and transfer it to Dorsetshire—is impossible to say. If we could do that, we should be doing something in comparison with which the achievement of the prophet Moses would be a mere joke.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many available billeting places were revealed by the survey?
§ Mr. Elliot
I am afraid I could not give that figure off-hand, but I think it was of the order of 5,000,000. We are arranging for a movement of 3,000,000 persons, without interfering with a fourth million, namely, the 1,000,000 people who have reserved accommodation in the reception areas under private arrangements. These numbers will be subject to a certain amount of adjustment, but I think they will come out pretty nearly to what I have just said.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what are the respective numbers of children and adults included in the 3,000,000?
§ Mr. Elliot
Speaking from memory, I think the number of children will be from 2,000,000 to 2,500,000, and the balance will be adults.
That indicates that the recommendations of the Evacuation Committee cannot, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, be carried out.
§ Mr. Elliot
But, in addition to the adults who are going with the children—mothers and teachers and helpers—there will also be the 1,000,000 persons who are making their own arrangements, and who may all be adults. But then we come to the limitation of available accommodation indicated in the report of the Committee, and we come back to their recommendations that, first of all, we must make a survey and work out our plans. Then we must use the accommodation that is available to the very best advantage. That was the fundamental demand which the Committee made upon the Government, and that demand is being carried out. It is true 2873 that the Committee said they thought that a great city would perhaps lose as many as one-third of its inhabitants. I do not see my way at present to go much beyond a fourth.
I do not deny that the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) and others have spoken of much larger figures. The hon. Member for Derby, in his first speech on the Camps Bill, spoke of 5,000,000, which is not very different from the figure of 4,000,000 which I have just mentioned. In his second speech, however, he gave the figure as 10,000,000. I beg the House and the hon. Member to consider that we are moving 1,000,000 people a day. It is very unlikely that we shall have 10 days' notice of any emergency. To attempt to move 10,000,000 people would mean that we should, at the end of the evacuation period, be running into actual war conditions, and the high figures which would apply in the case of a smooth, well-organised evacuation would be disturbed, and it might be very difficult to carry out smoothly and easily the evacuation of the 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 people referred to. After that, one comes to a new set of figures. When the war begins, when the communications are interfered with, when the actual services and rail-ways and roads may be broken up, a new set of figures will arise. I beg the House to consider the risks of over-planning. There is a danger in thinking you can see all the dangers ahead, and there is nothing worse than an over-rigid plan which has broken down in its early stage. What I want to concentrate on from the beginning is a smooth and easy movement of 4,000,000 people.
§ Mr. Lansbury
Is the right hon. Gentleman taking account of certain areas in the East End of London where the danger is recognised as being much more severe than anywhere else? I think the right hon. Gentleman will have heard of Hackney Wick and the lower side of Stratford, along the main sewer of London. Is there any scheme for taking all those people out, as has been recommended by the inspectors who have been sent there to investigate?
§ Mr. Elliot
Then he will have heard me say that there are places where completely different criteria will apply, I am not only referring to the East End of London; it may be that on Tyneside there are areas where the dangers are quite as great. But the big mass movement is the thing on which, I think, we ought to concentrate everything in the first place. Later we can give attention to those areas of high vulnerability.
§ Mr. Lansbury
I am obliged for that answer. Hon. Members must remember that each of us feels a little concerned over the district he represents. That is the reason I put the question.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for referring to this matter. It is no party matter. Does not his reply indicate the impossibility of evacuating the large number of adults originally contemplated in the report? Does it not indicate the necessity of taking other action to provide accommodation for adults in the rural areas where they would be relatively safe—action not already contemplated? In the case of intensive bombardment, the alternative to planned evacuation is not that people stay where they are, but panic evacuation. In order to avoid that we must have a plan; and if the accommodation is not sufficient, other accommodation must be provided.
§ Mr. Elliot
I think the hon. Member will recall what I have just mentioned to the House, that we are providing shelter accommodation at the rate of 200,000 persons a week. Accommodation will not necessarily be in the rural areas. Some of it will be in the urban areas, to deal with the problem of persons who cannot be accommodated under the billeting scheme. The phrase "bouche inutile"—the useless mouth—has been mentioned. That phrase was coined for the case of the commander of a fortress who rushed people out of the fortress, with the result that they had to eke out a miserable existence between the two forces, and most of them, if I remember rightly, perished miserably. It may be that these new concentrations will be just as vulnerable as those from which the people were evacuated.
§ Mr. Elliot
You cannot move 10,000,000 people in this country without producing new concentrations. Ten million people are in themselves a concentration. You cannot avoid the fact that if you move them anywhere you will have the ground rather more thickly covered than it was before they came there. I have undertaken to review the plan as soon as the returns from the local authorities are complete; and, of course, I shall consult with my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. But this is really a mobilisation scheme, and a very great scheme, and it will be impossible to chop and change it. Therefore, we must be sure that alterations are not made except for the very gravest causes, and that they do not alter unduly the broad lines of the scheme.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman said that, broadly speaking, the present plans involve the use of all the available billeting accommodation, will he not once more consider whether the present provision for camps cannot be very greatly increased?
