HC Deb 14 June 1939 vol 348 cc1411-39

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £190,707, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1940, for air raid precautionary services." — [Note5,000,000 has been voted on account.]

8.14 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I have had in the last three days to take up so much of the time of the House that I think I shall be forgiven if I cut my introductory remarks in reference to these Estimates very short. I must, however, explain in a few words the scope of the Vote which we are now taking, and also indicate the nature of the reasons which have made it necessary for the Government to put down this Vote to-day.

The gross Estimate for Air-Raid Precautionary Services for the current financial year was £42,205,907, and of this amount the Government decided that £37,000,000 should be provided from the Defence Loan. This left a net sum of £5,190,707 to be provided from voted moneys, after allowing for certain other small appropriations amounting to £15,200. In the ordinary course, the Committee would have been asked to provide on account of this Vote a sum sufficient to cover about one-third of the gross Estimate, that is to say, about £14,000,000, but as on this occasion the total amount to be provided from voted moneys was only a little over £5,000,000, the Vote on account had to be limited to that sum. It is unfortunate although from one point of view fortunate, that within a few days the whole of that amount will be spent, and unless the Vote can be taken forthwith, I shall find myself in the unhappy position of being unable to look my creditors in the face. Thus, from my point of view, it becomes of very great importance that this Vote should be taken, and I should be grateful if the Committee would pass it to-day in order that an advance from the Defence Loan may become available immediately.

This Vote is confined to Air-Raid Precautionary Services, and does not include certain other matters for which I am responsible. In the three months that have elapsed since I addressed the Committee in connection with a Supplementary Estimate, at the end of March, substantial progress has been made The period has been one of development in the recruitment of personnel, in the training of personnel, in the issue of equipment, and still more in the building up of our Civil Defence organisation up and down the country. The very fact that we have spent already the whole of the sum voted on account testifies to the improvement that has come about in the rate of our progress in Civil Defence. The total sum in respect of which the money included in this Estimate is to be voted, that is to say, £42,000,000 to be provided for the financial year, includes a substantial provision for steel shelters, of which we hope by the end of the financial year that no fewer than 2,500,000 will have been delivered. It includes also a substantial sum for the purchase of material for the strengthening of basements. It covers the provision of an additional 15,000,000 civilian respirators, 1,300,000 protective devices for babies, and 1,500,000 respirators for small children.

Provision is made in the Estimate for the purchase during the year of more than 350,000,000 sandbags, of which more than half are being obtained from India. For fire-fighting appliances and equipment, the provision made is for no less than £3,700,000, representing an increase of £2,500,000 over the provision for the previous year. The other main items of equipment covered by the total figure I have given are protective clothing, first-aid equipment, and emergency hospital equipment. The supply of the equipment for casualty services, although it comes under this Vote, has been organised in consultation with the Ministry of Health, and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to the London County Council for the very valuable assistance they have given in lending the services of their Chief Supply Officer to help in the placing of contracts for first-aid equipment and emergency hospital supplies. The great experience of the Supply Department of the London County Council has been of real value to my Department and the Ministry of Health in securing accelerated deliveries of these essential supplies.

In concluding these few introductory observations, I should like to add that a token provision has been made in the Estimate in connection with the protection of vital services and for grants to local authorities in respect of emergency water supplies. This is done in order to bring these services to the notice of the Committee. The full cost of these measures, together with that of other services covered by the provisions of the Civil Defence Bill, is not included in the present Estimate, but will be brought forward in a Supplementary Estimate which will have to be put before the Committee in the near future. I say that by way of explanation. The reason, of course, is that the legislative authority for these things has not yet been given.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I should like to refer first to the last remark that was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal. This Estimate is for a gross amount of £42,205,907. We are now told—as we had gathered from a perusal of the Estimate—that some of the items shown in it are mere token provisions which, I imagine, will be substantially exceeded during the course of the year. There are other sums, not even mentioned in the Estimate, which will arise out of the Bill with which we have temporarily parted this evening, and which will have to be considered at an early date. I do not quite understand why it has not been possible to include those things in the Estimate, because on page 27 of the Estimates I notice that under Item H the Government have included the recoupment of certain expenditure, which it is stated: is in some cases not covered by existing legislation at all; in others it is not so covered so far as the full recoupment proposed exceeds the percentages which could be paid under the terms of the Air-Raid Precautions Act, 1937. When moving the Second Reading of the Civil Defence Bill, the Lord Privy Seal said that the first Clause was included to make an honest man of him. I am bound to say that that appears to be a very long process, and apparently we have not quite reached the end here; for I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is asking us now to sanction certain payments for which there is no legislative sanction, and I should be surprised to learn that the mere passing of this Estimate to-night would be a sufficient legislative sanction. Therefore, one must imagine that there is some legislation that we have not yet seen which the right hon. Gentleman will have to bring forward in order to deal with these matters. I imagine, for instance, that such things as the amounts of money that were paid to the London Passenger Transport Board in connection with work which among other things, included the stopping of the railway under the Thames, have been included somewhere in these figures, but that the right hon. Gentleman has no legislative sanction under which the Treasury are authorised to meet these payments. I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to give us some indication of the method by which the Government propose to make a completely honest man of him. We are getting on with the process and we hope that with perseverance we shall re-establish the right hon. Gentleman so that he can appear in polite society with an unblemished character.

