HC Deb 20 April 1939 vol 346 cc607-13

8.10 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I beg to move, in page 3, line 32, at the end, to insert: Provided that no camp shall be constructed unless an architect experienced in planning work has been employed in connection with it. The object of the Amendment is to make absolutely certain that a skilled architect shall be given full responsibility for the lay-out and design of every camp. I am sure that that will meet the general desire. It may be said that such is already the intention, but it seems to me that there is no harm in inserting a provision of this kind in the Measure. The Minister, himself, I am sure understands the importance of this proposal and perhaps he will give the Committee the benefit of his views upon it.

8.11 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

The question raised by the Amendment has been, to some extent at any rate, debated already and I have said that I did not think it necessary that further persons should now be added to the board. I further pointed out that in the department we have architects and persons who are expert in planning and that the proposed review would take place in circumstances in which full use would be made of this knowledge and experience.

Mr. Mander

Perhaps I have not made the position clear. I have not in mind what the Minister has just referred to. I am dealing here with a smaller localised problem. I propose that wherever a camp is being set up on a particular site, by direction of the company, there shall be employed a qualified architect. I am not thinking of super-architects on the board but of an architect on the spot.

Mr. Elliot

I can clear that point up at once. I was about to say that the company have already been in consultation with the Royal Institute of British Architects and have been furnished with a panel of 40 or 50 architects whom the Institute consider peculiarly suitable for this work, and they propose to select from that panel individual architects in all cases to plan and supervise the construction of the camps.

8.14 p.m.

Mr. Marshall

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will watch this matter carefully. During the last War, huts were built in some of our large industrial centres and we have not got rid of them yet. They are most unsightly and are or have been in many cases rat-infested and vermin-infested. If these new camps are to be anything like those, the whole project will be condemned. These camps will naturally be situated in places where people are trying to preserve the amenities of the countryside and I can imagine that an ill-designed camp would destroy the amenities which we have been trying to preserve for several years past by means of "green belts" and in other ways. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will watch this question of amenities very carefully.

Mr. Elliot

It is for that reason that we have made a specific arrangement for the services in every case of one of a panel of architects who are specially experienced in this matter.

Mr. Mander

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Annesley Somerville

On a point of Order. The Amendment in my name, in page 3, line 32, has not been called. I suppose the reason is that the Minister has practically accepted it inasmuch as he has put an Amendment on the Paper covering it. I should like to thank the Minister for having recognised the very reasonable wishes of the local authorities.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Peake)

The hon. Member's surmise is correct. His Amendment is covered by a later Amendment on the Paper in the name of the Minister.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Keeling

I beg to move, in page 3, line 41, at the end, to add: Provided that this Subsection shall cease to have effect when such land ceases to be used for such purposes. Sub-section (2) of this Clause, as it stands without my Amendment, seems to exempt from the Town and Country-Planning Acts for ever any site occupied under this Bill, except in so far as the Minister may direct. The object of my Amendment is to make it certain that if at any time a site should cease to be used for the purposes of the Bill, it shall automatically revert to the original zoning under the planning scheme.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I am in entire agreement with the purpose of this Amendment, and I hope the Government will see their way to accept it.

Mr. Mander

I want to say exactly the same.

Mr. Bernays

I am glad to see this unanimity, which is in contrast to my experience earlier in the Debate. I am happy to be able to say that the Government recognise that there is some ambiguity here, and we are grateful to my hon. Friend for having called attention to it.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 3, line 41, at the end, add: (3) A recognised company who submit any plans and specifications to the Minister for his approval under Sub-section (1) of this Section shall transmit copies thereof to the council of the borough or urban or rural district, and to the planning authority, if any, for the area, in which the site of the proposed buildings, erections or excavations is situate, and the Minister, before giving his approval, shall take into consideration any representations which may be made to him by that council or authority within fourteen days after the receipt by them of the copies of the plans and specifications. In this Subsection the expression planning authority in relation to any land subject to such a scheme as is mentioned in the last preceding Subsection, or to a resolution to prepare or adopt such a scheme, means the authority having power to control the development or interim development of that land."—[Mr. Elliot.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

8.17 p.m.

Wing-Commander James

On the Second Reading of the Bill the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) and others emphasised that in their view it was necessary that these camps should be camouflaged against air attack. I wish to express exactly the contrary view. I believe that nothing would be worse than that these camps should be concealed. Indeed, I think that their positions should be publicly announced and that they should be clearly marked. Their positions should be recorded and advertised, and every step should be taken to make it plain that they are civilian refuge camps, that they have no possible military objective, and that they should be exempted as targets for air bombardment. In war there will be all over the country a large number of military objectives which it will be desirable to conceal and which will have to be camouflaged. It seems to me, basing my views on the experience of the last War, that concealment of these camps will be extremely difficult any way, that it can hardly be efficient, and that if attempted it may provide the enemy with some form of excuse for mistakes. The experience of the last War was that there was no case of deliberate bombing of a hospital, although military rest camps were bombed. In another place recently the Noble Lord, who during the War was chief of the Air Staff in France, made some reference to this.

