HL Deb 16 February 1939 vol 111 cc799-844

LORD TEYNHAM rose to call attention to the air-raid precaution policy of His Majesty's Government, particularly in regard to the provision of bomb-proof shelters; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion that stands in my name I should like to make it quite clear from the outset that I fully appreciate the very great difficulties involved in the organisation of air-raid precautions, and I also fully appreciate the great work that has already been carried out by the Lord Privy Seal and his Department; but I do feel that certain decisions in policy could have been hastened at a time when speed was an important factor in our defence plans. Many of your Lordships must be aware that there is not only discontent but serious public anxiety in regard to air-raid precautions, and I cannot help feeling that it is very largely due to lack of precise information. It may well be that the plans of the Lord Privy Seal for the provision of deep bomb-proof shelters in the congested areas of our great cities are more advanced than we suppose, but how is the country to know unless it is told the real position?

It has been said by very many eminent authorities both in the Defence Services and elsewhere that perhaps the greatest danger which this country must be prepared to face is the sudden knockout blow delivered from the air, perhaps even before a crisis has developed to the point of war. Fighter 'planes, anti-aircraft guns, evacuation and shelters will all play their part, and it is to the last component of defence that I propose to draw your Lordships' attention this afternoon. I have made a very careful examination of the various types of shelter and trench which have been proposed or are under construction in this country, and I have examined reports made to me by qualified engineers who have inspected the type and degree of protection afforded the unhappy people of Barcelona. A system of trenches was used in Barcelona in the early days of air raids somewhat similar to those that have been proposed or are under construction in this country, but as soon as a few casualties had occurred in these trenches through direct hits and blasts the public were no longer willing to use them. The Spanish Government were very reluctant to embark on deep bombproof shelters, but they were forced to do so in the course of time by business communities and others banding themselves together and digging their own shelters. A large number of these shelters were constructed with immediate success, and the morale of the people improved in an amazing fashion.

I understand that a sum of approximately £20,000,000 has been earmarked by His Majesty's Government to provide the steel shelters which are now in course of construction and will shortly be issued to householders. I am not suggesting that these shelters will be of no service, but I suggest that they will suffer from the same defect, that after a number of people have been killed in them, the public will be no longer willing to use them. This short-term policy of Anderson shelters is no doubt the quickest form of limited protection from blast and splinters that can be organised in an emergency, but we must be careful not to overlook or underestimate the limitations. These steel shelters are bound to deteriorate from want of care and attention, and I think they must become a wasting asset. I should like to see a long-term policy of blast- and splinter-proof protection go hand in hand with a short-term one. Provision might be made for the erection of concrete pill-boxes which could be built in the suburban areas and in the poorer two-storey districts. These could be made permanent and they would give full protection against blast and splinters to many groups of families. But neither steel shelters nor concrete pill-boxes can be used in the congested areas of our great cities, and I would suggest that it is not good policy to delay the planning of a long-term policy of deep bomb-proof shelters merely because emergency plans are now being considered.

His Majesty's Government appear to have concentrated on giving emergency protection from blast and splinters, but a time may well come when a sudden overwhelming demand may come from the public for the construction of deep bomb-proof shelters at a time when it may be almost impossible to construct them except under great difficulty and danger. I would suggest that there must be a combination of all these methods of protection. We cannot visualise the provision of deep bomb-proof shelters for the whole of the population of this country, but I think we should visualise the provision of such shelters for those people who have not been evacuated from our cities and to whom we shall look to carry on the work of the country, such as business communities and those employed on essential services, such as Post Office workers and others. People who may be caught in a street when an air-raid warning has been given I feel must have something better to go to than the trenches, and in the enormous areas of industrial housing the deep shelter will be the only effective answer to continued bombardment from the air.

May I be permitted for a few moments to deal with certain arguments that have been advanced against the provision of deep bomb-proof shelters? I have heard it argued that if deep bomb-proof shelters are provided for only a proportion of the community it would have a bad psychological effect. I do not believe that there is any substance in this argument, which, I would suggest, pre-supposes a lack of common sense on the part of the public generally, who, I feel sure, will only expect to find bomb-proof shelters provided for those people who have not been evacuated from the danger zones of our large cities. This argument is founded upon a policy of negativity and despair. I have heard arguments put forward that the public would be unwilling to leave the safety of the bomb-proof shelters once they had got down into them. I refuse to believe that Englishmen, or Scotsmen or Welshmen would remain in their funk holes when they have a job to do. I do not think that is in the least likely.

Difficulties have been suggested as to the control of crowds that might be surging towards the shelters. Provided the entrances are properly constructed and sufficient in number, I think the danger of that is exaggerated. It should be possible to organise both police and special warden control for bomb-proof shelters, and I would also like to suggest that special signs should be put up in the streets to deflect the stream of people to the different approaches of the shelters. We have a very good example in the arrangements that have been carried out by the Port of London Authority for the evacuation of their employees.

Coupled with the provision of bomb-proof shelters there is another aspect of protection, which, I would suggest, has not been given the full consideration that it deserves. Many people situated in large buildings or blocks of offices may find that there will be insufficient time to reach the bomb-proof shelters, and in many cases it would be far better if they remained where they were rather than go down even to their basements. Buildings can be divided into two broad categories, those liable to collapse under the blast and concussion of a bomb, and those that would only suffer local damage. A building which is not liable to collapse should form a good protective shelter for anyone in any part of the building, and, in this connection, may I remind your Lordships that a bomb does not enter a building from the vertical but comes in sideways according to the height and velocity of the bombing plane. I would suggest that a survey be made of every large building and a notice fixed to it, inside and out, to indicate whether it would be safe to use it as a shelter or otherwise. I should like to take this opportunity of publicly congratulating the Finsbury Borough Council on their very excellent survey.

