HC Deb 28 October 1949 vol 468 cc1730-48

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Snow.]

2.47 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I wish to raise the question of the Government's policy in connection with the demolition of air-raid shelters, with particular reference to my own constituency. The policy is based at the present time on an answer to a Question by the Home Secretary, who said: Local authorities have been instructed to suspend all shelter demolition for the time being, though certain exceptions are being allowed, where necessary, in the public interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1948; Vol. 457, c. 1003.] That statement followed a period during which the demolition of shelters had been suspended after the publication of the White Paper on Capital Investment about a year before. Up to that time local authorities had been free to get on with the job of demolishing air-raid shelters, subject to manpower limitations. There had been a standstill for financial reasons and because labour was not available; the policy was then suspended and there was a temporary let up, but finally the Home Secretary decided that air-raid shelters should not be demolished.

I have the honour to represent a constituency which is almost wholly industrial. It was there that the Industrial Revolution started. Housing conditions are very bad. They are very bad for historical reasons, and because Dudley was cursed between the wars with a Tory Council who for years so neglected their duty as to do little or nothing to demolish those abominable slums.

I propose, as part of my case, to read some extracts from an annual report of the Medical Officer of Health for Dudley, which was published just before the war, and in which he reviewed the health service from 1922 until 1939. I hope the House will forgive me for a rather long quotation, but it is necessary for me to make it, to underline the plight in which some of my constituents find themselves. Dr. Blaker wrote: Housing has been, however, the biggest and most important and urgent problem in Dudley. As I have stated earlier the mass of the houses for the working classes in Dudley in my early days were deplorable and of a very low standard. Much of the disrepair and dilapidations of individual houses was due to an utter and almost criminal lack on the part of the landlords to do their duty. But more astonishing than this was the gross failure of the responsible officials to exercise their powers through the Council, in compelling the landlords on pain of prosecution, to carry out all necessary repairs. Then he goes on: Of course, the houses were old—many of them were put up during the period we call the "Industrial Revolution," and so they could not be made into new houses, but my point is that they could have been kept in a reasonably fit condition for habitation by necessary and timely repairs. Then he says this: In searching the annual reports of the Borough, prior to 1929, one is amazed by the sanitary records in relation to Housing matters. For instance, in 1923, 1924 and 1925 there were no closing orders or demolition effected for unfit houses. In 1926 there were only four, in 1927 only one and in 1928 there were 11. He concludes this section of his report by saying: It is difficult to understand how such statements could have been put into print when there were simply many hundreds of houses unfit and indeed in a dilapidated condition. That is the background of the story, and today in Dudley, of 16,000 houses no fewer than 4,600 are not really fit for human habitation. They are over 70 years old; they are structurally unsound. Of course, if the Conservative Party, which was in the majority on the Dudley Council in the years immediately following the first world war, had done its duty, those houses would have been pulled down, and there would have been no urgent problem about air-raid shelter demolition as there is today.

It may seem difficult to see the connection between the quotations I have made and the question of the demolition of shelters. I will explain. I have been round to see these houses, and I feel ashamed that human beings should be asked to live in those conditions—abominable and appalling conditions. In some cases immediately outside the back doors are pitched air-raid shelters. I am not blaming anybody for the erection of those air-raid shelters in those particular places because the Midlands were subjected to rather heavy enemy action in 1940, and, therefore, the air-raid shelter policy was to put up some sort of protection as quickly as possible. However, many of those shelters shut out the light, and shut out ventilation, and they prevent the poor housewives from access to any area in which they can dry their clothes. Moreover, there is nowhere for the children to play.

While I appreciate and understand the present air-raid shelter policy, looking at the country as a whole, I do ask the Under-Secretary of State to take into account the special circumstances which arise from the application of the standstill policy in the demolition of air-raid shelters to an industrial area like mine. It is not part of my task or duty to speak for Birmingham, but what I have to say about Dudley applies with equal force to areas in Birmingham which, partly for historical reasons and partly because of the results of the deliberate policy of the Conservative Party, are still left with obsolete houses which ought to have been destroyed a generation ago.

