HC Deb 01 August 1944 vol 402 cc1171-6
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

The Government have considered the desirability of introducing a special warning in the London area in addition to the "Alert" sounded on the air raid sirens, to indicate the near approach of a flying bomb. Of the various methods examined, the most practicable would appear to be to make audible to a wider public the danger warning signals sounded in factories connected to the Industrial Warning System. The amount of warning given cannot be more than about 1½if minutes. The warning signal (which will be known as the "danger warning") will be three 2-second blasts on a klaxon or other suitable instrument at intervals of two seconds. The signal to indicate that danger is passed (the "release") will be a continuous blast lasting six seconds. Pending the installation of standard instruments the most suitable instruments at present available will be used. The new system will be brought into operation step by step as quickly as the necessary work can be carried out. Meanwhile, arrangements will be made so that as far as possible all unofficial warning signals for the public already in use are made to conform with the standard warning signals. These unofficial signals will be superseded as soon as the new system of warnings has been brought into operation. The Government have considered whether there should also be a system of visible signals but have come to the conclusion that this is not desirable. No system of visible signals could be devised which would be seen from all parts of the streets, and there would be a serious risk of traffic accidents caused by the diversion of drivers' attention from the road. Existing visible signals will, therefore, be superseded when the new audible system is in operation.

The Government wish to make it clear that the proposed system of danger warnings, although considered the most practicable, is admittedly imperfect and incomplete and subject to certain other limitations. It will, for instance, only be possible to provide danger warnings in areas where there are premises connected to the Industrial Warning System but the system will be extended steadily as circumstances and resources allow. Moreover, there can be no guarantee that the danger warning will always precede the fall of a flying bomb and there will inevitably be many warnings which are not followed by bombs in the vicinity. The Government consider that the system proposed offers better prospects of success than any other but only experience can show how far it will represent an improvement on the present air raid warning system. Factories already have their own internal warning system, and the additional warning for the public which the new system will provide will therefore not affect factories. The public have had long experience of bombing and now treat the alert as a warning to be on guard, though children, old people and invalids often take refuge in a place of safety and the practice is one to be encouraged. Those engaged on work related to the war effort or the maintenance of the life of the community continue with their occupation until there are further indications of flying bombs in the vicinity and the object of the danger warning is to provide such an indication. Those in the streets in particular should then be prepared to take cover when the bomb is heard approaching and those indoors should move away from the windows. Nevertheless, the fundamental need continues and the work of the nation must be carried on.

My Noble Friend the Minister of War Transport has discussed the arrangements for buses and trams with the London Passenger Transport Board and the Transport and General Workers' Union. Buses and trams will stop to set down passengers who wish to alight and it has been agreed that drivers and conductors will use their discretion whether they will then proceed between a danger warning and the "release." I would add that, as hon. Members will have noticed for themselves, from the point of view of timing, the siren alert has become close to being a warning of imminent danger, and I should like to take this opportunity of referring again to the efficiency with which in my view the officers responsible for operating the warning system have carried out their by no means easy task.

Sir Percy Harris

Would my right hon. Friend make it clear to the public that the old siren system still remains in operation, and that the new system is merely an addition to it for the convenience of the public?

Mr. H. Morrison

I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. Certainly the siren system continues and, I hope, will continue to improve.

Mr. Henry Brooke

One of these flying bombs fell last week before the ordinary siren had been sounded. It was not in my constituency. Can the Minister assure us that the strictest care will be taken to minimise the risk of that happening again under this new system of warnings?

Mr. H. Morrison

Yes, Sir. I will do my best in that matter. I understand the point of my hon. Friend's question.

Sir Hugh O'Neill

Can my right hon. Friend say when this new system may begin to operate?

Mr. H. Morrison

I cannot say. It must be on an "as and when" basis—according to the supply of materials, the completion of the work, and so on. I gave instructions that in so far as possible preparations should be made before this statement was made.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear whether the new system of klaxon horns will operate during the hours of darkness as well as in daylight?

Mr. H. Morrison

I do not want to say anything about that. We will use our discretion during the hours of darkness when we hope folks are asleep. My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not go into detail. He has referred to the klaxon warning. That is what we are aiming at but there are problems of supply and in the meantime we will leave them to use more than one form of warning.

Mr. Keeling

May I ask whether, pending the introduction of the new system, the system of local warnings already introduced in the more progressive parts of Middlesex will be allowed to continue?

Mr. H. Morrison

If the hon. Member is asking me to give him complete absolution and blessings for the enterprise of his local authority, I am afraid I cannot do it.

Major Gates

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision to abolish the visual signals, which do no harm and which some people, including the deaf, find very useful, as do also motorists, because it is not always possible to remember at what stage of the alert one has got to?

Mr. H. Morrison

I will certainly consider the point and try to be tolerant. The trouble about the visible system is that it tends to become a snowball affair, with people round about tending to imitate it, possibly without danger. But I should like to encourage the individuality of the British, and I will keep that point in mind.

Captain Duncan

May I ask who will be responsible for sounding the klaxons? Is it to be the responsibility of the A.R.P. service? If it is the factories, is the right hon. Gentleman going to pay people, or is it going to be done by arrangement with the factories?

Mr. H. Morrison

It will be done by arrangement with the factories.

Mr. Leach

Has the right hon. Gentleman any knowledge of a new kind of bomb coming over which is much more silent than the older type?

Mr. H. Morrison

Oh, I have knowledge of a lot of horrible things; but I presume my hon. Friend is referring to those that are now coming over. They vary in their practice somewhat, and there have been cases in which the noise has not been audible.

Mr. Granville

May I ask the Home Secretary, in view of the fact that the great majority of the people in the streets have gone about their ordinary duties, and will continue to do so, whether he will look again at the point that I submitted to him privately that all gates and doors should be open during the alert in order to enable those who desire to "duck" at the last moment to do so?

Mr. H. Morrison

That is the sort of case which ought not to be discussed.

Mr. Shinwell

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the answer which he gave just now to a supplementary question to the effect that he has knowledge of a lot of horrible things may be misconstrued? I am speaking seriously. Can we understand that it was merely a flippant observation on his part?

Mr. H. Morrison

Well, there are all sorts of possibilities, which have been referred to by the Prime Minister and which are common public knowledge. I was partly flippant, it is true, but anybody doing this job which I have now—which is not a job to run after—is living in a world where one is up against pretty horrible actualities, and it was in that spirit that I spoke.

Commander Sir Archibald Southby

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it would be possible to have a notice exhibited either on police boxes or on police stations to show whether there is an alert or an "All clear"? It would help enormously if there were either a light or a sign, to show when the "All clear" was on.

Mr. H. Morrison

My hon. and gallant Friend must appreciate that we are living in a period of limited man-power, and I honestly do not know where to get the people to do it.

Sir A. Southby

Do it by a light.