HC Deb 23 October 1952 vol 505 cc1417-31

10.42 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

I beg to move, That the Draft Civil Defence (Appropriation of Lands and Buildings) Regulations, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th October, be approved. These Regulations, although in form perhaps as technical if not more technical than the last, are, fortunately, a little more simple in their effect. The effect is to expand the definition of civil defence functions in relation to Section 62 of the Civil Defence Act, 1939, so as to include functions imposed on local authorities by Regulations made by the Home Secretary under Section 2 of the Civil Defence Act, 1948.

Section 62, the scope of which is thus widened, empowers a local authority, subject to the approval of the Home Secretary, to use without formal appropriation any lands or buildings owned by or leased to or controlled by them for the purpose of discharging their civil defence functions; or again, to allow another local authority to use such land for the purpose of the civil defence functions of that other local authority. These powers may be exercised notwithstanding the existence of anything to the contrary contained in any Act of Parliament or trust, or other restriction affecting the land or the buildings concerned.

The purpose of these Regulations is to enable underground civil defence control centres to be built beneath public open spaces in the small number of places where no other site is available. It is from these control centres that local civil defence operations would be directed in war-time, and they are, of course, an important part of our defence preparations. A small number of local authorities in congested areas, principally in London, have found it impossible, either to find a site of any kind for a control centre, owing to the need for land for peace-time purposes, or else to find a site free from risk of the control centre being buried under the debric of neighbouring buildings in the event of a serious air raid, and the authorities in these areas see no alternative to building under public parks.

I want to emphasise the word "under," because I realise that the House will, of course, be very apprehensive of any suggestion of taking public open spaces for any purpose at all. It is only for building under that these Regulations take powers. Once the building work is finished—it takes about six months—all that will appear above the surface will be the hood protecting the steps leading to the entrance, and the cowl over the air intake. Interference with amenities will be negligible. Hon. Members will remember that the hood at the entrance which could be seen in a number of open spaces during the last war could be so constructed as to be virtually invisible.

The authorities themselves will be anxious to preserve their own amenities; but to make assurance doubly sure every authority which wishes to use powers under Section 2 will have to seek the prior approval of the Home Secretary, who will scrutinise the proposals carefully, in consultation with the Minister of Housing and Local Government, to see that there is no avoidable interference with open spaces.

I hope the House will appreciate that everyone concerned will be interested to see that the least possible interference takes place, and that if there is interference it shall be negligible. I commend the Regulations to the House.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

I am sure that the House will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation of what the Regulations mean. I am glad he stressed the fact that the work, as I understand it, will be entirely underground. That is important. We recognise that control centres are of the greatest importance and must be established; but I should like to ask him to give some idea of the number of these control centres.

Will there be dozens, scores, or hundreds? The hon. Gentleman mentioned particularly the London area. I can understand that, because the Metropolitan boroughs are the civil defence authorities, yet many of these parks and open spaces are owned and controlled by the county council, and that obviously gives rise to difficulties. Do these Regulations cover areas outside London? I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is here. Is Scotland affected?

10.47 p.m.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

These Regulations, I understand, apply to Scotland. As they may affect Glasgow, and even Edinburgh, I should like to raise one or two points. These Regulations will lead to great expenditure. I am not objecting to that if it is necessary; but I think it will solace people if the buildings are to have some other use than a war use. Most people are distressed because so large a part of our national income has to be devoted to defence purposes. This part of it recalls what was done during the last war.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I think the right hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. These Regulations are not taking power to erect additional buildings; they are merely taking power to put buildings already contemplated under existing arrangements in the parks. Therefore, there is no additional expenditure or building.

Mr. Woodburn

I cannot see how buildings can be put in parks without expenditure. It will be strange if, at Glasgow Green, where there is nothing now, something is to be put without expense. How it will be put into the park without building is another remarkable achievement which I am unable to comprehend. It seems quite clear that what we are contemplating is an underground building, built in such places as Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, or Glasgow Green, or similar sites in London.

I suggest that if these buildings are to be built in these circumstances they should not only have a war-time purpose. Everyone hopes war will not come, but surely we are not going to have a repetition of the wasteful construction which, unfortunately, took place in the last war. I have a guilty conscience myself on this score because I think a warning of mine was responsible for the erection of great concrete blocks round our coasts. Every time I saw them the waste of cement grieved me. I want an assurance that if these buildings are to be constructed they will have some other use as well, such as offices or garages.