I do not propose to enter to-day upon the merits or demerits of the technical or physical side of the plans. I believe His Majesty's Government have in view the strutting of foundations, which of course in many cases would prove effective, but from reports received from Spain I do not think strutting could ever be used in buildings liable to collapse. I fear that people might become imprisoned in the basements, and in the event of fire they might even be burned alive. I need hardly stress the advantages of deep bomb-proof shelters to hospitals for their medical and surgical purposes, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Horder will be able to give us advice on this matter at a later stage of the debate. Some months ago, I ventured to suggest in your Lord- ships' House that there exists in nearly all congested areas in large cities certain open spaces beneath which bomb-proof shelters could be constructed. These shelters could be made permanent and revenue producing by being used, for instance, for car parks, shops, warehouses, etc. I think they might also be in some cases adapted for carrying through traffic. There are two recognised methods for the construction of deep bomb-proof shelters, but I do not propose to weary your Lordships this afternoon with details. I should just like to point out that there is no need to disfigure the open spaces, and in fact in many cases their condition and appearance might even be improved.

The question of finance must, of course, be of very great importance in an undertaking of this kind, and this undertaking must of course be a national one and not confined to London only. In this connection a very large number of bomb-proof shelters could be used as car parks and produce a substantial revenue. It has been calculated by experts that a sum of £75,000,000 would be required to construct 500 fully equipped, deep bomb-proof shelters, equipped also as car parks. I have authority for stating that private capital could be found for this undertaking, provided the Government are willing to give a contingent guarantee of 4 per cent. per annum. I should like to see the whole financial operation combined in a public utility company which would have powers delegated to it by Parliament to construct and operate underground car parks, warehouses, etc., and at the same time provide efficient deep bomb-proof shelters for the protection of the people in time of war. It can be shown that 500 underground car parks equipped as deep bomb-proof shelters can, at a minimum charge of 2½d. per hour, obtain a gross revenue of £6,500,000 per annum. I would point out that the proposed contingent guarantee by the Government would never exceed £3,000,000 in any one year, and what is most important to note is that the surplus revenue would be available for providing car parks and bomb-proof shelters in those areas in the poorer districts of London and other great cities where the revenue would not be high.

Another point which I should like to make clear is that it would be only during war periods that the Government would be likely to be called upon to fulfil any part of their contingent guarantee, when, of course, the shelters could not be used for car parks. I understand that the Government allowance for air-raid shelter accommodation is six sq. feet per person, provided a ventilation system is installed together with filtration. It can be calculated that the 500 shelters which I have proposed would provide security for 3,500,000 people, and if used as car parks they would provide accommodation for 175,000 cars, with little likelihood of any cost falling on His Majesty's Government except in time of war. I think it would be possible that people, when taking out their car licences, by paying a small extra sum, would be able to be supplied with a special badge which would entitle them to use all the public utility car parks. That would be for the great benefit of the people and would also prevent the congestion of cars on the road.

There appears to be a general impression that a long period would be necessary for the construction of these shelters, but I can assure your Lordships that they could be constructed within a period of three to five months, according to the nature of the subsoil. The plans have all been prepared and the work could be started immediately. This is no flight of the imagination, but a statement of hard engineering facts, which I am prepared to substantiate, provided Parliament will grant the necessary powers quickly. May I be permitted for a few moments to outline the general specification which I consider necessary for deep bomb-proof shelters? Each unit should be self-contained and should comprise a complete air-conditioning system, including filtration. There should also be an efficient drainage system to prevent flooding, and means provided to prevent gas from entering the drains. In addition, protective appliances should be available for humidity and gas and it would also be necessary to provide auxiliary electric light and power plant. I would suggest that these plants should be of the producer-gas type, which would obviate the storage of oil and petrol underground and their use in time of war when, of course, they would be rationed. A public address system with loud speakers should also be installed in order to issue instructions and advice to people and keep them amused. During a number of air raids in Barcelona, many people were killed owing to the fact that they became bored in the shelters from lack of activity and came out of the shelters too soon.

The problem of air defence in our large cities is a very grave one. It must be quickly and resolutely planned, but in doing so we must be careful, I would suggest, not to lose sight of the claims of a balanced defence, coupled with our ability to attack the enemy. I suggest that we must not sacrifice the building of bomber 'planes for gigantic schemes of passive defence. I suggest that we must not build bomb-proof shelters that would prove a crushing burden on the community by way of rates and taxes. But if private capital is willing to share the burden in co-operation with the Government, I consider that no time should be lost in providing the necessary facilities. The whole problem of attack and defence I feel must be linked together. The strength of a chain is its weakest link. Let us see, therefore, that there is no weakness, and I urge His Majesty's Government to promote the necessary emergency legislation to enable bomb-proof shelters to be constructed as quickly as possible.


My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree that the noble Lord has performed yet one more service to your Lordships' House by bringing forward this very important Motion. The attendance of your Lordships shows the interest taken in this vital matter. I cannot refrain from reminding your Lordships that we are living in the year 1939, and it is rather extraordinary that this should be the subject under discussion. In the North of Scotland, on a property belonging to my cousin, there are, I believe, the best examples of the ancient Pictish underground dwellings. They are near the place from which I take my title. They are wonderfully camouflaged under the heather, they have two entrances like a rabbit burrow, and they are beautifully lined inside with uncemented stone. They have lasted since some centuries B.C. Our Pictish ancestors used them as shelters from their enemies, and after all these centuries of so-called civilisation we are preparing similar dwellings—not quite so artistic—in which to shelter ourselves from our enemies. The wheel has come full circle. We are back to barbarism, and after Munich we must all dig in! I took my own personal precautions in this matter nearly three years ago. I had gas-proofed and supported and strengthened a suitable basement in my London house, and I put the work in hand directly I saw the result of the last General Election. I think I was justified.

