HC Deb 23 May 1939 vol 347 cc2251-2

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

11.11 p.m.

Mr. Ede

We now come to Part VI of the Bill, which deals with a highly specialised part of Civil Defence. This Clause requires occupiers of a certain limited class of property to take steps to ensure that, in the event of war, their property shall not be a guide to the enemy. It deals with camouflage and the obscuration of lights. Speaking on behalf of a great group of local authorities, I want to say that we are seriously concerned as to what is to happen to certain other buildings, very similar to these, which in these days display a great quantity of light, which will have to carry on after war has broken out, and which may be as useful to guide the enemy as any that are included in the Clause. I think the Minister believes that, by some Defence of the Realm Act, he will immediately be able to make regulations that will cover this point. There must be some of these matters in respect of which he is relying on a Defence of the Realm Act and they should be known beforehand. If we are to accept the story that is told on the other side, last September we were within hours—it may have been minutes—of a situation in which aerial invasion might have been expected, and quite clearly no one was armed with the necessary powers to take these steps on the night when the Prime Minister left the House on his first visit abroad. We may be faced with a similar situation again, when the matter will go through to its final awful issue. Can the Minister give us some undertaking that there will be published, for the guidance of the public and local authorities, an indication of what the requirements of the Government in this matter will be?

11.14 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity of clearing up any doubt that there may be on this point despite what I said in the Debate on the Second Reading. It is the intention of the Government that, under regulations which will be promulgated at the beginning of an emergency, conditions amounting to what we describe as a black-out should be imposed generally, all over the country. All visible external lighting will have to be extinguished and internal lighting will have to be so obscured as to give no assistance to approaching aircraft. This Bill is concerned with action which needs to be taken in advance, and the provisions of Clause 34 are limited to certain classes of premises for this reason. In the case of the premises in question, it may be important in the public interest that, notwithstanding the imposition of the requirements as to the obscuration of light, there should be no interruption in the productive processes going on in those buildings. It is for that reason that, in the case of factory premises the obligation is imposed, as it is not imposed on the owners or occupiers of other premises, to make arrangements in advance which will ensure the immediate obscuration of lights in the event of an outbreak of war. In the case of other premises an obligation to extinguish lights will be imposed, but if the employer or occupier concerned has not taken measures in advance, the only result will be that, until he has made the necessary arrangements the work will not go on in those premises during the hours of darkness. I hope that that makes the position quite clear.