It may be that such an underground building could be constructed in Princes Street Gardens. An underground garage is needed in Edinburgh, especially when the Festival is in progress. If there has to be such a building in the centre of the city it should be built in such a way that it can be used as a garage which can take the cars off the streets during congested periods. If it is impossible to avoid this expense I hope that it will not be just a useless expense, and that some effort will be made to see that the buildings will have another practical use.

10.52 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

I must endorse my countryman's plea for public economy. Is it contemplated that in Edinburgh, for example, in which I have a special interest, that these underground places will have a double utility? There are many public parks in the area of the new housing areas where the residents have found it difficult to accommodate their cars. They are not wealthy people, but business men who have to accommodate their small cars. Shelters in such public parks convenient to housing centres would be a day to day convenience and would be of use if the dark eventuality of war descended upon us.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) referred to Princes Street Gardens. When I was District Commissioner for South-East Scotland I pressed for the building of a tunnel in the neighbourhood of the Scott Monument to Waverley Market to provide shelter and temporary accommodation for motor cars. There are other devices of a similar character which I hope will be in the mind of my hon. Friend when he comes to advise local authorities. I am fully in agreement with the desirability of seeing that this expense is joined to a practical utility use as well as the ultimate possibility.

Is the use of the Royal parks contemplated? Do the Regulations give power to use the Royal parks, because both in London and Edinburgh we have parks not belonging to the local authorities whose geographical situation is singularly suitable for this arrangement. We should not disparage their housing use, too, bearing in mind the use to which the bunker accommodation at Clapham Common was put during the Festival of Britain. We should have in mind a strong conception of the high cost of these buildings, and the need to get some usefulness out of them if possible, as well as developing them for the fear of war. I strongly associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman in the thoughts which he has expressed.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

I have listened with complete mystification and astonishment to the debate and the tone of a discussion which has reduced the issue before us to one of public economy. Public economy, if you please on operations which are to be arranged in the light of such an announcement as has been made in this House. Public economy when £100 million has been spent on working up to the dropping of one of the things against which the City of London must take its risks, as must all other cities in the country, if this bomb is put to the test.

We are spending time discussing the provision, not of shelters for the mass of the people—I understand that is not the position at all—but for control centres for people who, unavailingly, although members of the Government may take a different view, will try to find some shelter and protection against the thing that threatens us all.

The announcement made by the Prime Minister today has entirely altered all the debates that will in the future arise on the question of civil defence. We in London certainly live in a glass house, and we have been throwing stones in Australia. We have now to go through the same process that the Duke of Buckingham went through when there was a Scottish issue involved, and learn that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. We have let loose destructive forces against which no control centres are of any real influence in the problems that face us.

I am not against any attempt to provide what we can provide—miserable though the arrangements are in comparison with the problem to be faced—and I tell my constituents so whenever possible. I am not prepared to leave them as I was left in the last war. Our predecessors in this House had then been talking for years about the kind of problem now before us, yet when war came masses of the people in London had no shelter of any sort at all. They found what shelter they could under their staircases while the bombs rained down. It will not be like that in the next war.

The announcement made by the Prime Minister earlier today makes the situation intolerable. It is simply idiotic that we should be talking about public economy in the arrangements we are pretending to make for what is to happen. I live in an area where, in Hampstead Gardens, the cowls and staircases or the old buildings are objected to by many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. They are there, and they may come in useful, one would think, for a few civil defence workers who feel themselves as helpless as I feel tonight as we talk about these things.

I submit that the Government should have come to us with a much greater sense of warning. All of us are aware, as we talk about the provision of shelters or control centres underground, or about the flowers that we plant in the parks on top of these things to conceal them, that the dread reality cannot be concealed after today. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) has a lot of room in his constituency to spread people out. I am talking of my constituency and of the problems in London, and I know that the London people will be increasingly alive to the situation about which I am speaking. I rose only to say these few words because I felt utterly lost in listening to hon. Members on both sides talking about a situation which cannot be covered, even in the remotest degree, by the miserable provisions now before us.

Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)

Does the hon. Member wish for no protection whatever for the civilian population in his constituency?

Mr. Hudson

If the hon. Gentleman had the slightest intelligence, he would have heard what I said, but he has not. He sat there with a grin on his face as I said that any provisions that could be made would be welcome, though I have no faith in them.

Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)

I listened with considerable interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Hudson), but I should have been more impressed by it if he had made it two years ago.

Mr. Hudson

I have made this kind of speech for many years past.

