HL Deb 13 December 1937 vol 107 cc423-62

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this, I think, is a Bill which all your Lordships will welcome and will wish to advance. It is described in its long title as An Act to secure that precautions shall be taken with a view to the protection of persons and property from injury or damage in the event of hostile attack from the air. This Bill is an essential counterpart of the active air defence, in the air and on land, which is proceeding with increasing momentum. If a country is to be adequately prepared to meet a menace from the air it is not sufficient that it shall have a completely well-equipped Air Force and good ground defences; it must also have the passive defence which enables the population of a country to protect itself. This Bill is no panic measure. Like other defence measures it is a necessary insurance premium, and a premium which in the circumstances of the world to-day we must pay, as we hope and believe, as an insurance of peace. Nor does the introduction of this Bill at a time when defence measures are well under way mean that little has been done in the last two years. I think your Lordships would wish to have some account of the measures—the preparatory measures, and indeed more than preparatory measures—which have already been taken; and in a moment or two I should like to give a brief review of those.

Effective action in air-raid precautions requires partnership between the Central Government and local authorities. And it requires that that partnership should not merely he a financial partnership, the terms of which have to be settled, but it means a real partnership in action and agreement as to the division of responsibility—where the State should act alone and where the State should act in conjunction with local authorities—and for all such preparations for all such plans the essential pre-requisite is that both the Central Government and the local authorities should know what action can most usefully be taken. It is in that regard that I think it right that I should give your Lordships some account of what has been done up to date. As far back as July, 1935, the Government circularised circular indicating the type of services which would be required. We are all very well acquainted to-day with details of air-raid precautions; they are a common-place of conversation. Everybody is more or less informed—some more some less—as to what is really required; but if your Lordships cast your minds back two years or more ago you will recall that the country was not then in the least so well informed; indeed, the idea of these services—certainly the character of these services—was only partly known to local authorities, and a very great deal of consultation and instruction was necessary. This circular was followed up by a whole series of conferences up and down the country with many local authorities in order to explain the position.

All that initial work was necessary to the preparation of schemes and to an estimate of cost. But a very great deal more than that was required and was in fact done. Let me take first the subject of training. I am quite sure that the majority of people really do not know at all how far training has been carried. Take anti-gas training. Early in 1936 a school of instruction was established by the Air Raid Precautions Department of the Home Office at Falfield in Gloucestershire. It is a training school for instructors, and that school has been steadily passing through instructors at the rate of something like 120 a month. A second school will shortly be established in, I think, the neighbourhood of York. What has been the result of passing through these instructors? Volunteers were ready to come forward to profit by the instruction these trained instructors could give them, and I am informed that something like 200,000 volunteers have already been trained by these instructors in anti-gas measures. That is a very formidable figure. In addition to that, I understand, every policeman in the regular police forces throughout the country has been trained in anti-gas measures and a very large number of the Special Constabulary has been trained as well.

In addition, a special system of training was instituted for doctors. The Home Office, in co-operation with the British Medical Association, who were most helpful, selected sixteen doctors from different parts of the country for special training in the medical treatment of gas cases, about which the ordinary medical practitioner and the ordinary nurse knows, I suppose, not very much. These sixteen doctors have, I am told, already passed though special courses in the medical treatment of gas cases something like 10,000 doctors in this country and 10,000 nurses. I am told that is quite unique in any country in the world. It is very important that we should learn from others, but we have a curious English habit of always depreciating what we ourselves are doing. I am not saying this in the least to make a case for the Government; I am not in the least concerned about that. I am much more concerned that the general public should not panic about these matters and should know what steps are being taken for their security. Indeed, it is not a bad thing that it should be known throughout the world what steps are being taken in this respect. That special training of doctors and nurses in the treatment of gas cases is, as I say, unique.

Let me turn to another activity—gas masks. I ought to call them respirators, but one slips into the terminology with which most of your Lordships were unpleasantly acquainted. In July, 1936, the Government took over a factory at Blackburn—it had been a large cotton mill full of spinning machinery—for the making of gas masks. They had already approved and tested a most satisfactory type of respirator. This factory was taken over in July, 1936. It is run on the principle with which your Lordships are familiar in the case of the aircraft factories—what I call the "shadow factories," owned by the Government but managed by practical firms. The factory was gutted and re-equipped and made ready by November, 1936. Production began in December, 1936, and by December r of this year 20,000,000 respirators had been produced in that factory. I believe we are the only country which has developed a system of mass production of respirators. Of course the factory is still producing the necessary amount, and therefore gas masks will be available in ample quantities. They are, indeed, already available in great quantities, and the necessary stock will be completed in a comparatively short time.

When these respirators are made they have to be stored in proper places. Arrangements have been made for the fitting out of twelve central storage depots for these respirators, each being able to hold something like 3,000,000. These store depots will be Government-owned. Five of them are already in existence, two will be completed this month, and the rest will follow reasonably soon after- wards. These will be the central storage depots. From these depots the respirators will pass to all the areas of the country which in time of need would have to use them, and it will be part of the general scheme which local authorities will submit, and with which I shall deal a little later on, to settle the location and establishment in the most convenient places of sub-depots for respirators within their own territory. In order to help them in that there has been already worked out a model scheme for a sub-depot which will be available to every local authority to make its work easier in the design and preparation of such a sub-depot.

These are cases in which actual work on a great scale has been done. But there was another kind of work which had to be undertaken before any effective schemes could be designed or put into operation, and that was a mass of experimental work in order to know what were the dangers to be guarded against and what was the most effective action to take to guard against them. I have seen very little said about this, but there were three particular lines to which research was directed, and not only research but the practical development of equipment as the result of such research. There were gas, high explosive, the effect of bombs, and fire.

Let me take gas first. First of all an effective respirator had to be designed. It was no good to go into the mass production of tens of millions of these respirators until you knew you had got the right article. We are satisfied that we have got an absolutely admirable article. It has been put to the most severe tests. It has even been put to the test of being tried on volunteers of great antiquity and feeble health who have sustained with equanimity the putting on and the keeping on of these respirators. Then a great deal had to be done in order to find the best methods of gas-proofing buildings and roofs. The whole of that experimental work has been done, so that we are now in a position to say to local authorities and to householders exactly what is the most effective way in order to make your house or your room gas-proof. Further experiments were made on decontamination, both the decontamination of people and of material objects, and experiments have even gone so far as the question of the protection of food against possible contamination by gas, by an examination of different types of containers to see how far they are impervious and how far not. Therefore gas, of which people naturally stand in awe, once you know how to deal with it, though always a damnable thing, is a much less frightful thing and much less effective thing than a great many people believe. Very early on the most effective steps were taken to find what were the most effective preventatives of this and what action should be taken.

Then I come to bombs—the effect of high explosives. Experiments have been made with different types of bombs, with bombs of different and varying calibres and of varying qualities of penetration. Those bombs have been tried on every sort of material to ascertain what they will penetrate, what the effect of a bursting charge will be in a variety of circumstances, what the effect will be on roads of different characters and on what may lie below the roads, and on different soils. All that initial experiment was absolutely necessary in order to devise the most effective means of protection against different kinds of bombs, about which I will say something in a moment. Then there was the risk of fire. A great number of experiments have been made on the effect of incendiary bombs of different kinds and the best methods of dealing with them. A very great deal has been done, and a great deal is known. Those experiments with incendiary bombs are the foundation of the special fire-fighting equipment which the Government will provide, and also the foundation of all that very important information which we are now in a position to give to the ordinary householder as to how to deal quickly, effectively and simply with an incendiary bomb if he has the misfortune to come into contact with one. In addition to that—the general public are much more familiar with this—there have been interesting and valuable experiments conducted, and conducted on a large scale, as to the most effective methods of controlling lighting; and, lastly, based on all this knowledge, a large amount of written matter has emerged. Six handbooks and fifteen manuals of instruction, I think, written in a form—and this is not unimportant, and I think the Air Raid Precautions Department deserve credit for this—which the ordinary person can understand have been printed and they have been very good sellers. They tell me that their publications have run into hundreds of thousands already.