As I say, I have had many cases brought to my notice, and I have been round to see those air-raid shelters. I have had an extensive correspondence with the Home Office and its officials in order to get something done about it. It is only because I have met with difficulty that I seek now to raise the matter on the Adjournment today.

As I see it, the Home Secretary decided that, in view of the international situation, those air-raid shelters must not be demolished because, of course, of the threat of a possible future war when the shelters might be of use. However, I want to say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is of little use to provide shelter to protect people against the possible effects of some atom bomb which may be dropped at some time in the future, if in the meantime they are to die of tuberculosis, or be crippled by rheumatics, or otherwise have their health impaired as a consequence of the existence of the air-raid shelters. It is no good to measure something which may happen in the future against an absolute certainty—against what certainly will happen if some of those shelters are not got rid of.

By chance I can drive my point home because of my right hon. Friend's policy in another connection. In the next Parliament I shall represent in this House not only Dudley but Stourbridge.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

The hon. Member will not be here.

Mr. Wigg

I value my chances very much better than the noble Lord's, because even in his part of the world one cannot fool all the people all the time. But that is by the way.

The point I was about to make is that Stourbridge, which I shall represent, has no acute problem as we have in Dudley. I wrote to the Town Clerk of Stourbridge and asked about the Home Secretary's policy, and how it bore on Stourbridge, and he tells me that there are approximately 600 surface shelters still not demolished. The Council's instructions from the Home Office being what they are, they have done no work in the demolition of those shelters. But there have been no complaints about that at all, whereas in Dudley the Town Clerk tells me that we have some 295 domestic surface shelters. As a result of the correspondence I had with the Town Clerk he made a survey of 39 of those shelters, and that, on the basis of this sample survey, there are probably 53 objectionable shelters—objectionable, by the standard that I adopted following correspondence with the Home Office; that is to say, the shelters definitely interfere with the health and well-being of the people who have the misfortune to live in the adjoining houses.

The borough engineer said that the area he took was probably one of the worst parts of the borough, and it is quite likely that if there had been a careful survey of all the shelters the figure of really bad cases would probably be not more than 25. Of course, it is difficult to assess what is bad and what is very bad, but all I can say with regard to some of those that I have seen, which by Home Office standards would be described as bad, is that I certainly would not like to live in the neighbouring house, and if by some misfortune I were called upon to do so I would lose no time in getting out of it.

I want to take this opportunity of paying my tribute to the wives and mothers who, in these very adverse conditions, struggle to keep decent homes together. It is something which makes me feel very humble, and at the same time very proud at being called upon to represent them in this House, and as long as I do represent them I shall never cease to raise my voice until these appalling housing conditions are put right.

I appreciate the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman, and I see how difficult it is to amend his policy, but I want to make one or two suggestions. At the present moment his regional officers can authorise the demolition of a shelter only where it could be certified by the medical officer of health that the presence of the shelter is dangerous to health. In one case—that of 45A Cross Street, Dudley, about which I had considerable correspondence with the Town Clerk and the Home Secretary—we marked time for quite a while, because the Medical Officer of Health would only go so far as to say that the presence of the shelter was prejudicial to health, whereas the Home Office wanted the Medical Officer to say that it was dangerous to health. What is interesting about this case is that in writing about the shelter the Borough Engineer had some hard things to say. He said: It occupies about three-quarters of the open space allotted to these houses, which are of the back-to-back type. In my opinion, this lack of space and ventilation must be detrimental to the health of the occupants, quite apart from the loss of domestic amenities such as room for drying, and I consider this shelter to be a menace to the occupants of the house. That seems to me to be very strong. About the same time the Chief Sanitary Inspector for Dudley also had some hard things to say about it. He said: The shelter contains a considerable amount of debris, but apart from this it is not a suitable place in which children should play. In my opinion the building should be demolished and the site cleared. The point is that the Home Office would not move on the basis of the, to say the least, very strongly worded certificates from the Borough Engineer and the Chief Sanitary Inspector, and when the Medical Officer of Health came along with a certificate in which, I think, the words "prejudicial to health" were used they still refused to budge. It was only after more correspondence and a little more pressure that they finally decided to give authority for this shelter to be taken down. I suggest that the borough engineer and the chief sanitary inspector of Dudley are responsible local government officers of very great experience, and when they are prepared to certify, and to give reasons for their certification, that the existence of a shelter does more than inconvenience the occupants of a house, then the Home Office ought to be prepared to let up.

