HC Deb 02 February 1939 vol 343 cc351-61
29. Mr. Day

asked the Lord Privy Seal how many gas-masks have been provided for the civilian population during the last 12 months; will he state the gross cost of same and give particulars of any arrangements that have been made during the last six months for the protection of infants from the risk of gas-poisoning?

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir John Anderson)

40,000,000 respirators have been issued during the last 12 months for the civilian population, at a gross cost of approximately £4,000,000. Various types of apparatus for the protection of infants from the risk of gas poisoning have been evolved from time to time, but have been discarded after trials. During the last six months, however, a satisfactory device has been developed for infants up to the age of two years, and production of all parts has already commenced, with the exception of one, which is being pushed forward with all possible speed. This part will be produced by mass production methods, and once production has commenced will become available in such large quantities as to overtake the production of the other parts in a short time. Similarly a special type of respirator has been developed during the last six months for infants over two years of age, and purchase is being arranged.

Mr. Day

Are the officers of the Minister's Department carrying on experiments for the purpose of protecting infants?

Sir J. Anderson

No. They are quite satisfied they have a device which is effective, and that is in production.

Mr. Bellenger

How long does the right hon. Gentleman expect it will be before these special respirators for young children are issued?

Sir J. Anderson

The total number to be ordered is 1,200,000. I would rather not give the definite date of the completion of delivery.

30. Mr. Ede

asked the Lord Privy Seal what places on the Tyneside are regarded as areas from which children will be evacuated in the event of war?

Sir J. Anderson

The plans now under preparation provide for the evacuation of children from Newcastle-on-Tyne and Gateshead.

Mr. Ede

What is the basis on which that decision was reached, in view of the very crowded parts nearer the mouth of the river which have been excluded?

Sir J. Anderson

These two county boroughs contain the largest crowded populations on Tyneside, and dispersion from them is therefore the most urgent need. We cannot put more people into the northern reception area than it will contain. When complete information is available and the survey of accommodation now being carried out is completed, the position will be reviewed in the light of that information.

Mr. Lawson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the places to which these children will be sent, particularly from Gateshead, are crowded colliery areas with very small houses, and that there is really very little accommodation there. Would it not be better to consider underground shelters on a very large scale in the Tyneside area?

Sir J. Anderson

We shall know the position better when the survey is completed.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the whole of the Durham coastal area is scheduled as a neutral area, but that it is very vulnerable and highly dangerous; and does he not intend to afford any more adequate protection?

Sir J. Anderson

That is another question.

Mr. W. Joseph Stewart

Has the right hon. Gentleman not got a scheme to cover the county boroughs of South Shields and Sunderland and places adjacent to those county areas?

Sir J. Anderson

I think I have already dealt with that.

Mr. R. J. Taylor

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the country north of Newcastle, with its burning pitheaps, is very vulnerable?

31. Mr. R. Gibson

asked the Lord Privy Seal what is the approximate cost of the gas masks issued to the public and of a suitable container; and what steps he proposes to take to assist persons who have been issued with gas masks to keep them in safe condition?

Sir J. Anderson

The cost of the civilian respirators distributed to the public, together with the cost of the 39,000,000 carton containers which have been issued to local authorities, is over £4,000,000. The supply of carton containers to those local authorities to whom respirators were issued is now almost complete, and local authorities have been asked to make arrangements, through the wardens' organisation, to advise and guide householders in the care of the respirators already issued.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Has any decision been reached as to who owns the gas masks?

Sir J. Anderson

That question was raised yesterday, and I think there is another question on the Paper to-day about it.

Mr. Lewis

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in London there are still a great many places where there are no containers for the gas masks that have been issued; and will he see that containers are issued?

Sir J. Anderson

Yes, Sir.

Mr. R. Gibson

Are containers available for the gas masks that have been already issued to Members of this House?

32. Sir William Davison

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he is aware that, during the recent crisis a large number of persons who had volunteered for air-raid precautions duties, such as air-raid wardens and women casualty first-aid workers, wrote to local authorities to state that for family and other reasons they would not be able to serve in the particular borough or county; and whether, in the case of persons who are voluntarily recruited under the new national service scheme, any contractual obligation will be entered into before they are trained for their various duties at the expense of the local authorities?

Sir J. Anderson

All volunteers for the air-raid precautions services will in future be asked to sign a declaration undertaking to serve when called upon in an emergency either part-time or whole-time, according to the terms on which they have enrolled. If for any reason volunteers already trained move to another area they can offer their services to the authority of that area.

33. Sir W. Davison

asked the Lord Privy Seal what is the position of Red Cross workers who have enrolled for air-raid precautions work in their various localities in the event of a crisis occuring; and whether they will be permitted to serve in such localities, or whether their services may be required elsewhere?

Sir J. Anderson

I am not sure what my hon. Friend has in mind, and if he will communicate with me I will arrange to give him a reply which will make the position of these volunteers quite clear.