I have thought it right, my Lords, to give you this information and I trust I have not spoken at too great length upon it, because I am sure your Lordships would wish to know, and the country would wish to know, just what has been happening in the last two years. All this preliminary work which has been done was the essential pre-requisite of the formulation of schemes, whether those schemes were to be carried out by the Government or by the Government and local authorities in conjunction, and in the light of that information most of the big cities have already been formulating schemes and will be ready to act promptly as soon as this Bill becomes an Act. The Bill is designed to enable the most useful action to be taken, and to be taken in the most effective way, and on what I would submit to your Lordships are fair terms. Like the air-raid precaution handbooks this Bill, for once, is in very simple, clear language, and when I first read it I understood exactly what was intended with the possible exception of the Schedule, and even then I understood broadly the principles of weighted population and block grants. I am not sure how many of us could pass a precise and accurate examination into exactly how the block grant system is designed to work, but, with the exception of that necessary technical terminology, anybody reading this Bill through who knew nothing about law or legal phraseology would, I think, be able to see exactly what is meant.

I do not think, therefore, I need take your Lordships clause by clause through the Bill, but I could perhaps most usefully indicate what the Bill does by dividing it into three parts: first of all, the work to be done; secondly, the machinery for doing it; and thirdly, the financial provisions. As regards the work to be done, I have already indicated to your Lordships a great deal of what has been accomplished. The Bill in providing for the necessary precautions and preparations leaves a wide latitude. Wisely, I think, the Bill does not attempt to set out a precise list of the different kinds of precautions which should be taken, still less does it try to lay down hard and fast rules. I submit that that is a very sensible course because all the time we want to profit by knowledge and experience, and requirements will necessarily vary from locality to locality with the particular circumstances of different localities. Therefore, provision is made—your Lordships will find it in Clause 11—that the Secretary of State may, by regulations, lay down the requirements which should find their place in whole or in part in any scheme submitted by the local authorities. The local authority will submit their schemes under Clause 1 and the Secretary of State will have power to approve those schemes with or without modifications under Clause 3.

Broadly speaking, an air raid may produce three types of danger and damage. There are the casualties caused, as by shell fire, from varying kinds of missiles dropped from the air—deeply penetrating bombs, the much more slightly penetrating type of bomb and the superficial explosion. There is the risk of fire, very easy to cause with incendiary bombs which science has devised, but fortunately a great deal is known as to the most effective method of combating that. Then there is gas, and in regard to that I am sure the greatest danger is the unknown: Omne ignotum pro magnifico. The greatest protection—and this really applies all the way through—is an instructed population knowing how to protect themselves and given the means of protecting themselves. That implies two things which lie at the root of all protection and of all schemes. You must have a trained corps of people in every place, men and women trained to carry out their respective functions in art air defence army—and as I pointed out much instruction has already been given—reasonably and adequately equipped for the purpose. But you must have also—and it is here that instruction is so important—a population instructed in self-protection, knowing what to do and, not less important, what not to do. You must have these two conditions—trained bands to do the work and an instructed people. It is essentially a case of helping people to help themselves.

Having said that, this certainly is equally true: that once you have these trained bands and once you have an instructed population—and it is not a terrible lot that people have got to learn—then the risks of air attack combated by active defence in the air and on the ground and by passive defence by instructed and equipped people, though horrible enough, are much less serious, much less panic-making a thing than a great many people have led us to suppose. Given the provisions of this Bill in conjunction with defence measures, there is no reason for adopting a defeatist spirit in this matter. All through it is a combination of organisation and equipment. For instance, gas masks would be available in ample quantity, instruction would be there in the means to make a house or factory reasonably gas-proof and for decontamination where it is required. As regards fire, there would be mobile fire brigades with special equipment, and instructions to householders in the simple methods of dealing with small incendiary bombs.

As regards damage and casualties which can be caused by bombs, a great deal can be done and will be done in the way of shelter. You cannot—or at least it is practically impossible—on any large scale protect people against the effect of a great bomb of a semi-armourpiercing character, a thing that will penetrate the vastest structure. But I think anybody with any knowledge of the air would say that if you were told to go and make an attack, so to speak, in the brown, to do as much damage as you could in some large built-up area, the last way you would try to do that damage would be by very expensive, complicated armour-piercing bombs. That is not likely. What is much more likely is the use of bombs of quite a different character. Already a great deal of protection exists, and other protection can be improvised against the much more probable danger of a direct hit by other kinds of bombs, against the effects of blast and against splinters. It is essential that these facilities should find their place in the schemes submitted by the local authorities. They, after all, are the people who know where shelters can be found at the present time—and there is a great deal of shelter throughout the country which can easily be adapted for purposes of this kind—and who can say how far those shelters should be supplemented.

Let me now say a word or two about the machinery of the Bill. Certain of the preparations are the function of the Central Government. As regards the functions of the local authorities, your Lordships will see that the Bill divides the schemes which are to be submitted, into two classes. There are what are called general schemes and special fire schemes, and there is a very good reason for separating the two. The general schemes, which exclude special fire arrangements, are to be made in England by the county councils in consultation with the authorities in their districts, and by the county borough councils. Your Lordships will observe that in Clause 1 (2) (b) provision is made in appropriate cases for the smaller authorities within a county to submit separate schemes. In Scotland the duties in regard to the general schemes devolve upon the county councils and the councils of large burghs. Fire is dealt with separately because both in this country and in Scotland there are special fire brigade authorities. Following that, in England the fire schemes will be submitted by the councils of the urban areas, and rural areas where necessary, and in Scotland by town councils and county councils. Your Lordships will see that Clause 2 makes special provision for London. There, as regards fire, the London County Council is made the fire authority, as it is the fire brigade authority, for the whole of the Administrative County of London. As regards the general schemes, Clause 2 provides that the Secretary of State shall have the duty by order to allocate functions in regard to general schemes between the London County Council, the City Council and the Metropolitan Boroughs.

I now turn for a moment to the financial arrangements. Your Lordships will observe that the Central Government are bearing the great bulk of the expenditure. This, of course, appears on Estimates and not, I think, anywhere—indeed, it could not—in terms in the Bill, although there are indications in Clause 11. The State carries the whole of the expenditure on the great items of equipment—for instance, gas masks, fire-engines, fire fighting appliances, hose, decontamination equipment, stretchers, and so on. It is estimated that that expenditure on equipment by the State will be approximately £20,000,000 or thereabouts, spread over the next three or four years. The balance of the expenditure is expenditure on those matters for which the local authorities will submit their schemes. That again may be divided into capital works and annual expenditure. It is estimated that the capital expenditure which the local authorities would incur in their schemes would be in the nature of £7,000,000, and that their annual expenditure would be something like £1,300,000 a year spread over the next three or four years. After that, when the whole of the equipment is established and people trained, of course the maintenance cost will be very much less. Of the whole of that expenditure, capital and income, it is proposed that the State should bear approximately 70 per cent. The precise arrangements set out in the Schedule to the Bill are applied in accordance with the block grant technique, with which your Lordships are familiar.