The Committee will also expect a fuller explanation than the right hon. Gentleman has given of some of the items in this Estimate. I take first, the question of fire-fighting appliances. I find that it is for the auxiliary fire-fighting service that the greatest difficulty is being experienced in securing recruits. The difficulty is not confined to one part of the country. It is found in London, in the industrial districts, in the small towns of the South of England and even in the large villages. I was at a meeting of the Surrey National Service Committee the other day at which the mayor of an important Surrey borough said they had exactly as much fire-fighting equipment now as they had last September. I am sure that is a common experience and that there are other districts in which, despite requests by the local authorities, the fire-fighting equipment has not been brought up to date. I have given the name of the borough privately to the right hon. Gentleman and I am willing to give it to the Committee, if he so desires. That has a most depressing effect upon recruiting. My experience of recruiting for voluntary services is that the best recruiting agent is the man who is satisfied that he is getting on with his training and the worst is the man who goes round saying "It is true I have put my name down for the fire-fighting service but we have no equipment, nobody can be trained and it will be months before we get a chance." If fire-fighting equipment is as essential as we have been led to believe, then it is also essential that these appliances should be supplied without delay.

I should also like to ask some questions about the quality of the equipment. I heard very severe criticisms of the quality of the hose supplied last September. I put down a question regarding the equipment supplied to one urban district. The answer was that it was admittedly defective and that it had been taken away and replaced. The irony of the situation, "however, was that it was taken away from the district during the emergency period and had the emergency developed, a serious state of affairs might have arisen in that area. I am told that some of the hose supplied was exceedingly defective and that there was no evidence that any care had been taken in its selection and despatch. I understand that complaints with regard to the hose were prevalent over a wide area. I, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his Department has done anything to ensure that hose and other perishable equipment for this purpose, will not be taken out of old stock but will be new material and will be properly examined before being sent out to local authorities.

The next point which I desire to raise concerns the air-raid precautions civilian training schools which, apparently, now come under the right hon. Gentleman's Department. I see they figure in the first item in this Estimate. When these schools were started, they dealt with anti-gas measures only. They were in fact known as anti-gas schools. When the question of these schools was first before the House of Commons I suggested that a disproportionate amount of attention was being given to anti-gas methods in view of the probable extent of the use of gas in the event of an air raid. I understand that a much wider curriculum is now in force in these schools and that gas has been relegated to its proper position in the scale. Is the right hon. Gentleman certain that the important people in local administration who received instruction in these schools when they were almost exclusively concerned with anti-gas methods, have had an opportunity of taking refresher courses and of making themselves reasonably well acquainted with the whole range of subjects now taught? It is clear from the Civil Defence Bill that Government Departments attach at least as. much importance to the danger from blast splinters and incendiary bombs, as to the danger of gas attack. I think there is general recognition of the fact that gas will probably be a subordinate feature in any attack. Unless they receive refresher courses, some of those who attended these schools at the outset, will be deficient in the training necessary for dealing with enemy attack on the lines which it is now expected to take.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the number of respirators which he proposed to acquire in the current year. I would ask him how many of these represent replacements and how many were supplied to people who had not already received respirators. I imagine both these figures are included In the total of 15,000,000. I understood that the right hon. Gentleman is not 15,000,000 short on the distribution already made, on the basis of one respirator to each person. People may desire to have a change of clothes, but from the comments made upon them I do not think many people are likely to ask for a change of respirators. I hope the Minister will tell us how many of these are replacements and whether the number is regarded by his Department as adequate, in view of the probable wastage. Further, has he any idea of how many of the respirators originally issued have become unfit for use? He has taken powers during the year to deal with people who dispose of their respirators or misuse them. Does he contemplate taking any action in that matter? If so, can he say what proportion of the existing respirators will still be suitable for use at the end of the period covered by this Estimate?

I desire next to mention the question which is dealt with under Item O in the Estimates, namely, grants to local authorities in respect to emergency water supplies. Here we have only a token figure. All the deputations from the County Councils Association to the Ministry of Health with regard to evacuation, which I have attended, have regarded this question as of the first importance to local authorities in dealing with evacuation problems. Unless some very early steps are taken, a very great deal of the accommodation that has been regarded as available will in fact be unsuitable for prolonged occupation by the evacuated population. I notice that most of it is regarded as being in connection with fire services, and so I suppose the proper person to whom to address remarks with regard to water supplies for evacuation purposes would be the Minister of Health, so I will not say any more on that matter at this stage, except to say that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that sufficient pressure is kept up on the Minister of Health to ensure that this point shall receive his early attention.

Mr. W. Joseph Stewart

He ought to have been here.

