§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Captain Margesson.)
§ Mr. Ammon (Camberwell North)
Some time ago it was my privilege to raise in this House questions arising from the attack on London, and I return to the same problem to-day, although it has altered somewhat materially. I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not present, particularly as a lot of the matters which I shall raise come within the scope of his Department. Of course, I appreciate that he is new to the office, and I do not attribute to him any discourtesy; no doubt he will be here a little later, and what is said will be conveyed to him. I notice that the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary is present
I have been asked to call the attention of the Ministry to the fact that people are somewhat disconcerted at what they deem failure to intercept as much as they would hope the attacks on London from the air. I raise the question, not that I feel competent to criticise from a technical point of view, but in order to give the hon. and gallant Gentleman whom I see on the front Bench an opportunity to give the House some information concerning it. Some of the perturbation arises from the fact that there have been frequent occasions when a warning or an alert, whatever you may call it, has synchonised with the falling of the bombs, and sometimes the bombs have arrived first. Although one would admit right away that it is not possible to observe and keep check on ones and two of small units that might appear, such was not the case yesterday, when we had a large flight running into considerable numbers—I will not say where they arrived, but it was in places known to some hon. Members of this House—and when the bombs were actually falling before the sirens sounded near by. That, of course, causes a great deal of upset, and people are somewhat disconcerted.
That brings me to another aspect of the case. When I last spoke on this question I made reference to the fact that the people were greatly encouraged by the increase in the barrage that had been put up in order to check attacks, but I think it has now been found that we appear to be back in very much the same position as we were prior to that date. I want to 390 ask, Have we sufficient anti-aircraft guns? One notices that many of the guns which are being used in the barrage are not what would normally be called anti-aircraft guns but some large naval guns which have been called into service, possibly because of their greater power, but also possibly—and this is what one fears—because there is a real shortage of anti-aircraft guns. We would like if possible to have some reassurance on that point. Might I say that I am not speaking altogether without my book, because my work on a certain committee on which I am serving leads me to think there is some considerable lack of this particular weapon. Anyway, we hope that if there is a shortage, we shall be given an assurance that it will he made good as rapidly as possible.
The next point is this: Can anything he done to co-ordinate the warnings? Everybody is familiar with hearing a warning in the distance and another one somewhere else, so that one is never sure whether one has heard the alarm or the "All Clear." There is something in the suggestion which was made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), that there might be some distinction between the alert and the actual alarm of imminent danger. I have mentioned those points because I have received requests with regard to this particular aspect of the attacks on London. With reference to the question which was raised earlier, I think it was more or less agreed that while London would be dealt with particularly to-day, the next Sitting would be reserved exclusively for a discussion on the provinces, although I do not suggest that the provinces will not be mentioned to-day if it is thought advisable.
I feel inclined to take a little exception to the statement made by the Prime Minister yesterday, that people who have been critical of the late Home Secretary were acting in a way that was not quite fair or in accordance with Parliamentary procedure. That the criticism made on the last occasion was fully justified was shown later, when the right hon. Gentleman himself admitted almost the whole of the case that had been made with regard to the lack of shelter accommodation, the absence of provision to meet the attacks on London, and the absence of provision for the care of the people so 391 attacked. This is further borne out by the fact that considerable steps have been taken to meet some of the criticisms. I give full credit to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health and others who promptly got on the spot after hearing the criticism made here, and I agree that there have been considerable improvements. They will not take it amiss, I know, if one calls attention to some defects that remain. I am not concerned now about any controversy as to the merits of deep shelters and other sorts of shelters. Although there may be some satisfaction in saying, "I told you so," that is not the highest form of satisfaction. It is true that Members pointed out the need for shelters, and that we might have been very much better situated had their advice been heeded some time ago; but I want to suggest now to the Home Office and to the other Departments immediately concerned that the urgent need is to strengthen and improve the existing defences before advancing in other directions.
There are numerous cellars and basements and other types of shelters which need strengthening and better accommodation, both for sanitation and sleeping; and that should be done at once. After my speech on the last occasion some Members suggested to me that I was very optimistic if I thought that this Government would interfere with private property by making people lend their basements for the defence of the public. I hope that I shall be proved right and my critics wrong in that respect. Might not steps be taken in places, for instance, like Eaton Square, where there are large basements and cellars, and might not above-ground shelters be provided with better accommodation for bunks and sanitation? I might remind the Minister that there is serious ground for complaint in London because many of the aboveground shelters are without roofs. I would like to know what use they will be? I want to be fair, and I must say that my opinion of the above-ground shelter is not the same as the opinion of certain other Members. In my own constituency they have stood up to a pretty severe test. I visited one immediately after a bomb had utterly demolished a large block of flats close by. The inhabitants of the block of flats were in 392 this brick and concrete shelter. Although the base of the shelter was cracked, it had withstood the explosion, and the people were unharmed. Curious as it may seem, most of the disasters we have had in shelters in London have been in the underground shelters. Blast has gone down the entrances and shafts, and has caused considerable loss of life. There was one case where about 50 people were killed in an underground shelter.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
Would there not be the same danger in connection with the above-ground shelters?
§ Mr. Ammon
What I am pointing out is that it is unfair to say that because certain shelters are above ground they are useless. My criticism is that such disasters show a defect in the engineering arrangements of these underground shelters. Had the entrances been such that the blast had been broken up, the effect would have been entirely different. The entrance passages were more or less straight. Had they been laid, as my mining friends know, in a somewhat zigzag fashion, the blast would have been broken up, and the effects would have been less severe. I suggest that in the existing shelters a cement screen or apron should be put up, so that the explosion might take place outside the shelter instead of inside. In one metropolitan borough there are no fewer than 74 above-ground shelters, all 50-person units, without roofs at the present time. In the same borough there are 80 of what are called domestic 48-person unit shelters which are also without roofs, so that they are no better than the open street. They have been in that condition for a long time, although application has been made again and again for supplies of cement. A similar state of things can be found in other metropolian boroughs. Although up to the middle of last month there may have been some case for holding up cement for the building of pillboxes, that case has now to a large extent disappeared. The front line of attack is here, on the citizens of London and of other large cities. The pillboxes having been built, the cement should he ma de available for shelters.
Does the cement ring still dominate the position? Up to a short time ago it controlled the whole of the cement trade, and 393 smaller companies were put out of business. Going about the country, one could see large numbers of relatively small cement factories which were unoccupied or not in full production. Is any stand being made against the cement ring, and are any efforts being made to bring those small concerns into production again? Application for the supply of cement has been made to those in control. This shows the crazy manner in which we deal with these matters. On the committee which allocates supplies of cement the Fighting Services are represented, but the Minister of Home Security is not represented. Therefore, he has practically no voice in what is a most important matter. Surely, if there is any Minister that should be represented in these times, he should have been one of the first representatives.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security (Mr. Mabane)
That is not correct. The Minister of Home Security is certainly represented.
§ Mr. Ammon
Pardon me, but the Minister of Home Security, unless he has been appointed in the last few days, is not a full member of the Supply Committee. He is only now and then called into consultation, but certainly, in the order of priority, he is only fourth or fifth on the list as far as supply is concerned. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to make inquiries of his own Department in this particular connection. It is not a question of a lack of supply. Private firms can get as much cement as they like in order to build shelters for people who are prepared to pay the price for them for their private use, but we are unable to get it for the local authorities. I hope that we shall be given an assurance that this sort of thing will be remedied immediately. The question was raised a short time ago as to the quality of the cement. My hon. Friend who sits behind me will, no doubt, be able to tell me whether I am technically correct or not, but there is a certain kind of cement known as hydraulic cement, which is made up of sand and lime and is being supplied in connection with the erection of shelters, and it is very much inferior in quality to ordinary cement. I was recently taken to see some of the shelters in the building of which this kind of cement had been used, and I was able to scrape out the cement with my thumb. The ordinary Portland cement ought to be supplied for this purpose, and 394 I understand that there is plenty of it available. I hope that this will be done speedily.
When I referred to this question on the last occasion, the late Home Secretary said that he was going to get into touch with local authorities and make inquiries in order to try and ascertain exactly what they wanted. That is not good enough. All this circumlocution and red tape ought to have been cut and scrapped long since. If the local authorities are unable to deal with these matters, then they ought to be superseded by somebody else. What is the good of having controllers, or whatever they are called, if they are not able to exercise their functions, and to do so, if necessary, in a very arbitrary manner? I see that some steps have been taken in that connection with regard to one of the East End boroughs. I visited one of the large outer London boroughs the other day on the East side which has probably suffered more heavily than any other borough in the whole of the country. I was informed that a petition had been signed by the whole of the medical fraternity, the scholastic profession and the clergy and ministers, asking that the local government should be superseded. Although the local authority were doing all that they could, they had not the experience or the plant or the authority to deal with these matters, and the petitioners urged that some other body should be appointed in their place. As a result of this position private people were taking upon themselves the responsibility of asserting authority and—all praise to them—doing what they could in order to try and remedy matters. I have sent a communication to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health giving particulars of the place concerned. I trust that we are to have no more of this dilly-dally business and that something will be done to meet the position. I would suggest, first of all, that the Department concerned should see to it that roofs are put on these shelters and that they are made habitable as soon as possible, and that steps should be taken to see that the shelters are adequately and properly used, by, if necessary, the distribution of tickets of admission and the allocation of places. As I pointed out last time, certain shelters have a reputation for being better than others, and as large aggregations of people assemble there, they become overcrowded to a very alarming extent. If disaster 395 should happen to some of these shelters through a bomb falling at the entrance, the result might be very severe indeed. We can no longer rely on the hope that we shall muddle through somehow. There is no sense in saying that our enemies cannot teach us something in the matter of organisation and co-ordination in dealing with these matters, and I hope that we shall learn something from them.
A great deal of unnecessary delay and hardship is caused by the manner in which unexploded bombs are dealt with because of the certain amount of circumlocution that has to be gone through. The borough engineers of many of the Metropolitan boroughs have themselves expressed that hope that there ought to be a Royal Engineer stationed in each borough in order to deal with this matter directly instead of their having to rely on the present procedure, which requires an inspection by the local engineer, who then has to report to his group, who in turn make another report, after which Royal Engineers are brought into deal with the trouble. It ought to be dealt with very much more expeditiously than that. When I raised this question at a conference held within the precincts of this House some time ago, I was told that there were so many authorities that it was impossible to station Engineers in each one of them. That is all nonsense. They are, after all, the front line in the war, and the essential people ought to be in the places where the danger is, and be able to use their energies in this connection.
I am about to pass from the question of the shelters, which will no doubt be dealt with in many ways by other hon. Members, but there is one other reference I want to make. When the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has dealt with the question of putting existing shelters into a fit and proper condition, and of all available means of defence, and turns his attention to other developments, such as deeper underground shelters, I would call his attention to a letter that appeared in the "Times" of 2nd October, signed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). I do not profess to know how well-founded are the statements of my hon. Friend as to the development of what he calls "tunnels" for accommodating the people of London. 396 He has made a proposal, which, I observe, can be developed to accommodate about 3,000,000 people. There are something like 8,500,000 to 9,000,000 people concerned in what is known as the London area under the A.R.P. There are about 4,000,000 people who come within the ambit of the London County Council Council authorities. Owing to the increase in intensive bombing the dangers are growing. I am not so much concerned about the attacks on property, or that people's nerves will fail, as with the fact that there might be loss of confidence in leadership, which would be very serious indeed. It is that position that I want looking into. The proposal of my hon. Friend is that shelters should be built to accommodate that large number of people which, in the aggregate, would mean the provision of 300 miles of shelters at an estimated cost of £54,000,000. He has certain proposals, which I am not competent to examine, as to where the shelters could be made in conjuction with other services. He estimates shelter accommodation for about 10,000 persons to the mile. There is a disused tube railway in a certain district which accommodates about 20,000 people, and it is naturally one of the most popular shelters in London, and I suggest, therefore, that the Department might very well turn their attention in the direction suggested by my hon. Friend. I am reinforced in bringing that to the attention of the House when I say that this scheme has had the blessing of one of the largest engineering contractors in the country, who have been engaged in this work. They say that it is practicable and that if this work was started, this immense scheme could be brought to fruition within 12 or 18 months. If, as I gathered with some alarm, the Prime Minister thinks that the war may go on for another 10 years, then 18 months will not be wasted.
I now want to come to the position created by people who have been rendered homeless by the bombing of London. Let me say right away that I give full credit to the Minister of Health—who quite frankly and openly admitted in the House many of the difficulties and mistakes—for remedying some of the errors, but there is still much which needs attention. In the first place many people are staying much too long in these shelters. I can give instances of people who have been so long as a month in 397 shelters and are still living there. In one place in my own constituency I know of people who have been 17 or 18 days in shelter, and there does seem a tremendous delay in finding the necessary billeting accommodation for people in these circumstances. There is no excuse for it, and the matter is partly bound up with the inordinate delay taken in dealing with unexploded bombs thus keeping people out of their houses longer than is necessary. We are also getting too many people in these shelters. Do let us face the fact that these home and rest centres are not shelters in the sense that there is very little protection, and in some none at all in an air raid—in fact no more protection than we should have if a bomb fell on this roof. People who have been bombed have been compelled to pass to schools in a distant part of their borough, whereas if those schools which were nearer to them had been used, the population would have been dispersed, fewer people would have been in danger, and there would have been greater comfort and accommodation and less strain on sanitary arrangements.
Something ought to be done with regard to quicker evacuation. I know all the criticisms which can be said about getting people to go away and that poor people are more difficult to move than others. But large numbers of people who are able to pay to get into these outer districts are taking up all the available accommodation, so that it is difficult to find places for the poorer people. If you want a higher authority than myself for that, I would suggest you give ear to the broadcast talk which Mr. J. B. Priestley gave last Sunday when he called attention to this very fact from his own experience. Cannot something be done to get relatively poor people out of the danger areas? I had an application the other day from two old ladies who came to me with forms to be signed. They said they were willing to be evacuated but could I tell them where they could go? It seems extraordinary that poor people with no outside connections have to find somebody willing to take them before they can be evacuated, and I hope that this matter will be dealt with, especially as regards aged people and people "on their own."
With regard to provision made in the Shelters themselves, from my own experience I have been in shelters and have taken my share in the work being done 398 in them, and I admit that a good deal has been done to meet the needs of nursing and medical attention. A good deal, however, remains to be done, particularly with respect to children. Something must be done to invoke the Education Act for the children in these shelters; they are running loose all day, causing a good deal of disturbance to their elders who have been kept awake and have lost their homes and are worried. I am glad to say that to a large extent the youngsters seem to think it is all a good joke and that they are suffering no more disastrous effect to their nervous system. Many teachers are not fully employed, and surely it can be made compulsory for children in these shelters to be given some sort of education or physical training to keep them amused and occupied. It is very necessary that this should be done. I went into one shelter, and I was told that the women would not let their children go. This is an occasion on which authority ought to be expressed. If the schools were open, the children would have to go to school.