May I be allowed to express my agreement particularly with one remark of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham? He said that we must not over-concentrate on this problem. I think there is danger of a lack of proportion here. If we concentrate too much on passive defence it may be to the neglect of active defence and indeed of the powers of offence. I notice that the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has a Motion on this particular matter down for a day a week or two ahead and I hope your Lordships will support his thesis. At the same time we must give the people confidence. A cowardly or treacherous Government can play on people's fears and compel or induce them to support scandalous policies, so long as the people can be frightened by a belief in their defencelessness and vulnerability. I venture also to agree with the noble Lord who moved the Motion that the Government have been dilatory on this whole problem. That is common ground, and even the Government themselves admit it. However, they have now, I understand, what is called a long-term policy and also a short-term policy, and are proposing to give adequate protection to the great majority of the people.

With regard to the short-term policy, the noble Lord referred to the trenches. They were, of course, a makeshift, but I think nevertheless they have some value, especially in the country districts, and I would like to ask the noble Earl who will reply for the Government whether he can tell us if the Government have yet found their policy with regard to the future of these trenches. I have been out of the country for a few weeks and have not been able to follow things closely, and I would like to know whether the Government have come to a decision on this point. The next of the short-term provisions are what are known already, I believe, as the "steel mousetraps." I believe those are successful and very practical, and I congratulate the Government, even after a long delay, in setting up this form of shelter. I believe these shelters will be most valuable in suburban districts of great cities where the buildings are flimsy but there is plenty of garden space. The next method of providing protection is the strengthened basement, and I am going to join issue with Lord Teynham on that point, and also with the people who have produced certain arguments from the Borough of Finsbury. The noble Lord thought that a basement was not a good refuge, even if strengthened.


I only suggested that it would be of very little use under a house which was liable to collapse, and if we had a survey we should know which houses were so liable.


It does not matter whether the house collapses or not if you support the basement ceiling properly, and I believe that is the finding of the Government's Committee of Inquiry, particularly the Report prepared by Mr. David Anderson and his colleagues, which was published in December last and is printed as Command Paper 5932. May I also issue this word of dissent from an opinion that has been put about? The experience in Spain, and particularly in Barcelona, is not altogether a good guide, because Spanish houses, by reason of climatic and other conditions, are often built of extremely thin and flimsy materials. We have in this county, for climatic and other reasons, gone in for rather substantial structures. With regard to strengthened basements the idea, I understand, is to put up a corrugated steel ceiling, then very stout cross steel beams, and then very powerful steel props or shores, which, once they have been put up and fitted, can be taken down again and put away until an emergency comes, and the room or space can be used for ordinary purposes accordingly without difficulty.

For that sort of structure steel is available, and I understand that Lord Dudley is going to speak later on the subject. The steel required can be provided rapidly, and with that sort of strengthening it does not matter if the whole house should collapse, because the steel strengthening of the ceiling will still support the total weight of the masonry of a very large building. The modern steel prop can support an enormous weight above it. We have ready-made in most of the big cities of this country a great number of basements. I have here only the figures for Manchester, but the Manchester survey shows that there are there 860 large basements which are suitable for shoring, and in London there are thousands of them. The curse of the unfortunate domestics of last century can now be a blessing to themselves and their mistresses. I believe the modern servant will not use a basement at all, but I believe they will be very glad to do so when trouble starts. The advantage of this form of shelter is that you may have people living in the house up to the last moment, with their families, and they can then slip down to the basement without trouble, and there shelter in comparative comfort, with heating and lighting. Just to sweep away the basement idea is rather foolish.

I hold in my hand an article in the organ of my Party, the Daily Herald of this morning. It is by Alderman H. Riley, leader of the Finsbury Borough Council and chairman of its A.R.P. Committee. It says: Strutted basements are the worst type of shelter that can be used. They possess a high danger volume twice that of the ordinary trench. Most basements should be scheduled to prohibit their use in wartime. I believe that that is completely wrong, according to the facts and the tests which have already been carried out in this and other countries, and that it would be very foolish to exclude this strengthening of basements as a short-term policy. In this connection I see that the French, who are a good deal ahead of us on the whole problem, have passed a law enabling the Mayor of any city to prescribe which basements of private houses shall be strengthened, partitioned and connected to adjacent basements. The cost of £2 per person is to be partly borne by State funds and partly by local funds. In Paris they also have a form of escape through the famous sewers, dramatised in some of Victor Hugo's novels.

To continue the French example, I may add that they already have legislation in France compelling industrial and commercial concerns, employing more than a given number of workpeople, to provide shelters at their own expense, and I venture to ask the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, to let us know when corresponding legislation is to be introduced in this country. I understand that the Bill is on the stocks. Can he give us any information about it? I hope that it will be introduced in this House very soon after this Motion. Before I leave the French example I would like to say that they have made special provision to give gas-tight shelters for babies and invalids who cannot wear masks, and that they have 5,000 of these shelters in Paris alone, and 1,500 in the suburbs of Paris. These are gas-tight shelters for people who cannot wear masks. Finally, let me refer to the deep shelters in Paris. They have one in the Paris Underground which will hold 14,000 people, and it is planned to make in all twenty-six similar large underground shelters, using the Paris electric tube railways, to take altogether half a million people—and this in addition to their well advanced plans for evacuation. Well, that is what the French have done.

The last time we discussed this matter I ventured to suggest to the Government that they should re-examine the question of the utilisation of the London tube railways. That was turned down some time ago. "Oh," they said, "there are technical difficulties; we cannot use the tubes." I understand the Government Departments concerned have thought again since, and I sent to the noble Earl a note asking him if he would be good enough to tell us if this matter has been re-examined, and with what result. If the Paris underground railways can be used I cannot understand why the London underground railways cannot be used. And if we have not got engineers who can do the work, we had better send them over to Paris to learn how the French engineers do it. But I refuse to believe that we have not the technical skill.