Taking it by and large, while one authority may get rather more and another rather less according to the weighting of its population by the operation of the formula, broadly the State carries 70 per cent. of the cost. In actual money that is estimated to mean that the Central Government, the Exchequer, will be contributing something like £8,500,000 to the local authorities spread over the next three or four years. In addition to that, your Lordships will see that Clause to provides that there shall be a financial review before three years are past. I submit that when you take those two provisions together, the complete provision by the Central Government of all the equipment at a cost of something like £20,000,000, and the 70 per cent. grant to the expenditure of the local authorities, this is a liberal contribution from the Central Government. Your Lordships will, I think, agree that it is fair and right that there should in this matter be a partnership between the Central Government and the local authorities. Indeed, the vast majority of the local authorities have appreciated that requirement and anticipated it by keen action. Apart, however, from the essential reasonableness of this partnership, there is a canon of expenditure which I think most of your Lordships would agree is sound. That is that, if the State is to devolve expenditure of State money on a large scale upon some other authority, it is most desirable that some measure of individual financial responsibility and liability should rest with the authority which has the spending of the money. It is essential that such a partnership should exist.

From what I have said and from the terms of the Bill, I think your Lordships will agree that the terms are fair. The plan which is now proposed is practical, and based on practical experimental work which has been done. Such is the plan I ask your Lordships to approve. We shall all agree that it is necessary. I think most of us would agree that it is soundly devised, and that it enables every one to play his part. There is, I suppose, in the minds of all your Lordships—there certainly is in mine—the melancholy reflection that it should be necessary to pass a Bill of this kind at all. The determination of this country to be strong and adequate in defence, whether it be active or passive, is only equalled by our earnest will to peace. While it is our bounden duty to proceed with all such measures as this, it must always be our active aim to bring about secure conditions and to advance the time when such measures will prove to be unnecessary. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Swinton.)


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships wish me to thank the noble Viscount, the Air Minister, for the very full and complete analysis he has given of the Bill, and for making the most of what has been done in recent years. The policy of the Labour Party, as your Lordships will be aware who are familiar with the debates in another place, is not to oppose this Bill. We consider that there are two courses open to this State in the present condition of the world. One is what I may call the doctrine of non-resistance—of not arming, because that might be provocative, of not making any preparation at all—and, if we are attacked, of turning the other cheek. It is a very ancient doctrine, for which there is much to be said. The other course, which happens to be that supported by the official Labour Party, is that of preparedness: if you are going to take measures for self-defence, they must be adequate measures; there is, indeed, no half-way house. My noble friend Lord Arnold, I believe, with his usual fire and eloquence, will propound the first policy, and I only want to say a few words about the second. Such suggestions as I intend to make will, I hope, be constructive suggestions.

The first observation I should like to offer to your Lordships is this. If all this is necessary at the end of the year 1937, it has been necessary for several years past. The noble Viscount told us about the first circular sent out in 1935, and all that has been done since. I admit that it is a very substantial programme which he has told us has been put into force. But why in 1935? The international situation began to deteriorate in October-November, 1931, when the present Government came into office. I do not say it is entirely their fault, but it is an historical fact. They say that the economic situation deteriorated when the Labour Government came into office in 1929. I am not going into that, but I say that the international situation, as an historical fact, began to deteriorate at the time when the present Government came into office, and that was over six years ago. Why was it only in 1935 that this circular was sent out?

I know there was a long period of negotiating and bargaining with the local authorities; I am not apportioning any blame for that; but I say that if these measures are necessary now then a great deal could have been done in the past. I go further. I am going to be more royalist than the King in this matter, if I may use that expression. I do not think the Government have done enough, and I do not think they are doing enough, nor do I think they have moved quickly enough in these steps which the noble Viscount calls passive defence. During all the period when we were hoping so much from the Disarmament Conference these things could have been moving on, because these preparations are not provocative at all. No Dictator could have got up and said "Look what wicked England is doing now in preparations against us." These preparations threaten nobody. I submit that they should have been taken in hand long before, and should have been speeded up, and that no time should be lost if the Government are going to speed them up in the immediate future.

I have given the noble Earl, who will reply for the Government, and who speaks with such ability for the Home Office in this House, a few of the points which I am going to put. They are all quite simple. In the first place, with regard to the gas masks or respirators. May I know why this should not be done; why should not gas masks be issued now to responsible householders? They could bring them up every so often for inspection and overhaul. The reason may be that they are too confidential in design. I do not know. I do not know whether it has been possible to keep the secret of the manufacture of 20,000,000 gas masks. If it has not, I suggest that you had far better distribute them now. I will myself take a dozen and practise my household and children in the use of them. Why should we not practise the use of them now? That, I think, is particularly necessary in the case of children.

The next question which I would like to ask is this: In another place, and also by the noble Viscount, we were told that each householder would be expected to provide himself with a bucket of sand, a spade or shovel and, I think, a portable fire extinguisher. I would like to ask how far is the bucket and sand method considered effective against incendiary bombs. I have had accounts of the great heat that these bombs generate, and of the glare and flare from them, and I would like reassurance on that point. I would also ask if, in addition, we are going to have some form of portable chemical extinguisher, and when it will be available, and how soon will it be distributed, because it is necessary that it should be practised with. I believe in chemical extinguishers. As a small boy I myself put out a fire at school by means of a chemical extinguisher.


Did you also light it?


As a matter of fact, I could prove a complete alibi. My third question is this. I am told that the present opinion of the Government and their advisers is that with regard to London the tubes, the Underground Railways, which I should have thought were the natural shelters—they were used during the last War—are unsuitable; that they are liable to be flooded by the water mains being cut or by the sewers flowing into them and are liable to be gassed. I do not believe that it is beyond the skill and knowledge of the British engineering profession to make them into safe refuges. I believe that if the problem were submitted to the British engineering profession they could make the great Underground tubes suitable for housing, in time of need, a very great number of people. I believe such preparations are being made in other places, notably Paris, and what the French engineers can do I imagine that our engineers can also do. I gather from what the noble Viscount said, and what has been said in another place, that the real danger to-day in air raids—and it is borne out by friends who have seen air raids in Spain, and particularly by Professor Haldane—the main danger is not so much from gas as from high explosive shells or bombs. That being the case, I think that a very rapid and complete method should be adopted at once to give protection against high explosive shells. Professor Haldane was asked to go out to Spain to advise the Spanish Government, and he tells me that in Alicante, where the population was swollen by refugees to 700,000, concrete, shelters or dug-outs were provided for the whole of the people, and that they gave fairly adequate protection against high explosive bombs.

The next matter which I would like to raise is with regard to what we householders are told to do about gas-proofing our rooms. I gas-proofed the most suitable room in my house about two years ago. I got going just about the same time as the noble Viscount and his colleagues.


Why so late?


I still had hope. After all, it was the Government's duty, not mine. However, I did it. I find that the room, the moment everything is shut up, becomes very stuffy in a very short time, although I have electric light. In the vast proportion of poorer class dwellings in our big cities the illuminant is gas or candles, and people will not sit in the dark in those circumstances. Therefore I think the Government should lay it down clearly that no gas-proof room can be considered efficient if illuminated by anything but electricity, and if necessary I think the householders should be helped in that way to wire at least one room where not otherwise provided with electric light.

Then with regard to the question of evacuation, which was touched on by the noble Viscount in his admirable speech. In another place the Government under pressure introduced into the Bill an Amendment with regard to evacuation, which, if they had not done so, I should have introduced in your Lordships' House on behalf of my Party. I understand there are two schools of thought on this subject. The predominant school of thought at present in the Government and among their advisers is that you cannot evacuate, or you should not evacuate, or that it would be on the whole inadvisable to evacute. I take an entirely different point of view. I think it is quite necessary the moment trouble starts to evacuate from such a City as London a very large proportion of the population. I would ask the noble Earl, Lord Munster, who will reply: Has he ever travelled in London during the rush hour on a wet night—to-day, in peace time? To-day the transport facilities of this City are inadequate for getting the people to and from work. The scenes in the early morning and in the evening rush hour are positively disgraceful, and what they would be if you had a sudden air-raid warning, I do not know. They would be terrible. And the only way I can see out of it is to get everyone out of the City who is willing to go; and if enough do not go voluntarily, I would decide who are necessary to carry on the economic: life of the country in the Capital, and the others should be made to go.