There is another matter to which I wish to call attention. I have seen with a good deal of concern that after houses have been bombed and destroyed, furniture and effects have been allowed to stay outside for weeks. We have had a long spell of fine weather, but now it has broken, and a large quantity of bedding, clothing and furniture has been destroyed. If enough assistance cannot be obtained from local authorities, then it is quite plain that instead of waiting, some higher authority ought to be invoked and the unemployed brought in to do this work of excavation of furniture and effects and, possibly, bodies which might yet be in the débris. Somebody told me the other day, "We are getting tired of people who come down here to watch; we want somebody to come down and do things". Some speeding-up should also be made with regard to compensation for loss of homes and effects. It is all very fine for people who are fairly comfortably off and who have friends to give them temporary shelter and keep, but it is quite a different thing for poor people who, once their home has gone, have lost everything. There is the question of equality of sacrifice, but there is no such thing in fact. A person who is relatively well-off is in a better position, whatever happens, than the poor people who in these cases 399 probably lose all their savings and all their homes. For them the whole thing is smashed up, and all they value has gone. Something ought to be done to deal with that aspect of the problem.
The only other point to which I wish to call attention is this. In connection with the staffing of these centres, some consideration ought to be given to the people who have undertaken the work. I rejoice to say that many teachers have readily and willingly thrown themselves into the work. On the other hand, a good many are not doing anything at all. They simply take the view that they are teachers; they attend every day from 10 in the morning until four in the afternoon, and if there is nothing for them to do as teachers, they say that that is not their fault, and when the time comes they clear out. There should be some authority to see that people are made to do something in connection with this branch of the work, particularly when they are paid servants of the State. Those who are doing work at the centres have, in many cases, a very stiff time. In some shelters a good many are working on a system of 24 hours on and 24 hours off. That is all right if a person is getting a normal night's rest but when the night's rest is broken by air raids it is an entirely different matter. I have suggested a system of three shifts of 24 hours, so as to give a longer break and I am sure that people can be found to do the work on such a system. I put that suggestion forward in a quarter where I expected something different from the reception which was given to it. I thought that when fresh blood had been brought in, such suggestions would receive attention but all I got was the old moth-easten excuse, "We have made these arrangements and we cannot alter them." Under conditions such as exist at present if arrangements do not work satisfactorily, they should be altered at once and made to work.
I bring these matters before the House, as I have said, in no spirit of antagonism to the Minister. I know that he has a very difficult job because this country is now faced with something which it has not had to face for nearly a thousand years. We are fighting a war on our own soil under conditions which are quite foreign to us and unknown in our 400 experience. These are conditions which call for improvisation and compel us to suffer many things to which we are unused. I am bound to agree that there is a good deal to be said for the view that there has not been as much foresight as there might have been. Many things were foreseen by private Members of this House and brought to the notice of the Government, and if attention had been given to them by the Government, we would probably be in a very much better position to-day. But there is not much use in mourning over these things. Here is the fact. In all our big cities the civil population is now in the front line of battle. The war could be lost more surely here even than in the military field, because if once the nerve and confidence of the people were to go, however big your army, it would be ineffective if not backed up by the good-will and support of the community.
It is for that reason and not from any desire to hamper the Government that I draw attention to these matters. I want to see everything possible done to conserve our energies, so that we can go forward with the greatest possible speed to our objective and utilise our resources to the fullest extent. That is why I bring these points to the attention of the Government. I hope that it will not be a question merely of making further inquiries. The Government know of all these things or can ascertain them easily, and I trust that steps will be taken at once to deal with them. I hope that unemployed men will be used to do the ordinary, mechanical, constructive work and that people of skill and ability in direction will be found to supervise the work. The question of ordinary expense cannot be allowed to stand in the way. For such considerations we should not risk the loss of the war. If necessary, all red tape and old-fashioned conventions should be swept aside; the War Cabinet should grapple with this problem in real earnest, and show that we are determined to see this through in a spirit not only of resolve but also of intelligence.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald)
The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) in the course of his speech touched on a number of questions which involve two or three different Departments. With regard to 401 those matters which fall to the Ministry of Home Security and those which fall to the Air Ministry, replies will be made during the Debate by the appropriate representatives of those Departments. In the concluding part of his speech the hon. Member dwelt entirely on a matter which is my concern and I should like to devote my observations to some statement of the situation regarding that question. The hon. Member repeated the story of some of the faults which were quickly revealed in our organisation since heavy bombing in London began; but, if I may say so, he did not make his points in any old party spirit. He did so rather in a spirit of constructive and helpful criticism, for which we on this side of the House are very grateful and I shall certainly reply in the same sort of spirit.
I have never denied that a great deal of the criticism which was offered was entirely justified. We had made our plans before the "blitzkrieg" started, as far as food and rest centres were concerned. For instance, we had sent a series of circulars to public assistance authorities, who were made responsible for these, advising them on the sort of provision which should be made in the centres. I think it fair to say that the arrangements, generally, worked satisfactorily in the provinces which had experience of bad bombing before London had it. But the organisation in London proved to have many faults which were shown as soon as the heavy bombing of London began. It is true that the conditions in London made the task particularly difficult; but I am entirely ready to say in this public Session that, as the Minister responsible for the Government Department which had the supervising of this work, I accept full responsibility for the mistakes which were made. I admit that mistakes were made. In the first place I did leave it too much to the local authorities, and in the second place I think our circulars issued to the local authorities did suggest a provision which was too low in centres where, as it turned out, people had to spend considerably longer than the 48 hours or three days originally anticipated.
While I want to say that frankly to the House, I want also to correct some quite unfounded charges which have been made against the Ministry of Health. For example, with regard to the question of the provision of hot meals in these food and rest centres, I should like to 402 quote one passage which appeared in a Sunday newspaper some eight or nine days ago. It gives expression to a very common view, a view which is held, even in this House, that the instructions of the Ministry of Health have forbidden the serving of hot meals in these centres. This is the quotation:There were no facilities for accommodating large numbers and giving people a hot meal. In fact, the powers given by the Ministry of Health ruled out hot meals being given.That is absolutely untrue. In the circular which we issued to the London as well as to the other authorities, we spoke about the provision of hot drinks and simple food but it was never intended by us that that should be interpreted as meaning that the food should always be cold. In fact, in the provinces our circular was interpreted properly, and throughout the provinces, on the lead given by our circular, hot meals were provided at least once every day in the centres. I have here a whole series of menus of meals served in these food and rest centres in the provinces in June, July and August, and they show that the local authorities interpreted our circular in the way we intended it to be interpreted. Here is a case of what was done at Bridlington on 16th August. Dinner consisted of soup, sausage and chips, bread and butter, biscuits and cheese. The next day at the same centre dinner consisted of hot pot, stewed apples and custard, biscuits and cheese. At Rotherham, on the first day after the bombing started, dinner consisted of meat and vegetables, soup, bread, tapioca pudding, coffee and biscuits. In the same centre the next day, there were beef stew, potatoes, cabbage, pears and custard, coffee and biscuits. I could go through one provincial town after another and show that in practically every case the authorities were serving, under our circular, hot meals regularly every day.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
Does the circular not lay down that there should be one hot meal a day?
§ Mr. MacDonald
If that is so, my case is even stronger, but I do not think it is so. I think our senior regional officers may well in verbal conversation with the authorities have said the circular meant at least one hot meal every day, but I think the exact wording of the circular was "simple food."
§ Mr. MacDonald
He is the head of the Ministry of Health team in the region. For some reason or other, in the London area these hot meals were not served at the beginning, and, as soon as that fact became apparent, I asked representatives of the London County Council to come and see me on the Monday following the first bombing, and I told them it was our full intention that a hot meal should be served every day in every centre, and that they could have full authority to undertake the necessary expenditure for that improvement and various other improvements which we intended. I should like to pay a most sincere and warm tribute to the responsible leaders of the County Council, to Mr. Latham, the leader, Mr. Salmon, the clerk, and Mr. King, the head of the department responsible for the centres, for the great energy and broad sympathy that they have shown in tackling this problem ever since the "Blitzkrieg" began. They deserve very high praise for the energetic work which they have done during the last month. I should like to say the same about the other public assistance authorities concerned outside the London county area. Although improvements had begun before the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) was appointed to his important task, the rate of improvement has accelerated since. I am certain that he has the experience and the qualities to make a success of the very important work which has been entrusted to him.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
As this appointment was for the London area under the jurisdiction of the London County Council, was that body consulted about the appointment?
§ Mr. MacDonald
In the first place, this was an appointment for the London Region, a much larger area than the London County area. In the second place, I had a discussion with representatives of the County Council before the appointment was made, both about the appointment and about the person proposed. They had full information before it was made, and I do not think I am revealing anything which should be kept secret when I say that the County Council welcomed it.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
We have an organisation built up in each Region, where there are a Regional Commissioner and an assistant Regional Commissioner with staff. Now I understand that this appointment of the hon. and learned Member for North Croydon is to look after this particular task in the London Region. Is it proposed to appoint officers to carry out the duties entrusted to the hon. and learned Gentleman in other Regions?
§ Mr. MacDonald
Not necessarily. The hon. and learned Gentleman is a part of the London regional organisation. In London there are particularly difficult problems, owing to the large number of local authorities and the complicated distribution of functions between them, and I think the appointment, which is one for the purpose of co-ordinating and directing the different functions of these local authorities, may well be fully justified in London but entirely unnecessary in other Regions, where the local government problem is not so complex. Certainly it is not necessarily a precedent for other Regions.
Let me give some account of the conditions in these food and rest centres after the first month of intensive bombardment. At the beginning, one of the causes of the comparative breakdown was lack of staff in the centres that were open. The London County Council had received promises of help from a great many voluntary workers. They were counting on that help, but when the day came for the centres to be opened, many of the helpers were conspicuous by their absence. I think they had waited for months for the business to begin and had grown tired of waiting with nothing to do, and many had gone into other services and had not notified the County Council that they would not be available. We settled down with the County Council straight away to work out what was the proper staff for each of these centres, and we agreed with them that it should be five individuals doing a 24 hours stretch of work at a time, plus a nurse to be available round the clock, plus an Information Officer who would be present throughout the daylight hours. [Interruption.] Not the same nurse for 24 hours—a day nurse and a night nurse. We laid that down as a 405 model staff. There are 73 first-line centres at present open in the London County area. Every single one of them has this full complement of seven people on the staff. Every one has these five individuals doing a 24-hour shift, with a day and night nurse. That is my information. And every one of them has an information officer during the day-time.
§ Mr. MacDonald
In many cases they are paid, and in many others they are voluntary workers. In addition to those 73 first-line centres which are open, there are 21 other first-line centres which are standing by at which the full complement of staff is available. In addition, there are a good many what are called third-line centres which are open and working to-day, and in the great majority of those also this kind of model staff is functioning. I think that many of the public assistance officers have proved themselves absolutely up to the standard of character and work required for this kind of job. In addition, teachers have been brought in to help; some hundreds are helping, and they have done noble work. There are also many scores of voluntary workers without whose devoted assistance one could not really have tackled this problem at all.
Let me now refer to certain other matters—for instance, the Information Officers. One of the great difficulties at the beginning of this episode was this. The homeless people would come into the centres full of questions as to how they could get assistance about furniture, assistance about clothing, assistance if they wanted to evacuate, what they could do about getting fresh ration cards, and so on. At the very beginning there was not always someone about, and in a great majority of cases there was no one person who could give authoritative answers to those questions. Secondly, even if there was an individual who could answer the questions, very frequently the homeless people were sent first to this address, then to that address and then to a further address, to find the Assistance Board officer, or the public assistance officer, or somebody else who could make a contribution towards their well-being. 406 That state of affairs was thoroughly unsatisfactory and led to a great deal of unnecessary hardship. We are trying to correct that as rapidly as we can. What we are trying to establish is this. First, that in every centre there shall be an Information Officer who knows all the references, who can tell anybody who has questions to ask exactly what the answers to those questions are as regards the different forms of Government help available; that is to say, we shall have, and indeed we have already in nearly every centre, somebody who can tell each person in the centre what kind of help he or she is entitled to have. The second thing we are trying to establish is that there shall be in each borough one central office in which a representative of the public assistance officer sits, the Assistance Board officer sits, the man who deals with railway vouchers sits, and the representative who deals out ration cards or gas-masks or who can give any other form of help sits, so that when in the centre the people have learned of the different kinds of help to which they are entitled, they can then be told to go to such and such an address and there they will find everybody they want in order to get the material help which is due to them. That organisation exists in certain boroughs already. Some boroughs have established a central office of that kind, but we have lately sent a circular to all local authorities—
§ Mr. MacDonald
I was saying that we have sent a circular to all local authorities impressing upon them the importance, if they have not done it already, of establishing such a central office.
§ Mr. Lindsay
How many boroughs in London have such a central office where a homeless person can go for these various necessities?
§ Mr. MacDonald
I am afraid I cannot answer that question. I have seen centres in certain boroughs, which I will not mention. Before coming to the House, I tried to get the latest information, but there was a certain amount of interruption of telephone communications, and I could not get the latest figures. This organisation exists in a minority of boroughs at present; the majority still have not got a machine of 407 this sort. One of the things on which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon is engaged at the moment is the establishment of such centres in whatever boroughs have not got such an organisation to-day.
§ Mr. Granville
Is it not the case that in those boroughs where they have this organisation the whole problem has been tackled efficiently and where they have not got it, it has not? Therefore, it is of great importance that this should be done.
§ Mr. MacDonald
I entirely agree. This seems to me to be an essential part of a proper machine. I do not say that we shall have exactly the same organisation in every borough, as there will be certain local differences, but in principle, the bringing together of the officers who can give help to the homeless into one large room or building Is an essential part of the problem of caring for the people who are homeless after air raids.
§ Mr. Parker (Romford)
Is it not essential to have not merely one centre in a borough, but a number? For instance, in Hornchurch, in my constituency, there are five different centres. The only obstacle is that the Unemployment Assistance Board will not co-operate with the other authorities.
§ Mr. MacDonald
In certain large boroughs, or boroughs which have a very elongated anatomy, such as that to which the hon. Member refers, one centre would not be sufficient. It is essential that the Unemployment Assistance Board should co-operate with the others, and where anything is missing in this connection we will certainly take the matter up with them and see what can be done.