The burden of my case is that the right hon. Gentleman's policy is obviously all right as far as the pleasant places are concerned—the Bournemouths, the Weymouths, the Cheltenhams and the Harrogates. It is clearly all right as far as Stourbridge is concerned, which although only a few miles away has not got the legacy of the Industrial Revolution which hangs like a millstone round the neck of Dudley. He therefore ought to be prepared to have another look at the whole problem, and he ought to realise that we are in, not the post-war period after the First World War but the post-war period after the Second World War. We now have a strong Labour Party representation on the Dudley Council; the workers there are organised, and are not prepared to occupy for ever and ever these rat-infested hovels in the interests of Tory landlords; they are going to have these places pulled down. It is silly to leave air-raid shelters standing when, with a little bit of luck, the areas themselves will be cleared and the houses pulled down. He could relate his policy to developments which are certain to occur over a foreseeable period, say, five years or 10 years.

Furthermore, he ought to modify his policy as applied to areas where there are very old back-to-back houses which, by modern standards, are not fit to live in. The figure which I have given of 4,600 houses as being unfit is not my figure and it is not a guess. It is taken from a survey made by people associated with Birmingham University who surveyed the dwelling standards of the Midlands. The Under-Secretary of State may be able to find a formula to link up his demolition policy with the density of houses per acre. In Birmingham the density is 40 houses per acre. The next nearest density figure is 33 houses per acre in Dudley which can match for bad housing conditions almost anything that Birmingham has. The Minister could say that in any area where the density was beyond some figure which he could determine, he would be prepared to authorise the local authorities forthwith to remove the shelters. Clearly, if there is a high density of population per acre it points to the fact that the property is very old and that there is hardly anywhere that the shelter can be placed without interfering with the light and ventilation of the occupants of the houses. Most important of all, there is absolute certainty that these houses will have a short life, and will soon be coming down.

I am sorry if I have wearied the House by looking at these matters from a constituency point of view. I am putting forward some of the difficulties of my constituency, and I am certain that if the hon. Gentleman will adopt a more liberal policy he will be benefiting people who, with great patience and fortitude, are living in conditions in which they ought not to be asked to live. The quicker that these conditions can be terminated the better, Until then, I beg to ask the Under-Secretary to do what he can to ease the situation and to make things a little better than they might otherwise be.

3.8 p.m.

Major Vernon (Dulwich)

Before the Under-Secretary of State replies may I ask him to consider the related and slightly different problem of the static water tank, particularly in South London. We have got rid of most of our air-raid shelters, chiefly by the activities of the London County Council, but the tanks are still all over the area and some of them are near to schools. They are a temptation for people to throw their rubbish in, and people have complained to me of smells coming from the tanks. Occasionally, school authorities have had to ask the Fire Service to pump the water out of the static tanks. With the rain coming on again, the whole business will start once more. I shall be glad if the Under-Secretary could give his attention to his matter when he replies to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who has made a plea for his constituency.

3.10 p.m.

Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)

I should like to make one or two observations on this subject, which, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), has a national application. As he so rightly said, the policy of the Government was laid down in 1947. There are three kinds of reasons which have not yet been made perfectly clear which may have guided my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in making his decision at that time.

The first reason is apparently, that it arose out of the White Paper on the national economy and that the purpose of adumbrating the current policy was simply the importance of keeping to a minimum, capital expenditure on works of this character. In the light of current developments, it is quite understandable that that reason is as acute today as it was two years ago or even more so. The second reason—and this is something which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley should have in mind—is that the same kind of labour force is required to demolish as to construct a building. I would like to know whether there are any figures on this subject of the extent to which the positive building programme might be slowed down if the policy regarding air-raid shelters were altered; in particular, to what extent the constituents of my hon. Friend would have to wait for their slums to be demolished if the air-raid shelters blocking their entrances were now to be pulled down.