Now we come to the long-term policy. I think there is a great deal in this proposal to build underground garages. It has been examined for a long time and a great many people have been converted to it. The long-term policy should, of course, be to provide deep shelters which would be absolutely safe for people all over the country who cannot leave their own districts, wherever they are liable to air raids. I would like to support what the noble Lord who introduced the Motion said on that point. I do not altogether like the finance of his scheme. I should be very glad to have a Government guarantee of 4 per cent. for any finance of this kind. I could then borrow the money at about 3¼ per cent. and make a very nice thing out of it. That, after all, is a detail, but I think also that £20 a head is too high. These, however, are matters for examination, and I support the principle laid down by the noble Lord.

Before I draw these remarks to a close, may I most respectfully warn the Government not to go to the other extreme once more and ignore the poison gas peril? They began by concentrating on gas masks and anti-gas devices, and now it is all concentration on anti-blast shelters. I still believe that there is a very great danger from poison gas attacks. The fact that poison gas has not been used in Spain is, I suggest, no proof that it would not be used against us. There were certain conditions in Spain which might not apply here. For one thing, the allies of General Franco may not have desired to expose all their weapons. The noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, I have no doubt can tell us a little more about that; I understand that he has been a frequent visitor to the rebel front. I am still very worried about the complete lack of any real equipment for decontamination. Here once again the French have gone much further than we have, and so have the Poles. We are still expecting decontamination squads to handle this problem of mustard gas lying about after a raid with brushes and buckets of chloride of lime and water—the most primitive method you could imagine, and I believe the most ineffective. Mustard gas was used with deadly effect, as your Lordships know, in Abyssinia. It is a horrible method, but I think it would be imprudent for us to think that we shall not be attacked by mustard gas if we are involved in a conflict. I believe it will be used, and I think we ought to take very serious steps to provide the necessary equipment for decontamination.

The last point I wish to make is this. I hope we are not going to go to extremes with the policy of evacuation. If an enemy, whoever he is, can persuade enough people to evacuate the towns and cities of this country he has won the war against us. I think the thing to do is to provide sufficient shelter and only to evacuate people who have no vital duty to perform where they are. The less you break up families in a war which may be of long duration the better. We shall have to rely in the end, I suppose, on the Navy, and the noble Earl who leads the House knows how long naval action is before being finally effective. It may be a long war in which we are involved, and the less you break up communities and scatter them over the country the better. You may have to evacuate to a certain extent, and I believe you will have to, but do not exaggerate your evacuation plans. May I remind your Lordships of what always happens with refugees? Everyone is very sorry for them when they arrive, and is very kind to them. Then after a time, living amongst strangers, they get unhappy, and the men who are doing the vital work of the country get sorrowful letters from relatives. That is what you want to avoid. We want to keep up the people's morale, and the morale is most strong in a nation where there is the least discontent. I believe that when it comes to a war of endurance and suffering it will be the free democracies which will stand the strain better than any others. If for no other reason I hope we shall ourselves keep our democratic flame brightly burning.


My Lords, happily this is a question which cannot be regarded as a political one, it is a question which can and should be, and I think will be, argued solely on its merits. It is indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has just said, a sorry commentary on our modern life and civilisation to find that in the twentieth century we are all busily engaged in mobilising all the resources of the country in order to meet unforeseen developments which threaten the peace and security of our people—people who have lived in the same homes unchallenged and unchallengeable for centuries, and now find themselves exposed for the first time to the challenge of modern warfare. I am glad that my noble friend has raised this question, for while I believe that the majority of the people of the country realise to the full the weight of these new difficulties and dangers which have recently arisen, at the same time I think they also observe a sluggish and supine attitude among those in high places who should be governing and directing our policy. Surely the time has come when someone should make definite decisions as to what practical action can best be taken to secure the protection of our people in times of emergency.

In saying this I allude particularly to the question of the deep-level bomb-proof shelters for civilians. Announcements have been made recently, very vivid announcements, regarding the manufacture and construction of shell- and splinter-proof shelters, but it is generally admitted that the construction of these shelters can only be a palliative; they in no way solve the main problem of protection against the heavy bomb. I hope that while we take cognizance of this short-term policy we shall also carefully weigh up the problem of the long-term policy. There are many who a short time ago seemed to think there was no need to deal with this latter problem and referred in very derogatory terms to anyone who even discussed it—"funk-holes" and words like that were used about bomb-proof shelters. Surely it is a wise man who makes provision—one hundred per cent. provision—to meet a problem of this kind and to provide real security for the community. The menace of the big bomb is a continuing challenge to security, and protection on a permanent basis is required. Who knows what the developments in the near future may be? An enemy might be able to send over here thousands of aero-planes carrying enormous bombs, directed and managed by wireless, and able to deposit a load here at any time day or night. It is difficult to see what the bounds and boundaries of this modern menace may be. And it is upon just such matters as the construction of the bomb-proof shelter that decisions and direction from high quarters are needed. I think it is very regrettable indeed that we should have had so little direction as yet.

Of course mistakes may be made, and we are prepared to realise that mistakes may be made even by those in high places, but surely something should be done. Much money is being spent at the present time by private firms and also by individuals. We have the case which has already been alluded to of the great municipal authority which visualises an expenditure at an early date of no less than £1,387,000. For my part I welcome their enterprise in blazing the trail, as it were, and showing that at any rate, in their opinion, some action is required. I could quote the case of a firm within a few hundred yards of where we now sit which has already spent some £25,000 on enlarging and strengthening the basement of its premises. But it has not done so on any general scheme or by any general directions. It has merely done what it was thought might perhaps meet an emergency.