Air Commodore Harvey

I was referring to the speech which the hon. Gentleman has just made. If it had been made the day after the Soviet Union exploded the atomic bomb, it would have been very appropriate. The Prime Minister has given us information today which no other Power has given. Of course, we do not expect information like this from the Soviet Union, and the Government is dead right to make these plans and provisions. When the Soviet Union listens like the hon. Member has listened today, that will be the time to disarm, but, until then, I hope the Government will take every conceivable step to protect the people of Britain.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

These Regulations cover a very important public issue, and we have just heard enough to make the situation alarming. I want to follow up certain questions which were put to the Minister by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn).

This matter vitally affects Scotland, and, at a time when public opinion in Scotland is greatly concerned about public expenditure, we are entitled to be told how much public expenditure is to be borne by the State and how much by the local authority. Exactly what proportion will be borne by each? If there is any substantial part of this sum to be borne by the local authorities, and it is to add to the very large burden already imposed upon them, then we feel considerable disquiet.

When we hear about control centres to be built in the parks, we wonder how big these control centres are to be, and what they are to control. The right hon. Member for East Stirling and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) spoke about Edinburgh and the possibility of immense excavation works which are to be carried out under Princes Street, Edinburgh. Is that sort of thing to apply to Glasgow? We have every reason to ask for detailed and careful answers because there are immense ramifications involved. Is there to be a control centre under Glasgow Green? I ask that because one has to remember that this is an area of a couple of square miles.

Then, I would ask, how much is this control centre to cost? How much money is to come from the Secretary of State for Scotland, and how much from Glasgow Corporation? How much. under the Defence Regulations, is Glasgow called upon to pay? How much cement, and building material will be used? How many building workers are going to be taken away from Glasgow house building operations?

If we are to do this thing in Glasgow—if there is to be this great mine underneath Glasgow—we should be given answers to such questions. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) spoke about the possibility of using the building for garages for motor cars. All I can say is that this will be a garage which will call for a considerable amount of public money, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, or one of his assistants who is here tonight, should say. without giving precise figures, what public expenditure is expected to be incurred and to what extent building materials and building labour are to be diverted from the problem of housing people who now live in the slums of Glasgow.

If there is to be a vast excavation underneath Glasgow Green for a control centre, and the space used for the garaging of cars, there will be an outcry from the people in the dingy slums if there is to be precedence for motor cars.

The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) has referred to the atom bomb, and I want to ask in what way are these Regulations, and those which appear later on the Order Paper, related to the tremendous and fearful possibility which the Prime Minister outlined to us today? Have they any connection at all? The Prime Minister talked of the dropping of the atom bomb, saying the experiment was necessary because of special concern for harbours. It had special reference to that. Well, London is a harbour, and so is Glasgow, and if we are to have an atom bomb dropped on Glasgow harbour, I would like to know what relevance these Regulations have to the tremendous problem which must now be in the forefront of our minds.

These Regulations have, presumably, been thought out in relation to atom bomb attack, and now that we have been told of the awful effects of atomic bombing, with temperatures going up, and ships vapourising and disappearing from view——

Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but are we are now to take courage and comfort from the thought that he is now supporting the re-armament provisions?

Mr. Hughes

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my speech, I will explain exactly what I mean.

Sir I. Fraser

Could the hon. Gentleman answer that question?

Mr. Hughes

I will certainly answer it before I sit down. I have made it perfectly clear that as far as I am concerned——

Sir I. Fraser

The hon. Member was saying just now——

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman will not let me answer. If the Government can convince me that there are any measures which will result in the safety and protection of the civilian population of our great cities, I will certainly support that. That has always been my position. But what I do not see is that because I say that, I am committed to support a re-armament programme which far from bringing this country any security at all is likely to make it the most insecure place in the whole universe.

That is the lesson to be drawn from what the Prime Minister said today and of the Question I put to the Prime Minister yesterday. I am very glad to see that the military and strategical authorities are now beginning to think in terms of what may happen to this country and to our defenceless cities and to this defenceless island in the event of an atom bomb attack.

Sir I. Fraser

May we assume that the hon. Gentleman is supporting the atom bomb experiment as well?

Mr. Hughes

Certainly not. I think that the experiment, far from bringing greater security to this country, will bring greater danger. The hon. Gentleman need not think that these experiments with which our civil defence regulations are undoubtedly associated will only be read about in this country alone. I presume that the results of these atom bomb experiments will be very carefully studied in the Soviet Union, and if the Soviet Union are thinking in terms of attacks on harbours. which is what the Prime Minister was talking about today, then they will think about the possibility of attacks on our harbours.