Sir W. Davison

Is it not evident from the question that the idea is that members of the Red Cross who enrol in a particular area might, owing to the exigencies of the crisis, be moved into some other area and have to serve there?

Sir J. Anderson

That is exactly one of the points on which I was not quite clear. It all depends on the conditions upon which the volunteer enrols.

34. Mr. Mathers

asked the Lord Privy Seal what arrangements he proposes to make for newspaper production in an emergency; and what guidance he proposes to give to the journalistic and reporting staffs who are not mentioned in the Schedule of Reserved Occupations, Cmd. 5926?

Sir J. Anderson

The importance of enabling an adequate news service to be maintained is fully recognised, and consultations have already taken place with representatives of newspapers and periodicals for the purpose of helping them to make plans for carrying on essential services in a time of emergency. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has also made arrangements to confer with representatives of newspaper proprietors and journalists on the question of the services of journalists in time of war.

Mr. Mathers

Can we take it that the Minister is quite clear about not relying too much on wireless services; and is there not an omission in the list of scheduled occupations when the manipulative side of newspaper production is provided for but nothing is done for what one might describe as the brains of the newspapers?

Sir J. Anderson

A conference has already been arranged on the matter.

Mr. Mander

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why they were omitted from the list of reserved occupations? Are not journalists at least as important as jobbing gardeners?

35. Mr. Simmonds

asked the Lord Privy Seal to whom the steel shelters of which he has made substantial purchases will be issued for use?

37 and 38. Mr. Doland

asked the Lord Privy Seal (1) what steps he is taking in connection with the arrangements made by the Government with manufacturers to supply certain citizens living in vulnerable areas with steel air-raid shelters to ensure that those who will not receive these shelters free of charge will be able to obtain them at the same cost as that charged to the Government;

(2) whether he will inform the House who will receive the steel air-raid shelters free of charge; and who will be expected to buy or make their own shelters?

Sir J. Anderson

A circular on this matter will be issued to local authorities next week, and I will arrange to have copies of it placed in the Library of the House. My hon. Friends will find that it contains much detailed information which cannot conveniently be given within the limits of an answer to a question.

Mr. Simmonds

In view of the great importance of enabling those householders who have the financial ability to purchase the shelters to do so as quickly as possible, would my right hon. Friend not say that that particular point has been carefully borne in mind?

Sir J. Anderson

Yes, it has been borne in mind.

Mr. Westwood

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider the use of alternative material other than steel for these shelters, which would enable us to meet more speedily what is an urgent need at the present time?

Mr. George Griffiths

Is the right hon. Gentleman going to let those who can afford to pay for them have the shelters, and leave the others outside until afterwards?

Sir J. Anderson

The first supply will be made free, ex hypothesi to people who cannot afford to pay for them. As regards the first of the supplementary questions, the hon. Gentleman will see, from the report of the engineers, published yesterday, that the nature of the shelters recommended is not exclusively steel.

36. Mr. Simmonds

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he is giving any encouragement to local authorities to construct shelters which will withstand direct hits by medium-sized explosive bombs?

Sir J. Anderson

This very important question has been under continuous examination by my Department, but I am not yet in a position to make a fully considered and complete statement on the subject.

Mr. Simmonds

In view of the fact that local authorities are pressing to get on with this work, could my right hon. Friend give some idea when he will be able, at any rate, to release those who have definite plans, so that they can put them in hand?

Sir J. Anderson

I can assure my hon. Friend that nothing is standing in the way of consideration on its merits of any scheme submitted by a local authority.

39. Sir Thomas Cook

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether gas masks issued to the civil population in September last are regarded as Government property; and whether any check upon present holders is contemplated?

Sir J. Anderson

I would refer my hon. Friend to the statement which I made yesterday in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir J. Mellor).

41 and 42. Mr. Pilkington

asked the Lord Privy Seal (1) when fire appliances, such as hoses, which have been indented for, are to be supplied to local authorities;

(2) how many fire-trailers have been indented for and how many delivered to the local authorities?

Sir J. Anderson

The number of appliances to be issued to a particular local authority is assessed by the Home Office, or the Scottish Office as the case may be, after examination of the local fire scheme, and when the appropriate issue has been decided, and the local authority have intimated that they are prepared to receive the appliances, delivery instructions are given to manufacturers through His Majesty's Office of Works. These instructions provide also for the delivery of hose and other ancillary gear, as supplies become available from the manufacturers. Up to 27th January, 3,500 appliances, including both trailer pumps and self-propelled units, had been delivered and approximately 300 miles of hose, and since the crisis in September very large orders have been placed as part of the measures for accelerating the programme of production. Contracts on the scale now in hand necessarily take some time to mature, and, while every effort is being made to expedite issue of the appliances, it is impossible to ensure delivery of all items at the same rate, or to arrange immediate delivery of appliances and equipment in cases where a local authority's scheme has only recently been submitted.