I do feel that we are entitled to say to the Government: Cannot you put forward some general recommendations? Cannot you set up some body to advise in each individual case, quickly and satisfactorily as to the depth at which underground shelters should be constructed, so that whatever is put down in the near future in this uncharted, undeveloped, unexplored underground level to which we are now going, can be made a part of a co-ordinated scheme—a scheme which would give garage facilities and hospital accommodation, and even link up one underground thoroughfare with another underground thoroughfare? For underground thoroughfares may be much nearer than we realise. We already have some striking instances in our country of underground thoroughfares. I need only quote one, the Mersey Tunnel, which has been a success. If huge sums of money are to be spent, as indeed they will be, let it be done on a thought-out scheme and plan. Further than that, in dealing with the development of underground shelters we may also be solving some of our over-ground difficulties. We may be able to preserve thus the amenities of our parks and other open spaces which have been so gravely, and I think needlessly, disturbed. Moreover, a question which is ever growing more and more difficult of solution is the question of transport in our great cities, and this will thus be solved without the disturbance of property, without the disturbance of the parks, without the disturbance of the surface, and without huge sums being spent in giving compensation. Roads can be made and garages can be made which will save the community great expense.

It has been said that if these underground roadways and garages are made they will be taken charge of, so to speak, in times of emergency by an irresponsible crowd. That kind of argument leaves me perfectly cold, because we all remember that at the time of the last War the Underground Railways sheltered thousands of people and, so far as I am aware, there was no catastrophe, nor did any special difficulty arise which it was found impossible to deal with at that time. I believe that the provision of these underground shelters would give great moral support to our people. I know that during the last War, one big city—I think it was Newcastle—was bombed, and the result was that the whole of the labour enterprise, and the factories, were paralysed for three or four days. Why were they paralysed? Because the mothers and fathers refused to allow their sons and daughters to go away from home and leave them at a time of difficulty and emergency. I believe the industry of the country would be much more likely to be carried on satisfactorily if there was adequate protection for the few minutes or hours of emergency which might arise daily perhaps in a war. At the same time I hope we shall continue to appreciate the fact that the first line of defence is offence, and we shall continue to do all we can to make ourselves more powerful in that direction. I hope and believe that the time will come in regard to the Air, as it has already come in regard to the Navy, when no hostile body from overseas dare come and bombard our coast or our cities and towns. I beg to support the Motion which has been moved by Lord Teynham.


My Lords, like the noble Lord who is responsible for this Motion I am one of those who believe that in the possible event of war no really adequate security, physical or moral, can be afforded to those who continue their work in a dangerous area, except by some form of bomb-proof shelter. But I have a special and rather urgent reason for rising to speak because there would be a particular body who must inevitably work in a danger zone, and that is the doctors. An intensive air raid, or series of air raids, we are led to believe, and I think your Lordships will accept it as an axiom, must inevitably paralyse for a time all activity, even on the part of medical men and women at a first-aid station. I know that in some quarters there is a belief that so soon as it is possible, as many casualties as possible should forthwith be removed from the danger area, the centre, to the less dangerous parts of the city, the periphery. But owing to the congestion of thoroughfares, owing to the blocking of streets by debris, there will inevitably be a large number of casualties which must be treated where they arise, and the doctors must be there to treat them. This is the whole meaning of a first-aid station or hospital.

Although I, like many of my colleagues, subscribe to this policy of transporting as early as may be as many casualties as possible from the danger zone to less dangerous zones, still, as I say, we must have our first-aid stations, and they must be worked by doctors. It is for them that I enter this special plea that they at all events must be in some bomb-proof place, and one can think of no bomb-proof place adequate for this purpose except a fairly deep underground shelter. It is hardly necessary to remind your Lordships that in the treatment of air-raid casualties the same principle holds as holds in the treatment of any disease or any disability. Prevention is better than cure. So that all these arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, in favour of deep shelters for the protection of the citizen against casualties must necessarily interest the doctor.

To return for a moment to this question of adequate shelter for the work that goes on in the first-aid stations, it seems to be thought that expense—money—must come into consideration. I submit that that is a matter into which the consideration of money cannot reasonably enter. It is a fact that 95 per cent. of medical men and women in this country are already at this moment enrolled by the British Medical Association, and the register is this week being taken over by the Minister of Health, who will earmark from that register doctors for special purposes. There is a limited number of these experts available. The first series of air raids must necessarily count among its casualties a large number of doctors; but I am not speaking on their behalf, I am speaking economically. They are valuable citizens, more valuable prospectively in this possible event of war than they are to-day. The replacements are limited. Quite apart from that, their work will only be possible under conditions which, as I say, can only be conceived of as being underground. Not only they but their equipment, very valuable in itself, very difficult to replace in an emergency, must be in a place of adequate shelter. Need I refer to the morale of the patient, and what an important asset that is in obtaining a successful result from treatment? This question of money therefore seems to me to be incongruous in relation to the particular plea I am entering.

We have heard from noble Lords who have preceded me about some doubt still as to the degree in which the short-term policy shall take precedence, in time, of the long-term policy, and there would seem to be still some doubt as to when the swing over from the short to the long may take place. I would suggest, in regard to the work of medical men who are earmarked for first-aid duties, that they, their patients, the casualties, and the equipment without which they cannot work, should at least be freed from any further discussion of long and short, above ground and below ground. I am hopeful that my right honourable friend the Minister of Health will quite shortly say to his colleagues in the Government: "Be the policy long or be it short, I must have my doctors and their work underground in the danger areas, and therefore let me begin forthwith to prepare for this necessity."