§ Mr. MacDonald
Certainly, in the last resort they could, but if people do these things by consent, it is better than using the big stick.
§ Mr. Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)
Will my right hon. Friend explain to us whether in the 21 reserve centres the reserve teams of people are completely mobile throughout the London region, or are they tied down to some particular part? If another part of the 408 region were attacked, would they be ready to go to that part?
§ Mr. MacDonald
It is not only 21 teams that are ready; there are also 21 buildings ready, equipped to be opened at any moment, and they are scattered throughout the boroughs. I think they are sufficiently scattered to be able to deal with any problem which arises in any part of the London region.
§ Mr. J. H. Hollins (Silvertown)
The right hon. Gentleman has talked about the co-operation of the Unemployment Assistance Board. May I give him an example? In West Ham, the local authority provided offices for the Unemployment Assistance Board in the town hall. They left that building without notifying the controller. They took a house in another road. I have seen a queue 40 feet long waiting at the door. They closed at 12 o'clock for lunch, or when there was an air raid, and at five o'clock people who had been waiting for hours were told to go home and come back next morning.
§ Mr. MacDonald
I should be very grateful if hon. Members who have cases of that sort will let us have them as soon as they occur, so that we can take appropriate action to improve the situation. I have spoken of the care of the people while they are in the food and rest centres, but, of course, it is an important part of the whole policy that these centres should be kept as clear as possible, that people should stay for as short a period as possible in the centres, and be drafted out to their own homes or into alternative accommodation with as little delay as may be, because the centres have to be kept sufficiently empty to be able to take fresh numbers of homeless people every night or day after whatever fresh bombing may occur. That process of getting people away from food and rest centres and back into house accommodation of some sort or another is now going ahead with considerable rapidity. I might just mention a set of figures which gives a complete picture of what is happening. At the peak of the congestion there were 25,500 people in the food and rest centres in the London Region. That figure of 25,500 had been reduced by last night to 10,500. It shows the enormous reduction of the number of people in the centres which has taken place during the last 10 days or so. and the large movement of 409 rehousing and rebilleting which is going on every day.
People are re-housed or found new accommodation in a number of different ways. In the first place, some of the people who come into the centres have not actually had their houses damaged. They have come into the centres because they have had to evacuate their houses owing to a time bomb being in the neighbourhood. I quite agree that a great many people have stayed in the centres far too long and much longer than is desirable. The major factor in producing that situation has been the continued presence, day after day, and in some cases even one week after another, of an unexploded bomb in a street of houses. It was undesirable to take these people out of the centres and billet them—it was not worth doing it. Every day the local authorities hoped that the bomb would be disposed of and that the people could go back. I entirely agree that one of the things which we want to do most to reduce this homeless problem is to speed up the disposal of these bombs; but it cannot be done by anybody. It has to be done by trained engineers. However, I can assure the House that the number of Royal Engineers who do this type of work in the London Region is being very greatly increased, and that that particular improvement will go on day by day.
Then there is the second class of persons coming into the centres. These are the people who are there because their houses have been damaged. Their houses, however, are perfectly easy to repair in a short space of time, and they stay in the centres until the repairs have been done. Again, I do not think that work has been proceeding as rapidly—the work of first-aid repairs—as it might. Once more it is because of a shortage of labour. What we are doing now is to try to get building labour from other sources and to create a central pool of that labour in the London Region. The labour will he put under one central authority so that that authority can send it out to one borough one day and to another borough the next day, as the need requires, to supplement local labour engaged on repair work. I hope that we can speed up the whole work of getting this first-aid repair work to houses done more quickly, and that as a result that second great category of people in the food and rest centres will 410 be sent back to their own homes more quickly than hitherto. The third class of people in the centres are those whose houses are so damaged that there is no likelihood of their returning in the near future. These people are re-settled in various ways; many of them find their own billets by going to their friends or relatives. In the case of those who do not find their own billets a local billeting officer has the duty placed upon him of putting the people into alternative accommodation. Local billeting officers in many of the boroughs have succeeded in doing an immense amount of work. In some cases the most unlikely boroughs have had thousands of people billeted in their areas. Some have been billeted in houses with other householders, and some billeted in empty houses which have been requisitioned by local authorities. I can quote borough after borough which has found homes within its own boundaries for between 2,000, 3,000—and even in one case 4,000 people—rendered homeless during the last month. A great majority of these people who cannot return to their own homes have been found billets in their own boroughs, including some parts of East London.
§ Sir John Mellor (Tamworth)
Are billeting officers in any way restricted in making use of condemned houses?
§ Mr. MacDonald
Yes, they are restricted, but they may use them in the very last resort—absolutely in the last resort. Even in those cases where they are used billeting officers must obtain authority from higher up. Generally speaking, there is a restriction on the use of condemned houses. Some of these houses are being used for other purposes, such as extempore air-raid shelters for which purpose they may be very useful when appropriate adaptations have been made.
§ Sir J. Mellor
In view of the great urgency, will not my right hon. Friend see that these billeting officers have a full discretion without reference to a higher authority to make use of condemned houses?
§ Mr. MacDonald
Putting people in condemned houses is a matter which needs careful watching. I would not be willing to give authority unless we were entirely satisfied that such repairs had been done 411 as would take care of the health of the people concerned during the difficult months which lie ahead owing to weather conditions. But there are other resources which we can call into being to solve this rehousing problem. As the House knows, we have asked other boroughs which are not so hard pressed by bombing, or where there are a large number of empty houses, to use their billeting powers. We have asked them to requisition empty houses and furniture to provide accommodation for the homeless. The borough authorities concerned have been very energetic in doing this work. The situation to-day is that we have far more empty houses furnished and ready to receive homeless people than we have homeless people ready to move into them. There is a great reluctance on the part of many of these people to leave their own boroughs and to go to other distant boroughs where there are these requisitioned houses.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that there are more houses requisitioned and ready for homeless people than there are homeless people who wish to occupy them. Therefore, there cannot be any homeless.
§ Mr. MacDonald
Perhaps the House will understand, if I have not made it clear, when I say that we have more houses requisitioned and ready to receive homeless people in certain boroughs, as, for instance, in the West End, than we have homeless people willing to go into these houses. The homeless people refuse to move to these boroughs. One of the great features of the situation is that the dogged insistance of the great majority of these people is such that they wish to stay in their own boroughs near their own homes among their own friends and with their own families.
§ Mr. MacDonald
That is so, but it is first a matter of sentiment with them. 412 The hon. Member knows more about it than I do, and I give way to him on that question, but there is a great deal of sentiment in it. People are not willing to leave their own localities if they can possibly help it. This strong sentimental tie exists among people who are not tied for economic reasons. I agree that, apart from sentiment, many people cannot leave their localities because they must stay near their work. The hard core of the homeless problem consists in finding homes for the considerable numbers of people who are homeless and who have to stay in boroughs where their work lies but which have not sufficient housing accommodation by themselves.
We are how trying to organise the grouping of boroughs together so that they can co-operate fully in the matter of billeting. Boroughs which are more or less next door to each other are treated as a whole and find billets so far as possible for all the workers in the group. Even that sort of grouping will not solve this problem. We have to try and establish hostels in different parts of London where there is housing accommodation, and try to induce the homeless people to go into them on the understanding that we provide the transport and take them easily to and from their work. That is the kind of solution to the hard core of the problem which my hon. and learned Friend is now tackling with the authorities concerned.
§ Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to give free passes to men who are working?
§ Mr. MacDonald
I am glad that my hon. Friend has interrupted, because I did not mean to leave the impression that passes are necessarily to be free. It might be possible to provide cheap workmen's tickets. We have to solve this problem by finding hostels in places where they exist and finding the transport to take people from the hostels to their work.
§ Mr. Lindsay
Has the hon. and learned Member for North Croydon the power to call together three adjoining boroughs and requisition billets?
§ Mr. MacDonald
I think I am right in saying that his powers are sufficient for the purpose the hon. Member has in 413 mind, but where they are not sufficient he is free to come and ask for more powers. That is well understood.
I would add a paragraph about one other way of dealing with the homeless. That is by taking them out of London altogether. In many ways that is the most satisfactory solution of the lot, but there are many people who cannot leave London. People who have to stay at their work have to remain here and have to be provided for here. In many cases the wives of those men have to stay to look after their menfolk. We are, however, trying to encourage as much as we can the evacuation to the country of those homeless who can get away from London. For instance, for the past fortnight or so, it has been possible for mothers with school children, whatever their age, under five or over five, who are homeless, to register in rest centres and be taken away two or three days afterwards into the country. Some thousands of mothers and children have gone out in that way and they are going out every day. Many are reluctant to go even though they can take their children with them because they cannot take the more aged members of their families with them. That is a very real difficulty and one of the many difficulties with which this problem bristles. I wish that we could take a mother and her children and also her parents or her husband's parents together and keep them as a family unit in the country. The fact is, however, that we cannot billet large family parties like that. It is not easy to get billets for aged and infirm people in the reception areas.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
Will my right hon. Friend say why it is now apparently the policy of the Government to send to what were neutral areas in the Midlands large numbers of people from London without proper notice to the local authorities?
§ Mr. MacDonald
We are using the neutral areas because there is not room in the old reception areas for the large numbers of people whom we hope will become involved in this movement. If there are cases in which proper notice has not been given, I should like to hear of them, because it is essential that the reception areas should receive adequate notice so that they may make proper preparations for the reception of these people.
414 I was saying a word about the aged and infirm. It is not easy to get these people billeted with their relations in the country. Nevertheless, it is extremely important that we should take them into the country if they are willing to go. Therefore, for some time past we have been getting representatives of the local authorities and of voluntary organisations to go through the centres, and into the shelters as well, trying to persuade the old and infirm to register for evacuation. Those people are then taken into our hospitals, where they have every care and all the service which they can possibly require or desire. Although many of these old people are unwilling to go, I am glad to say that some hundreds of them have agreed to go and are already in the hospitals getting good attention and care.
§ Mr. MacDonald
Consideration has been given to that type of case, and the position is this. The reception areas are very full. They have an enormous number of troops, a large body of people who have been evacuated from the East and Southeast coasts, and they have the original evacuees and self evacuees. Although there is still room for large numbers of people in the reception areas, there is a limit to that room. Therefore, we have desired to give priority as regards evacuation to the classes who really need the evacuation most. We have given first priority to mothers and children of school age and under. We do not feel able yet to extend the official Government evacuation scheme to children who are over school age. We appreciate that it will often be difficult to get mothers to leave if they have to leave children of that age behind them, for they want to be satisfied that these children will be cared for. Therefore, in the proposals for the establishment of hostels which we have in mind now we are considering the creation of hostels particularly for the younger people who are over school age. I do not pretend that we shall be able to establish such hostels in sufficient numbers quickly. We shall only be able to solve that problem gradually, as we go along.
415 That is a picture of the position today, and I do not pretend for a moment that it is a picture every feature of which is satisfactory. There are still improvements to be made, there are still faults to be corrected. But I can assure the House that the authorities concerned, including those of us who are working at this problem in the Ministry of Health, will not allow our energies to slacken until we have given that proper care to the homeless people which their plight and their hardship deserve.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
We have heard from the Minister a very interesting speech, and a very long one, on this very difficult problem. The right hon. Gentleman is always so sweetly reasonable that he often disarms criticism. I sometimes wish he were a little more full-blooded. This is a time for vigorous action, not necessarily always for reason and for paying attention to rules and regulations, because we are facing a very big problem. I could not help noticing that he used the word "episode." I wish the many people who are suffering these terrible hardships, appalling distress, could look upon this as a mere episode.
§ Sir P. Harris
I do not doubt the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity, good will and kindness of heart, but I assure him that what is wanted by the great people of London—and they are a great people now—is strong leadership. They want difficulties to be cut through. I am glad to see a new Commissioner has been appointed. I have had the pleasure of meeting him. I believe he is a man of action, and action is what we now want. It does not matter about cutting across Acts of Parliament, or across local boundaries, or breaking-in upon the privileges of this or that authority. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if he will be fierce about this matter he will have the backing of the people of London.
Personally, I feel that what is wanted is one Minister to deal with this whole problem. At present responsibility is divided between the Minister of Health and the Minister of Home Security. I was very glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South 416 Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), with his vast experience and knowledge of London, has been appointed Home Secretary, but I should prefer that he had been appointed Minister of Home Security, and have all the job of looking after the safety, the health and the protection of the people not only of London but of the country. It is a big job. At present it often happens that the Home Secretary has to say, "Well, that is the duty of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health." The Minister of Health may say, "Of course, this is just across the border line, and I shall have to refer it to the Home Secretary." And then we have the Board of Education also cutting in. If there is to be a reorganisation, I think it would be better if we had one Minister charged with this one great duty, a terrific duty, equal to that of a Secretary of State. The work is really equivalent to the fighting of the enemy, just as much of the work of the Departments of the First Lord of the Admiralty or the Secretary of State for War.
I should like in this public Session—we had an interesting Debate in private Session, though as I said at the time I wished it had been public—to say how much I admire, as I feel we all admire, the magnificent spirit of the people of London. I get letters from abroad and from the country which show that there is an impression that London life has been paralysed and brought to a standstill by this attack. On the contrary, in spite of all the discomforts and inconveniences, the destruction of railways and the constant air-raid warnings, London is very much as usual, and that is due to the magnificent patience and good temper of the people of London. Es-specially would I pay a tribute to the women, the young women, the workers in the factories and offices, who daily experience terrible discomforts. First, there is the job of getting to work, in overcrowded trains, packed like sardines, never knowing when they will arrive at their destination, sometimes not sure that they will even get into the train. I have been travelling with them in various parts of London and have been amazed at their good temper in these trying circumstances. It cannot be noised abroad too much that London is carrying on magnificently.
On the other hand, do not let us underrate the misery and the hardships of this 417 great population of 7,000,000 people. In many cases they have had to face worse conditions than soldiers in the field. I have heard of soldiers coming back from their training who have admitted that it was far more unpleasant to be in London than to be in the worst camp or centre in the country, and in London some of them have heard artillery fire for the first time. Therefore, while we pay a tribute to our people do not let us underrate their difficulties. This is only the beginning. As the Prime Minister quite rightly pointed out, we are faced with long, cold dreary winter nights, and even if the attacks decrease conditions will be far more unpleasant and far more difficult to bear.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has nothing to do with shelters. I notice that he points to his lion. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security. I am glad to see him there. I do not know whether he is still connected with the Department, because we have seen in the Press that a very attractive young lady is to be an addition to or a substitute for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. At any rate the Minister of Health is not responsible for shelters, but really one cannot divorce the two problems of evacuation and shelter, because they are inevitably connected. I have always been in favour, and have made no secret about it, of evacuation for all the school children and the old people of London. I was on the Anderson Committee, and I see present a colleague who did most valuable work there.