What rather mystified me was why these experiments were conducted in regard to harbours at all because this country's harbours are far more strategically important than Russia's, and the civilian populations round them are entitled to be more interested than Russia because she has comparatively few harbours at all. I cannot understand why these experiments, which are undoubtedly concerned with civil defence——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Though they may be concerned with civil defence they have nothing to do with Section 62 of the Civil Defence Act. 1939.

Mr. Hughes

I am trying to keep within the bounds of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and also to answer the question put to me by the hon. Gentleman, because it is very relevant. I do not want to be accused of trying to avoid the question, but if I am out of order in following up that argument, possibly we shall be able to continue it another time, when I hope we shall have the opportunity of discussing the larger question.

But, surely, if we have to prepare civil defence for all the people in this country who live around harbours, then in Glasgow, which is one of the biggest harbours in this country, we are entitled to know exactly what this is likely to mean. I would point out that in the case of Glasgow these control centres have to do much greater and more complicated and difficult work than those in London because round Glasgow is one of the most congested populations in the world. The last time a civil defence publicity campaign was carried out in Glasgow, the General responsible pointed out that if one atom bomb were dropped on Glasgow every hospital in the city would be put out of action and that quite possibly at least 250,000 people would be rendered homeless.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Regulations he will see that they only expand the civil defence functions under the Section which I mentioned. To go into all these details is to go beyond the Regulations.

Mr. Hughes

I am asking that these functions shall be clarified. I want to know whether the Minister will explain exactly what relevance this has, not merely to a comparatively small attack like we had in the last war but to the immense catastrophe that can come upon us if one atom bomb is dropped and a large, congested industrial city, with a teeming population, has to face this problem. We are entitled to more than a cursory putting off of the question by the Under-Secretary; we are entitled to have more precise details of what this control centre that we are asked to sanction is likely to be doing, what its cost is, who is to pay the cost, and in what way will it contribute to the security of the civilian population.

11.17 p.m.

Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)

I listened with great interest to the speeches from the other side of the House——

Mr. de Freitas (Lincoln)

Some of them.

Mr. Jenkins

I am obliged; some of them—and it seems to me that they really concentrate on saying this, "We do not really believe in civil defence because we feel there is nothing to avoid the dangers and destruction that will be brought about by the atom bomb." The reverse is the case. All the advice that has been received from those who know and who have made pilot studies over the last two or three years is that there is a defence against the atom bomb. The narrow point before us——

Mr. J. Hudson

Was not that advice given——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. This debate is going very wide of the Regulation. I must ask the House to keep to the point.

Mr. Jenkins

The narrow point that we are discussing tonight is the provision of control centres. If it is admitted that there is a defence against the atom bomb——

Mr. Hudson

On a point of order. With reference to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and with great respect to it, is it not a fact that if the provision of control centres for civil defence is proved to be futile—and that is the only matter that we are discussing—I submit that it is reasonable to argue that we should reconsider the scope of the defence and the extent of the expenditure involved in the proposals now before us. Are they not affected in some way by a great revolutionary change in the factors which lead to the need for civil defence?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That may very well be, but we are considering quite narrow Regulations here, to expand the civil defence functions of Section 62, and I think that to go into all the possibilities of atom bomb destruction, and so forth, is more than we are expected to do.

Mr. Jenkins

If it is admitted—and it is admitted—by the experts that there is a defence, then, of course the point that has been raised tonight by the Home Secretary in the Regulations which we are asked to confirm is very valid. Those of us who had something to do in the last war with civil defence—and I am not giving this as an illustration of what will happen next time with regard to control centres—know perfectly well that the control centre was the nerve centre of the whole of the civil defence organisation in the area. It is equivalent to battalion headquarters, where the orders are issued and instructions are received and reissued to deal with the situation.

These are vital Regulations because over the last few years very little has been done for the protection of the civilian population by the provision of shelters. This is an attempt by the Government to see that the preparations for the defence of the civil population are being started. So long as a start is made confidence will be given to the population by the knowledge that the Government are doing something. For many years it has been a bone of contention among civil defence authorities that more has not been done. There are nearly a quarter of a million people who have voluntarily joined civil defence and they will be heartened to know that the Government have at last taken a definite step, involving great expenditure, in preparing a way for the future training and preparation of a civil defence organisation. Notwithstanding all the objections raised by some hon. Members opposite if one is not to disappoint the 250,000 volunteers one must do something. The vital thing is to start at the beginning, at the nerve centre, namely, the report centre. It is futile for hon. Members to try to oppose Regulations of this kind.