My Lords, a short time ago I addressed your Lordships' House on the question of the treatment of wounded in air raids and the evacuation of the wounded from London. At that time I drew attention to what was being done in Paris as regards shelters for the first-aid treatment of the wounded. We have had since that date a certain number of consultations with the Ministry of Health, both between medical officers and the Voluntary Hospitals Association, but so far I do not think we have heard anything about the provision of these first-aid shelters for the treatment of wounded. Only the other day we were asked by our local council whether our hospital would take charge of certain first-aid stations. We asked where they were likely to be, and were told they would probably be in the open in two London squares. As Lord Horder has pointed out, if you are going to give protection to your public you certainly must give protection to your medical men and your nurses who are giving first-aid treatment to casualties. It is for that reason that I beg the Ministry of Health to give very serious consideration to the point that the treatment of casualties and the protection of the lives of the doctors and nurses are most important parts of any air-raid precautions scheme.

I do not believe we shall really get a proper medical scheme until it is placed under some medical director. The whole trouble at present, I feel, is that there are so many bodies dealing with these various air-raid precautions arrangements that you will not get proper cohesion, certainly as regards the treatment of hospital patients, the evacuation of our wounded, and first-aid treatment, until the matter is put under some medical director with knowledge of what happened in the last War. As I addressed your Lordships at some length on these matters before, I do not propose to say any more except to express the hope that the Ministry of Health will give serious consideration to these shelters, both in connection with hospitals and first-aid stations.


My Lords, the introduction of this Motion will be viewed with great relief in the country as a whole because there is undoubtedly a very general hope that some early pronouncement will be made on the long-range policy. Certainly there are grounds for admiration of what has been done under the short-range policy, but the belief is that there is an inclination to put off decisions on long-range policy until the situation has clarified itself somewhat. It is inevitable that the more that is put off the more reason there will be to postpone it, and so months will go by and time will be lost. The debate up to now has followed the lines so clearly set out by the mover of the Motion. The Motion itself is based largely on the belief which exists in the country that there is need for something to be done in the matter of a long-range policy, which shall be combined with an other equally urgent problem, a problem which will have to be tackled in the near future, and that is the provision of car parks underground to relieve the surface pressure. That proposal has another merit. The belief exists—and there seems good reason for it—that this would be a good commercial proposition, that is to say, there is a prospect of obtaining by means of it a reasonable revenue without at the same time inflicting too heavy a burden upon the State. The two objects can be simultaneously obtained. So large an expenditure of money would involve the use of the large directing facilities that exist in this country, and at the same time it would mean that an attack could be made upon the important problem of unemployment.

The whole matter rests upon the question of expenditure. Some very few years ago figures such as have appeared in the newspapers to-day, and such as have been used in this debate to-night would indeed have astonished us. I think that among the suggestions was one that the estimates were likely to call for an expenditure of some £50,000,000 upon air-raid precautions. It is only some five short years ago that this country, it was said, was unable to afford an expenditure of the paltry sum that was required to give a fortnight's training to the Territorial Force, and the sum required for that purpose was withheld by Parliament. I recall that a number of boys' brigades and organisations of that kind had to be disbanded because of lack of funds. I am among those who think that the deflation of 1931 was a ghastly failure. It is the cause of the unemployment and the misery that have ensued since. I feel that the tackling of this problem in a comprehensive way ought not to dismay Parliament because of any question of expenditure. Any suggestion of Government expenditure on a large scale has always been regarded as heresy, yet to-day we see such gigantic sums as £800,000,000 mentioned for Defence Loans. That is evidence that this question of expenditure no longer dismays Parliament.

We are discussing a proposal to meet the anxiety which is felt in the country, and I am pointing out that the demands for action can be met in a way which appears to have a reasonable prospect of commercial success. I am not at all sure myself, when it comes to a large expenditure of money, that some of the makeshift proposals that have been made will not in themselves prove costly, but the engineering and technical problems are so great that obviously it would be out of place to discuss them here. One thing did occur to me while the noble Lord who raised this debate was speaking. He put the matter with remarkable clearness, and covered the ground in a way which your Lordships would appreciate. The soundness of the scheme suggested by the noble Lord from a financial point of view must depend upon the amount of revenue that can be got from the use of the proposed car parks. As far as I have been able to acquaint myself with the matter, it is only possible to provide a very large revenue in proportion to the floor space employed by the adoption of certain engineering methods. There is the additional fact that the construction of these car parks must depend very largely for their justification on the degree to which the fumes from the movement of the cars in the space available are kept down.

In conclusion I would like to emphasize the suggestion made by the mover of this Motion, and supported by other speakers, that there is need for co-ordination in whatever is going to be done in this matter. We have all read of sporadic attacks made upon this problem by different corporations, but their proposals are subject to an allocation of grants by the Government. Surely it would be disastrous in a matter like this that there should be absence of co-ordinated action. I remember that in the Report of Lord Weir's Committee on the proposed electrification of the railways it was indicated that in the twelve years following the War the country spent about £600,000,000 on road construction. Looking back, I ask your Lordships at how much less cost and with what immeasurably better results could we not have got the same road surfaces and the same transportation facilities by centrally directed, conscious activity? For that reason I suggest that this matter calls for the setting up of a central authority. I hope that the noble Earl who is to answer for the Government will be able to give us some assurance in that matter. I am one who has served two statutory terms on the Central Electricity Board, and I have seen at close range what can be done by centrally directed action.