Unfortunately the first evacuation scheme largely misfired. It came at a moment when there was not much enthusiasm for the idea. Hundreds of thousands of children who were evacuated during the first 12 months returned unfortunately to the danger zone of London, and I think I am right in saying that when, five weeks ago, the intensified attack on London began there were fewer London children outside London than at any time since the outbreak of war. I took the trouble to inquire in many schools why the children returned. First, let us be frank, their parents wanted them back, because they felt lonely and worried, and so they brought them back, though I think that often they were acting foolishly and short-sightedly; but that was a natural motive. On the other hand, 418 personal inquiries among the children elicited that many of them were not happy. It varied from district to district. In some villages it was well organised and the children were well looked after, being made welcome. The children enjoyed themselves and were very sorry to return. There were other places where, the children told me, they were made to feel that they were not wanted and were strangers who were only being tolerated.
I am not in favour of compulsion, except as a very last resort. Nothing would tend more to weaken the morale of the people than to have their children dragged from them, but the Government ought to do some intensive propaganda, first with the parents themselves and secondly in the reception areas. The people in the reception areas should be brought to realise that their contribution to the war might include that of opening their homes to their less fortunate brothers and sisters from the danger zones. I should not like to give a false impression, but, while I know villages where the children were received into the homes and made welcome, I am aware that there are other areas that have not been so understanding or appreciative. In the first 12 months of the war these areas appeared to think that the whole thing was quite unnecessary and merely a Government game. That atmosphere could quite easily be removed by means of the B.B.C. and many other methods by which we should get the good will of the reception areas towards inviting the children, and a better feeling among parents for sending their children away.
I have said that the two problems are intimately connected. If you get the children out of the way, it is simpler to provide the necessary shelter for their parents. Day in and day out I see mothers pushing their children in prams and dragging their bedding with them every time a siren goes. They are on their way from their homes to the shelters. It is a distressing thing, because it imposes a nervous strain on the parents and is extremely bad for the children. If the children were out of the way, I am sure that the parents could look after themselves and that the problem would be simplified.
I do not want to revive the very controversial question of deep shelters. It 419 is always supposed that one school is in favour of deep shelters and another is in favour of dispersion. These schools are supposed to be antagonistic, but there is need for both kinds of shelter. The case for a certain number of deep shelters has been absolutely made out by the action of the people themselves, by the way they rush down into the tubes. I remember that the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) pleaded two years ago for the reorganisation of the tubes as deep shelters, but she was told that it was not a practical proposition. It might not have been practical, but the matter has solved itself because the people of London have taken possession of the tubes. You can go down on to the platforms any night and see the poor people. It is distressing to see them living under such appalling conditions in the tubes.
I noticed the other day that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) suddenly discovered that there was a tube from Liverpool Street to Bethnal Green. In this matter again, my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey asked 18 months ago that that tube should be made use of as a shelter. Before the right hon. Gentleman took up his new office, the local borough council had actually already used the tube as a shelter, but then, owing to one of the weaknesses of London local government and showing how necessary co-ordination is, particularly in these matters, the police stepped in and stopped them. Under the new direction of policy I hope that that kind of thing will not take place. If all shelters that exist are made available, many of our problems will be solved. I am not one of those who ask for only one kind of shelter. There is need for variety. Some people would rather take a little risk and go to a surface shelter near their homes.
I am in favour of using tubes as deep shelters, but I do not want to see a complete reversal of policy. The ordinary street shelter ought, however, to be made more comfortable. I received a letter today from a constituent of mine in which it states that, in one shelter, the rain has been pouring through every night when the weather was wet. Fortunately the 420 weather has been largely fine, but what experience was in prospect for them during the coming winter the writer did not like to contemplate. The Government would be doing good service if they appointed competent inspectors to survey shelters all over London, in order to make quite sure that the shelters come up to the necessary standard. A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend my local council in order to be present at the meeting of a committee where we discuss many of these problems and who should blow in but Evans of the "Broke." He was like a breath of fresh air from the sea. I congratulate whoever was responsible for appointing him. He gave me and other members of the committee complete confidence, because he was there not merely to talk but to take action. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) will be imbued with the same spirit and will see that, as far as possible, difficulties are brushed away.
In my own borough we have a number of well-established social services, such as Oxford House, the Friends' Hall, Mansford Street Institute and the Bethnal Green Men's Institute. All of them have provided improvised shelters for people and amenities such as entertainment, help and advice. Whether because of red tape or some question of standards, the local authority has never been prepared to recognise those shelters or to give the necessary financial assistance to make them safe. I have been specially asked by those services, whose centres exist all over London, to suggest that encouragement should be given to people who are prepared, on their own account, to provide shelters and to make them safe. One of the difficulties about public shelters is not so much the provision of entertainment, say, by turning on the wireless, as the provision of places to sleep, and making them of such a character that the morale of the people shall not suffer during the long weary winter months.
I have one final thing to say, and here I am afraid I may be talking to deaf ears because another Minister comes in. This is a question of transport. The transport problem is intimately connected with the problem of shelters, as with everything else. We are all very proud of our London traffic system, but the London Transport authority is a mono- 421 poly. People can grumble as much as they like, but there is not necessarily any alteration in the conditions. I came into London yesterday and to-day. Both the tube and the District Railway were paralysed. I do not wish to criticise the staff; on the contrary, they showed good temper and guided the passengers from one platform to another and from one station to another, and they did their work well. If the bus system were to work in more intimately with the railways, not merely with the London Transport authority but with the main lines as well, much of the suffering of the people going to and from their work would be prevented.
There should be a mobile fleet of buses which would go from one centre to any place where the railways are held up and the trains not running because of night bombing or other causes. In the old days—perhaps some would say the bad old days, before the monopoly—a pirate bus would come to people's aid. I suggest to the Government and to the new Minister of Transport, who incidentally is a live wire and who has always had an independent mind, that it would be a good idea to take out of the garages a lot of the buses which are used only for summer purposes, such as for going to the country and so on, and use them as a mobile fleet of vehicles to be shifted here and there according to the traffic stoppages. I suggest that the Minister's first job is to go and see the long queues of patient people; I marvel at their patience as they wait there after a night of bombing. I hope that that kind of idea will be conveyed to the Minister of Transport. I have great hopes from him, because he has always been ready to receive novel suggestions and, perhaps even more important, to make novel suggestions to the House. Now that he is in a position of responsibility I hope that he will be able to translate his energy into practical action. We are to have another Debate the next time the House meets, and I understand that we shall have the new Minister with us. I would like to say that we must judge him not by words but by results.
§ Mr. Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)
During the last few days the senior Member of Parliament for the great City of Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), in the representation of which I have the 422 honour to take part, has besought the Prime Minister to release him from the arduous duties which he has so long undertaken on behalf of the country. Although I do not wish to delay the House on that account, I know it will grant me one moment on behalf of my colleagues who represent Birmingham and the million citizens in Birmingham itself to say how much we sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston, as I presume we shall now know him, will quickly have a complete recovery from the problems which at the moment assail him physically. Nobody in this House can ever say that my right hon. Friend did not treat him with the utmost kindness and consideration, and although possibly throughout the rest of our lives there will be controversy as to the service which my right hon. Friend rendered, we recollect—and now that we are in the war we should each of us recollect with gratitude—that in one great issue he showed extraordinary moral courage, and that was in peace-time, when, in the face of the greatest opposition, he brought in compulsory military service. That is something which each of us, I think, should carry in our hearts as being an immense service which he rendered to the nation and to the Empire.
There have recently been two other changes on which I feel I must say a word or two. Firstly, the previous Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security has passed from that Department. I think my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right in paying tribute to the great service which the present Lord President has rendered. When he took office the Civil Defence services of this country were not comprehended on any basis which would have permitted them to stand up to the stress and storm which have now been their everyday problem. He has given us a service which has acquitted itself well. I will not say that I do not think that through one reason or another he has not omitted to do many things which I wish he had done, but nevertheless we should show our appreciation of him for the great work which he has undertaken since he has been at the Ministry of Home Security. With that, we should welcome the new Minister. He knows a great deal 423 about the Metropolis, which for the moment and it may be for many months to come will be the focal problem of home security. But I do venture to regret that the Prime Minister, in making his appointments to the Ministry of Home Security—although I greatly welcome the presence of the hon. Lady there—has given two Under-Secretaries and half a Minister instead of one Minister and one Under-Secretary. It is essential that a Minister should now be giving his whole time to the problems of Home Security, and I hope that even now the Prime Minister may consider appointing a second hon. Member as Home Secretary, so that my right hon. Friend the present Minister for Home Security could fill that office exclusively.
This is a time when we ought to review where we have reached in the development of Civil Defence, because with possibly a long war in front of us there is yet time to change our tactics if we are proceeding upon the wrong lines. I think we ought to examine Civil Defence upon two bases; first, it must effectively reduce casualties, and, secondly, it must permit the essential activity of the nation to continue despite air bombardment. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister addressed himself to an examination of the casualties which we have suffered, and he told the House that while 10 people were killed per ton of bombs in the last war, on a particular day when he had the statistics—I think last Thursday week—he found that only three-quarters of a person per ton of bombs had been killed. During the past few years I have given a great deal of thought to the problem—which after all, is the crux of all Civil Defence—of the number of casualties that you are likely to suffer per ton of bombs dropped. Some 18 months ago, in a presidential address to the Air-Raid Protection Institute, I summed up the best evidence available from Spain and elsewhere, and stated that it could be said that in urban areas, if there were not extensive evacuation and efficient shelters, we might expect, with modern bombs, 10 persons killed and 20 injured per ton. Not only is this co-efficient of casualties—which is not based on the last war's figures, but takes into consideration all that was learnt from the Spanish war—vastly in excess of the three-quarters per ton referred to by the Prime Minister, but it is 424 vastly better than anything anyone had predicted.
I elucidated another very interesting factor from the Spanish conflict, in connection with a town named Castellon, which had deep quarries for the whole population. I found that this town was thoroughly and consistently bombed, yet, in spite of that and of the fact that the general average rate of deaths was to persons per ton, in Castellon, where they had deep shelter accommodation for the whole of the population, the figure was reduced to one person killed per ton. As for the casualty co-efficient which arises from the recent bombings, we should, if anything, under-estimate the tonnage of bombs dropped, in order to avoid too rosy a picture. On all the information that I have been able to glean, I estimate that, during August, at least 1,000 tons of bombs were dropped on this country. The number may have been 2,000. If so, the picture is so much the better. Assuming that 1,000 tons of bombs were dropped on this country during August, and bearing in mind that there were only 1,075 persons killed, we arrived at a figure of approximately one person killed per ton of bombs, which is as good as the figure in Castellon, where the whole population had shelters. When we examine the Government's shelter policy, we should keep comparisons of this kind carefully in mind. Nobody is suggesting that if some of the shallow, or surface, shelters had been deep some lives would not have been saved, but the number of people who have been killed in shelters is extra-ordinarily small. Therefore, with regard to the number of people killed, the policy of the Government has been remarkably successful. But what is the record with regard to protection of national activity? In a few words, one can say that it is not so good. Many hon. Members would chastise the results a good deal more severely than that.
As has been said, it is no good going back over the past, but it is fair to say that on this side of the House those of us who have been studying these problems of Civil Defence have pressed time after time the necessity of having shelters which are both well built and, in target areas, have some major degree of protection. I regret to say that when this has been pressed upon Governments during the last three years, they have shown a most myopic mulishness. There has been a 425 complete refusal to accept the argument that shelter accommodation is necessary if at the same time evacuation is undertaken. But everybody knows now that evacuation and shelter provision are complementary. In particular, one must refer to trench shelters, in which there is now accommodation for probably several hundred thousands of persons. That was the first nibble at the shelter problem; arid, as everybody knows, most of those trench shelters are jerry-built affairs. They are not watertight, and most of them have not great structural cohesion in case the earth around them should move. I much regret that yesterday my right hon. Friend the Minister for Home Security, replying to my question as to what was to be done about draining these trench shelters, said that that was a matter which was being considered. The rains are beginning to fall, and these trench shelters, to which many people are looking for protection in the day—and, I am told, some at night as well—will become waterlogged, so that serious medical problems will arise. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security replies, he will be able to give us some definite information as to what is being done to keep trench shelters in effective repair.
In the light of these facts, what should be our present policy? My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has referred to the evacuation of large numbers of people from the worst-bombed areas. That is a scheme which recommends itself to all sides of the House. I have heard suggestions in many different parts of the country which I have visited in connection with Civil Defence. One is that as far as possible we should not put evacuees from heavily-bombed urban areas either into other large cities—which I believe is not generally done, although it may sometimes be done under the pressure of extreme necessity—nor into the country, which these people find cold, too open, and unwelcome. They should be put into small and medium-sized towns. I am quite aware that the Minister may think that he has filled up all the towns and nearly all the country, but there could be a real effort to keep town dwellers in towns, so that they should not lose the semblance of their normal life.
426 Even if there is evacuation of a large number of people there is the problem of those who refuse to go although they have no ties. I quite understand that many men, women and juveniles have work to do, and that they wish to stay in the areas where they live, and, in fact, that they must in the national interest stay there. But there are others who stay simply because they have lived there in the past. I wonder whether it is fair to the Civil Defence services and to those who must remain that these people, who have no real need to remain in the highly bombed areas, should be allowed by the State to continue to do so. I know that compulsory evacuation has an unpleasant flavour in several parts of the House, but sometimes the State has stepped in and said, "You have to be firm to be kind," and if bombing goes on in some of these areas as extensively and as frequently as it has done, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will not be afraid to introduce compulsory evacuation for certain classes of people whose presence in the area really should no longer be permitted.
I also agree with what has previously been said about getting the houses in these areas back into some habitable condition. The policy of the deep shelter is, generally speaking, that it is no good providing deep shelters for people to take temporary shelter if the neighbourhood is going to be so badly bombed that they cannot have an adjacent home. The shelters have to be near the homes of the people, and, therefore, I hope that the Minister will do all he can to see that all who are asked to remain in an area which is being extensively bombed on account of the work which they are undertaking there will be given a house where they can go and have a family life during the day time, even if they take themselves to public shelters during the night. That would mean that you could keep the family together. I see absolutely no reason why it should not be possible, especially when a large number of people have been evacuated from those areas. You could repair the windows. Possibly there might not be glass for all of them, but there would be glass available for some panes of the windows in each room so that there was light. There ought to be individual houses available in each 427 area so that the family life could continue.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
How are you to keep family life going if you force the evacuation of the wife and children?