§ Mr. Elliot
Yes, but we have plans which it is very desirable we should get on the Statute Book. We want to be sure that that movement is not haphazard. I want to say a word about what the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) and others have said about having our plans—to use the graphic phrase of the hon. Member for North Tottenham—"mucked up" by people trying to evacuate themselves. I hope that the phrase "women and children first," with which we are all familiar in times of danger, will be accepted by the people as a whole, and that people will not try to rush the transport facilities that are available. The evacuation we have contemplated will itself mean a great reduction of the train facilities available for ordinary people. The hon. Member for North Tottenham mentioned that, perhaps, there will be a strain put not merely on rail but also on road transport. We are not blind to that. If that were to happen, measures would, clearly, be taken to deal with the situation. We, as citizens, ought to realise that the mothers and children should go first. We ought to stay where we are, even at great danger to ourselves, until that movement has been carried through. That is the appeal I make to the citizens of this country, who, I believe, 2876 will do all they can to help the Government.
I come to a point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Wands-worth. He was anxious to know whether the beds which were mentioned were really beds—whether they really existed. The figure is 200,000 beds for immediate use, and another 100,000 in the course of a few days after an emergency develops. There is no doubt that, on the basis of using the existing hospital beds and clearing those we are able to clear, we can get 200,000 beds at once—beds which are there, which have pillows, which have bolsters, which have blankets, and which, more important than all, have nurses. Those beds are now in existence. People are sleeping in those beds to-night, and it will be possible for us to have them made available at 24 hours' notice. As for the extra 100,000 beds, we have them on order. Twenty-five thousand have been actually received and distributed to the hospitals. If we do not get all the beds which are on order we should have resort to local requisitioning, and we believe that we should be able to get the 100,000 in that way. With regard to mattresses, they are on order and are rapidly being delivered. We have 300,000 hospital blankets on order, and 62,000 of them have been distributed.
As to nurses, I agree that there is an urgent need. Eighty thousand are available, but it may be that three times that number will be required before the war is over. We have set up a central emergency committee for the nursing profession. Their task is to establish a central register of nurses and nursing auxiliaries—on the same lines as the British Medical Association's central register of doctors, and to establish and train a nursing reserve from women who are offering themselves for training. I trust that Members, when speaking, will bring the need of recruits to this service very prominently before the young women of the country. There is a local organisation in every county and county borough, under the charge of the medical officer of health, responsible for dealing with volunteers and training them. The Central Committee have already received some 4,000 applications. Of course, that is merely the beginning of the flow; but friends of mine who were interviewing applicants yesterday and to-day reported 2877 very favourably on the calibre and capabilities of the young women coming forward. Each locality is of course receiving recruits and I have not yet received their returns. Application for enrolment should be made to the Central Committee, Romney House, Marsham Street, Westminster, S.W.I, or to the local medical officer of health, or to the St. John Ambulance Brigade, or the British Red Cross, or to the Women's Voluntary Services.
Finally, I would say as regards hospital accommodation that we have made arrangements for getting work commenced on the next stage of our programme, the programme for erecting auxiliary accommodation in the form of hutments. Of these we have made arrangements for 20,000 beds to be proceeded with forthwith. The three main areas for which these will provide will be the London area, the Birmingham area and Tyneside, and I hope very much that we shall be able to co-operate with not only the local authorities but the voluntary hospitals, in order that full use may be made in peace time of this additional reinforcement to the hospital accommodation of the country. On Tyneside, there is an appeal being made at present for extra hospital accommodation, and funds are being raised. I hope we shall be able to co-operate with those running that scheme.
§ Colonel Nathan
How many, in terms of patients, does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate that the hospitals will be capable of accommodating?
§ Mr. Elliot
I have said that 200,000 beds will be available in the first 24 hours and another 100,000 a day or two later, and that we are now providing 20,000 additional beds in hutments.
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not doubt that at all. I was speaking of the 200,000 beds that we shall have available in the first 24 hours, the extra 100,000 that we can make available, and of making a start for the further provision of beds. I do not regard the 20,000 as more than a start, but the House will realise that the construction and equipment and staffing of 20,000 hospital beds is a formidable undertaking, and I would not like to hold out hopes 2878 to the House of getting to a further stage at an early date. That, in peace time, would take us more than three years, and we are going to try and do it in a much shorter time than that.
I apologise to the House for having taken longer than I had hoped, but the points that have been raised are of very great interest. It may well be that I have omitted to refer to all the points which have been raised, but I do not wish to trespass longer on the time of the House. The House to-day has shown a high temper, and I hope that I have done nothing in any way to bring discord into the discussions or to weaken in any way the spirit of the people. We are contemplating a grave and most unpalatable future for a great many people, but we are faced with problems which make even such a future preferable to a future we should have to contemplate if we tamely submitted to the sort of challenge with which we are being faced.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tuesday, 18th April.—(Lieut.-Colonel Harvie Watt.)