I realised through many months of deputations from municipal authorities from all over the country to the Board, under the able chairmanship of Sir Andrew Duncan, how every kind of objection, technical as well as public, was put forward by municipalities as to why this or that should not be done, and how, ultimately, the objections were demolished and were shown to have been put forward in an ill-considered manner by the municipalities concerned. One learned from that experience that by the centrally - directed action of a big public utility company with statutory authority granted by Parliament, and run on strictly commercial lines by civilian direction without Government interference, a great national achievement could be brought about. That at least is a precedent, and when one sees what is being done by the London Passenger Transport Board and by the Port of London Authority, it may well be that this will be found to be a solution for this problem. It is on that ground that I venture to intervene to support the noble Lord who introduced this debate, and to express the hope that we may have from the Government some assurance of an early declaration of policy which will be practicable and be on commercial lines and properly co-ordinated.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has earned the gratitude of the House by introducing this subject to-day—one of the most important we have debated for a long time—has framed his Motion in fairly general terms. In a few moments I hope to invite your Lordships to consider one or two aspects of the problem which I do not think have been alluded to to-day. In the first place, I would like to support the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, as to the necessity for very carefully considering the engineering problems in regard to these proposed deep shelters in order that they may be made to pay. I would like to suggest that their chance of achieving the financial results which the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, anticipates, would be very greatly increased if there were adopted a method of dealing with cars which I do not think has reached this country, although it has been tried with success for some time in the United States of America. That method is to use the principle of a moving staircase or a conveyor belt. By that means a large amount of space can be saved which is now wasted by cars having to be turned round and manoeuvred under their own power. By the adoption of a system of a conveyor belt a car is switched into its proper position with a saving, it is said, of from 40 to 100 per cent. of space.

Another point in regard to these parks is that it is obvious that the people in them are going to be, colloquially speaking, fairly thick on the ground. I have made a hasty calculation which seems to show that the 500 parks which the noble Lord envisages, will be each about an acre in extent, each accommodating 7,000 people. I think it is obvious that provision will have to be made, not only for water and similar services, but also for something in the nature of first aid in each shelter. I think it is perfectly true that our own people are not given to panic in an emergency, but we have to remember that in the East End of London, as in other of our great cities, there is a fairly large foreign population which at the time of the air raids of the last War cannot be said to have shown a wholly admirable composure. Even among our own people there are bound to be numerous cases of fainting and heart attacks. It may well be, too, that people will be brought into those shelters wounded or dying from the effects of bombs, and I think some provision ought to be made for dealing with injured and collapsed persons. There is a further question that was lightly touched on by the noble Lord on the Opposition Bench, the question of gas. I imagine that some provision will be necessary to ensure that heavy gas—mustard or anything else—delivered simultaneously with the high-explosive bombs, does not descend into these car parks, or into basements, because the results would be too terrible to contemplate.

Now I will ask your Lordships to follow me for a moment with regard to the question of evacuation. I think it will be generally agreed that at the time of the last crisis and up to the present time, evacuation from definitely menaced areas has been the only practical policy. I submit, however, that it is not a policy which as a long-term policy should be considered by any means perfect. In the first place it is going to cause a very considerable amount of chaos at a time when we want the whole organisation of the country to function as smoothly as possible in order to help mobilisation. We are getting out a register of suitable dwellings and other buildings to which refugees may be transferred. I have not seen any allusion to the fact, although I think it surely must have been considered by the powers that be, that that register is going to be more or less out of date before it has been printed simply because of the natural movement of the population. Anyone who has been a Parliamentary candidate or a member of another place knows the extraordinary amount of change that takes place in a constituency. A surprisingly large percentage of people move from their dwellings and go to live in another place in the same locality or move away altogether. All these changes must affect the value of the register, and if it is to be of any real use it will have to be done all over again, like the voters' roll, at the end of each year.

I agree also with the noble Lord opposite as to the undesirability of separating families. That should be avoided as far as possible because it means that the parents and older members of the family who remain in the danger areas and those who are transferred to other areas, will all be acutely worried about each other's safety. Furthermore, the presence in the safe areas of very large numbers of refugees is bound to bring about a great many problems which will throw a considerable strain upon the local authorities. Education is an example. When we are told that in some comparatively small towns with a population in the neighbourhood of 20,000, there are to be refugees amounting to more than 50 per cent. of the existing population, it is obvious that problems may arise with which it will be difficult to cope. The smooth running of the organisation of the country which is so essential in war will be liable to be disturbed and in that way our national efficiency will be impaired. That is why the idea of setting up refugee camps in safe areas appeals to me quite a lot, although of course the details of these camps will have to be considered very carefully. They too will have to be provided with bomb-proof shelters.

Then there is considerable objection to them on the part of hotel and restaurant keepers, seaside landladies and the like, who not unnaturally feel that their livelihood may be affected. In view, however, of the ever-growing number of people enjoying holidays with pay, and the number of people able to take a fortnight instead of a week's holiday, the amount of money spent on holidays is likely to be much larger, so that perhaps that need not be taken so much into account. There is one other point which is worth considering. The wholesale evacuation of people from certain areas is going to cause the bankruptcy of many small traders in those areas. While on that point of trading I would like to express the hope that when these camps are set up there will be no attempt on the part of the Government to indulge in State trading as a means of providing the inhabitants of the camps with their food and other necessaries and amusements. That I feel would lead to a very justifiable complaint from traders all over the country.

I would conclude by expressing agreement with one thing about which noble Lords have already spoken. It is undesirable that we should concentrate too much on passive resistance. We ought to consider the question also of attacking and bringing down enemy aircraft before they reach a position from which they can do a great deal of damage. We must also face the disagreeable necessity of making it clear to other countries that, while we are not prepared to start bombing large centres of population which have comparatively few if any real military objectives, we will not indefinitely allow our people to be bombed without indulging in some form of reprisal. The idea of bombing open cities is, of course, entirely repellant to our character. But, it seems to me that when there are forces very lightly chained up on the Continent of Europe, compared with which the wildest tiger is meek, the only way in which we can possibly deal with those who control those forces, is to make it absolutely clear that if we are compelled to do so we shall retaliate. The peoples of Europe do not want war.—only a few mad men do—and I am convinced that if those peoples who already are not enthusiastic about fighting have it driven into their minds and consciences that if they are guilty of bombing the open places of this country they too will suffer, because we shall retaliate, in that way this bombing of open places will come to an end. I am glad that the noble Lord has introduced this Motion, and I am sure we shall be interested to hear from the noble Earl who is going to reply on behalf of the Government what steps are going to be taken in the near future, because it is certain that we have to act very swiftly, if we are to put our house in order while there is yet time.