I know the difficulty about accommodating them, but after all a great part of the population of London is evacuated in the month of August or the end of July. More and more people go out of the City into the country in summer. There is a great deal of accommodation outside London in places that are not nearly so likely to be attacked. I think that matter should be prepared for with far more vigour than there are at present signs of. I remember that during the last War, during the time I was at the Admiralty, when the air raids were pretty frequent and serious, in the winter evenings about four or half-past four all the female workers wanted to leave and go home to get safely there before the darkness came. I used to tell them: "This is the safest place in England. It is the last place a German airman will attack or bomb. He would probably be shot when he went back if he did it." But that did not comfort them; they insisted on leaving their work and going to their homes, and of course it confused things very much indeed. I know this is a very big problem, and it has to be prepared for and thought out beforehand. And, once again using the phraseology of the noble Viscount the Air Minister, the people have to be educated up to this question.

Another matter. I fear that the very efficient staff officers and others who have been dealing with this matter have been too few. The noble Viscount described what has been happening in the last two years, and I say it should have begun to happen at least two years before that. They have not had enough people at work on the problem. I will give a reason for my statement. There have been no special observers in either Spain or China. Now there you have this whole system of defending the civil population in operation, as far as each particular country can prepare and defend. There are obviously wonderful lessons to be learned in both those theatres of war. We have had no observers there. I suppose we have had the Military Attachés sending certain reports; but I should have thought the Home Office would have sent out their own people (it is the Home Office responsibility) both to Spain and to China—you can get to China very quickly by air nowadays—to take notes on the spot as to what is being done and what ought to be done. Practice is worth a very great deal of theory, and since the Great War many technical developments have taken place in the weapons carried by aeroplanes and in the aeroplanes themselves.

Then, in connection with this same matter of the overcrowding of people, I must take this opportunity of referring to a subject that has been discussed in your Lordships' House once or twice in the last few years—namely, the location of industry; this tremendous concentration of industries in Greater London. It is already creating all sorts of difficulties in time of peace—transport difficulties, housing difficulties, difficulties of labour. There is a shortage of many classes of skilled and unskilled labour in Greater London to-day. And yet the new factories are going up and up in the exterior perimeter of London and all the time your distressed areas are suffering, as we all know, from terrific unemployment and the non-use of man-power of transport facilities and the whole machinery of civilisation. I know the answer. There is a Royal Commission sitting. I know this matter has been discussed in another place as well as in your Lordships' House; but, surely if we are in earnest about the internal defence of the country, drastic steps should be taken to prevent more factories going up in Greater London.

I myself have had a little to do with trying to induce new industries to go to the distressed areas, but London is like a great Babylon, attracting company directors, the captains of industry, and so on. Not only do they say that there is a great market here, but there is a kind of lure about London—it is a magnet; and they would rather pay twice as much for their factory, and have greater difficulties with labour on the Great West Road, for example, than go down to Durham or South Wales, where they could have facilities at half the price. The only way to stop this crowding of London, which is bound up with air defence, is by legislative action. If I had my way I would not allow another factory or workshop to be erected in Greater London without a licence, and I would not give a licence unless there were unanswerable reasons for giving it. That is going to be one of the greatest difficulties in the defence of the Metropolis; and yet it is admitted that already London is the greatest target for air attack in the world, for geographical and other reasons.

May I very humbly agree with the closing remarks of the Air Minister? The noble Viscount deplored the necessity for such a Bill. Of course, we all do. He spoke of the devastating effect of high explosives. There is one high explosive I should like to see used at the present time, and that is what has been described by a very great master of words as "the high explosive of Christianity." It is appalling that we should have to discuss such a measure as this at this time of clay. The noble Viscount and noble Lords talk quite calmly about evacuating populations and hiding our children underground, and practising the use of gas masks on babies, and so on. It is perfectly terrible that we should have to do these things or even to discuss them. And yet perhaps the realisation of what it means may cause the nations to pause and, if they pause, to turn back on the path towards sanity. Because it is not, as I see it, so much the loss of life and the actual suffering which we may expect if another great war comes to plague the world. It has been calculated that a series of great air raids on London would lead to fifty thousand deaths. Well, London could get over the loss of fifty thousand people, and so, I suppose, could Paris, or Berlin or Rome. I suppose there would be two hundred thousand injured. Well, a great community can get over that. But what is going to be so damaging is the utter dislocation of the highly complicated economic life and civilised existence that we live. I do riot see how we are going to carry on under modern air-raid conditions.

I do not know whether it is still true that the bomber can always get through, as the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, as he is now, told us some years ago. The noble Viscount shakes his head. It may be that he has got means of preventing air raids, and I hope he has. It may be that the fear of reprisals will prevent them—I do not know. But if they do take place, if they do get home, the moral effect will be so great, the dislocation will be so great, that I do not see how an ordinary civilised community as at present organised in this and other great industrial Western democracies can continue. It cannot go on. I do not think the next war will be a short war. In my opinion it will be protracted as was the last Great War. That opinion is reinforced by the known power of resistance of the human race. People can adapt their lives to the most terrible horrors, but they cannot adapt their economic system. Our economic system has grown too complicated for it to be re-adapted without the possibility of anarchy that war nowadays would mean for every great community. Regarding the problem from that point of view, perhaps understanding of these things will prevent the very thing we all want to avoid. We are making these preparations, which are non-provocative, and they will bring home to our people what war means. In the same way when other great nations make their preparations they will bring home to the people of those countries what it means, and when the peoples of the world understand I believe they will prevent their rulers from committing the suicidal madness of going to war.


My Lords, as both noble Lords have said, this Bill is a sad necessity. I do not think that any one can dispute the fact that it is a necessity and a necessity that must be got on with as quickly as possible. It would be ungracious not to recognise the very great amount of expert and devoted work which the noble Viscount and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary have done in connection with the whole of these precautions during the last year. Indeed, the noble Marquess (Lord Londonderry) in earlier days, I understand, started on the same work. Certainly on these Benches we do not wish to criticise or to look back upon what might have been done so much as to support the Government to the extent we can in the work they have got before them. Really the whole civil population is very largely in the hands of the two Ministers, the Secretary of State for Air and the Home Secretary. We have to confide our future to them should such a deplorable event as war occur.

Much of the information of which they are seized must of necessity be secret. Some information, on the other hand, should be as widely disclosed as possible. I believe, from the little experience I have, that that information is being disclosed and made general knowledge to the public in an effective way and as widely as may be. I have met a few of the instructors myself, and I have on each occasion been well impressed with what they know and with the way they can impart their information. I am very glad to hear from the noble Viscount that the matter of fire precautions, which has been alluded to more than once in your Lordships' House, is being considered. That is, as the Secretary of State said, one of the most dangerous results of air attack, and one which will have to be dealt with most quickly.

There is only one point I would like to raise, and that is a comparatively small one. As a matter of fact I know the answer to it because I had it quite recently from the Secretary of State, but it should be put on record. A certain number of large industrial undertakings in the country are providing, or contemplating providing, for their own employees underground shelters, naturally at very considerable expense. It would be a good thing if, as far as possible, they might be assured that when the moment comes to use these shelters it will not be open to the local authorities to annex them for the use of the whole civil population outside. Obviously, if industrial undertakings were told that they had no guarantee that these buildings would be kept for their own people it would be likely to deter them from providing them. That is all I wish to say, except again to congratulate the noble Viscount and the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary for the work they have done and are still doing with regard to this matter.