Mr. Ede

I see that evacuation is mentioned under Item H, but I gather that the costs that we are asked to bear here are not costs for future evacuation so much as costs for the evacuation that did not take place last September. This is bringing into this financial year the accounts that we on this side asked should be considered during the time that the House was in Recess last October. We are at last getting the bill in, but it is- impossible on the figures here to ascertain what anything that was then incurred cost. If you look at what is lumped under H, you will find the most heterogenous mass of expenditure: Expenditure incurred during the emergency of September, 1938, in connection with (1) measures of evacuation. I should have thought it would have been more in keeping with the respect due to the Committee of Supply that we should have been told what that figure was, because that is a completely distinct item from those that follow. Then there is: Losses incurred by local authorities on the disposal of surplus timber and other materials. That had nothing to do with evacuation, but was for the people who were not evacuated, and I think we are entitled to know what action was finally taken in respect of those local authorities which declined to pay some of the bills handed to them for timber and other materials which they acquired at that period. There was a general feeling throughout the House that where excessive prices had been demanded from local authorities, the fullest possible support should be given to them in resisting the extortion that was attempted to be practised on them. Then there is: Repayment to contractors for out-of-pocket expenses incurred through suspension of contracts whilst engaged in trench-digging for local authorities. How much did that represent? Apparently this is some part of the £200,000, but I think the Committee is entitled to have these very miscellaneous expenditures itemised. It almost reminds me of the story of the lady who looked through her boy's school pocket-money accounts, and said, "I am glad to see the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel every week." He said, "What ever makes you think that?" "Well, I see an item every week ' S.P.G.' and a few shillings and pence." "Oh," he said, "that is not the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel; that is ' Sundries, probably grub '." I suggest that some of these things here were "Sundries, probably graft," not graft by the right hon. Gentleman—we are making an honest man of him—but graft by some of these people who seized the opportunity, by increased prices and other means, to attempt to turn the country's necessity to their own profit. I think we ought to be told how much those contractors managed to get over this matter. Then there is the payment, to which I have already alluded, to the London Passenger Transport Board in respect of emergency construction works carried out at the request of the Government. I think it is the more necessary that we should have this information, because it is clear from the remainder of the note which I have already quoted that these sums are in; the main expenditure for which this House has given no legislative sanction at all, and I hope that at some stage in these Estimates, if not to-night, we may have the information—perhaps when we deal with these Estimates on the Report stage. Clearly an item of this kind ought to be submitted to us in some detail. Item I, "Protection of Vital Services," which again is a token item, is a thing on which I think we ought to have some further information. Will the Departments concerned take some steps to check these items, to make sure that the money is spent only on these essential works to maintain continuity of supply and that items that would have been incurred in any event by some of these public utility undertakers will not be smuggled in and carried through at the public expense?

There is one other thing to which I have to draw attention, and that is the fact that although this item totals £42,000,000 an appropriation-in-aid of £37,015,200 is brought in, and of that sum the £37,000,000 is to be provided by loan. It is true that it does not fall on this financial year, but sooner or later the whole of this £42,000,000, with the exception of the odd £15,200, has to be met out of public funds. It is some measure of the extent to which not merely this year's revenue but the future resources of the country are being mortgaged to deal with the situation that confronts us internationally. I think it adds point to the very eloquent words that were used by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) in his speech on the Third Reading of the Bill. If we could have had this £37,000,000 to deal, not with these services, but with something that would have made the people of this country healthier, better, more intelligent, it is almost impossible to think of the advantages that might have accrued to us. It represents some of the waste that human folly is compelling us to incur. There does not appear to be much interest on the right hon. Gentleman's side of the House in these matters, because only his Parliamentary private secretary appears to think it worth while to attend on our deliberations, but after my hon. Friends on this side have expressed their misgivings and hopes with regard to these matters, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to answer the questions that I have put to him, because, vast as these figures are, we think it is essential that the closest possible economy should be observed in their expenditure and that every scrutiny should be given to this vast expenditure, which, unfortunately, we all have to regard as being so essential.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. G. Griffiths

The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) declared that the best advertisement for volunteers was the man who, after he had volunteered, had found that there was work for him to do and the tools with which to do it. If he is doing nothing for weeks on end he begins to get uneasy and to feel that, after all, the work is not as important as it is made out to be. I have been sitting with an A.R.P. committee since those committees were formed in the local areas. It is a committee numbering about 20, and we have been sitting month after month and suggesting different schemes and asking for this and that. Representatives of that committee have: gone to the joint area committee and have come back to us to say, "You can't have it. The county council say that you can't have these things." In some areas in South Yorkshire they are getting very discouraged because they can see no progress made. There are two urban district councils in the Staincross area, and both have asked the area joint committee to allow them to have fixed first-aid posts. This will be a very small matter to the Lord Privy Seal, but it is not a small matter to these two towns. They are so situated that there is a rural area between them, and the roads in rural areas are not always of the best, and the transport facilities between the two towns leave something to be desired.

The area committee think those towns. ought to have fixed first-aid posts, but the county council, on instructions from London, have stated that both cannot have them. One of those towns is to have a fixed post and the other is to have a mobile unit. I feel in my soul that, after London, South Yorkshire will be the next area at which an enemy will strike. I see the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) is looking at me. The enemy are not likely to come from the-Irish Channel or from America, they will come over the east coast.

Mr. Tinker

I was only looking at my hon. Friend in interest, and was not in any way objecting to what he was saying.

Mr. Griffiths

Before they get to Lancashire they have to cross Yorkshire, and they will not travel to the west coast to do damage until they have first done some damage on the east coast, and I am concerned about South Yorkshire, about Sheffield and about Leeds. For the moment I am putting the case of these two urban areas, and it is an example which could be multiplied by the score. If anything should happen in Roystone, which has a population of 8,000, and there is only a mobile first-aid unit, injured persons will have to be transferred to the other town in the dark and along roads which are neither first-class nor second-class roads. We ask that there shall be a fixed first-aid post in each of those towns, but the Minister says, "No, you cannot have it." This is not something I have read about, because I have been on this committee, and we have repeatedly asked for a first-aid post. I have in my hand now a letter from the air-raid officer over a population of 100,000 people telling us that we cannot have a fixed first-aid post at Roystone. There are 80 volunteers in that little town for this one section of work alone, and it only requires 60 volunteers to start a fixed first-aid post. A mobile post calls for only 16 volunteers, and these 80 volunteers in Roystone are saying, "What are we here for? Only 16 of us are required and 80 of us have volunteered." I hope the Lord Privy Seal will see into this matter—or that some of his lieutenants will do so. Of course he has a tremendous task, but so long as he is at the head of the Department they will not bother about the people under him, but will say that it is his responsibility.