§ Mr. Simmonds
On the contrary, I am not suggesting any forcible evacuation of anybody who can claim any reason for staying in the area. I refer to those who have absolutely no purpose in staying in the area and are clinging on there through sentiment. These are the people who, I think, possibly in the interests of all, will, in due course, have to be compulsorily evacuated, but if you have a family, with a breadwinner and some adolescents of 10, 11 or 12 years of age, it may well be that they can stay in that area. There are degrees of bombing. I do not think that, in a very heavily bombed area, such as that in the East End of London, that would be possible, and I am not asking for it in that connection, but, generally speaking, if the State does not make every endeavour to promote the continuance during these possible years of war of the family circle, then it will make a profound mistake.
I was about to refer, when the hon. Member interrupted, to the question of improving the shelters that are available. At the moment, as my right hon. Friend is aware, they need a great deal doing to them in order that there shall not be a serious medical problem throughout the winter. If it be found in certain crowded areas, where many men must continue to live and work, that some deep shelters are necessary, I sincerely hope that the Government will not fear tackling them on a local basis. There was at one time a suggestion that you could not have deep shelters in certain places because there would be an outcry in the rest of the country. I have never thought that that was true, and I do not believe that Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield would take the slightest objection to there being some deep shelters in the East End of London if it was found that that was a useful solution of the problem.
Another aspect of the continuation of national activity to which the Government ought to pay more attention is the development of the right mental outlook. As I move about the country and through industry, I find that the people whom I 428 have known in peace-time are, without exception, no longer possessed of the same degree of energy or effort. Their effort or energy has either greatly increased under the stimulating effect of war, or, unfortunately, in other cases, it has decreased. Speaking generally—and I know that hon. Members will agree with me here—the tempo and the mental outlook in industry are brisk and have improved vastly since the times of peace, and that is all to the good, but equally, I regret to say, both in Government Departments and in local authorities, the tempo seems to have decreased. That is a matter to which the Government should apply themselves. The House had a very clear example of this yesterday when the Stationery Office proposed that we should have delayed Papers. The Post Office has been suffering from this problem for several weeks now. It is really important that when the Government appeal to industry to keep the wheels of industry going on behalf of the war effort, they should, first of all, put their own house in order and make the appeal to their own employés in the Civil Service and in local government, so that they both set an example and also facilitate the wheels of industry.
I would say one word on the subject of warnings. I feel again that when the Government changed the warning from meaning "Take cover" to meaning "Be on the alert," they were very timid in issuing the clarion call to the nation to carry on after the alert had been given. There is still quite a number of places of commercial and industrial activity which have not yet understood what is expected of them, and I feel that the Government did not come out nearly clearly enough with a call to the nation to cease thinking of taking cover on the "alert" and carry on until danger was more immediate. In this respect I am going to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security to look into one aspect of this problem of taking cover in industry and commerce. It is this. There is an observer corps throughout the country giving information to the Fighter Command upon the movement or probable movement of hostile aircraft. Industry is asked to have its look-out man on as high a point as possible, and he will give some idea when there is trouble about. An investigation should be made to see whether it is not possible in some 429 way to link up the local observation post with the observer corps in the largest industrial concerns adjacent to those posts. It seems quite absurd that information should be available locally in the hands of the observer corps but that we should have to rely on our own spotters. If something of that kind could be done, it would greatly assist the scheme now working in industry whereby we take cover only in real emergency.
Before I sit down I want to put two points to my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air. The first is with regard to night bombing. We have been told—and I think it is true—that we must expect visitations of night bombers to be more or less frequent, although we hope diminishing numerically, throughout the period of hostilities. There have been, on the part of several speakers in this House and outside, statements on behalf of the Air Ministry suggesting that this is a new and novel problem which was never anticipated and for which no solution had even been sought. The record of our fighter and bomber squadrons is such that it is with diffidence that one criticises the Air Ministry, but if that is their view, and if this problem has not been tackled over the last few years, then the Department is seriously remiss. At any rate, whether they have been tackling it or not, it would seem that they have not been tackling the problem very vigorously or enthusiastically. Since the bombing of London commenced we have had several statements to the effect that now that this was happening some investigation and development would be pressed forward so that the night bomber could be intercepted. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will tell us something about the attitude of the Air Ministry towards this question.
I believe that laymen would now expect that the interception of the night bomber will be an accomplished fact in the not very distant future. Well, I sincerely hope that that may be so, but unless I am sadly misinformed about my air facts, I believe, on the contrary, that the interception of the night bomber will be something which we shall develop gradually. We shall not drag all the night bombers down from the skies next week, but we hope we shall drag a few more down, and that we shall go on dragging more down. If it is suggested that we have novel 430 methods of bringing down the night bomber, let the Air Ministry and the Government not announce too prematurely that this will be done successfully. I have heard many pronouncements saying that something was ready when in fact that something needed another six months for its proper development. If you tell the people of London and this country that they may have to wait some time for a solution, they will not grumble, but if you tell them that you have a solution just round the corner, and it does not come by the time you have expected it, then you have done a grave disservice to public morale. I would be grateful to know that the Air Ministry and the Government are thinking on this matter on the lines I have indicated.
The last point I want to make is this: I do not want to say anything that could be of any value to the enemy, but I want to make a particular appeal to the Government that they should strengthen our air arm in Africa. Africa may, in the next week or month, become the focal point in the war, and I am not at all satisfied that on review we could not spare a few more squadrons of bombers and fighters to back up that gallant little force of airmen there, without serious detriment to the air strength of this country. I will not say any more on the subject, but I would like the Government to understand that there is a strong feeling among those who seek to understand this problem that possibly more could be done to strengthen our forces in that Colony.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)
I think it will
be for the convenience of the House if for a few moments I intervene to answer the questions which the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) put to the Air Ministry, and I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) will not think me discourteous, or that the tempo of my Government Department has decreased, if I do not go into the question of the strategical defence of Africa. The hon. Member for North Camberwell put three questions. He stated that people were somewhat disturbed at the lack of interception of night enemy bombers, and he asked whether I could give some reassurance on this point. Secondly, he asked whether we had enough anti-aircraft guns and whether we had brought 431 in Navy guns because they were of some special suitability or because there was a shortage, and, thirdly, he asked whether anything could be done to co-ordinate the warning system because the alarm and the "All clear" run too closely into each other.
I will take the third question first. The synchronisation of sirens is an engineering matter, and it is at present engaging the urgent attention of our technical experts. Orders are being given for its immediate development and for the material therefor. I would like to make this observation: If you have a warning system based on geographical areas, at some point there must always be a boundary, and on those boundaries you will meet anomalies. You would have one area under a red warning and another area, perhaps just across the street, under a white warning, with a red warning to come a minute or two later, so that the ordinary inhabitant, not knowing the geographical division, would think that his siren was lagging behind the other across the way. As regards the second question which the hon. Gentleman asked, I am sure the House will understand if I do not reveal in any way the source, type or quantity of our anti-aircraft guns. I would only say this: The "sky is the limit," both as regards the function and quantity of guns with which we can do, and our growing strength in anti-aircraft guns and the good effect of them is, I think, best proved by the nightly results of our barrage. Our barrage to-day is a most effective deterrent. It is being developed to become a more and more effective destroyer as well as deterrent.
The first and, I think, much the greatest question he asked me was about interception and some people's misgivings that more is not apparently being done. Interception has two aspects, firstly, the air-raid intelligence of the enemy moves over the country from the time he approaches our coasts to the time he reaches his objective and finally leaves the shores, and, secondly, the question of bringing our fighters into contact with the enemy in accordance with the intelligence as to his movements. As regards the first point, no system can be raider-proof, either as to the detection of the enemy nor, indeed, can it be watertight as regards being able to forecast completely the intentions of the enemy. It 432 may well be that he alters his intention while in mid-air in accordance with the circumstances that he meets on the particular raid. We are always improving our system of air-raid intelligence. Each raid is made the subject of careful post mortem, not to try to lay blame on individuals, but to see whether we can improve the system here and there in accordance with the experience gained.
As regards the second question, of bringing our fighters into contact with the enemy, we have to meet three phases of enemy attack. The first is the large mass day attack, the second is the night attack, and the third is the day raid, probably by a single aircraft or a small number over a widely scattered area on days where there is cloud cover. The large mass day attack is undoubtedly the major threat to the country. We can claim that this was the method by which the enemy had hoped by now to break down our fighter and other forms of defence. Equally I think we can claim that the world can see that the result to-day is that, so far, the enemy has failed in that major effort and that this fact is largely owing to the interception success which our fighter defences have been able to achieve. We all know the difficulty of answering a constituent or a friend who says, "Where are your fighters? To-day I saw an enemy raider coming over my house, and no-one interfered with him." The answer to that is that for every one raider our friend or constituent may have seen, our fighter defence have intercepted many mass raids during the past weeks and thereby saved the vital parts of the country.
The second form of attack, night attack, is a much more difficult problem in that its interception is a problem which neither the enemy nor ourselves have completely solved. My hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston asked whether the Air Ministry only started thinking about night interception when night raids started. If that had been the case, we should not have been able to achieve such success as we have already achieved. Night interception is not a new problem. Countermeasures are in force now. They were last night and the night before, and new ones are being worked on night and day. I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be wrong for the impression to get about among the public that this night interception problem is something which we are 433 tackling now and that in a week or two it will be all quite solved. It is a process of evolution and of trial and error, and, even when we achieve success with new devices, new instruments and new methods, never let us tell the public that some raiders are not going to get through at all times.
The third form of attack is that of scattered, widely dispersed raids by small numbers, by day, with cloud cover.
§ Mr. Thurtle (Shoreditch)
Is that all that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is going to say about interception of night bombers?
§ Captain Balfour
It is all I am going to say about interception of night bombers, because I do not think the House would wish me to enlarge, nor would it be in the interests of the security of the country if I enlarged, on the scientific principles or methods which we are applying.
§ Mr. Granville
I am told that it is four or five times more difficult to fly by night than by day. I know also that the Air Ministry are taking into consideration various experiments. Have they thought of getting hold of the trained night pilots who used to be employed with Imperial Airways and British Airways, who used to fly around this part of London by night, and giving them an opportunity of solving the problem?
§ Captain Balfour
It is not a question of the difficulty of piloting by night. No one has a greater admiration for these pilots of the British Overseas Airways Corporation, but, equally, we have pilots of the Royal Air Force who have carried out night flying month after month in peacetime as well as in wartime. It is not a matter of technical piloting ability.
§ Captain Balfour
It is a question of being able to intercept the enemy under varying conditions—fog, cloud, moonlight, starlight—and of being able to develop technical devices which will enable a formidable percentage of aircraft to be intercepted. It is not a question of shortage of pilots but of the development of a new technique.
§ Captain Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
I understand my hon. and gallant Friend's reluctance to speak publicly in any great detail, hut I cannot help feel- 434 ing that he would give the House and the country very great assurance if he could answer this question. The problem of dealing with the night flyer is not only one for the Air Force but one in which the Army is concerned, and those technical services of the Army which are related to the management and control of gunnery. I should like to ask for an assurance that the scientific experts in the two Services are getting together in this matter, that it is not being left in the hands of the two Services separately, and that you have not got senior professors of science upon whom you are relying for advice who are blocking many ideas brought forward by young and brilliant men.
§ Captain Balfour
I can give my hon. and gallant Friend that assurance at once. He tempts me to go into the question how we are going to achieve this objective of night interception. I would only say that many of these methods which we are developing are applicable both to defence in the air and to defence from the ground, and there is a common pool of knowledge and scientific ability from which both Services are drawing benefit.
§ Captain Balfour
Indeed, they are. It is not only a question of their working together, but the same brains are doing development for the two Services.
I should like to touch on a third form of raid with which we have to deal, that is, scattered, widely-dispersed raids, very often of single aircraft or small numbers of aircraft, in conditions of cloud cover, when the raiders play hide-and-seek in the clouds. Many of the solutions that we may achieve for night interception are going to be applicable to this particular form of raid as well. As and when we develop night interception, so shall we be able to cope much better with this particular form of scattered day raid. There are, of course, certain differences between the two forms of raids in that the day raids under scattered cloud conditions very often take the form of low dive-bombing attacks by aircraft coming out of the clouds, and therefore, our short-range ground defences play a much greater part than they do in the larger problem of dealing with the high night 435 raider. Our investigations as to how to overcome the problem of scattered raids under cloud cover must also cover the differences between this type of raid and the night raids.
This subject is a difficult one to talk on without giving away a word which may perhaps help the enemy. The last thing any one of us wants to do is to make harder the task of those defending this country. I know therefore the House will forgive me if I have been reticent in dwelling further on what we are doing with regard to night interception. There is no complacency. There is a realisation of the problem and a determination that it shall be overcome so far as possible, but I would not hold out the hope that we shall ever get into a condition when some raiders will not be able to get through in broad daylight, under cloud cover, or at night.
§ Mr. Granville
May I ask whether the anti-aircraft defence round aircraft factories is under the Fighter Command or military command?
§ Captain Balfour
I do not think it would be particularly relevant for me to go into that subject now. The whole air defences of Great Britain are co-ordinated under the Fighter Command.
§ Mr. Woods (Finsbury)
I appreciate the tremendous task which confronts the Royal Air Force. The House and the country have every confidence in the personnel of the Air Force and increasing confidence in the men who man the guns. It will be some consolation and help to the country to realise that the Ministry are using the best imagination and brains and scientific skill in experiments to deal effectively and speedily with the difficult tasks, especially that of the night raider. We all hope that there will soon be abundant evidence of the successful results of these experiments.
I wish to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds), who devoted most of his speech to the problem of shelters. I felt that the defect in his approach to the subject was precisely that of the official advisers to the Government when the whole matter of shelters was first gone into. It was a purely theoretical approach. It is one thing to talk about this subject as theorists, as if it were a matter of paper and 436 sketches and the explosive force of bombs and resistances. It is another thing altogether, to stand with the people who are bereaved, who look upon the ruins of what yesterday was their home. There is some excuse for the Ministry and the official advisers, for it is a very difficult task to obtain a realistic picture of the problem which air raids present to the civilian population. The Ministry has, of course, to deal with the matter very largely as a theoretical problem.
