HC Deb 23 January 1941 vol 368 cc284-7
24. Mr. David Adams

asked the Home Secretary whether he intends to make it obligatory that every householder shall keep an adequate supply of sand and water upon his premises for dealing with incendiary bombs and that local authorities shall provide sand dumps for these supplies?

37. Mr. Cocks

asked the Home Secretary what provision is being made to enable householders to obtain sand for the purpose of dealing with incendiary bombs?

Mr. H. Morrison

Local authorities have recently been asked to distribute sandbags three parts full at suitable spots, particularly in the more built-up areas. If I find it necessary to require all householders to take a step so obviously in their own interests as to have an adequate supply of water on the premises, I shall not hesitate to act accordingly.

Mr. Adams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in considerable areas in the North of England it is quite the exception for people to have any water in and about their household premises?

Mr. Morrison

Then I hope my hon. Friend will conduct some propaganda on the subject. I will consider making a compulsory order, but I am not too anxious to make compulsory orders on every conceivable subject where, obviously, common sense would dictate that people should act voluntarily.

Mr. Cocks

Are arrangements being made to enable householders to obtain supplies of sand free of charge?

Mr. Morrison

Local authorities have been urged to make sand available. I am not certain whether a charge is being made for it, but I will look into that point.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Will my right hon. Friend urge local authorities not to waste time in dealing with this matter by waiting for the next meeting of the council?

Mr. H. Morrison

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that point. It is a habit to wait for meetings of councils or committees, but that is obviously ridiculous at the present time. We are in war, and local authorities have to conduct themselves as war machines.

25. Sir Frank Sanderson

asked the Home Secretary to what extent the fire at the Guildhall was due to negligence; whether there were spotters permanently stationed at the Guildhall; and what number of firemen were in constant attendance to the Guildhall's own fire services?

Mr. Morrison

If my hon. Friend has any ground for believing that this fire was due to negligence, he will perhaps be good enough to inform me of it. My information is that 10 members of the Corporation staff, trained in fire-fighting, have been on duty at the Guildhall day and night since the early days of the war; that members of this party on duty on the night in question extinguished a number of bombs that fell on Guildhall buildings; and that the London Fire Brigade came to their immediate assistance.

Sir William Davison

Is it not a fact that it was not in the Guildhall that the fire was started but in the church immediately adjoining?

Mr. Morrison

I think that is so.

33. Sir Adam Maitland

asked the Home Secretary when he will be able to put into effect the proposals of the Government in regard to fire watchers; and what is the reason for the delay in taking action?

Mr. Morrison

I would refer my hon. Friend to the Fire Prevention (Business Premises) Order and the Civil Defence Duties (Compulsory Enrolment) Order, which were made on 28th January.

Sir A. Maitland

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that the public are most anxious to be informed of action that the Government take and that, after announcing a policy, it is equally important that attention should be given to putting it into operation?

Mr. Morrison

I am bound to say that I think Ministers are entitled to a little appreciation from time to time. This is a highly complicated business, and it was carried through with the most amazing expedition. I had the officers up nearly all night working on the final draft, and I think we deserve a pat on the back for our expedition.

Mr. Ellis Smith

As there was no time to consult the organisations responsible on both sides in industry, and as there are many aspects of this order that should receive consideration by the House, will my right hon. Friend arrange for the House to consider the administration of the Order?

Mr. Morrison

Business of the House is a matter arranged through the usual channels and by the Prime Minister. Both sides of industry were consulted before publication, but I admit that that was at a stage when effective decisions had been reached. That is one of the difficulties. If Government machinery is to move with speed, there must be less consultation than would otherwise be desirable.

Sir H. Williams

Is it not likely to interfere with our productive capacity, owing to the fact that far too many people are engaged on this fire-watching?

Mr. Morrison

That is an important factor which has been taken into account, and it is one of the complications.

39. Mr. Mander

asked the Home Secretary whether he will give an assurance that all company directors, in addition to managing directors, will be liable for compulsory fire-watching service?

Mr. Morrison

The Fire Prevention (Business Premises) Order applies to all men of the prescribed age working at premises to which the Order applies, subject to the exemptions specifically provided in the Order, whether they are company directors, managing directors, or in any other capacity.

Mr. McGovern

Has any provision been made for absent property owners being mobilised to defend their own properties, or is the obligation to be only upon the tenants? Will the right hon. Gentleman bring these absentee landlords back, set up marquees and organise the landlords into battalions to defend their own properties?

Mr. Morrison

I agree that there are tempting aspects of the matter, but, from the point of view of effective organisation of this fire prevention, the obligation must be upon the occupier.

Mr. Mander

Will the definition include directors who come only once a week or once a month, and will they be expected to play their part?

Mr. Morrison

It is largely a matter of drafting, which is on the basis of the employés who are working on the premises. Frankly, I think it is doubtful whether the drafting will apply to the director who attends only occasionally, but I will give him every encouragement to play his part. It should not be forgotten that he will have an obligation in the locality where he lives and where he will be liable.