I should like to ask, further, what has happened to the steel shelters and why we have not got any in that area. Is it because I spoke about them some months ago in not very eulogistic terms and said they were not much good? Although I may have said they were not much good, I should like to know how many of them there are in South Yorkshire. I will bet there are not half a dozen. There is not a steel shelter among these 100,000 people in the Staincross area. Our folks do not know what the shelters are. They have never seen one. I ask the Lord Privy Seal to see that we get some steel shelters in the Staincross area. We are not in the same position as some of the people in London. They have been falling out in London as to who is to have the shelter, whether the people who are upstairs or those who are down in the cellar. In my district everybody lives in his own house and has a little bit of garden and can fix his shelter without any row or bother with the next-door neighbour or someone living above him or below him. A lot of miners who are out of work are living in these houses, and they will put in the shelters and it will not cost anything. They will do the work in, shall I say, their spare time—and I hope the Minister of Labour will not then stop something from their unemployment pay because they are working. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take that matter into consideration.

I would like to raise just one other point. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields was talking about some people getting refresher courses in the anti-gas school; I am not so much concerned about refresher courses, but I want our chaps to get the first courses. They have not had the first courses yet. We have some men who have been ready for 18 months and have been waiting patiently to go to the school at Easingwold, and they keep saying, "When are we going?" and I have had to say, "Well, I don't know." I therefore hope that before my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields gets any refresher courses for the people round about London who have had the first courses, we shall get our first courses before they get their second. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman's Department will speed up this matter. I will not say anything more, because I think I have said about enough.

Mr. Kirkwood

You have said about enough to get a reply.

8.57 p.m.

Mr. McEntee

I want to say one or two things and to get some reply and some explanation from the Minister about them. My hon. Friend has just been referring to Roystone and Easingwold and asking that people should get training courses before other people have refresher courses, but, in spite of that, I think it would be well if people who have already had the early training course could now have additional courses which are more up-to-date and which are considered to be necessary. I had the very interesting experience of going to Falfield and seeing the training courses given there. I considered them to be very efficient and very useful, and I still consider them so, but, as in all other branches of A.R.P. work, new experiences have arisen and have taught us the necessity of further experiment. At the present time there are some other things that we consider it advisable to do. They have been able to give later students at Falfield a more elaborate and useful course than was given to the earlier students, and I would impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the necessity of those earlier students being given a similar opportunity, even at their own expense and in their own time, to become more efficient than they are now.

I was glad to hear the Lord Privy Seal pay a tribute to the Supply Department of the London County Council, in which I served for a number of years. I know all the people in the most responsible positions there, including the one who is most responsible, the supply officer, and I say without hesitation that, in spite of the fact that I have left them, they are still a very efficient body. Another thing in regard to which I want some attention to be paid came out in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). He gave an illustration regarding the quality of material which has been supplied for fire hose and which is only one of many examples. The hose was largely useless. It is equally true to say that many other supplies are being provided which are, if not useless, certainly not up to the standard that we have a right to expect. That may be due to the fact that rush work is not done as efficiently as it otherwise might be, but, in spite of that fact, I think the condition of affairs to which I have referred is due largely to the inspectorate, although proficient, not being sufficient in number. I suggest that the Department should enlarge the inspectorate, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give attention to that matter. There are many proficient men available, so that the quality can be raised in order that, if ever the time should come—and we hope that it will not—to put these services into operation, we shall find that the material which will have to be used will be in every way efficient.

I do not want to say very much about surplus timber. I said on a previous occasion that when the timber came to be sold there would be a loss, but the right hon. Gentleman did not think that that would be the case. There must be a loss on timber or on anything else when it is resold in normal circumstances. The only other thing which I wish to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman—although it might not be necessary to do so, because I think it is obvious and that he will see it—is in regard to recruitment, which is not at the present time in all ways satisfactory, in spite of the fact that more than 1,500,000 men have volunteered and are giving their services freely in all branches of air-raid precautionary work. There are still material deficiencies in some of the services, and this has already been said in regard to the fire brigade. I should have thought that the fire brigade was a popular service, and it would be so if the conditions were satisfactory. Young men would be very anxious to get into the fire brigade and to receive the training that the auxiliary fire services get so that ultimately, when vacancies occur in normal fire services, some of them who have equipped themselves may have a chance to become members of the ordinary fire service in one of the big towns. The disheartening thing is the lack of material with which to work. Nothing is more calculated to prevent people from volunteering for the service than the fact that when they go down to the quarters, as many of them do night after night, they do not find the equipment to enable them to do their job properly.

I know many men who are getting tired of waiting, but what matters is not so much that, as the fact that they say to other people that they are getting tired. Had equipment been ready, and been sufficient and efficient, in the early days of recruiting for the fire service, that service could have been filled two or three times over, but the equipment was not there. Men went down night after night and got such drill as was possible from the instructors without the equipment that was necessary fully to train them, and, as a consequence the drill, such as it was, was often repeated over and over again ad nauseam until the men were tired of being drilled in things which they already knew very well. There happened what must happen in such circumstances. They said: "What is the use of going down there? I know all about that. I am not going down to-night." Instead of going there they went to some other place, where somebody said: "Why aren't you going down to the fire service?" They replied," There is no equipment," and the effect of saying that was that recruitment almost entirely stopped.