I have taken a very considerable interest in this matter since I had an opportunity of visiting Spain during the civil war there, and I took an immediate interest when the first circulars were sent to the local authorities with regard to air-raid shelters. After what I had seen in Spain, my first reaction was that what was offered in those circulars was utterly inadequate. I felt like a man who said to somebody, "You are going to sea in a boat; I do not know what storms you are going to meet, but I have provided you with a lifeboat; I know it will not float if the sea is rough, but we will call it a lifeboat; and I have also given you a few little things, life-belts and so on, which will not keep you up, but will give you some sort of psychological reassurance." That was the sort of thing which the Government offered the population. A shelter that is worthy of the name must be a shelter. It must offer some protection which the persons will not have in their own homes. In Spain they began by having surface shelters, but they were driven underground. Although Republican Spain was an infinitely poorer country than our own, and had not nearly the same commercial, mechanical, industrial or financial resources, almost every big factory in Barcelona and nearly every big block of flats had close to it or in it a secure underground shelter that would have withstood bombs up to and probably exceeding half a ton in weight.
As the representative of Finsbury, I took up the matter with the local authority. We immediately lodged objections with the Ministry and pointed out our opinion that what was offered was inadequate. We stated that a congested area such as Central London wanted adequate shelter. When one is dealing with a very congested area where most of the people inhabit large blocks of tenements which have no gardens, and where there are 437 very inadequate parks, it is utterly uneconomic to talk about an infinite number of small shelters. The only economic way of dealing with the situation is to deal with the matter from the point of view of site and requirements, to accommodate the people as far as possible in the area within which they were limited. We have never advocated deep shelters as being the most efficient method for the whole country, but for certain areas it is the only method worthy of the name of shelter. I recommend those in office at the present time to go back over the arguments against deep shelters, and then I think they will appreciate the truth of my statement that those arguments represented a purely theoretical approach. Every one of the objections that were advanced against deep shelters has been exploded by experience. One of the objections to large shelters was that people would have to go long distances to reach them. As a matter of fact there was a large enough population surrounding the site to have filled the shelter. Already people are going three, four and five miles to take shelter in the tubes, taking their goods and chattels with them. They have plenty of time, and there is no need for them to rush or stampede. Every one of the arguments which were used against such a scheme has now by practical experience proved invalidated.
I ask that the question should again be considered in the light of practical experience, and that responsible Ministers should make first-hand acquaintance with schemes recommended by some of the boroughs and see what some boroughs have done. If their time is restricted, I recommend them to pay a visit to the health centre at Finsbury. In close proximity there is a trench shelter constructed according to Government instructions. No intelligent person would go into that place for more than five or ten minutes. It is impossible to get away from the smell of soil, which clings and makes people feel as if they are in a grave. It is impossible to make these shelters sanitary and healthy. In close proximity there is a shelter which has been built by Finsbury, going beyond Government specifications. We were held up at the end and the local authority responsible were threatened for extravagance in building a shelter on such magnificent lines. They were told they would be surcharged. We were prevented from building more 438 shelters on this scale, but I recommend those in authority to inspect it. I feel certain that sooner or later the people of this country will compel the Government to devote the money and resources of the country to saving life. Hundreds of tons of brick rubbish are now available for covering them, and in addition it would be possible to provide two to ten feet of solid concrete above shelters giving ordinary men and women engaged on national work comparatively safe protection. It is vital that we should approach this problem on the lines I have suggested.
Again, there is the question of health, and I am sorry that the Minister of Health is not able to be present. This question should be approached in a far more realistic way than was indicated in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. His speech was the sort of stuff we have listered to ad nauseam—full of platitudes. Before a common lodging house can be licensed in this country it must provide 400 cubic feet of air space for every sleeper. But here men and women, after a hard day's work, are not given a quarter of that space. We have had the space measured in some cases, and have found that shelters provide inhabitants with less than 50 cubic feet of air space. That must be inadequate and unfair for those people. At any rate it is not the way to face up to this problem. It is all very well for the Minister to say that persons suffering from contagious and infectious diseases will be evacuated. Parents take their children to the shelters where you may find children with whooping cough and measles. You cannot possibly guarantee, however careful the inspection may be, that children suffering from these complaints are not going into the shelters. There is a considerable number of working-class people who are tubercular, but who are able to carry on working in spite of their suffering. Where are they going to shelter? You cannot evacuate them into the country. I suggest that in every borough there ought to be a special health shelter divided into compartments in close proximity to the medical officer of health's headquarters. If such a scheme was adopted, these people would not only have a shelter and be prevented from spreading disease, which is their last desire, but would also be in direct contact with the medical authority who could give them what alleviation is possible. In all such cases they 439 should have a far bigger cubic area space than those in good health.
I should now like to refer to the question of demolition in the light of experience gained in Spain and in this country. I yield to no man in my admiration for the squads who do this work. I know some of these people. The wages offered for this kind of work were so low that hardly any skilled artisans would volunteer for service in London. I believe the amount offered was up to £3 5s. per week. Most of the men recruited were unemployed. The way they have tackled their job is simply wonderful, but they cannot be expected to perform miracles, especially when they are inadequate in numbers and inadequately supplied with tools, clothing and equipment. I have stood among ruins in Barcelona and other Spanish towns and have now had similar experiences in my own constituency. Men, women and children have been buried beneath debris, and it has taken over a week before their bodies have been got out. My experience in Spain was quite different. Republican Spain was poor and despised by the aristocracy of this country, but they had the sense and decency to see that the job was done quickly and properly. In London we are barbarians in comparison with them. They had specialists in various jobs who were dressed for their jobs, ready to deal with and move the debris. The work went on day and night until there was a guarantee that not one body was left. We do not know to this day how many dead bodies are beneath some of the ruins in London. There were in Spain also those whose job was to salvage every article of furniture, clothing, literature or picture, which were properly stored until claimed. Other speakers have reminded the House that for days and weeks the furniture of some of our fellow citizens has been standing out to be ruined in the streets of London.
The method of dealing with the dead has hurt me more than almost anything. There are men in dungarees dealing with the debris. When they come to bodies the same men, with the assistance sometimes of stretcher parties, place the remains on stretchers, and old Army blankets are thrown over them. For all that could be seen they were just part of the debris. In Spain they had some sense of decency. Directly any evidence of a human being 440 was discovered, the men in dungarees and the labourers went to another section. Standing by was the Spanish equivalent of our Royal Army Medical Corps. They were in fine, clean uniforms and everybody left it to them to deal with the bodies. I saw one case of a child who was dead and whose cat was still alive, and the soldiers were trying to save it. When these men placed a body on the stretcher clean white linen was placed on it and it was put into an ambulance. I should like to see something of the same feeling of decency in dealing with this problem in London. I see no reason why we should not revolutionise the whole of this business. I am speaking not of one borough alone, but of what I see in various boroughs.
I should also like to see an increase in the staffs, but if that is not possible the Pioneer Corps or the Royal Engineers ought to be brought in. We talk about this being a battle front, and the people would be reassured if they saw soldiers on the spot and felt that they were not being left to themselves as a helpless population. Tributes have been paid to various workers and I do not think any of them have been excessive, but there is one section that has only received intermittent recognition. I refer to our municipal staffs and the permanent officials of the municipalities. In prewar days these were the type of workers who were looked upon as having armchair jobs and who turned up at any time, but it has been a revelation to see how these men have acquitted themselves in adapting themselves to all kinds of novel tasks with initiative, enterprise, imagination and the sense of humanity. In the London area, by their kindly treatment of the victims and their practical steps in organising their resources, as far as the Government would allow local authorities to get busy, they have done considerable work in maintaining the morale and the spirit of good will and hope of the civilian population.
§ Mr. Key (Bow and Bromley)
My work in local government has not been such as to make me likely to be regarded as a person who plums up central Government action. I think, however, that much of the discussion to-day has been an attempt to push back from the 441 shoulders of local authorities to the central Government a great deal of the responsibility which local authorities should bear. In the early days of the air-rad precautions, I, with many others in London, took part in deputation after deputation to the Home Office and elsewhere on the question of the type of shelter that should be provided. We then strongly advocated deep underground shelters. We took our proposals to the Home Office, but the opinion went against the deep underground shelter. The policy was adopted of the smaller shelter and the dispersal of the population as being likely to lead to greater safety from the point of view of the preservation of the lives of the greater majority. As soon as that policy was adopted, it became the duty of local authorities to work out the schemes which the policy involved. In the vast majority of cases, however, the local authorities of London did not face up to the responsibilities which had been placed upon them and deal adequately and properly with their own shelter problems.
A large number of people have taken the line, even since the war began, of attempting to undermine any faith which the ordinary normal populace had in the type of shelter that was being provided by saying that the surface shelter was of no use and that the only safety was to be found in going underground. Those people have done no real service to the citizens of London by attempting to undermine their faith in the surface shelter. In my locality, although we fought against the policy before it was made, we set to work, when it was adopted, to deal with the problem. When this business started about three or four months ago we were in the position in that locality of having provided shelters in their own back gardens for 95 per cent. of the inhabitants. In addition, we had provided surface shelter and underground shelter in reinforced basements and trenches for something like 20,000 people who might be caught in the streets during the day. The experience has been that although we have been one of the most heavily bombed areas in London, we have not had one death per bomb during the whole of last month. That means that the policy of dispersal, however inconvenient it may have been to the people, has not led to a great loss of life. It has led to a preservation of life.
442 We recently took a census of the public shelters which we had, consisting of large underground systems providing for between 8,000 to 10,000 people, and trenches and reinforced basements providing for between 4,000 and 5,000 people. In addition, there were basements of private firms which were made available to the population at night. What did we find? We found that despite all the talk about the inadequacy of the surface shelters our public underground shelters and trenches were not occupied to 50 per cent. of their capacity by the people of the locality, who were content to stop in their Anderson and surface shelters and not to leave their homes.
There is another point about this shelter problem. Many of the critics of surface shelters and the advocates of elaborate underground shelters have raised their voices because it is found that people have to remain in the shelters for many hours at night and have to sleep there. I want them to carry their minds back to when we started discussing the shelter problem. Not one of them said that the type of shelter we should provide should give sleeping accommodation, and it is not good enough now to say that we are all of us wrong and have failed in what we tried to do because the problem of providing night accommodation has arisen. Why do the people who go to the underground shelters want to go there? Not because they feel safer, because many of those places are not so safe as their Anderson shelters. They go for two reasons: first, because our people like to get together and talk when there is anything going on, as it helps them to forget what is happening; and, secondly, because the underground shelter reduces the noise which they find to be very trying.
I suggest that this raises the problem of reducing the inconvenience of the noise heard in the surface shelters. I believe it can be done. It can be done by adaptation of the shelters in various ways, and it can be done also by public representatives getting about among the people and persuading them to use the ear plugs which are being issued. I have tested those ear plugs pretty thoroughly, by all sorts of experiments, and I want to testify to their efficiency. In our own locality we have already distributed 140,000 sets of ear plugs to the populace. I would urge that instead of everlastingly 443 criticising the things that are done, many of us would be doing greater service to the people we represent if we gave them some confidence in the things that have been provided for them. At the same time, I have one or two things to say with regard to the type of shelter that even we have been able to provide. We have not at all times received that encouragement from the central authority to which I think we are entitled. For instance, we were for a long time prevented from putting light and conveniences into communal shelters.
§ Mr. Key
We are still having to do the job of putting in seats and light, and we ought to have had greater encouragement, and perhaps greater assistance, from the central authority. Next I wish to say a word about the cement problem. We built quite a large number of surface shelters, each to accommodate 50 people. In a great number of cases those shelters have stood up very efficiently to blast, particularly where an efficient blast wall was placed in front of the entrance. So far as my knowledge goes, and I am deputy controller of A.R.P. among other things, there have been only two cases in which a surface shelter has been affected, and in both cases, in my humble opinion, it was due to the faulty cement used in their construction. Where the cement is of good quality the shelters have stood. Those that "went" were made with the sort of stuff that you could pick out from between the bricks with a pencil. I urge strongly that attention should be paid to the quality of the cement for shelters supplied to local authorities.
There is one other thing regarding materials to which I wish to direct somebody's attention. We have not suffered from a shortage of bricks, or suffered very much from a shortage of cement, but that was because we tackled our problem when bricks and cement were available, but we have had this experience, that whilst we had bricks at our command and cement at our command there was difficulty in getting it to the place where we wanted it, because we could not get the necessary transport. I do not mean that we could not get the vehicles, but that we could not get driving 444 power for the vehicles; in other words, those in charge of the petrol supplies would not issue the necessary permits for petrol for the transport of bricks and cement for A.R.P. purposes. I hope some attention will be given to that matter.
There is still another problem. Some local authorities, particularly in the East of London, have a big task not only in removing debris but in repairing their streets and their services, a task beyond the capacity of any works department of a local authority, and in some areas beyond the capacity not only of the local authorities but of the private employers. Assistance has been given, but I suggest that attention is being paid to the wrong problem. We are told that the existence of many broken-down houses is likely to undermine the morale of the people of London. I do not believe it. I do not believe they will worry very much about seeing broken houses. What will undermine their morale more is the enormous difficulty of getting to and from their places of work. Somebody has been thinking about this problem, and I do not suppose that I am giving away any secret when I say that we received instructions last night to make ready to receive a number of Royal Engineers who were coming into our locality to remove debris. The debris can wait awhile if the Government will only allow the Engineers to assist the utility undertakings to repair their undertakings, and fill up the craters in the roadways, thus assisting the movement of people from one district to another. Every business has to be dealt with.
I hope, however, that the central authority will not ask the local authorities to do the impossible. In my own locality we have something like 12,500 damaged houses, which is more than half the houses in the locality. More than 1,000 of them can never be re-occupied, and we have a large number of people who have had to be evacuated. Others have still to be evacuated, yet an instruction came down to us last night to be ready to-morrow to accommodate 560 Royal Engineers and to billet them inside the borough. That cannot be done. It is a ridiculous proposition to make. The people who are to send the Engineers to help to deal with the debris must have made some sort of arrangement for the billeting and accommodation of their 445 own people. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who is responsible?"] I expect it is the War Office, but I never deal with the War Office, only with group headquarters, whoever they are.
Just a word about the rest centres. This is the part of the organisation of which we should be least proud. In the early stages, the organisation failed completely. Again, I cannot exonerate the local authority, which was responsible. It happened not to be my local authority in this case. The Ministry of Health made it impossible for the London County Council to make the necessary provision. I believe the Ministry set a limit of £20 per centre for the work of adapting a school as a rest centre. I do not know whether that is still the limit, but that was the position, and the result was that the preparation made was totally inadequate.