In 1918 I had occasion to visit the 15th Division and the general told me that a hospital nearby had been several times bombed, and asked me what I thought about it. He said it was not marked, and I suggested that a large red cross should be put on it. That was done and the hospital was never bombed again. For a long time in the last War I was stationed at the aerodrome in Abbe Ele. Nearby on the main line railway there were some large hospitals, and although that area was heavily bombed the hospitals were never once touched. There was an occasion when the Germans bombed a hospital at Etaples. It happened that at that time I was at Flying Corps headquarters in France, and we sent out in aeroplanes next morning to photograph the bombed hospital because we thought a gross outrage had been committed which should be advertised to the world. When we developed the photographs we found it was not possible to pick out one negative which did not also cover a neighbouring dump across the railway embankment. That dump was a perfectly legitimate target.

I am certain that it would not be desirable to attempt to camouflage these camps. Seaside resorts might be advertised as being entirely reserved for this purpose and as having no military objective at all. Possibly in time of war we might have neutral observers near the camps to see that these advertised positions were not bombed. I beg the Minister to realise the extraordinary difficulty of effective camouflage. These camps, we hope, will become large holiday centres in peace-time, and effectively to conceal such large concentrations will be extremely difficult. I am convinced it would be far more effective to make no effort to conceal them but, indeed, to expose them and to advertise their location. To those who would say, with every reason, that prospective opponents would be ruthless, I would say that in a war military objectives would be plentiful and it would not be a sound policy, from the lowest point of view, to attack purely non-military objectives. It is sometimes over looked that, especially in the last few weeks, our own Air Force has become so enormously more powerful—

The Temporary Chairman

I have allowed the hon. and gallant Member to deal with the question of camouflage, but I do not think we can go into the question of the comparative size of Air Forces.

Wing-Commander James

I apologise; I was going rather wide of the question. I only want to express the hope that no camouflage of any sort will be attempted.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. Price

The hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) shows a confidence in the Dictators, if they ever should attack this country, which other Members of the Committee are not likely to share. Why are we going in for all these preparations for air-raid precautions to defend the civil population gainst air attack if we are to assume that all attacks will be on military objectives alone? I do not think the Government are taking that view. I feel that it is very necessary to consider whether these camps should not be camouflaged. If there is a large-scale evacuation of children and others from industrial centres to rural areas, and some of them go into camps, I can conceive that it may be regarded as a quite legitimate military operation to bomb the civil population in the new centres. It was done in Spain. The hon. and gallant Member apparently can only see events in the civil war in Spain from the point of view of General Franco's side. If he had studied that war reasonably and objectively he would have known that deliberate attempts were made all through to put pressure upon the civil population. The same thing might happen here, and civil camps of this kind might quite well become military objectives, and I hope the Committee will not agree that camouflage is unnecessary.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The hon. and gallant Member has brought forward two arguments in support of his contention. The first is the argument that a reasonable enemy conducting air warfare will have many more important objects than the civil population with which to deal, and would confine his attentions to places where he would be likely to find military objectives to destroy. The second argument is the technical one that it would be difficult to camouflage these camps. I agree with the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) in. thinking that the hon. and gallant Member takes too optimistic a view of those who are committing aggression throughout the world at the present time. There have been three wars recently—in Abyssinia, in Spain and in China—and I suggest with great confidence that in no one of those wars have the desires of the hon. and gallant Member been carried out. If he had had an opportunity of seeing a film, which many of us saw, of the war in Abyssinia, he would have seen aircraft coming low down to attack a British hospital in open country—coming down to within a few hundred feet and bombing it to pieces. The same experience befell every foreign hospital which was on the Abyssinian side. In China the weapon of terror from the air has been used against the civilian population; and, indeed, it is only a few months since Signor Mussolini made a speech in which he said that, founding himself upon the experience of the wars in Spain and Abyssinia, he could now declare that the purpose of the Italian Air Force in a new war would be to win the war by destroying the morale of the civil population.

It would be a simple matter to fly down and machine-gun these camps, and I am certain that it is desirable to have them camouflaged and provided with trench shelters. On the technical aspects of camouflage I do not profess to have an opinion, except to say that many such camps were camouflaged in the last War, and, as I understand it, with more or less satisfactory results. In any case the subject is one to which the Government should give close attention and consult their experts on how these camps can be camouflaged, if it can be done effectively. I could not accept the implied argument of the hon. and gallant Member that if these camps were camouflaged it would be in some mysterious way at the expense of the camouflage of military objectives. The fact that you camouflage one object does not mean that other camouflaged objects become more visible.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) that we cannot look for anything other than sheer terrorism from those who are likely to attack this country. They will want to create the maximum amount of human suffering and fear among the people, and we do not want these camps to become a number of Guernicas scattered about the country. Therefore, I hope that the Government will consider most seriously the camouflaging of these camps and arranging them in such a way that they are disguised from aircraft, as I believe can be done.