I know that there must be difficulties in providing large quantities of equipment, but I cannot help thinking that a large measure of blame attaches to those who art: responsible. I have heard of equipment coming in in parts, which it was utterly impossible to use because the other parts were not there. That is a thing which ought not to occur. I think the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised to pay special attention to the effect that lack of equipment is having on recruits. I want to see these services brought to the highest degree of efficiency, and would do anything I could to achieve that object. I have put forward these suggestions, not in any critical spirit, but as constructive suggestions, because my experience teaches me that recruitment is being stopped by the lack of those things which the recruits require to make them in every way efficient.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. Johnston

There are two points that I should like to put to the Committee before the right hon. Gentleman replies. In recent months I have been in close association with the air-raid precautions organisation in Scotland, and I put these two points, not wishing in the slightest degree to be critical of the right hon. Gentleman, or, indeed, of his organisation, but rather to dwell on the fact that in the last year there has been created, almost out of nothing, a huge organisation of 1,500,000 people who have come forward voluntarily, without any compulsion and without any payment, and who, in one way and another, are prepared to give service in the event of an emergency, t am sure it is good that we should not dwell upon little pettifogging criticisms, that we should not cavil where there are breaks in the chain, but that we should rather stand back now and again and agree that we have made immense strides in creating a huge organisation which, should a war emergency arise, would undoubtedly, even as it stands now, save the lives of hundreds of thousands of our fellow-citizens.

It is exceedingly difficult, as we are placed, to separate air-raid precautions into various compartments. If we want to talk about food, we find that that is a question for the Board of Trade, and we cannot deal with it on this Estimate. If we want to deal with water, it is a matter for the Minister of Health. The same thing applies to evacuation. There is the great problem of shifting hundreds of thousands of women and children out of vulnerable areas into reception areas. It is impossible to deal with one aspect of air-raid precautions without dealing with the others. If you evacuate 500,000 people, you must provide food, water, transport, medical aids, and so on.

Under Sub-head O the right hon. Gentleman has a token Vote, "Grants to local authorities in respect of emergency water supplies." Let us see if we can help him to assist his colleague the Minister of Health and his colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland in what is the most vital matter in the whole structure. The most vital matter is not the provision of shelter. The most immediate need, if you are going to shift women and children out of vulnerable areas and preserve the moral of the civil population, as the right hon. Gentleman is trying to do, by evacuating them to areas called reception areas, is that in those reception areas there should be a supply of water. It is no use having paper schemes. You may go to a village and ask the people how many they can take, how many houses or how many rooms they have. You get a beautiful picture showing that, say, 250 women and children can be taken by this village, and that is put down on the record; but these records do not mean anything at all unless in that village you can supply water to the 250 extra women and children whom you are going to take there in the event of a war emergency. A war emergency might well occur in the summer or autumn, when water supplies are short. The problem would be far different in the winter or in the spring.

I beg the right hon. Gentleman to remember that in many areas evacuation will not function at all unless there can be guaranteed a supply of fresh water for the additional population. It is perfectly impossible to provide that everywhere within the limits of a short-term programme, but there are areas where emergency pipe-lines could be laid down now from existing water supplies. I have in mind one area where there are four county councils and 18 municipal authorities which are endeavouring to provide in common—a good Socialist maxim—the necessary works in connection with the existing water supply. That is a big thing, but even if we only get that, we shall get something out of the war emergency. It is not only the maintenance of existing water supplies, but the maintenance of the existing personnel that is required, and here the principle of cooperation should be brought in.

What about the reception areas where we have no water supplies now? Cannot we encourage the local authorities, by financial assistance, to run pipes quickly into these areas—with meters attached, if you like—so that, for the first time, in our rural areas we shall have an adequate supply of fresh pure water. Here is a 10 token Vote for emergency water supplies to local authorities in vulnerable areas. I take it that what is meant is—the Lord Privy Seal will correct me if I am wrong—that he is going to aid, say London, Sheffield, and perhaps Glasgow to get added water for fire-fighting. But about one-third of the population will be away from those areas. I was in France last September, and I saw Paris evacuate itself. It did not wait for any organised arrangements; one-third of Paris had gone in the weekend. That is what you will find happening in London, Sheffield and other vulnerable areas. The people are going to areas where there is already an acute water shortage. People are scheduled to be taken to Wigtownshire and I have read that there is already such a shortage of water that they cannot supply the people who are in Wigtownshire now. I beg the right hon. Gentleman, while there is yet time, to take the widest view he can: to give assistance to approved schemes, provided that local authorities will co-operate in running pipe-lines into other rural areas, so that, if an emergency should come and we are required to evacuate 500,000 women and children, we shall not find chaos and disaster owing to a shortage of water supplies.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and, 40 Members being present—

Mr. Johnston

There is one other matter to which I would call the attention of the Lord Privy Seal. When this Bill is the law of the land we shall find that proprietors of commercial properties will be adding their demand to the existing demand on labour and material for providing shelters. We are already short of certain classes of workmen and material. We are already in danger of seeing prices rise for certain classes of material. I would make this prophecy. If the right hon. Gentleman permits an added demand for millions of pounds' worth of material to be made on an existing shortened market, he will see a price jump in materials and in construction which will prevent anything being done. We have already huge demands on our labour market. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman of a housing scheme where the week before last 25 per cent, of the joiners went away to work for a contractor at a munition establishment because the munition establishment contractor was offering 2d. an hour more than the contractor on the housing scheme. Please do not imagine that that will prove to be an isolated incident, and that it will not apply to cement workers, plasterers, bricklayers, everybody.