Mr. Wigg

The White Paper on Capital Investment in 1948 (Command 7268) states, after paragraph 47, that the total labour force allocated to the Home Office for the whole country in June, 1947, was 6,683, and that the maximum set for that labour force for June, 1948, was 2,500. I am not unaware of the point which my hon. and gallant Friend has mentioned but, clearly, it is a very small matter.

Wing-Commander Millington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for producing the figures. My third point, however, which gives some of us a little more concern, is whether the decision which was reached in 1947 was arrived at because it was felt by the Home Office that the air-raid shelters erected during the recent war constitute, in the opinion of the Home Office, adequate protection against the kind of air warfare which might be waged should there be a future war. Does the Home Secretary think that we must stop pulling down these eyesores, which have all the objections to which my hon. Friend has referred, because it is part of our new A.R.P. policy to keep them in situ?

I warn the country quite strongly against sharing that view. Albeit that many lives were saved during the recent war by surface shelters against blast and the like, there is every indication that should there be a third war, a war waged with the weapons of aerial destruction which are now in existence, the existing shelters are likely to be as much of a safeguard as the brown paper that on a certain other occasion we were recommended should be wrapped around people's bodies to ward off the rays from atomic explosion. I would like to feel that the Home Office were well aware that this kind of shelter from air-raids is completely obsolete, and that if any new shelter policy is undertaken it will be based on far more up-to-date and realistic considerations of the risks against which we have to protect our people.

3.14 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) for having raised this matter on such a moderate note. In the Home Office we are very well aware of the grave inconvenience, to put it no higher, which is caused, particularly in the sort of area about which my hon. Friend was speaking, by the policy which has been adopted of not continuing the demolition of these shelters.

The difficulty arises chiefly from two or three different considerations. I do not think I need argue all the reasons. First, there was the proposition, which, I think was agreed to by all parties in the House when the new Civil Defence Bill was under discussion, that the time had come when we should be taking some reasonable precautions with regard to any future emergency involving air raids, and that we should try to do so with the minimum diversion of effort from new buildings. I think that was accepted. It was partly due to the financial difficulties, the capital investment programme and so on, that the provision for demolition of shelters had to be so small. Quite independently of that, even if there had been a slightly less critical situation, this House would probably not have wished to see any considerable diversion of manpower or of materials from the work of construction into work of demolition. The third reason why this arises—and this applies particularly to certain parts of the country—is the one which my hon. Friend stressed, the state of housing. I will return to that in a moment.

May I recapitulate briefly, although my hon. Friend did it accurately, what has been the policy about demolition since the end of the war? From the end of the war until the Autumn of 1947, no restrictions were laid down upon the demolitions which local authorities could undertake. Then in the Autumn of 1947 there was a standstill and the demolition was restricted to the demolition of dangerous structures and of shelters whose demolition might enable us to recover certain quantities of steel.

In the months immediately after that policy had been announced, early in 1948, the policy was slightly eased to include special cases where there was danger to health. Then in October, 1948, that demolition was stopped subject to provision for certain special cases. This was made clear in the answer of my right hon. Friend to which the hon. Member for Dudley referred. May I read from the instruction sent to the Home Office principal officers in the different regions on that point at the end of September, 1948. After setting out the legitimate cause for complaint that might arise in many instances from stoppage of demolition, this went on to say: The Secretary of State is prepared to agree to your approving reasonable expenditure on minor remedial measures to remove such inconveniences— Under that part of the policy one could reasonably hope to deal with minor alterations that would have to be made, for instance, to make a shelter safe from playing children— and even in very exceptional circumstances to the removal of a particular shelter or emergency water installation. That is the policy under which we have been operating for the last year, since the end of September and early October. 1948.