§ Mr. Key
No, and only a very limited number of blankets. There was a store of dry biscuits and very little else. As A.R.P. controllers, we have received urgent requests from people at the rest centres to come to their assistance because of the inadequate provision, not of hot meals, about which we were talking just now, but even of hot drinks. In the London County Council schools there was no opportunity at all for providing hot drinks. There was no method of getting kettles boiled, and nobody had thought of providing stoves. At present, in three London County Council schools, there are six electric stoves installed without the knowledge of the London County Council. They are the property of the borough council, and sooner or later we hope that the London County Council will pay for them, because they have been installed for the purpose of providing hot drinks, which the London County Council should have provided for the people of Poplar.
If somebody fails to do his duty, and if somebody else is on the spot who can do something about it, let us not waste our time in criticising the other fellow all the time; let us get down to the job of doing that bit of work which is possible to us, on behalf of our people. If we will do that and, instead of trying to undermine their faith in the things that exist we try to strengthen their faith, the 446 people of London can stand up to a good deal more than they have been called upon to face at present.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I am sure that the whole House has listened with special interest to the very practical speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key). I can confirm a good many of the points which he made, but it is interesting to know that the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Woods) who spoke before him, disagreed fundamentally on the question of shelters. He would be a very wise man who could give the last word on the best way for London to sleep underground. I am not talking about living underground. I have been to Finsbury. I have seen a direct hit on one of your shelters. I have seen the family who said, "Here we are. You can take us anywhere." I was in that shelter yesterday. It was very deep and extremely well constructed. I have been down to my hon. Friend's constituency a good many times, and I have seen the people sleeping, including children and old people, not in Anderson shelters, but in church crypts and elsewhere, because they demanded to go deeper down. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to make any generalisation about the shelters in London.
I would like to call attention to the confusion of authorities in connection with this matter. I believe that at bottom to be the reason for the speech which we heard from the Minister of Health to-day. Frankly, it depressed me—not that it was anything to do with him. I know that he has worked 15 hours a day. He has been down at night to borough after borough for four and five hours, quite heedless of the shells and so on. This is not a matter of personal attack or criticism but simply this: At the present moment London is at war, without a general, with a staff, and without a policy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) should be brought back to the House as London's governor and should not take over the whole country. If he were to put this problem right he would have done the biggest thing for this country and a bigger thing than being the Minister for Home Security.
The right hon. Gentleman is going round. Fortunately he will not need to do so, because he knows the difference 447 between a borough council and a public assistance committee. The Minister of Health has been going round. The Parliamentary Secretary—I have often followed in her tracks—has been going round. Now, if you please, we have a Regional Commissioner for London. What has he been doing? [An HON. MEMBER: "Going round."] Yes, and what are his powers? Now we have another member, the hon. and learned Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink), for whom I have the greatest possible respect, but he has to learn his job. He is going round. I have followed him in Stepney, Poplar and West Ham. He has had to do it all this week. Now, if you please, we have an additional Under-Secretary to tackle this problem. Therefore we have 10 people, including Sir Warren Fisher and Sir Ernest Gowers, to tackle this problem of London. [Interruption.] I will tell hon. Members why I am interested in this matter. I have lived all my life in London, and I have been to a dockside school for 10 years. I know these people very well. I decided that I would find out the facts for myself, irrespective of official authorities, and therefore what I am telling the House I know at first hand.
There are four things I wish to say. The rest centres do have food. They have three hot meals. They do have a mattress and some sort of information, but nothing like what the Minister of Health told us this afternoon, There is also now some communal feeding in London. It is nothing to do with the Minister of Food; it is due to the education services of London, and I will mention their names if they are wanted. It is due to the fact that they have had the initiative to obtain some field kitchens from Aldershot, get them to London and store them in the schools. There are now 60 field kitchens with dixies. I hope the Minister is not disagreeing with me; there are now 60 communal centres which are providing good food once a day—only once a day, in the middle of the day—for people who are homeless. Also, some 20,000 children and mothers have been moved right out of London and scattered in different parts of the country, and so far as I can tell they are now fairly happily situated. The fourth point is that at last they have got rid of one incompetent administrator. But he is not 448 the only one who should have been removed.
I am not an authority upon shelter problems, and I do not wish to lay down any laws about them. In the boroughs which I have visited every kind of device has been resorted to by the amazing adaptability of the Londoner. There are shelters in the East End of London where, they have said, they have had no help at all from the borough council. They have got together their little committee, passed the hat round, obtained a couple of accordion players, they have paid for the cleaning of the place, and still two nights ago the children and the people were sleeping side by side with the urine, and it is no good Ministers saying that these things are not true. The Minister of Health this afternoon said, "We are getting in workers from outside, we are thinking of a hostel for young people." That is not good enough. The reason is because it is nobody's business. There are 10 different people going round London. As my hon. Friend said, there is a London of 4,000,000 and a London of 8,000,000. A family was sent to a school at Buckhurst Hill, and the schoolmaster did not know they were coming. It was a Canning Town family, consisting of dockers and the like. If it had not been for the Salvation Army, the Quakers, the W.V.S. and the people who brought in blankets, nothing would have been done, because it is nobody's business.
I have commended the rest centres. Two days ago I saw a bus arrive. It waited an hour. It came for 20 people, and it took away two; one was a mental defective and one an aged person. It took them to North Kensington. The reason why people are not going to move from East London to North Kensington is because they have heard that the bombing there is not very different. Why should they? People have a very great attachment for the place where they live. I have come to the conclusion that nobody is responsible for evacuation. The borough is responsible for intra-billeting. There is no room in East London for people to be rebilleted, and the story that my hon. Friend told about the engineers is just about the last word. I was also interested in what he said about transport. There is a line half a mile long from Gardner's Corner to the Bank, and girls—clerks and typists—are trying to get home every night. They will not get 449 home until 8 o'clock. Who is in charge of London transport? Should it not be the same authority as is dealing with shelters and evacuation? There are three authorities responsible for evacuation. There is the London County Council, which is taking people from borough to borough; there is the borough itself, which looks after its own, and then there is somebody, who, I gather, is the Minister of Health, responsible for the larger evacuation. I have not mentioned Buckhurst Hill. I have not mentioned the Greater London area.
§ Mr. Lindsay
Yes, Leyton and Walthamstow. There has been competition between soldiers, children, grownups, and so on; and the consequence, I gather, is that the Minister of Health has no picture of the country as a whole. I do not want to complicate the problem for him. I know that children have come away from Sussex and Kent, and are accommodated in what are called reception areas. But do let us stop talking about reception areas. I can say this because when I stood at that Bench I protested against this academic view of neutral, reception, and evacuation areas, with different accommodation in the schools. That position no longer exists. I plead to-day that London should be treated as a region. I do not want to say anything against local councils. I have been a member of the borough council in Stepney, and I realise the touch they may have with the local people; but the time has come for local authorities, even Poplar, to be agencies doing executive work for a larger body. [AN HON. MEMBER: "That is what we want to do."] Yes.
I think the function of the London County Council—with all respect to my right hon. Friend—is a very difficult one at the moment. Take education. I am now in favour of the complete compulsory evacuation of every child in London. I know that that is strong language, but if the children stay in, not only the Tilbury shelter, which is now notorious, but in a dozen shelters that I know of, they are going to get a measure of poisoning. They cannot go on sleeping in a church crypt throughout the winter. That is no place for them, nor for old people. The whole of the educational service is com- 450 pletely disorganised. Some of us who had a broad view of education thought that it did not matter for a few months if children went out and saw the world, but you cannot go on like that indefinitely. These 200,000 children still remaining in London must have a new approach made to them. I do not mean on educational grounds. I know that it will be a hard task. It needs a very convincing Minister to do it. I believe that if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary were in charge of it—which he is not—he could do it. It must be somebody who knows London, who is trusted by the Cockney, who could tell them that they had to get out. I believe that my right hon. Friend almost had a hankering after that policy himself some months ago. I regret that we have not my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education present on that Bench to-day. There is no education going on in London at present. Less than 15 per cent. of the children are going to school. Many of the schools are closed, so it is no use invoking the Education Act.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
It is only fair to point out that the teachers, although they are not carrying on their ordinary duties, are doing marvellous work.
§ Mr. Lindsay
I have said that the meal services, which are run entirely by the London education service, do the administration and teachers great credit. I take my hat off to them; they have done a very good job. So much for evacuation.
It is the job of the Minister of Health to sit in Whitehall and have a look at the different regions of the country and see how he is to deal with the old people and the younger people. To give some indication of what can be done, I may mention that there happen to be 300 London soldiers billeted in a certain constituency, and I have heard this week that the wives of 20 of them have been transferred there and, with voluntary help, have been provided with good homes. That is only a tiny drop in the bucket, and a great deal more can be done. The Minister of Health said that hostels are to be set up for old people and for people who have to go to work. Time after time, one finds that persons of 14 and 15 and upwards, girls and boys, are often part of the unit of the family and because they have to work 451 in London the family cannot be evacuated. We shall have a lot of them working this winter. Why not get the boys' and the girls' clubs and other organisations to provide shelters for these young people, so that they can obtain some form of recreation during the evenings? It will be a bit thick for them to have to sit down from six o'clock, or five o'clock, in the dark or with what little light there may be. It will be very difficult for people of that age. The Minister said that we must have hostels for them, but it would take some time. Why? There are scores of voluntary workers in London waiting to do things. There are not only the Friends Ambulance units, the Salvation Army and the Y.M.C.A.; there are scores of people waiting to do things if only they were organised. I plead with the Minister not to under-estimate voluntary work. It has got him out of several holes already. If it had not been for voluntary workers in the early days of the war, I tremble to think what might have happened.
What about the shortage of labour? The Minister said this afternoon that there is a shortage of labour in London. There are unemployed miners in the Midlands, whose job it is to do this sort of thing. Someone says that the Ministry of Labour would come in. That is about the seventh Ministry of which we have heard. London is at war; it has a wonderful population. If you go round the shelters at night you never hear a "grouse." You always get a smile. Why, I do not know sometimes, considering where the people are. I do not want to appear wise after the event. No one foresaw that people would have to sleep in shelters during the whole winter. I appreciate that some steps have been taken. The people have pushed the Government into a great many things already. It is not that Communism has caused the people to be allowed to go into the Tubes—I have heard that too often—but that the people wanted to get away from noise and obtain some form of security. An old couple might sleep in the Anderson shelter, but the young people want jollity, perhaps with an accordion, as is the case on a Friday night in Mile End, so that they may have a proper concert. They are going to do it all through the winter and they are going to stick it, and I ask the Government to match this unconquerable spirit of the people of London. The 452 only way of doing it is by proper regional government. Get rid of the Commissioners if they are not doing their job. Have one man in charge and have an O.C. Transport, an O.C. Food and an O.C. Evacuation. There should be food for the people when they come out of shelters and food for them before they go in at night. Who wonders that people stay three weeks in a rest centre? With three hot meals a day, why not? The rest centres are becoming hostels and if you do not set up hostels the people will. The people living in London are sticking to their jobs and are going to see it through, but I think they want a Government which is worthy of their spirit.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
I am sure that any speeches made now should be very brief because we are all anxious to hear what the Minister has to say in reply to the excellent speeches which have already been made. I will, therefore, keep the House for only a few minutes especially as my hon. Friends the Members for Finsbury (Mr. Woods), and Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) have already put forward constructive statements. I entirely endorse the appeal of my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley to the Minister to consider the constructive side rather than the negative side of criticism. I agree that there may be a few boroughs which either through red tape, nervousness or for some other reason, have not perhaps utilised all the powers given them or done what they might have done in the occasion which has presented itself to them. Undoubtedly, while much is being done to meet a situation which very few anticipated a few months ago, nevertheless a great deal more can be done. In visualisation of the plans of the future I beg the various experts not to divide up London so as to leave some areas outside their scope. My own area around Leyton and Walthamstow and those of Edmonton and Tottenham belong technically to the administrative counties of Essex or Middlesex but the administrative counties look upon them really as part of London, whereas some think of them as, if not beyond the pale, then as beyond the circumference. The plans put forward now have largely lost sight of such areas which comprise hundreds of thousands of people.
It is true that in these areas, until recently, the problems arising out of bombing have not been so serious but 453 while West Ham and Silvertown had frightful experiences in the early period it is our turn now. We are submitting to a process of slow and cruel attrition. Every night one hears of more houses demolished, more people being slain and further disasters coming to our areas. Our areas are not to be compared with the inner London areas. There are, for instance, numbers of people getting wages of £4 or £5 a week and buying their houses and it is tragic in the extreme to go round and see these neat little places and streets demolished overnight, as well as the poorer houses. Their problem is not quite the same as that of the areas where there is not the same spaciousness, gardens or amenities, and if I may say so in passing, I must express my regret that yesterday we had a speech from the Prime Minister—which I am quite sure he never intended to be taken that way—which did seem rather incongruous.
To one who is coming straight from houses which have been demolished overnight, within 50 or 100 yards of my house—houses whence bodies have been taken—jocular references, even though not meant in a flippant way, are somewhat out of place. This is a very serious matter to Londoners and, whatever may be said on the statistical side about the number of years it would take to demolish London and the number of bombs required to demolish one person, all that does not affect the human issue. We cannot calculate the waste and the sacrilege in London in terms of mere statistics. The lacerated nerves, the life of apprehension, the frightful waste of tremendous opportunities, the bitterness which is sweeping into the blood stream of human beings and the emotional paralysis which is making many persons almost fatalistic in relation to what is going on or making them cynical—these are facts to be taken into consideration as much as any mathematical theory of the time it will take before London is entirely demolished.
There are some who seem to find consolation in the assertion that, whilst there is this ghastly and terrible visitation of death, nevertheless we are doing infinitely worse to Berlin, Hamburg and the Ruhr. One of the Under-Secretaries to the War Office over the week-end assured the country that far more casualties had been inflicted, presumably on German working-class people, than the Germans have im- 454 posed upon us. That is no consolation to me whatever. I cannot go to my people, whose homes have gone, and say, "Never mind. You are a working-class family. You have lost your home and your child, but a German working-class family also lost its home last night. Your innocent mutilated child is counterbalanced by an innocent mutilated child in Berlin." That gets us nowhere at all; it restores no life or property. I beg of the House and of Ministers to pitch their appeals to national morale on higher ground and to allow a certain amount of compassion to reside in the appeals that they make. I deprecate the suggestion made earlier to-day that this is not a time for reason but for action. Action without reason may drive us over the precipice. There is a certain type of person known as the "Gawdsaker" who rushes about wringing his hands saying, "For Gawd's sake let us do something". Those people make confusion worse confounded. We want action but we want more pre-consideration and reason. I am glad that, at last, there is an awakening on the part of various Ministries to the vast nature of the plans that we must have, if we are to cope with this very serious matter in the future.