If the week after next or the month after next, as a result of the Civil Defence Act, there is a sudden demand for £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 worth of fresh construction in the way of cement sheltering, steel sheltering, or any other kind of sheltering, unless we are very careful about the cost of construction in these matters we shall inevitably see a price jump which will render production actually impossible. Let me try to prove that. If it costs £8 per head now to provide a shelter, and the proprietor of a factory or commercial building is able to provide it at that figure, leaving the question of Government assistance out of account, will he be able to provide it if it costs £12 or £20 per head? He simply will not be able to do it. Some of these are going to be only paper schemes, without reality, unless we face up to the need for drastic measures for dealing with this problem. I am not trying to make propaganda for Socialism, but what is called the law of supply and demand makes what I am prophesying inevitable.

Last night we agreed in this House to make it obligatory upon the proprietor of a tenant dwelling or flats to provide shelter where 50 per cent, of the people demanded them. He might be able to provide that shelter when the cost is £8 per head; but will he be able to do so if the cost is £12 or £20 per head? I say that he will not. Unless we take steps to prevent price-jumping and profiteering the right hon. Gentleman will see his air-raid precautions rendered very largely nugatory. We should encourage the iron makers to get their experts on the job quickly. Why should iron workers be working two days a week only, and the steel industry three shifts a day? Steel prices are at their maximum, and steel is almost impossible to get. You should get the iron experts in the iron industry on the job quickly and enable us to provide some relief in the demand on the steel market. That is one method of preventing a price jump. I know the right hon. Gentleman has had his attention called to what might have been regarded as an attempt at a remarkable price jump by the Cement Federation, but I do not want to go into the details of that case. We on this side of the Committee will have no mercy whatever upon any Minister, or group of Ministers, or any Government which sits down tamely and allows groups controlling materials necessary for the life and well-being of this nation to jump their prices in this hour of emergency.

Mr. Craven-Ellis

The right hon. Gentleman earlier in his remarks referred to bricklayers who were receiving a trade union wage going to another firm for higher wages.

Mr. Johnston

I began by instancing what was happening when people were permitted to bribe workers by offering them extra money. Surely by saying that I indicated what my view was. My concern is to see that the common people of this country get protection, that the workers get a living wage, but it is our duty to say here—and I notice that the hon. Gentleman never interrupted me until I began to attack the capitalist group—that we on this side of the House in the hour of a war emergency shall take every possible step to stop the exploitation of this nation, and the working classes of this nation, by groups of monopolists who, under the present capitalist system, are in possession of the necessary raw materials. I know the right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the difficulty. He is well aware that it would be fatal to this Government and this nation to permit it. If it is permitted there will be civil insurrection in this country. People in this country will not tolerate again what they tolerated from 1914 to 1918.

I sit down by saying this for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me. During the last War the trade union leaders, led by Robert Smillie, went in deputation to His Majesty's Government, and offered on behalf of all the workers of this nation not to ask for a penny increase in wages during the War if the Government would stop the profiteers from raising prices, and the then Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, refused that request. The result was that week after week prices rose against the poorest of the poor, people with fixed incomes, widows and orphans and soldiers' wives, but War debts mounted sky high. These were fictitious figures. The nation was almost brought to its knees by the gang whom we permitted to do it in the last War. And we wound up the War with a Royal Commission, not appointed by us, but by the other side, a Commission into War fortunes, who proved, to the knowledge of the Inland Revenue authorities, that there were people sitting with £4,000,000,000 in their pockets, after paying Excess Profits Duty and Surtax, that they did not have at the beginning of the War.

Mr. Kirkwood

Shame. The lamp-post for them.

Mr. Johnston

It is my duty to say now, at the request of my colleagues on the Front Bench, that we will not tolerate for five minutes the profiteering that went on in the last War. I repeat it because I want no misunderstanding. The right hon. Gentleman to my personal knowledge is as keenly interested as I am in stopping this, but I ask him to believe that in his methods of stopping it he must be drastic and ruthless. When he sees an admitted shortage coming of an important raw material he should cast his mind round quickly and get his assistants on the job quickly to provide alternative sources of supply. If it should happen that, despite all, there is a tendency to price-jumping—we know that it has begun already—we beg the right hon. Gentleman to come to this House for powers, and he will get them gladly and willingly from this side of the House, in the interest of the life of this nation, to stop the profiteering which otherwise can ruin us.

9.33 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I will do my best to deal within a reasonable space of time with at least the most important of the points that have been raised. First, let me try to give the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) information on various points for which he has asked. The hon. Gentleman asked about the legislative authority for payments amounting to £200,000, I think, included in this Estimate in respect of the September crisis. I am advised that the answer to that question is this. The legislative authority—the only legislative authority—for those payments, which relate entirely to what is past, will be given in due course by the Appropriation Act. As regards the details of the amount in question, I am in a position to give the hon. Gentleman some information, and I will gladly supplement that information if he should so desire. The total provided under the sub-head is £200,000. The evacuation expenses included there were in respect of payments to certain special schools and voluntary organisations for organising the evacuation of certain special classes, for example, the blind, and the total amount under that head was quite small. I am told it was not more than a few hundred pounds.

Mr. Ede

Does that mean less than £1,000?

Sir J. Anderson

Yes, Sir, when I say a few hundreds, I mean less than £1,000, but I should like to verify the figure. I have had very little time in which to look at these details,. but to the best of my belief that item in the total accounts for less than £1,000. Payments to the London Passenger Transport Board were approximately £25,000. The major amount in this total of £200,000 was in respect of the reimbursement which His Majesty's Government undertook to local authorities of the cost of unused timber and corrugated iron, which, at the re- quest of the Government, local authorities secured as a matter of urgency, and the Government undertook to bear the whole cost of the unused material. The actual total for that last item is not at present ascertainable, because unused material is still being disposed of on behalf of the Government, and we do not quite know what item of revenue will have to be taken into account in respect of that disposal. That is all the information that I am in a position to give to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. McEntee

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the bulk of the material has been sold to local authorities who may require it or to private contractors?