My Lords, I shall not detain you long, for I have not very many observations to make, but I consider the proposals in the Bill are most necessary and useful. There are one or two points which I might mention, but which might perhaps be brought forward later during the Committee stage of the Bill. My first remark is, what is the object of this Bill? Is it not to minimise loss of life, to minimise material damage, to minimise the dislocation of all the arteries of life, and, finally, to prevent, not to minimise, panic? I cannot help feeling that the most important statement made in the course of the debate in another place was made by the Home Secretary in introducing the Bill on Second Reading. In the last paragraph of his speech he said that the Bill was to prevent a "knock-out," and so give time for the whole resources of the Empire and the world to come and take part. I cannot help saying that that is the object—to prevent a "knock-out," and so to enable us to use all the Empire resources. As I have said once before in your Lordships' House, if we can hold out for the first ten weeks we win. There is no doubt whatever in my mind on that. I do not think a war is coming, and I cannot conceive, after the experience of the last War, that it should, but one can never tell what the human race will do. I would like to mention another point besides the "knock-out." I feel that we are paying too much attention to the subject of gas. I grant that the moral effect of gas will be very great, but I do not know that we are not spending too much of our energy—I am not speaking in terms of cash—on all the precautions in regard to gas. Personally I believe there is far greater danger of panic and material damage from the high explosive bomb and the incendiary bomb. It is the right proportion of energy you can put into one or the other that will make these air-raid precautions useful or not.

Going through the Bill, it appears to me that all these general proposals have been well thought out, and I do not wish it to be thought that I am trying to make any criticisms if I mention a few points that have occurred to me after reading the Bill and the debate in the other House. If your Lordships turn to Clause 1 you will see that it is the duty of local authorities under subsection (1) to prepare and submit air-raid precaution schemes and under subsection (2) air-raid general precautions schemes and fire schemes. There are a great number of local authorities, and all their schemes will have to be gone through by the Home Office. It may be that all this has been carefully worked out, but I would point out that there are people who have very strong views as to what is the best thing to do under an air-raid precautions scheme. Surely it will be a monumental task for the Home Office to go through the schemes of all the local authorities, and deal with all the people who feel strongly and hold different views as to what ought to be done for the defence of their own localities.

I would suggest—it may have already been done—that a sort of list of the main principles upon which the local authorities must work should be sent out so as to prevent, if possible, a great number of divergent schemes coming in from all sorts of people, who will want to go on arguing with the Home Office when they find that the Home Office disagree with them. The number of local authorities and individuals that will have to be dealt with will be very large, and I do not believe that can be done without very serious delay occurring. I was glad to see that the Government had decided to increase the size of the Air Raid Precautions Committee; nevertheless I feel that even that excellent and splendid man who has been appointed as Inspector-General will find it almost impossible to deal with the large number of schemes that come in, I do not say from cranky people but from men who hold to a particular idea. Those who think chiefly of the armour-piercing bomb would cover us all with twenty feet of concrete, and other persons who think only of gas, will say we must all live forever in gas-proof houses. I think that is an important point.

Another thing I am frankly worried over is this. I see it was stated in the other House that air-raid wardens are going to be used a great deal. I am not criticising this. What I am doubtful about is their duties. I do not think it is correct to say that the jobs of these wardens will be "cushy" jobs such as can in all cases be filled by men who are A 3 or C 3, or old-time expired men. There is no doubt that in some places such men could act as wardens, but in some of the thickly-populated parts of London you want the most intelligent, the youngest, the most active and most tactful people to do that work. You would also require that alert and active type of man in many of the other big cities on the East coast. There are no doubt many duties that the wardens can perform, but most people in this country have in the past looked to a policeman in uniform as their friend and helper. In some parts of the East End of London, and in other big cities, they refer to policemen to advise them in innumerable ways, even as to what the weather is going to be like next day, and they will certainly want to ask them whether an air raid is coming next day. It is the policeman's uniform that carries a kind of prestige with these people.

I would suggest to the Government—I do not know whether they have considered it—that it would be useful in places like London to make every preparation for increasing the police force, even to doubling it. The duties to be performed by these wardens cannot be looked upon as "cushy" jobs. If you are to stop panic you want people to be able to go to those to whom they are accustomed to go in ordinary times. I do not think it will be necessary to have increases in the police forces in a large number of towns, but there are some places where it will be very necessary to have them. Even the air-raid wardens will find it most useful to be able to go to a policeman in uniform when they want to get something done. The policeman will help them to see that what is necessary is carried out.

There is one other point that no doubt also has been thought of. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred to the dislocation of the ordinary means of living. I would also like to refer to that. I suppose it has been thought out what is to happen in order to get food to some places when the ordinary means of transport are interrupted. Take, for instance, a staple article like butter. It may happen that in some places all the shops will be knocked out. Will there be any places open, when that occurs, where food will be stored, and where people can go to buy their food when the shops at which they usually purchase it have been destroyed? We must remember that we have got to have a sense of proportion in deciding how much energy should be put into the fighting Services and how much into what I call the home front in order to protect us against panic. It is no good putting too much into one and too little into the other. Certainly our man-power cannot do everything that I have seen suggested. One must keep firmly in mind that in certain circumstances it will not be possible to prevent a large number of people from being killed. I agree there with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who said a large number will be killed. What one feels can be done is to prevent panic, and if we prevent panic then we save ourselves from getting that knock-out blow.

I desire now to refer for a moment to the air-raid precautions handbooks mentioned by the noble Viscount. I personally have obtained some of these handbooks. I see in No. 2 that I am referred to No. 1, and in No. 3 referred to No. 1, and in No. 4 referred to No. 1. No. 1 is out of print, and has been out of print for some time. I am not putting forward this as a criticism, and I hope the noble Viscount will not take my remarks in that sense, but I would like to see these handbooks made as self-contained as possible. Nothing was more annoying during my regimental life, when one wanted to see a regimental order about Christmas leave, than to be told to look up Order No. so-and-so of the year before, which you could never find. I dare say it is impossible to make all these handbooks self-contained, but I do not think people will take about with them six or seven handbooks. Therefore I would like it to be borne in mind that these books should, as far as possible, be made self-contained, and should not be out of print too long. As No. 1 is apparently the key book, it is important that it should not be out of print too long.

Before I conclude I would like to say again that I am a little uneasy that too much energy, money and effort will be put into making shelters with a view to protecting everybody, which is impossible. I do not think we need consider the great armour-piercing bomb. In the last War I had some very big bombs, but the War came to an end and I did not use them. Even if I had used them I should probably only have done so perhaps once a fortnight, to let everybody think they were coming. You cannot drop these armour-piercing bombs in great numbers. As panic is the great thing which an enemy will try to produce in cities like London, in order to dislocate the machinery of life, I think that although they may bring a few very big bombs, the majority of bombs dropped will be small bombs. I have detained your Lordships too long and I will only add that I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill.


My Lords, in rising to oppose this Bill, I am quite aware that I shall put forward views which at any rate as regards some of them will meet with small acceptance in your Lordships' House, although more than they might have done because I am glad to observe my noble friend Lord Sanderson in his place. There are also one or two other noble Lords who are not here who share the views which I shall endeavour to express. In any event I feel it my duty to put them before your Lordships' House, because I know that these views, or views somewhat similar, are held by a not inconsiderable and a growing section of the community.