So it will be seen that there was a period after the war when local authorities had a free hand to deal in whatever order of priority they thought fit with the demolition of the most undesirable shelters. I am not suggesting that it is any criticism of them that in some areas they were not able to get rid of all the bad shelters for that was probably not possible, but it is fair to assume that the most undesirable ones—the ones to which the health authorities took the gravest objection—were probably, even in the most difficult areas largely demolished in the period between 1945 and 1947.

I was asked whether we could not, in allowing for these exceptions, be rather more liberal in our definition. My hon. Friend pointed out that what we require is evidence of danger to health, and he quoted a case in which we had been discussing a shelter in Dudley with him where the Medical Officer of Health was not prepared to say that, but was prepared to say something near that. In fact I think he used the words, "Prejudicial to health." I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate how difficult it is to depart from a clear conception such as "dangerous to health" and to use vaguer words like "prejudicial" or "inconvenient." It is very difficult to do other than stick to what is, I think, a fairly recognisable medical standard of a shelter which will be actually dangerous to the health of the inmates.

What we have to remember about communal shelters, particularly as against the individual back-garden shelter, is that it is for the protection of a group of people and very often the inconvenience and prejudice is only suffered by one or two. Although one has every sympathy with the individual who happens to suffer, one is obliged to adopt a different attitude with regard to a shelter which would serve 10 houses and only prejudice one than in regard to a shelter in which the only person whose protection is involved is applying for removal.

Mr. Wigg

My hon. Friend mentioned that danger to health is a recognisable medical term, but it is part of my case that this is not a medical problem but an engineering problem, an ascertainable problem. The question whether there is sufficient ventilation and sufficient light is decided on standards laid down by the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Education in regard to schools and it is not laid down by doctors, but by architects and engineers. I deplore the keeping of this problem out of the hands of the borough engineer and the sanitary inspector, who are going round the districts all the time and have to tackle the problem, and then turning the matter over to the medical officer of health and putting it in the extreme form. The medical officer of health, being an honest man, shies a little from the word "danger" because it rather suggests that if he did give a certificate he would be caught out if the patient did not die. I object to that.

Mr. Younger

I am sorry my hon. Friend objected to the way I put it, but I should think that where we are discussing questions of health, although I suppose the accepted standards are laid down by architects, in part, we must also consider the medical aspects and it must be to the health authorities that we should look for advice as to the effect on health of a particular structure.

Mr. Wigg

Will my hon. Friend consult with the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education and ascertain from them the standards of heating and lighting they require and not sanction the erection of a building which does not satisfy the technical officers of medical officers? That would seem to settle the question.

Mr. Younger

I am very happy to ask for any information of that kind, but I think it would be inconceivable that any advice given by those technicians had not been co-ordinated with medical opinion. Surely the amount of light and air required must be in part a medical opinion and no architect could lay down a standard completely independent of medical opinion. He may be given certain medical criteria and, with his expert knowledge of building, he may apply some kind of standard, but it is impossible to argue, when we are trying to lay down criteria of health, that we should ignore medical advice and go only to architects and engineers. I put it no higher.

Passing to another point which particularly affects the main argument of my hon. Friend that because in his area, as in certain other industrial areas, housing is particularly bad the policy in regard to the demolition of shelters should be eased, in those areas, as opposed to more fortunate areas, I entirely agree with him that housing in the area of Dudley and other industrial towns where this problem arises most acutely, is lamentable. It is precisely because the areas are so lamentable, because the houses are of a particular kind, very old and very often back-to-back property, and because there are so very few open spaces, that it was necessary to put the shelters in positions which could never have been considered satisfactory. Even at the time they were put there they were put there for one reason only, simply because there was nowhere else they could go and protection of some kind had to be provided in the area.