As to the point raised by the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), it is possible, no doubt, that the control centres could be used for other purposes. Before the last war many excellent proposals, unfortunately, never came to light. If deep shelters had been built in those days there would have been an opportunity to use them for garages and the like.

A scheme was produced, too late to implement before the war. in which it would have been an economic proposition to have had that type of shelter. I am not sure, from my experience of civil defence, whether a report centre would be an appropriate place to put an underground garage because, necessarily, the centre would have to be broken into compartments. It would be well for the Home Secretary to consider, in any future plans he introduces, large underground shelters for the civil population.

I am sorry to have delayed the House, but I feel that it is essential that the Regulations should be confirmed. I regret some of the speeches made on the other side of the House, because they may do great damage to the great voluntary organisation of men and women, totalling a quarter of a million, who are giving hours of service each week and who would be discouraged unless the House confirm these Regulations.

11.23 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)

I should have liked to enter into the wide discussion that has been raised by certain hon. Members, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but you have ruled that these Regulations concern a much narrower point. That is true.

Section 62 of the Civil Defence Act, 1939, empowered local authorities to use, or allow another local authority to use for civil defence functions under the 1937 and 1939 Acts, land and buildings owned by or leased to them or under their—that is the local authority's—control. It is necessary to extend this particular power, as we propose, in these Regulations to cover the use of sites in public parks for civil defence control centres under the Civil Defence Act. That is all this does. It is done because in England, I understand, the provisions of certain public and private Acts would otherwise make it impossible for the local authorities to make sites available in public parks.

Mr. Woodburn

This is a rather important point. Is this confined to public parks? For instance, the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) mentioned that in the last war there were some plans to deal with this sort of thing which, unfortunately, were not carried out. I gather there was a plan to put something under Blytheswood Square in Glasgow and something under St. Andrew's Square in Edinburgh, because the entrance would be so easy, going straight in. They would provide rock without cement, and I wonder whether this would provide an opportunity as well as public parks.

Mr. Stewart

I think the right hon. Gentleman is quite right. I used the word "parks" in the broad sense. I think it means open spaces. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.

That is all we are asking the House to approve tonight, just that very narrow point. It is a change in the interpretation of a couple of words in the Civil Defence Act. It is unlikely that many of the new control towers to be built in Scotland will be built in public parks, and no doubt has arisen about the powers of the local authorities in Scotland in cases where this has so far been proposed. The reason this applies to Scotland is that, while the need for the Regulation in Scotland is not great, it would be undesirable not to preserve the common United Kingdom code in this matter. I think that is obvious to everybody. As the present provision is in an Act of United Kingdom application the Amendment we propose here is carried out by Regulations of United Kingdom application also. That is all we are asking the House to do.

I was asked one or two questions which I will try to answer. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) asked for the likely number of such control towers. I am told that we may have to have only five in the London boroughs; there might be one in the provinces, and I think there might be one or two in Scotland. I cannot tell exactly, but it would not be very many. I hope that answers that point.

As regards the question asked by the right hon. Gentleman and others, and already replied by to my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins), whether some other use could be made of these control towers once they have been built, I would say, frankly, that I hope we could make another use of them. I do not know whether a garage is the right answer, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling). I am sure the principle is one which we would all accept. We will certainly examine it very carefully to see whether we can put these war-time places to some useful purpose for peace-time. Everybody will want to do it.

The hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked about the financial arrangements. With great respect, I do not think that really properly arises in this debate, because this is changing nothing. This is only enabling the local authorities to make sites in their towns available where they could not do so otherwise. That is all. As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, the arrangements as to the cost of these civil defence preparations between the central Government and the local authorities have long been settled; they were settled in the time of the last Government and we have adopted that settlement.

I forget exactly what the proportion is, but in certain cases the central Government bear all the cost and in certain cases it is a shared cost between the central Government and the local authorities. Therefore, I do not think he need get excited about this tonight. I would say, with respect, that this is not the occasion to debate that particular matter. If he asks me, "What do you think the total cost of all this will be?" I cannot tell him. How can one tell at the moment exactly what they will cost?

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Can the hon. Gentleman not give an estimate? What is the approximate estimate?

Mr. Stewart

At this stage, the House is asked only to approve a slight change in the interpretation of two words with regard to making available sites in towns. I think that that covers all the points which, with respect, are relevant, and I hope that the House will agree to the Regulations.

Resolved, That the Draft Civil Defence (Appropriation of Lands and Buildings) Regulations, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th October, be approved.