Sir J. Anderson

I cannot answer that question at the moment, as I do not know. The bulk of the material is timber, and timber has not been largely used for shelter purposes since the September crisis.

Mr. Ede

Has the right hon. Gentleman the figure for the repayment to contractors for that part of the expense due to suspension of contracts?

Sir J. Anderson

I am afraid that I have not, but I will endeavour to get it. I did try to ascertain through the usual channels what particular points would be raised so that I could be supplied with the information, and I did not in fact receive notice in regard to any of these matters. I do not say this by way of complaint at all, but in explanation of my inability to give all the information asked for. I now have the item of expenses which completes the information for which he asked in regard to the £200,000. The repayment to contractors amounts to not more than £6,000.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) had a good deal to say about deficiencies in fire-fighting equipment. I would be the last to contend that we have yet by any means made up the total shortage which has to be made up. I have never suggested to this House that we could hope to do better than substantially complete our programme some time in the course of this year. It follows that we are at this moment still short of equipment, but the position is nothing like as unsatisfactory as what the hon. Gentleman told the House would seem to imply. I would like first to deal with the specific case that he quoted of a certain borough in the south of England. If I understood him aright, he said that the mayor of that borough had informed him quite positively within the last few days that the borough was in no better position in respect of fire-fighting equipment than it was last September.

I will give the hon. Gentleman and the Committee the actual facts. The total amount of fire-fighting equipment which the Department has up to the present undertaken to supply to that borough is seven large trailer pumps and 23 light trailer pumps. The first allocation in respect of that total, representing 22 per cent. of the total, was one large and five light trailer pumps. The large pump was despatched in November, two light pumps in October, three more in March of this year, and the bulk of the other equipment required in connection with these pumps has also been delivered. A second allocation of two large pumps and four light pumps was made later. The whole of that allocation was despatched in March. That brought the numbers delivered, as far as pumps of various kinds are concerned, up to 40 per cent of the total approved allocation. All the accessories required in connection with the second allocation of pumps have also been delivered. That is a very different picture from that which the hon. Gentleman gave to-day. Moreover, the Department will shortly make a further allocation which will give that borough 85 per cent. of its full allotment in respect of large trailers, and 60 per cent. in respect of light trailers. That is by no means an unsatisfactory position, and certainly the number of appliances delivered are more by far than are required to provide all necessary training facilities.

I think it is the fact—though I say frankly there are still large deficiencies required to be made up—that a good many of the complaints one still hears, if not based on incomplete information, relate to some period in the past. They do not relate to the position at the present moment. I can give the Committee, without taking up too much time, further information about the equipment position in general. Deliveries for the whole of the country up to a fairly recent date were 301 heavy and extra heavy pumps, 1,770 large trailer pumps, and no fewer than 4,000 light trailer pumps. These are very substantial deliveries. I do not myself think that, apart from isolated cases, there is really any ground now for the suggestion that, as far as pumps are concerned, deliveries are so far short of requirements that the necessary training facilities cannot be provided.

Mr. Ede

The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that I gave him a week ago the complete statement on this matter which I repeated in the House to-night, and his mention of the matter this evening is the first answer I have received on the point. Had he given me the statement that 40 per cent. had in fact been delivered, I would have checked it with the mayor, but I understand that in respect of that borough, which is not very far from London, 60 per cent. of the equipment still has to be sent.

Sir J. Anderson

Sixty per cent. of the total mobilisation equipment. If I had not been so busily engaged in the last few days I would have communicated with the hon. Gentleman before now giving him these particulars. I have taken the particulars from a letter now awaiting despatch to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ede

Yes, but I have not got it.

Sir J. Anderson

At any rate, the statement made by the mayor seems to have been not wholly accurate.

Certain criticisms were made by the hon. Member, and I think also by the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) in regard to the quality of hose supplied. The suggestion was made that the hose might have been taken from old stock. I do not think there is any foundation for that suggestion. The hose in question was produced by manufacturers who have recently taken up the production of that particular material, and a certain quantity of the hose that was first delivered by these producers was undoubtedly defective. The defects were disclosed partly on inspection and partly on delivery. I have every reason to believe that the position in regard to the supply of hose is now very much more satisfactory, but I do not conceal from the Committee the fact that one of my greatest anxieties in connection with fire-fighting equipment arises in connection with the supply of hose, which we require in such enormous quantities.

A question was also raised about the training schools. I was asked whether attention was still being given, to a disproportionate extent, to gas training. I think not. The curricula at these schools have been revised in order to give proper attention to training against incendiary bombs and against high explosives. In regard to what certain speakers said about refresher courses, it is the intention of the Department to arrange refresher courses for people who took that course under the old curriculum when gas was the main feature; but we wish first to give facilities for the training of people from certain areas which have not yet been able to have their people trained at these schools. The importance of refresher courses will not be overlooked.

The question of emergency water supplies has also been raised. The emergency supplies in this Estimate are all for fire-fighting purposes and not for rural water supplies which would serve only to supplement the normal equipment of the country. I can only say in reply to the point raised by the right hon. Member for West Stirling that I will bring what he said to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. I entirely agree as to the importance of making proper provision in such areas for public health matters in general, including water supplies, sanitary arrangements and arrangements for dealing with epidemics, outbreaks of illness, and so on. These matters are all very important and come within the sphere of my right hon. Friend.