With all that I entirely agree. It is that which causes our problem here. I should like my hon. Friend, however, to consider a little further the implication of his suggestion that when one is dealing with an area which is unfortunate in this respect one should therefore demolish shelters more freely. These areas will not be less in need of shelter protection if trouble comes than any other better area, say, in Bournemouth, or wherever it may be. Unless one is prepared to find some other means of providing shelter accommodation, so long as one thinks it advisable to retain any shelter accommodation at all, one must think twice before adopting a lower standard of protection in these more highly populated areas of old housing than in the other areas. That seems to me to be the implication, whether intended or not, of what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Wigg

I am sorry if I failed to make myself clear, and I apologise. I said that 4,600 houses out of 16,100 were so old by any standards that they ought to go. I thought that I pointed out that within a reasonable period of time—five or six years—these houses would go and one result of the rigid application of my right hon. Friend's policy would be that he would keep these shelters but the houses would have gone.

Mr. Younger

I was coming to that point. It is necessary to consider this both as a short-term and a long-term problem, but before coming to that point I wish to complete the point I was making.

So far as my information goes, if we were to adopt generally a standard for these bad housing areas different from that which we adopt throughout the country generally, then in areas such as Dudley, to which my hon. Friend is referring, we might be involved in the demolition of a very high proportion of the total shelter accommodation. We might be leaving that area, during such time as those houses are not pulled down and cleared away, with totally inadequate protection. My information is that about 80 per cent. of all the communal surface shelters in the area are somewhat of the kind to which my hon. Friend is referring. Unless one were prepared either to take the risk, take the chance, of these areas being very rapidly cleared—they are big areas and the operation will be a major one—it seems to me that the result of immediately demolishing a large number of these shelters would be to leave these heavily populated areas practically without protection at a time when we are not in a position to build any new and better modern accommodation.

I have not any precise information about the demolition of the houses in this area, but one knows what the situation is in many areas which are scheduled under local authority plans for demolition. We all hope that these areas will be rapidly cleared but none of us know what we mean by "rapidly." No one can say whether it will be next year or the year after. It may possibly be five years hence, I do not know; I have no means of judging in regard to Dudley. It would be rash of my right hon. Friend if in considering shelter policy he were to base demolitions today on the assumption that before there could be any question of them ever being required that area of housing would have been pulled down and replaced. We must wait until we know, until the demolition work in these areas is just beginning or, if the programme is not actually in hand, until it is at any rate in immediate contemplation. I am not aware that that situation arises at the moment.

May I deal finally with the question of adequacy raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Wing-Commander Millington). He said at one stage that the shelters of the last war, in the light of an anticipated attack in modern war, were completely obsolete. That is a much more extreme view than the one received from the inter-departmental research committee which is constantly at work on this problem. This is always a very delicate subject to discuss. On the one hand, one does not wish to cause despondency about future attacks or on the other hand to appear to be in any way complacent. I think I may put it this way; that so far as our expert advice goes it is the case that good shelters of the 1945 standard are by no means obsolete for high explosive attack even on the increased scale—I am talking now entirely of high explosives—which may be anticipated; and they would be reasonably adequate to deal with any high explosive attack on the scale we knew up to 1945.

Even with regard to atomic explosions, one must appreciate that we shall have to face up to the problem of protecting people at differing distances from the atomic explosion, and there certainly is a distance from the atomic explosion at which it would be very much better to be in a shelter of the 1945 kind than to be either in a house or in the street. There would be some resistance to blast and, some protection from rays at a certain range. There is a range at which danger from an atomic explosion vanishes altogether without protection and that point will be reached more nearly if one is in a perfectly good brick shelter of the 1945 pattern than if one is in one's own house, or in the street.

Reverting for a moment to high explosive defence, I believe that in broad terms it is the expert opinion that it is three times better to be in a house than to be in the open; and it is five times better to be in an ordinary brick surface shelter than to be in a house. That is to say, it is 15 times better to be in a shelter than in the street. It is not complete protection, but it is better than nothing and it is giving protection to quite a large part of the population of any town, which happens to get heavily bombed, at an area of some reasonable distance from the explosion, even under the modern scale of attack.

Wing-Commander Millington

It would seem to me that there are two questions which we must consider. If I understand the Under-Parliamentary Secretary correctly, he is arguing that it is part of our air-raid precautions policy to conserve some of the 1945 shelters. The first question is in relation to high explosive bombing, and the second is in relation to atomic bombing.