My first objection to this Bill is that the time of its introduction is most inopportune. Consider the position. It is only a very short time since the noble Viscount who leads the House went to Germany to make a contact with the leaders of the German nation which should have been made long ago. Men of all Parties were united in the view that the country was fortunate in having a statesman of the experience, the personality and the abilities of the noble Viscount to undertake this historic mission. But the passage of this Bill has practically synchronised with that visit of the noble Viscount, which aroused new hopes of appeasement. Surely the time of the introduction of this Bill can only be regarded as unfortunate. It surely seems to suggest that the Government have not very much confidence in the outcome of the negotiations, or whatever you choose to call them, that have been started, and which, as I say, gave new hope, not only to people in this country but to those in many other countries. This is the time that the Government choose to pass a Bill designed to protect the people of this country against attacks, presumably from the very country with whom we have at last, thanks to the noble Viscount, made this hopeful contact. I cannot myself conceive a more unfortunate background to diplomacy than that. The psychological effect—to use an overworked expression—is bound to be injurious, and psychological effects are of very great importance in all diplomatic exchanges and international negotiations. Seriously I cannot help thinking that it would have been better if the Government had postponed the Bill, at any rate for a time. That would have been a gesture for peace which I believe might have had very beneficial consequences. However, that was not done.

All this, in my view, would be wrong, even if the Bill was going to do what it purports to do. The second objection which I raise against this measure is that, as a matter of fact, it will not do what it purports to do. I am not going to say that it will do nothing. I am not going to say that it will be absolutely useless. Speaking a little time ago in another place, Mr. Lansbury said with a great deal of truth that the world was mad, but I do not suggest that it is so mad that responsible statesmen bring in a Bill like this which is no use at all from their point of view. But I do feel quite strongly that it arouses expectations and gives a certain sense of security to people which are not justified by the facts. If that is so, as I believe it is, it is a very serious matter. I will come to that shortly. If anything that this Bill can accomplish is put at its highest, I still submit that the balance against it is a heavy one.

Quite apart from what I have already said, the Bill obviously and definitely tends to create what is called war mentality. That I think must be so. We have travelled a very long way in the last few years. It is not very long since the idea of another war was regarded as barely a possibility. Gradually that changed. War became not only a possibility, but a probability, and from then onwards the situation has steadily deteriorated until we have arrived at a time—and this Bill and the action of the Govern- ment in bringing in this Bill help this view—when people generally think that war is likely to come. I do not think we can over-estimate the harm done to the cause of peace by that change of feeling, and it is a change which I am sorry to say receives at any rate a certain amount of official confirmation in this Bill. The Bill, in my view, does far more harm than it can possibly do good by making vast numbers of people despair of peace. The Bill must increase tension and feeling against our presumed enemies in the next war. That is bad. When you are assessing the possibilities of peace there is an enormous difference between the feeling a few years ago that war was practically out of the question, and the changed feeling now that war is likely to come and may come soon, but that after all, if it does come, it perhaps will not be so calamitous as we fear, because, for one thing, the Government have passed an Air-Raid Precautions Bill, and they tell us it will give quite a lot of security!

The Secretary of State for Home Affairs, in his speech when introducing the Bill in another place, envisaged the time when the air menace will be mastered, just as the submarine menace, he said, had been mastered. I cannot help feeling that the Home Secretary tock upon himself a very great responsibility in saying that to the country. So far as I know it is not a view which is shared by any experts of note, who know what air warfare is and will be like. Certainly I am not overstating it when I say that the balance of expert view is strongly against the opinion that the danger is in any sense being mastered or is likely to be mastered. We have had statements this afternoon about what will probably happen in the next war, and I am afraid that, even if you put the blackest view on all that has been said, the event, if and when it comes, will be very much worse than anything that has been indicated this afternoon. If I understood him aright, the noble Viscount who spoke last, and who speaks, of course, with supreme authority on this matter, did not say very much to lull the people to a sense of security.

Let us try to get at the facts. We have tried before, not very successfully, but I will make another attempt. I will endeavour to put before your Lordships an authoritative view of what is likely to happen as a result of air raids on London in the next war. A book was published a few years ago—in 1933, I think—called "What would be the Character of a New War?" It was a compilation of expert opinion which had been put together by the Inter-Parliamentary Union at Geneva. Nineteen experts and scientists from different countries gave their views on a prospective war, and what devastation and so forth would be caused by air warfare, among other kinds of warfare. I do not want to put it too high, but I suggest that that is getting as near to an official view as you can get. It was an attempt by that very important body to find out what was likely to happen.

As regards London, I will read a summary of the views in this book which was published in the New Statesman on January 2, 1932. I will not quote it absolutely word for word but I will give some of the conclusions: Let us assume that a belligerent decides to employ 300 bombing machines against London. The service experts all admit that the majority of those 300 aeroplanes would get over London, possibly at a great height. They would be sent in waves. The first wave would carry high explosives, including individual bombs weighing a ton apiece. A ton bomb will destroy a whole city block.…. The effect of the first wave would be to drive the entire population underground, kill many thousands of people, and disorganise all public services, including food supplies. …. On the heels of the first wave would arrive the second wave of raiders, dropping incendiary bombs. …. They would multiply their frightful effects with the aid of broken gas mains and blazing petrol stores. The people, crouching underground, would soon be aware that over their heads London was a sea of flame. The final wave of raiders would drop poison gas and vesicant dew. That is a blistering and poisonous liquid: The poison gas, being heavier than air, would penetrate the underground refuges, excepting those protected by airtight doors and supplied with pure filtered air by tall conduits protruding above the gas level in the blazing streets. The vesicant chemicals are so noxious that a man will die if three drops touch no more than his foot. …. By a refinement of cruelty all these lethal substances can be dropped in containers fitted with time fuses, so that fresh outbreaks occur periodically, long after the raiders have departed. What I want to know is, what progress in defence has really been made against that kind of thing?

The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, introducing this measure, spoke—very much to my surprise—more than once about "adequate defence." Only a few weeks ago there was a quotation in our Press, in the Evening Standard, of a statement about air warfare by Major-General Frank M. Andrew, the commander of the Air Force of the United States Army: "Air attacks cannot be stopped by any means now known." That is what he says. There is a very wide difference, I suggest, between that statement and the kind of impression which was created by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. Will the Government take the responsibility of saying that, by the aid of this Bill or anything else, they can master these dangers of which I have been reading this expert account from this very authoritative book? Moreover, can they do that in London, which, as we all know, is in a peculiarly vulnerable position from the point of view of air raids? Here you have, in not very many square miles for the most part crowded and huddled together, nearly as many people as there are in the whole of Canada, and about one and a half times as many people as there are in the whole of Australia. That is an enormous population, and it seems to me to make London more vulnerable than any other European capital.

In this book, "What would be the Character of the Next War?"—and I wish our statesmen would read that book once a month; it would do them good, and not only our statesmen here but also those elsewhere—particulars are given of what happened in air manœuvres some years ago. This statement says that in these manœuvres 250 aeroplanes converged upon the capital, and that of the 250 only sixteen were intercepted by searchlights and 234 got through. It is said that progress is being made with defence. What progress has been made? What would the figures be likely to be now? We have no information. Even supposing, for the sake of argument—of course, this is putting it in a wildly optimistic way—that the figures were reversed and 234 were intercepted and only 16 got through, 16 bombers of the present size and power could of course do an enormous and incalculable amount of damage. In fact vastly more than that would get through. No doubt more than 16 would now be intercepted, but how many would be intercepted? I follow the accounts of air manœuvres as far as I can in the papers when they take place. No figures are given, but it seems to me clear that the defence always gets much the worst of it.

