HC Deb 27 March 1941 vol 370 cc683-5
38. Mr. Simmonds

asked the Home Secretary whether, in view of the likelihood of the use of poison gas by the enemy and of the undoubted neglect of large numbers of our people to carry their gas masks and 61 their want of experience in their fitment and use, he will give the widest publicity to this matter and, in particular, he will urge all heads of businesses that they should organise in their works, or other places of business, periodical rehearsals of the fitting and use of their gas-masks by all persons there employed?

Mr. H. Morrison

The use of gas is abhorrent to His Majesty's Government, and this country will in no circumstances be the first to employ the gas weapon. No attention need be paid to any attempt by the enemy to cast doubts on our attitude, or to suggest that our defensive measures imply some intention to take the initiative. Unhappily, we cannot put any faith in statements which the enemy has made that he will not use gas. On the contrary, his whole past record shows that he will stop at nothing, and that if he conceives the use of gas to be of military advantage to him, he will use it. For that reason it is essential that the country should be prepared. Full use must be made of the provision that the Government have already made for the defence of the civil population—the civilian gas mask— which when properly used gives full protection against any known war gas. The Government are taking fresh steps to ensure that every member of the population carries, practises with and is in every respect familiar with the use of his gas mask. Exercises and propaganda will be used to this end, and the Government will seek to obtain the widest possible co-operation in helping to achieve the desired aim. I would emphasise that with proper measures of protection such as are now available to the population there is no ground for serious alarm about the effect of gas attack, provided always that proper precautions are taken and that the public obeys the advice given to it. For that reason the Government are determined to ensure that the whole population is in a full state of preparedness.

Mr. Simmonds

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a large number of people who do not carry their gas masks are relying on the protection of shelters, and will he, therefore, make it clear that the gas protection afforded by these shelters is in any case very elementary, that the underground shelters are liable to receive the gas, which is heavier than air, and that in any case gas masks will be needed to be worn in the shelters? Will he stress that point in order to prevent the public shielding themselves by the presence of shelters?

Mr. Morrison

The hon. Member is quite right in what he says, and I will certainly take into account the inclusion of that point in our propaganda.

Mr. Cocks

Has my right hon. Friend yet made a decision upon the proposal to have gas-mask drill over the B.B.C., and has he given consideration to the other suggestions submitted to him in a memorandum recently?

Mr. Morrison

I have given full consideration to those points to which the hon. Member was good enough to draw my attention. Certainly, the B.B.C. will be used as one of the agencies of propaganda, whether quite in the form the hon. Member has suggested, I am not sure, but certainly that point will be given sympathetic consideration.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward

Arising out of my right hon. Friend's original reply, am I to understand him to mean that, although we shall not in any circumstances be the first to use gas, we shall most certainly retaliate should the enemy use it on us?

Mr. Morrison

The House will draw its own conclusions, I hope, from the statement I have made that we will not be the first to use gas. I am not authorised to go beyond that.

Mr. Sorensen

May I take it that we stand fully committed to the Geneva Protocal in this matter, and is there any evidence of the use of gas by any belligerent forces up to the present time?

Mr. Morrison

I think the answer I have given that we shall not be the first covers the point about the Geneva Protocol. I can only hope that the hon. Member is equally certain about everybody else.

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