In relation to high explosive bombing, it is the advice of the inter-departmental committee considering this question that, in regard to any kind of high explosive bombing such as we experienced up to 1945, the brick shelters provide 15 times the safety that a man standing in the street would enjoy. But has this interdepartmental committee given a comparable figure in relation to the kind of bombing which the Germans suffered in 1945? It is not reasonable for us to base our precautions upon the kind of bombing which we received in this country—bombs of a maximum size of something like 500 kilos—unless we also take into regard the kind of bombing we were delivering ourselves—bombs of 12,000 and 20,000 lb. weight.

Surely it is a little naive of the Under-Secretary to suggest that a brick wall is any protection at all against radioactive rays of an atomic explosion. There is some protection, but none of the materials which go to make up the air-raid shelters which we are discussing today in fact provide any protection whatsoever against radioactive rays, against which we must have some form of protection.

Mr. Younger

That shows the difficulty of entering into a technical discussion. I am not going to argue the technical details with my hon. Friend, who might know quite a lot about them. I can only say that it is certainly not my advice. The suggestion that the fact of a person being in a shelter would make no difference at all is contrary to the advice I am given. I am advised that there is a radius from an atomic explosion at which these shelters could be helpful, and they are better than nothing.

With regard to high explosives, I cannot say that the proportions of three times and five times which I have mentioned would apply to the absolutely maximum high explosive that we might get under modern conditions. I think it is so, but whether those precise figures apply or not, it is undoubtedly the opinion of the experts who have been advising my right hon. Member that the shelters of the 1945 standard are very much better than nothing and very much better than ordinary houses, particularly the types of houses which exist in these areas. One hardly needs to be a technician to see that that must be so, and it also is apparent that it must be so in the case of brick shelters against high explosives. It depends how far away the bomb is.

I should not want it to be thought that anything I am saying is to be taken as suggesting that the expert view of the Government is that the 1945 standard of protection is adequate either against the atomic bomb or against what could be expected in the matter of high explosives. All I do say is that, pending proper provision on a tremendously increased scale to meet the country's requirements, it is very much better to have what we have got than nothing at all

Mr. Wigg

I appreciate the point which my hon. Friend is making, and it had entered into my calculations before I approached the Department or raised the matter in this House. Of course, a shelter is better than nothing. What I am worried about is whether my hon. Friend has taken into account the possible use of the shelter as against the certainty of the spread of asthma, tuberculosis and rheumatism if the shelters are built outside the houses of working-class people living in bad housing conditions and thus preventing air and light getting into them.

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend speaks of a certainty, but the provision made in 1948 for exceptional treatment was to provide for precisely that sort of thing, and it is largely a question of medical evidence. We are prepared to consider any special cases on their merits on the advice of the local medical officer of health or other qualified authority. If we are informed, and if we are satisfied on consideration of the details of the case, that in fact there is a certainty resulting from the presence of shelters that health will be injured, we will certainly give very sympathetic consideration to it. We must always have in mind to some extent whether the safety of a large number of people is involved, which has to be weighed against the possible injury to health of only a few persons, but, supposing there was reason to believe that the lack of light and air was affecting a particular family suffering from tuberculosis, certainly that would be the type of case to which my right hon. Friend would give special consideration.

What I cannot say is that my right hon. Friend is prepared to adopt an entirely different standard. In present circumstances, we must limit very narrowly the types of shelter which can be demolished. We cannot agree to shelters in this area, where nearly all shelters are troublesome, being demolished because they are damaging to amenities. I am afraid they are nearly all that, but what precise standard is to be fixed is a matter of great difficulty. All local authorities are aware that they can bring special cases to the notice of the principal officer of the Home Office and, if necessary, to my right hon. Friend, and we will seek to deal with these in a sympathetic manner; but I do not think it is fair to the House to say otherwise than that they must remain subject to the general conditions which I have put before the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Nineteen Minutes to Four o'clock.