In introducing this Bill the Home Secretary only spoke of one rave of raiders, but I have pointed out to your Lordships in the passage that I have read that there would as a matter of fact be three waves. The first wave would have high explosive bombs. In the whole of the last War I think it is estimated that only 30o tons of these bombs were dropped on London. The Home Secretary himself, long before this Bill was introduced, said that 30o tons of bombs could in the next war be dropped in one day and that this rate of attack could be kept up for quite a long time—I think he said indefinitely. Air forces to-day could drop almost the same weight— that is, 300 tons— in the first 24 hours, and continue this scale of attack indefinitely. That is what the Home Secretary said. Next there will be the incendiary bombs—that is the second wave. The noble Viscount talked cheerfully about the way in which these bombs could be dealt with. I am bound to say that, with all respect to those members of the Government, they do not seem to have much knowledge of the conditions that are likely to prevail, for instance, in the East End of London when another war comes. The third wave will bring, as I have said, poison gas and these vesicant chemicals, these blistering liquids which penetrate the clothing. How, by the by, are they going to be dealt with? What good are the gas masks going to be against them? There is also another form of attack. The noble Viscount opposite referred to three ways, I think, but he did not refer to this, and that is that there is also the danger of attacks from machine-gun fire. That, I think, has not been mentioned, but it might be a very serious danger.

When everything is taken into account, even if these gas masks can be worn by old people I believe that they cannot be worn by children under three, and I also believe they cannot be worn by many people suffering from lung and similar complaints. But, putting everything on the most favourable plane possible, consider the position in the East End and in the crowded centres of our great cities. It surely is absurdly optimistic to suppose that the people living there would use these gas masks and put them on anything like properly, and take these precautions. Let me give an analogy. Take this question of which we hear so much, and of which we cannot hear too much, in your Lordships' House—motor accidents and motor casualties. It is to me a matter of continual amazement that, after all That has come and gone, these accidents continue, and that in spite of all that is said we see, not in the crowded parts of the East End but in the West End, that people of presumably much more ability to look after themselves dive into the traffic. They will not go fifty yards to come to a Belisha beacon, where considerable protection is afforded.

Even when people know the danger, and we have these casualties, they do not take any notice of them, and to suppose that all these regulations, or anything like them, are going to be carried out under the panic conditions which will obtain in the next war, throws, if I may say so with respect, a light upon the official mind which is to me rather terrifying, more particularly if we bear in mind a fact which has not been mentioned today—namely, that the next war will come without any warning at all. It will simply come, and there will obviously be a terrific concentration of aeroplanes to try and bring about what the noble Viscount who spoke last so graphically called "some sort of knock-out blow." All the people will not be ready. "Oh," says the Under-Secretary, "you can do quite a lot. You can place strips of paper down your windows, and it is surprising what that will do." Lots of these people will not have paper, or even the few coppers necessary for buying paper, and even if they have they will not do it. Moreover, in the East End the available oxygen in rooms will soon be exhausted.

What is the reply to these difficulties? I contend that so far as the East End is concerned, and the crowded centres of our great cities, the whole thing is out of touch with reality. Some of the claims made by the Government cannot be substantiated. Various non-Government scientists have shown that. Let me, as an illustration, mention the kind of thing that If should like more information about. The Government have given what is regarded as a reassuring example of their precautions in an experiment which was carried out on Salisbury Plain, under the supervision of the Chemical Defence Committee. The Government claim that after a room in a house was made gas-proof by two unskilled men, animals in a room in the house were unaffected although the house was surrounded by large trays of mustard gas. The efficacy of this test has been disputed by Professor W. A. Bone in a letter to the Press. Professor Bone is the chief professor and head of the Department of Chemical Technology at the Imperial College of Science and Technology. He points out that unless the release of the gas outside the house was preceded or accompanied by the dropping of high explosive bombs, the test does not prove that there would be a high degree of protection from gas poisoning. The reason for this is that the authorities do not seem to have made sufficient allowance for the shattering effect on the glass of window panes of high explosive bombs. Professor Bone relates that owing to an accidental explosion in a laboratory, 135 window panes were shattered, and he shows that the compression waves, the detonation waves in that explosion were much less than they would be from a high explosive bomb. In these circumstances I think we have a right to ask whether when that experiment was tried on Salisbury Plain high explosive bombs were dropped in the immediate vicinity. Otherwise it would appear that the test is not really of much value.

I would now say a word about evacuation. It has been touched upon this afternoon. Evacuation, even if it can be accomplished—I mean the removing of hundreds of thousands, and so far as London is concerned of some millions of people from London to somewhere else—under the panic conditions which will obtain at that time, will, of course, be a matter of enormous difficulty. In any case it can only be done, if done at all, at great injury to the welfare of the people, to say nothing of the conduct of the war. How on earth are vital services to be maintained, and how are the people themselves who have been evacuated going to be maintained? They will have left their work and gone away from the place where they had work. That always seems to me a very great difficulty with regard to evacuation, which has not yet received the attention which it ought to have done.

Before I sit down, I want to say one or two words about the views which have been put forward in support of this Bill. The Home Secretary has said, in effect, that the chief method of defence will be offensive. That means, of course, that we must, as Lord Baldwin said, kill and wound, if we can, more men, women and children in enemy countries than they kill here, and do it more quickly. That is a horrible prospect. When Guernica was bombed, great protests of horror went up from all parts of this country, but Guernica was a picnic compared with what the next war will be. The bombing of Chinese towns by the Japanese called forth protests and a big meeting at the Albert Hall, but we are proposing to do the same thing, only very much worse. Reference has been made this afternoon to air war in Spain and China. I think it is quite clear that you cannot deduce any very clear lessons from what has happened in those countries. It is not much criterion of what will happen in a European war. With the vast expenditure and organisation which have made the Air Forces of the great European countries, things will be far worse than anything which has yet happened, because those countries have not got the money and machines to keep on and on, as will happen in the next great war in Europe, if it comes.

It is therefore no reply to say that, after all, things may not be so bad if war does come, because in Spain and in China towns, though damaged, have not been actually destroyed. The things are not comparable. I do feel very sincerely that the truth is that against the onslaughts which will come this Bill will be of little use, and that the Government, instead of trying to reassure the population, ought to tell them the facts. That certainly has not been done. Anthony Fokker, the great aeroplane designer, said: If the public rises to the realisation of the nature of air warfare, it will turn against war altogether. But this Bill is proceeding in the contrary direction. It might have been designed to induce people not to turn against war; to induce them, as has been said, to learn to die quietly. I feel that if the people were told the truth—what I conceive to be the truth, and what expert opinion, as far as I can gather it, says is the truth—they would insist upon much greater efforts being made to keep Britain out of another European war. I cannot argue that to-day, but I will just say this, that the best way of achieving it is, in my view, by pacifism, which in practice means a policy of freedom from all Continental commitments and a real meeting of Germany's just grievances. There is no doubt in my view that such a policy involves much less risk than the present mad race in armaments which, according to all the teachings of experience, is unfortunately almost certain sooner or later to lead to another war, and a war which men of all countries and all Parties agree means the end of civilisation as we have known it.

But the Government keep in the background the risks of their own policy and seek, by this Bill, to lull the people into a sense of security. It really is no defence to say, "Oh, if you read carefully what the Home Secretary says, if you read carefully what the Secretary of State for Air says, there are a good many qualifying phrases." There are. But the public view is formed in broad patches. The public have not got the time or the opportunity or the concentration to read these Parliamentary speeches in great detail, with all their qualifications; and the general impression created on the public mind by this Bill is that it will do far more than it possibly can do. That, I think, is something which is open to very great criticism. Actually, in his final speech in another place, the Home Secretary, warming to his subject, said that no precautions against air raids can give complete immunity. That is what gets into the Press. Do I exaggerate when I say that those words "complete immunity" suggest that a very high degree of immunity will in fact be attained? Actually, I should have thought they meant that at least 75 to 80 per cent. of immunity is in sight. Does anybody believe that to be the case? Are not the probabilities that, as a matter of fact, the immunity will be nothing approaching that? It is that kind of thing in connection with this Bill which I personally deprecate, bearing in mind the most authoritative expert opinion I personally have been able to get. Moreover, if anything like complete immunity can be attained, what is the good of saying that your chief method of defence is offence? If foreign countries can attain this degree of immunity, what is the good of offensive attacks? I think the Home Secretary attempts to prove too much. The arguments are in fact contradictory and mutually destructive.

