HC Deb 27 March 1941 vol 370 cc680-2
23. Mr. Frankel

asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that the Wembley Borough Council have been forbidden to continue their manufacture of air-raid shelter bunks; and whether, in view of the fact that these bunks were being made at a price much below that charged by private manufacturers, he will have the embargo placed upon the Wembley local authority removed?

Mr. E. Brown

I am aware that the Regional Commissioners for London have declined to approve the continuation of manufacture of bunks by the Wembley Borough Council. The Commissioners have had the costing figures supplied by the Wembley Borough Council examined and also the bunks. The Commissioners are not statisfied that the bunks are of equal standard to those supplied by the Government nor that the price quoted represents the full cost of manufacture. Local authorities were warned as far back as the 30th November not to make further arrangements for local purchase or manufacture. This action was necessary in order to secure central control, and consequently more economical use of the limited supply of raw material available. Notwithstanding this direction Wembley made their own arrangements for manufacture three weeks later.

44. Mr. McEntee

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware of the strong opposition that exists to the proposed closing of the tunnel shelter of which he has been informed; and whether he will make whatever arrangements are necessary so that this shelter shall remain open?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

As was explained by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary yesterday in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), there are good reasons why the continued use of this shelter is not possible. Steps are being taken to provide alternative accommodation.

Mr. Sorensen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the information given yesterday was of a very brief character, and that there is really no comparison between the shelter in question and the alleged alternative accommodation? Is he further aware that this matter affects over 2,000 people who look upon their eviction as a very callous and inhuman act?

Mr. Morrison

I must make it clear that there is no official authority for the occupation of this shelter by this large number of people. This shelter is not as safe as the people think, and I am apprehensive that there might be a major disaster, in which case my hon. Friend would be the first to put down a Question. Moreover, there is an alternative use for this shelter which is vital to the national interest. I have given the matter careful consideration, as has my Parliamentary Secretary, and while I fully appreciate my hon. Friend's feelings, I do not think I can fairly press for the retention of this shelter.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay

Will the Minister consider announcing; a definite policy on these unofficial shelters?

Mr. Morrison

My hon. Friend is a great man for definiteness, but, as he knows as an ex-Minister himself, we have always about six conflicting considerations to bear in mind. I have taken them into account, and have come to the best conclusion I can; but it is no use making an authentic statement unless you follow it up.

Mr. McEntee

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that full alternative accommodation will be provided for approximately 2,000 people? Is it not true that another tunnel is being used in spite of the fact that it is an unofficial shelter?

Mr. Morrison

We do the best we can in all these cases, but at some time or another there must be a decision one way or another. Sometimes we have been able to give a decision which meets the wishes of my hon. Friend, but in this case we have not been able to do so. Another point to bear in mind is that not all the people who use this shelter are local; some come from a considerable distance. I have stated in my Answer that steps are being taken to provide alternative accommodation.

Mr. Lindsay

The Parliamentary-Secretary stated in a Debate the other day that he was considering taking powers in regard to these unofficial shelters, inasmuch as some serious incidents have occurred. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any general policy in dealing with this question, or whether he decides each case on its merits?

Mr. Morrison

In the end we shall have to decide each case on its merits. The hon. Member will realise that there are some legal complications, and I may have to make a Defence Regulation whereby our powers can be made stronger in regard to unofficial shelters, some of which are dangerous. It is not always easy to get a clean line in the matter, because we are dealing with human beings, and they have to be taken into account.

Mr. McEntee

Will the Minister answer my Supplementary Question, and say whether he is providing full alternative accommodation, if it is dangerous for these people to be in this shelter? Is it not also the case that it is equally dangerous for the people whom the right hon. Gentleman is going to put in this shelter?

Mr. Morrison

The hon. Member will realise that there is danger everywhere; it is a matter of degree. I do not say that this is a bad shelter, but it is not as safe as the people who use it think, and there may be a disaster. I cannot go beyond what I have said, that steps are being taken to provide alternative accommodation.