I was asked about vital services included under Sub-head I, and whether appropriate steps would be taken to check claims. The answer is that most certainly all claims that are made will be carefully checked by the appropriate Department. All the expenses in question which the hon. Member has in mind are relevant to the provisions of the Bill which has just left this House, and are covered by schemes which have to be submitted. Negotiations are proceeding between the public utility undertakers and the Departments concerned, and the claims which will come forward in due course will be carefully checked before grants are paid. I think that practically covers the points that were put to me by the hon. Member, except the point in regard to respirators. He asked me whether I could give any estimate of the number of respirators already delivered which were assumed to be damaged and would require replacement. We are, as I have already explained, engaged in building up a substantial central reserve of respirators. Part of that reserve, to the extent of 2,000,000 to 3,000,000, will, it is assumed, be required to replace respirators which may have been damaged. The remaining part of the reserve will be held permanently to meet future contingencies. When that reserve has been built up, we intend to complete the distribution of respirators in those few areas, the less vulnerable areas, which have not yet had their complete allocation.

Now I pass to the speech of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths). I paid careful attention to what he said about the position in the parts of South Yorkshire to which he referred. He was dealing in the main with the provision of first-aid posts, which falls within the sphere of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. As far as I could gather the position from what the hon. Member said, it seemed to me that probably his complaint lay rather against the county council than against any central Department. I will, however, see that the matter is looked into and that a suitable communication is sent to the hon. Member. I recognise that if volunteers come forward in considerable numbers and then find that no use is being made of their services the effect must be very discouraging, and that is a situation that we ought to do everything we can to avoid.

The hon. Member for West Waltham-stow dealt with several points on which I have already touched, such as the refresher courses and the condition of fire hose. He also urged that the Department should employ more people as inspectors, to ensure that the material supplied is properly examined and that defective material is immediately rejected. I will look into that point. I am under the impression that we have available an adequate number of inspectors, but it may be that as supplies come forward in larger quantities there will be some need to supplement our resources.

Mr. McEntee

If there had been an adequate number of inspectors the incident referred to, which is only one of several, in regard to the quality of fire hose supplied, would not have occurred.

Sir J. Anderson

With due respect to the hon. Member, I think that particular instance would have occurred, because that hose was subject to inspection. The defects developed after delivery and could not have been tested in the ordinary course of routine.

Mr. G. Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman reply to the point I raised about steel shelters?

Sir J. Anderson

I apologise to the hon. Member. He raised the question of steel shelters and seemed to be under the impression that, because he had made some disparaging remarks about steel shelters, parts of the area of the country in which he is interested have been left out of account in regard to allocation. I can reassure him straight away on that point. The reason why shelters have not been supplied to that part of the country is that it does not come within the specified areas, and shelters are being distributed in priority to the more vulnerable areas. Although we have secured the delivery of 650,000 steel shelters, that is rather less than one-fourth of the total supply at which we are aiming. There must necessarily still be portions of the country without any allocation of these steel shelters. The right hon. Member for West Stirling dealt with the question of the control of prices. I take no exception at all to what he said in regard to the danger of increased prices and the necessity of doing everything that can be done to guard against that danger. If I seemed to be shaking my head it was simply because I had, in regard to the matter to which he was referring—the price of concrete and brick—already taken measures which I hope will be effective in ensuring that there will be no increase in price. Indeed, I have received a firm assurance from those who control the production of concrete and bricks that the present price will be maintained.

As regards the suggestion that we should cast about for new materials, I can only say that since the point was brought to my notice the Department have been considering carefully the possibility of using cast iron, and two of these cast iron shelters are going to be subjected to practical tests at Shoebury-ness as soon as we can make the necessary arrangements. The suggestion that cast iron might be used as a material for strutting basements had to be rejected on examination because of the liability of that material to break on sudden shock. The Department is also considering the possibility of using iron for certain other components of the basement shelter design. Generally on that question I would. say that I regard the provision of dispersed shelters, which I described in the course of the proceedings on the Civil Defence Bill the other day, as offering this great advantage, that supplies can be increased without involving the risk of suddenly enhancing the price to a much greater extent than if we were concentrating on a more heavy type of construction.

I regard it as of the utmost importance that we should secure shelter for the largest number in the shortest possible time. In regard to the concrete and brick shelters we are already providing against any increase in price of materials; and in regard to the standardised type of pill box shelter, the putting of the thing together is made as simple as possible, and I hope that by these means we shall be able to provide shelter on a very large scale, for people who are living in circumstances which render a steel shelter unsuitable, without any increased cost. In regard to certain types of communal shelters, by suitable arrangements with the firms which produce the materials for such shelters I hope again to be able to a large extent to avoid any increased cost. I am very much alive to the importance of avoiding by any means a sudden enhancement of prices at a time when there might be a concentrated demand for shelter materials after the passing into law of the Civil Defence Bill, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will do everything I can in the public interest to see that no unwarrantable increase in price takes place.

Mr. Johnston

Can the right hon. Gentleman do anything to expedite the tests at Shoeburyness and elsewhere?

Sir J. Anderson

I will do the best I can, but there is a question of priority and at Shoeburyness there is only a limited area available. I have been trying to secure an area which would be entirely available to my Department for these tests, and I hope I am on the point of succeeding, but it is not an easy matter to find an area which has a sufficiently unoccupied surface to make it safe to undertake these tests with high explosives. I will do what I can. I think I have covered most of the points which have been made and I hope that the Estimate may now be accepted.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.