HC Deb 21 January 1943 vol 386 cc281-3
38. Mr. Hamilton Kerr

asked the Home Secretary how many local authorities had made provision for air-raid shelters before the issue of the Ministry of Home Security Circular 262/1940, dated 19th October, 1940, and are thereby prevented from receiving 100 per cent. grant from the Ministry for the construction of shelters?

Mr. H. Morrison

461 local authorities had constructed air-raid shelters or entered into contracts for such construction at the time of the issue of the Circular of 19th October, 1940. The fact that a local authority provided shelter before that date does not make them ineligible for reimbursement of approved expenditure incurred on the provision of shelter thereafter.

Mr. Kerr

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable dissatisfaction among some local authorities, particularly the poorer ones, and would he be willing to receive me, so that I can put the case of Oldham before him?

Mr. Morrison

I have, of course, argued this out with the local authorities, and, indeed, with the House itself, and I am afraid I have dug my heels right in, and I do not think I could get them out; nor do I think I ought to do so, but if my hon. Friend would like to come and see me, I shall be perfectly willing to receive him.

60 and 63. Mr. Hannah

asked the Home Secretary (1) whether he has considered the possible danger to the public of shelters which for any reason have become unsafe; and what action does he propose to take, especially, in view of the fact that the staffs employed by the local authorities have been greatly depleted by war;

(2) whether, in view of the responsibility that falls on local authorities who have built shelters which are, or may become, dangerous from being vaulted with lime, mortar, or other unsuitable materials, in the event of accidents, especially to unattended children playing in them, he will take steps to enable local authorities to insure against this risk, the premiums being recoverable from the National Exchequer?

Mr. Morrison

In March, 1941, directions were issued for a comprenhesive survey of public and communal surface shelters built in ungauged lime mortar or lime cement mortar, and instructions were given that shelters visibly unstable should be demolished and that those which could not be certified as satisfactory should be either demolished or closed by means of some physical obstruction to prevent entry. It was verified in July, 1941, that all such defective shelters had been dealt with in accordance with these instructions. It is the responsibility of a local authority to keep under review the condition of the shelters in its area and to take steps to demolish or prevent access to any which become unsafe. The Department's technical officers are prepared to give all possible assistance to local authorities in the discharge of this duty. I understand that many local authorities make a practice of insuring their liability to the public for risks arising out of the performance of their statutory functions, but I have not felt able to recognise for purposes of Exchequer grant the cost of any additional premiums which may have been paid to cover the special risks attributable to Civil Defence activities. If the policy of demolishing or preventing access to shelters which become unsafe is duly observed, the need for insuring against the risk of injury to the public in this connection will not arise.

Sir William Davison

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in yesterday's raid a considerable number of people ran to shelters for safety, but were unable to get into them because they were locked? Will he look into this matter to see that they are made available for the public against splinters from our own shells?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir, I will look into that question, but the actual maintenance and management of shelters is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, and I think it only fair to him to say that he is in a great dilemma owing to the scandalous misuse of, and damage to, shelters by some citizens about whose conduct I find it difficult to express an opinion.

Sir Percy Harris

Cannot wardens be supplied with keys?

Mr. Morrison

That is done, but it is a great problem when there is not much time between the siren and the guns.

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