Mr. Pilkington

Can my right hon. Friend give any date by which time he hopes that all local authorities throughout the country will be fully supplied?

Sir J. Anderson

I would rather confine myself to saying that we are pressing forward as rapidly as possible.

43. Mr. Pilkington

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether local authorities are to be enabled to instal telephones, lockable doors, etc., and to carry out minor alterations in premises scheduled for housing fire-trailers?

Sir J. Anderson

The approved cost of any necessary alterations to premises to be used for the storage of emergency fire fighting appliances and equipment ranks for grant under the Air-Raid Precautions Act, 1937, and local authorities have been informed that particulars of minor works not exceeding a cost of £50 need not be specially submitted to the Department for prior approval. Any proposals for the installation of telephones required for emergency fire brigade purposes will receive favourable consideration.

44. Mr. Joel

asked the Lord Privy Seal what steps have been taken up to date to initiate schemes for constructing underground car parks which would be available also as deep air-raid shelters?

56. Mr. Leach

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether the Government are prepared to encourage local authorities in danger zones to provide underground bomb-proof air-raid shelters capable of being used as car parks; and what rate of grant will be made for approved schemes?

Sir J. Anderson

The possibilities of constructing underground car parks which will also give some shelter protection have received my careful consideration, in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, and I am now arranging for immediate expert examination of certain technical problems involved.

Mr. Leach

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is in his mind in regard to grant for any approved schemes such as are put forward in my question?

Sir J. Anderson

It is contemplated that in so far as these things serve as shelters, they should be eligible for grant in accordance with the principles laid down by law.

Colonel Nathan

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in addition to examining the technical aspects, he will examine the legal aspects of the matter, with a view to introducing as soon as may be any necessary enabling legislation?

Sir J. Anderson

That is already under consideration.

Mr. Simmonds

Will my right hon. Friend make certain that if these car parks are constructed they are in fact deep, otherwise they may be veritable death traps?

54. Miss Ward

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will state a date on which the handbook incorporating the recommendations of the Government's advisory committee of architects and engineers on structural precautions in buildings against air-raid attack will be made available to the public?

Sir J. Anderson

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the revised version of Handbook No. 5. The revised text is virtually completed and there will be no delay in publication.

Miss Ward

As the Committee commenced in 1935, will my right hon. Friend think me ungracious if I ask whether he can give a specific date when the report will appear?

57. Mr. Crowder

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether it is still the case that less than one-tenth of the fire stations and accommodation needed in London for the Auxiliary Fire Service have been secured, and that there is a great shortage of the necessary apparatus; and by what date it is anticipated that these deficiencies will be made good?

Sir J. Anderson

I do not know the basis of my hon. Friend's estimate. Over 250 self-propelled units and trailer pumps have already been delivered to the London Fire Brigade and arrangements have been made for accelerated deliveries during the next few months. Particulars of forthcoming deliveries are communicated to the Council beforehand so that steps may be taken to see that the provision of accommodation keeps pace with the delivery of appliances; and I am satisfied that the London County Council are doing everything that is reasonably possible to ensure that there shall be no avoidable delay in providing the accommodation required.

Mr. Crowder

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there is room for training the actual men?

Sir J. Anderson

Perhaps my hon. Friend will kindly put down another question on that point.

Mr. Poole

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the throw of these trailer pumps is adequate and sufficient to reach the highest buildings; and can he say what is the actual throw of which these pumps are capable?

Sir J. Anderson

I cannot answer a question of that kind without notice.

68. Commander Sir Archibald Southby

asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the general apprehension felt throughout the country as regards the proposals to billet adults and children evacuated from certain areas during a crisis, and the obvious difficulties in the way of finding suitable accommodation, he will consider the establishment of permanent camps to which the children could be sent in order that their health, education, and safety may be assured?

The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)

I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that the possibility of making use of camps to supplement the other accommodation available is being examined.

Sir A. Southby

Will the Minister undertake that before any definite plan is adopted, and certainly before a crisis arises, this House will have an opportunity of debating the whole question of billeting?

Mr. Elliot

I think that is a question which should be addressed elsewhere.

Mr. Crossley

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is true that there is general apprehension felt on this matter throughout the country?

71. Miss Ward

asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of his decision not to include Wallsend-on-Tyne in an evacuation scheme, he will arrange immediately for a responsible official to visit Tyneside to be shown the lay-out in order that all vulnerable areas may receive proper consideration?

Mr. Elliot

The position in regard to evacuation will be reviewed in the light of information as to accommodation which becomes available as a result of the survey which is now being made in the areas marked for reception. Before a final decision is reached I shall certainly be ready to arrange for a discussion with representatives of the local authority.

Miss Ward

Would it be possible for a responsible official now to come with me to Tyneside?

Mr. Elliot

In the first place, it is necessary to find out what accommodation is available.

Miss Ward

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall call attention to the matter on the Adjournment.