HC Deb 10 October 1940 vol 365 cc471-3
16. Major Milner

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that there are a great number of cellar shelters almost wholly unused; whether any survey has been made of such shelters and with what result; and whether any, and what, instructions have been issued to police and air-raid precautions officials to ensure a better use of such shelters?

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Homo Security (Mr. Mabane)

A new Defence Regulation which has just been made provides local authorities with full powers to secure the use of basements for shelter purposes; and I am sending my hon. and gallant Friend a copy of the explanatory circular which the Department has sent to local authorities.

Major Milner

While thanking my hon. Friend for that answer, may I ask whether he is not aware that quite a number of these shelters are substantially unoccupied at night? Is it not possible for the police or air-raid wardens to be instructed to direct people who want to go to shelters and who now crowd out the tube stations to go to other shelters which are almost empty? Is it not possible to provide lasts of these shelters or have notices put up about them in the tubes?

Mr. Mabane

Every effort is being made to do what the hon. and gallant Member suggests. Quite recently authorisation was given for the employment of wardens one of whose principal duties would be to distribute the population in the very desirable way which the hon. and gallant Member suggests.

Major Milner

Is my hon. Friend not aware that those instructions, if they have been given, have not been carried out? Will he not go round to the stations to ascertain for himself whether the instructions are being carried out? Certainly there are no notices.

Mr. Mabane

In the tube stations definite instructions have been given for people to go to stations which have not, perhaps, been fully used. Those instructions are being carried out, as I know full well, because last night I was in a. shelter of excellent character that was not fully used. I do assure my hon. and gallant Friend that every effort is being made by publicity and by the actual direction el people to shelters that are unoccupied to distribute the people better among the available shelters.

Mr. Thorne

Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to have the circular which he mentioned made available to hon. Members?

Mr. Mabane


Mr. G. Strauss

In cases where local authorities may be reluctant to make use of shelters which are suitable for public shelters, will the Government step in to take action?

Mr. Mabane

I can give the hon. Member that assurance, and I think my right hon. Friend will be saying a great deal more on that subject in the Debate to-day. We are insisting that they shall be taken over.

Miss Rathbone

May I ask how much progress is being made with the Order, already authorised, I believe, to use shelters belonging to business offices, which are at present used only for the staff in the daytime? In Westminster there are many such shelters of which no use is made at night, though other shelters are overcrowded.

Mr. Mabane

That is a rather different question, but in many cases there is increasing need for the staffs of business offices to stay the night in their own shelters instead of going home, and I think that factor must be taken into consideration.