I only wish, in conclusion, strongly to stress my view that the Government would be much better employed than in passing a Bill like this if they warned the people of the appalling dangers in which they stand, and urged more vigorously upon other nations, and especially upon France, that there must not be another European war. The simple truth is that any sacrifices involved in achieving a European settlement would be trivial compared with the unspeakable horrors of another Continental war, which, as Lord Baldwin has told us, is likely to end in complete, barbarous anarchy from one end of Europe to the other. Against that danger, against unimaginable horrors and devastation of that kind, I say that a Bill like this is really of very little more use than the proverbial pills against an earthquake.


My Lords, I could hardly believe my ears when I listened to the noble Lord opposing this Bill, and to the reasons he advanced for so doing. He told us, first of all, that he considered this was a most unfortunate time to introduce a Bill of this nature—a time when the noble Viscount, the Leader of this House, has just been to Germany on a peace mission, and a time when it might upset the conversations which took place there. He then went on to tell us that he regarded this as an offensive Bill, and not a defensive Bill.


With great respect, I really did not say that.


Well, if the noble Lord did not say it, he conveyed that impression right through his speech, and he did convey the impression that these air-raid precautions were being taken especially in connection with that country to which our Leader proceeded a short time ago. These air-raid precautions are necessary in this country from every point of view, and when the noble Lord suggests that they will create a war mentality, I think he ought to realise that ninety-nine people out of a hundred in this country believe that these precautions are necessary and demand, and have demanded, that the Government should take steps to bring them into force. I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Swinton and the Home Secretary on the steps which they are taking under this Bill. I should have said that these steps were taken too late rather than too early. Many of us have asked for them for a long time, but when we see the provisions of this Bill we realise what an enormous amount of work, of preparation and of consideration they have taken. We also realise, as the noble Viscount said, what a tremendous amount of education is required in the country. If we are to sit down, as Lord Arnold suggests, and wait until a more fortunate time comes, other nations might attack this country and find us utterly unprepared.

We have listened this afternoon to the description of various kinds of bomb that may be launched upon this and other cities of the Kingdom, and I intend to raise a question in regard to that. I am given to understand that possibly incendiary bombs are the most dangerous bombs that could be launched on this City. As I understand it, they can be showered like so much confetti into any section of the City, and can set on fire huge areas of buildings with the greatest probability of our not being able to extinguish the fires, or being able to extinguish only a very small part of them. The question which I wish to put this afternoon is this: What steps are the Government going to take with regard to the insurance of these buildings which may be destroyed by attacks by incendiary bombs? Daily in the City of London and other cities inquiries are received by insurance companies from householders on this particular subject as to whether insurance companies are prepared to take the risks involved on such an occasion. I understand that insurance companies are not prepared to take that risk, and I should like to ask the Government what steps they propose to take to cover such a risk. After all, it is not fair that one section of the community living in a crowded part of the City should take all the responsibility—if I may put it that way—for risks of that nature. It seems to me that the risks might be spread over the whole nation and that some form of national insurance might be set up in order to meet that class of risk. That was the question I wished to put, and I hope the Government in their reply will be able to give some answer to it.


My Lords, the debate which has followed the introduction of this Bill by my noble friend Lord Swinton has shown clearly that all political Parties in this House and all noble Lords, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, support the Government in their policy of introducing legislation dealing with the defence of the civilian population in the event of bombardment from the air. In view of the progress that has been made by other countries, the justification for the Government's action has, I think, been fully appreciated. It should be remembered that during the next war air raids on this country will be at their maximum intensity at the beginning of that war, and there will not therefore be time to develop our organisation in what I might call the comparatively leisurely fashion which was distinguishable in former conflicts. Whilst it may be perfectly true to say that the Air Arm and modern detection machinery and searchlights are both useful and necessary deterrents against foreign aeroplanes, we know that these cannot assure absolute security. It is therefore imperative for the Government, whatever that Government may be, to introduce some Bill to ensure as far as is humanly possible the defence of the civilian population and the protection of property. Therefore air-raid precautionary work is essentially a civilian measure and definitely and absolutely a part of national defence.

In the questions that were addressed to me, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, suggested that the Government had not introduced this Bill in sufficient time. I can assure him that directly this Bill is passed—and the Government are anxous that it should receive your Lordships' assent as soon as possible—schemes to be submitted by local authorities will rapidly come before the Air Raid Precautions Department. He further asked if the Government would be prepared to distribute respirators to the civilian population at the present time. The answer to that is "No," and for this reason, that these respirators may have to remain in store, we hope for a number of years, and we do know that if they were distributed to the popula- tion at large at the present moment there might be serious deterioration of certain portions of the masks so that when the appropriate time came for using them in the event of war they might be ineffective for their object. The noble Lord went on to raise a question concerning the shelters which would be provided by local authorities for the people who might require some form of shelter in the event of an air raid. We believe that whenever possible people should take shelter in their homes or in factories or business premises. And that brings me to the question raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey. The answer to that is this, that if a factory or business erects these shelters for the use of the people employed in such a factory the local authority cannot in any way whatever interfere with the shelter afforded by these firms for their own employees.

In areas where the population is of a large nature, naturally shelters will have to be provided to a greater extent than would otherwise have been the case. I mention that to draw your Lordships' attention to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, regarding the rush hours. When local authorities are considering the schemes which they will submit to the Air Raid Precautions Department, these schemes must have due regard to the maximum number of people who may be in the streets during these rush hours, and accordingly the schemes which they will submit will take that matter into account. The noble Lord further raised the question of the shovels and sand which will be provided at a reasonable cost to all householders. From experiments that have taken place we find that if sand or earth is thrown on the incendiary contents of an incendiary bomb it will have the greatest effect if the sand is rapidly employed to stop any fire which might otherwise develop into a dangerous conflagration. The noble Lord further asked whether any Home Office official had been out to Spain to see exactly what is happening in the air raids that have been occurring in that country. The answer to that question is "Yes." A Home Office official was stationed for some considerable time in Spain, and special arrangements have been made for receiving information from China. I come to the question raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. The hand- books which he mentioned are revised continuously, and on the question of their being more self-contained I am not at the present time in a position to reply, but I shall certainly convey his remarks to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

I now pass to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Arnold. He, I am sure, will forgive me if I say he is the most extreme pessimist it has ever been my misfortune to meet. He painted a quite terrible and appalling picture of the terror and panic which will be caused in future wars by aerial bombardment, and at the same time he objected to the Government setting up any safeguard for the civilian population of this country. May I ask him a question? I do not want him to reply. I hope he will digest it and perhaps give me his answer in the course of a few days. What would the noble Lord do if he was a member of the Government and he knew what he has told us of the terrible experiences which would ensue from aerial bombardment? Would he sit by and do nothing and risk the population being slaughtered, as I think he said, in thousands in the event of a war?

There was one further question put by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who asked me about evacuations. The scheme for evacuation plans was put into the Bill in another place, I think in Clause 6, and those evacuation plans will be part of the schemes to be submitted to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary With regard to the question of insurance for people in the event of air raids asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, I understand that a Committee is sitting on that question at the present time, and therefore I hope the noble Viscount will not press me for an answer until that Committee has reported. I think I have now dealt with all the questions put to me, and I do not think that there is anything further that I can usefully add to this debate. We all naturally hope that the time when all these schemes may have to be put into operation is far distant, but the Government must be prepared to look after and to ensure as far as they possibly can the safety of the civilian population of this country. I hope your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading to-day, and pass it through its remaining stages as rapidly as possible.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.