I do not believe there is any real conflict between those who have advocated deep shelters and those who say, "Let us do the best we can with what we have." It is true that hardly anyone anticipated the present national situation. Hardly anyone a few months ago anticipated that we should have to say to hundreds of thousands of people that through this coming winter they must dwell in the semi-darkness for hours at night, rather than in their homes. In those circumstances we can absolve a certain number from not adopting deep shelters but there is no reason why, now that the "blitzkrieg" in all its fury is upon us, we should not consider a whole variety of means of coping with the situation. Thus where there is rising ground and miners can be imported to drive tunnels or shafts into the soil—where that it possible it should be done. It is still not too late. Though surface shelters have been of value, yet hundreds of people have come into my area from Poplar and West Ham who search out underground shelters in preference to surface shelters in their own areas because of the fiendish noise that they can endure no longer.
455 Let us take a comprehensive view of the situation. Let us have underground shelters where that is still possible. Let us aim at the maximum cleanliness and sanitation, for if we do not, infection and disease will spread like wildfire during the coming winter. Before it is too late, let us see that disinfection and ventilation are drastically applied, not merely to the inner London area or the London County Council area, but to areas such as my own. I want the House to visualise what is happening. Decent men and women go down into a shelter at half-past six at night. They sit on a narrow plank, with irregular cement walls behind them, unable to sleep, or only dropping off to sleep for a little time. By two o'clock in the morning the atmosphere is fetid through lack of circulating air. People become sick, depressed and haggard through lack of amenities. I want the House to visualise that situation and then to think what will happen in a few months' time or even a few weeks' time unless some drastic action is taken. I earnestly hope the proposals that have been made to-day and at other times, both privately and publicly, will not be taken by the Government simply as hostile criticisms. They are put forward hopefully and constructively, and if the problem is tackled, I am sure that, severe as the burden will be, particularly on the working-classes, during the coming winter, it will be borne more easily if it is felt that we here, representing the common man, are striving to deal with the situation and ease the tragic burden.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security (Mr. Mabane)
Perhaps the House will allow me to say, as one who has worked for some time under the Lord President of the Council, that I know how much he has done in connection with the development of the Civil Defence services. It is a great privilege to me to be able to look forward to working under one who is so well known in London and who, I am quite certain, will develop the policy of the Department with the vigour that we all expect from him. I may say, too, for this in a way is a swansong for me on the matter of shelter, how much I welcome the assistance of the hon. Lady who has just come to the Department and who, I understand will in future be very much concerned with the matter of 456 shelters, in which the interests of the women and children are perhaps uppermost.
I think those of us who have been connected with Civil Defence for some considerable time are, on an occasion like this, entitled to some wistful reflections, because certainly during the greater part of the first year of the war we felt that at times we were on the defensive for our services. It will be remembered that there have been occasions in the past when the Department has been pressed to reduce the number of those in the Civil Defence services and when references have been made to those who have enrolled as members, either full-time or part-time, of the Civil Defence services that would not be made to-day. From time to time we have had to defend the blackout, and not least we have had on occasion to defend the shelter policy. I can remember that in the past reference has been made, perhaps in the Press, to the Anderson shelters in not very flattering terms.
I am sure that all connected with the services are delighted at this keen and vital interest in the problem, provoked by the circumstances against which the provision was made, and at the clear determination shown in the House to-day that nothing shall stand in the way of action necessary to make adequate provision, particularly in respect of shelters, to meet as nearly as possible the circumstances which now face us. As was so wisely said by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) and by many other hon. Members, we are now facing a new problem—the problem of sleeping in shelters. While it may not be entirely true to say that nobody thought this problem would have to be faced, it is true to say that it was not contemplated that it would have to be dealt with in this form. The problem we are now facing is that of people having to sleep in shelters under continuous bombardment with, in addition, the noise from our own barrage. In passing, I would like to say how glad I was to hear from the hon. Member that the ear plugs which have been issued in several parts of the country are adequate for the purpose they are intended to serve.
On the question of sleeping in shelters, I feel it is important that we should preserve the right perspective and not over- 457 state the problem. Perhaps I might be allowed to say that not everyone in London is sleeping in shelters or going down to the tubes. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) talked about people rushing down the tubes. I think it is fair to say that the one thing they have not done is to rush. The discipline and orderliness with which the tubes have been used has been remarkable. But those seeking to use the tubes are a very small proportion of the total population of London, and, as hon. Members who have paid some attention to the matter know, those sleeping in shelters are also a very small fraction of the total population of London. I would like to endorse what has been said by a number of hon. Members to-day about the spirit of the people in shelters at night. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green referred particularly to their cheerfulness. I must say that visits to shelters at night are an inspiration. People are cheerful, and on one or two visits I have paid I was reminded more of an eve-of-poll election tour. During the Debate it has been clear that it has been the intention of Members to help, and, as the last speaker said, it has been the desire of Members to be positive rather than negative. I shall try to deal with the detailed points which have been made, and shall leave it to my right hon. Friend, who will be speaking later, to make a general statement on forward shelter policy. If any point raised by an hon. Member is not dealt with by me, it will doubtless be dealt with by my right hon. Friend when he speaks.
The deep shelter controversy has not been in evidence to-day. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) thought it far better that he should concentrate his attention on trying to secure that the present shelter programme should be completed, and in that I think he was right. In passing, I should like to say that it is important in the controversy to distinguish between deep shelters and two-phase or highly protected shelters. There is a shelter which some hold may be bomb-proof which can be constructed on the surface, and the problems which have arisen in connection with the provision of deep shelters are quite different from the problems which arise in connection with 458 these bomb-proof surface or two-phase highly protected shelters. The Department has never been rigid on this matter. There are deep shelters in many parts of the country. It would not be well to name them, but in places where the local circumstances, perhaps the geological formation of the ground, perhaps the existence of such things as the Southwark tube, have made deep shelter possible, it has been provided.
With regard to the two-phase highly protected shelter, the Department has already declared its willingness to consider proposals from local authorities for the construction of that kind of shelter, and I think I am right in saying that notwithstanding that, no proposal has yet been made by any local authority for permission to construct such a shelter. I think the answer is to be found in the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite, that local authorities take the wise view that they had better get on with the completion of their existing programme for shelter for all those who are likely to want to use it. So far as that existing shelter programme is incomplete, it is incomplete because of the difficulty of securing materials for the construction of shelters and for strengthening basements. We all know the great need for steel for the active defences. We know, too, that relatively early this year the construction of Anderson shelters was stopped. We regretted it, because we felt sure that the Anderson shelter would stand up to the kind of treatment to which we said it would. Experience shows that it has stood up to that kind of treatment, but we cannot urge our claim in face of the more urgent needs of the Fighting Services.
When we had to drop the Anderson shelter we were immediately able to produce plans which we had ready for shelters constructed of alternative materials which, in the view of our expert advisers, would provide an equal degree of protection to the Anderson shelters. They are constructed mainly of brick and cement. Shortly afterwards, there came an additional strain on the supplies of cement. We have seen up and down the country the uses to which the Army has put cement, and we know of many other purposes for which cement is needed by the fighting services. Therefore our shelter programme fell behind. There can be no doubt that now, in present conditions, more cement will be available to the 459 Department, and my right hon. Friend, coming from the Ministry of Supply, may have views upon the subject and may be able to provide local authorities with the cement that they so badly need. It is true, as has been said by several hon. Members, that there are shelters which now stand roofless and which to that extent are of no value. I hope that the new cement which will be available to the Department will enable the programme of roofing those shelters to be pursued with a great deal more speed than has been possible in the past.
The hon. Member for North Camberwell asked one or two specific questions about cement, and other hon. Members also referred to it. He asked whether the cement ring was preventing cement from being produced in the fullest possible quantities, whether there were not small producers who might be brought into production. Whatever may have been the case in the past, I have the fullest assurance that the cement producers are doing their best to bring back into production all the small producers who have recently gone out of production.
§ Mr. Mabane
I refer to an assurance given to me since the Debate started by my advisers, which confirms my own view in the matter.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Do I gather that the advisers are quite sure that all available productive capacity is being used?
§ Mr. Mabane
No, but they are satisfied that those who are in control of the cement industry are doing their best to bring into production as rapidly as possible the small producers referred to by the hon. Member who opened this Debate. Reference was also made to the quality of the cement. On that I would say quite frankly that in certain cases a mortar has been used that is not the mortar we would have used had we had full supplies of cement. We are giving this matter the closest possible attention. I was very glad to hear two hon. Members opposite refer in the terms they did to the brick and concrete surface shelters. Undoubtedly that type of shelter has stood up to rather more than we expected it would. It has never been said that it would be safe against anything more than 460 a near miss; It has never been said it would be safe against a direct hit. I am afraid that in this war all of us must take a chance from time to time, considering the frequency with which we find ourselves near to direct hits.
The hon. Member for North Camberwell and others said how necessary it was that these shelters should be made more comfortable. They are quite right. It is our intention to make these shelters more comfortable, and a programme has been announced. We are setting out to secure that they are lighted and heated, and that so far as possible places are allocated to particular people—and that the small shelters shall be allocated to particular households. We find that where shelters are allocated to particular households, where families come to regard these shelters as their own, they make them comfortable and make better use of them. We have authorised recently the recruitment of a further number of shelter wardens, so that people in the shelters may have someone to look to. All who have been round the shelters must have been impressed by the absolutely magnificent work done by the shelter marshals, as they were called at first, though we call them shelter wardens now. Going round the shelters one hears the remark, "Yes, we are all regular customers here, and Mr. — is our shelter warden." He is, so to speak, their father in God: they look to him for everything. We cannot pay too high a tribute to the work the wardens have done.
Not only are we taking all these steps, but we are acting with speed. I can assure hon. Members opposite that nothing is being allowed to stand in the way of speedy action in this matter. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) seemed to think that this was nobody's business. In that he was not correct. It is the business of Ministers. So far as the shelters are concerned, it is the business of the Minister of Home Security. Ministers recognise that any failure will be brought home to them, and they will face any criticism. When I said that expense was not to be the controlling factor that does not mean that we are going to pay through the nose, but that we are acting promptly. As an example, for the provision of bunks for shelters the whole furniture trade of the country has been mobilised, so that the bunks can be made with the greatest 461 speed; not, of course, merely for London, but for other parts of the country as well, where the problem might arise.
I should like to refer now to the speech made by the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds). I would like to congratulate him on finding a new way of calling Ministers short-sighted donkeys. He made a very sound, although theoretical, point when he spoke of relating shelters to vulnerability. I think his suggestion was that, where an area might be deemed to be more vulnerable than others, there was a good case for providing exceptionally strong shelters. That is all very well, but the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, and others, referred to the distinction between reception, neutral and evacuation areas as academic. I, having visited most parts of this country, can say that I know—or I knew—the reason why every city, town and village regarded itself as the most vulnerable place in the whole country. Although, looking at the matter from above, it might be true to say that certain areas are not really vulnerable, there are people in those areas who are not likely easily to agree with you. It has, in fact, been shown, as hon. Members from South Wales well know, that however well you agree upon your dispositions as to vulnerability, the course of the war might upset your best laid plans.
The hon. Member spoke also of draining trench shelters. We have two problems of drainage, that of draining the Anderson shelter and that of draining the trench shelter. Instructions have already been issued for the draining of Anderson shelters. This problem is a difficult and extensive one. As to draining trench shelters, we have that problem under urgent examination, and we hope that the provision we intend to make for warming shelters will prevent them from becoming waterlogged.
The hon. Member referred, as did the hon. Members for Finsbury (Mr. Woods) and Kilmarnock, to the relation between health and shelter. This may be a matter primarily for the Ministry of Health, but hon. Members will be glad to hear that a small committee exists, under the chairmanship of Lord Horder, and that it has already spent a great deal of time inspecting shelters. It has already made most valuable suggestions on this matter of health and shelter. Having completed the first stage of its work, the committee 462 has been requested to remain in being and has agreed to do so. It has been in constant consultation with the Minister of Home Security and the Minister of Health on this matter of shelters.
§ Mr. Lindsay
Did the Minister of Health set up the committee, or was it the Minister of Home Security?
The committee was set up by both Ministers together. We are always interested in health, but the Ministry of Health is, of course, primarily responsible for dealing with epidemics and so on. It would take too long to say how the committee is working, but it is in constant consultation with those who are concerned with shelters.
The hon. Member for Duddeston referred to another matter which is cognate to shelters, that of the working of the sirens. He said that the recommendations to industry—employers and employés—to continue work after the siren were not put over sufficiently vigorously and that in fact the system proposed in the recommendations had not been generally adopted. The recommendations were launched with a personal message from the Prime Minister. It is clear that some little time must elapse before the "Jim Crows" are trained for every factory; but with regard to the suggestion which he made, that we might expedite this system by linking the observers in the field with groups of factories, he will be glad to hear that that matter is receiving close examination and has been for some time. He and other hon. Members will appreciate the difficult problems of decentralising the warning system in any way, but if the system can be decentralised so that the observers in the field can be tied up with the factories, such a system will be devised.
§ Mr. Mabane
I could not promise that. It is a difficult matter to carry out, and I cannot even promise that it will be carried out at all.
§ Mr. Mabane
Certainly. The other matter which was raised concerned rescue parties and the clearance of débris, and particularly the clearance of casualties 463 from the débris as speedily as possible. There can be no doubt that there have been unfortunate cases where casualties and dead bodies have lain under débris. The solution to that problem lies, of course, mainly in the provision of stronger forces in the rescue parties, and the Department, in reviewing, as it is now doing, the organisation of the services in relation to operations, will do its best to secure that in all cases the strength of the various services is properly related to the work they have to do. Already it has been evident in certain directions that we are a bit too strong in some services and too weak in others, but it must be remembered that we have not been in action very long. It must also be remembered that those in the Civil Defence service who have been in action have been at it night and day, and when we can estimate what the proper provision should be that provision will be made.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock spoke with fervour and passion about the 464 conditions that he has seen in London. He said that the matter is nobody's business. As I said earlier in my speech, that is certainly not true, and this House knows whose business it is and where to lay any blame. I think, if I may interpret the general tenor of the speeches in the House, that the House has recognised that this problem is extraordinarily difficult, and hon. Members have recognised also that in war, and particularly in conditions such as we have had to endure recently from air bombardment, there is bound to be difficulty, dislocation, and suffering. There is also bound to be that risk of disease which is the inevitable accompaniment of war. But I can assure the hon. Member and the House that this problem of shelter had not been neglected, is not being neglected and, I am quite certain that under my right hon. Friend who has just become Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister of Home Security, it will not be neglected in the future.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn" put, and agreed to.