My Lords, I think it is obvious that the dangers to which we shall be exposed from air bombing during a war are to be classified under two headings. First of all, there is the danger from a direct hit, and secondly, the danger from splinters, from falling debris, and possibly from shrapnel from our own anti-aircraft guns. I think it will be equally obvious to your Lordships that the casualties which will be suffered in air raids will be very much larger under the second category than under the first, and therefore it behoves us, when considering and dealing with this subject, to give preference to the second category rather than to the first, particularly as the only protection from a direct hit can be by those bomb-proof shelters which are being advocated by Lord Teynham, which can only be the subject of a long-term policy. A bomb-proof shelter cannot possibly be built within a reasonably quick period. It has, I believe, been estimated that to give adequate protection to the community even to those living in thickly populated areas, would take three and a half years, and the cost, of course, would be fantastic.

I think the danger, if we concentrated too much on protecting the citizens from a direct hit, would be that we might tend to increase the casualties which would be suffered through the second category, that is to say, from splinters, because obviously, in order to prevent casualties from that second heading, it is necessary to provide as many protective places as possible which are protected from splinters and falling masonry. Of course, in regard to direct hits, the shelters must be accessible to the people of this country wherever they may be, whether within their own homes or places of business or in the streets. It is only by providing these protections from splinters that we can ensure having the smallest number of casualties. I agree that bomb-proof shelters should be provided where suitable, and possibly as part of a long-term policy, but it is necessary to push ahead as quickly as possible, if we are to cut down the casualties to a minimum, with these protective shelters against splinters.

In the David Anderson Report which was referred to by Lord Strabolgi it is recommended first of all as a matter of prime importance that the pressed and rolled sectional shelter, which is known as the garden shelter, or, as the noble Lord called it—I had not heard the name before—the steel mouse-trap shelter, should be provided; and secondly, as a matter of secondary importance, the strutted basement or cellar. We have heard this afternoon remarks made by various noble Lords which are derogatory of these garden shelters. Barcelona, for instance, was quoted, and Lord Teynham thought that these shelters would not be sufficiently used by the public. I agree with the noble Lord opposite, Lord Strabolgi, that Barcelona is not a very good comparison. In Barcelona they were using very bad material. They could only use what steel was available. The shelters used there were not subjected to the tests to which our shelters have been subjected, and Barcelona was a very much greater focal point for a bombing raid than we in this country would be, where the attack would be spread over a larger district.

Your Lordships will be interested to learn that these fourteen guage corrugated shelters when covered by a foot of earth provide a very great shelter indeed from everything except a direct hit. At tests recently carried out at Shoeburyness, I understand that when the largest bomb—I believe one of 500 lbs.—which can be carried by an aeroplane was exploded, it was found that no one inside the shelter would have been injured at a distance of twenty feet away from the bomb, that the falling masonry which was provided did not disturb the shelter or do anything which would damage the occupants, and that there was only a slight disturbance of the earth on top of the shelter. I think your Lordships will agree that that is a very reasonable and satisfactory test.

We have heard a good deal about the dual use of the deep shelter—that it might be used as a car park and so on. I think every examination ought to be given to that possibility, because if provision can be made, particularly in the highly populated areas, for these deep bomb-proof shelters which would serve that dual purpose, it would be a good thing. But I understand that so far the horizontal garage and the bomb-proof shelter is by no means perfect yet. The difficulty would be to select one particular car from many others in the garage, and the time which people would have to wait before they could get their cars out of the car parks would be such as would very soon stop them from using them at all in normal times. However, I hope that these difficulties may eventually be got over.

There is another consideration which I hope the noble Earl will refer to this afternoon, and that is the question of concussion. I do not believe it would be possible to put these bomb-proof shelters shallow enough to be of use as car parks and yet deep enough to be safe for those using them in time of war, both from the blast of a bomb and from concussion. I believe you have to go a long way below the surface before you are immune from concussion. It was my melancholy task during the battle of the Somme to be one of the first to enter a strong German point known as Mouquet Farm which had defied capture for many long weeks, and had been subjected to a very heavy bombardment, and when finally it was taken I remember that when we went down there we found a very large number of enemy dead, but they had all been killed by concussion, from the explosion of the enormous weight of material on the top of that deep dug-out. I think that question merits very great consideration.

Then I feel that, whatever may be the difficulties in the way of evacuation, we ought to extend it as a policy as far as we reasonably and practically can. After all, the matter of prime importance is to save life and cut down casualties to a minimum at a time of air raids. Your Lordships will obviously see that the danger is very much greater where there are many buildings, and where the surface on which the bomb will explode is everywhere a hard one then the danger and risk to the community is bound to be very much greater. The more we can, without stopping the life of the nation and the work of the country, evacuate people from the central portions of cities the better. If you can spread the population out, even thickly spread them out, in the open country or the fairly open country—and I include the suburban areas on soft ground—then your risk of casualties is very much smaller. And you must remember that the whole point of these garden shelters is that they are going to be sited on soft ground, as far away from buildings as they can be sited in gardens and backyards, where the risk of falling masonry and the explosive effect of the bomb itself would be very much smaller because it would fall on soft ground.

I see the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cavan, in his place. I think he will bear me out when I quote as an instance the way in which the enemy during the War used repeatedly to bomb all the thickly populated districts between Ypres and Vlamertynghe during the third battle of Ypres. The troops were as thick on the ground as ants—it was a regular city of tents—but the ground was soft, and we used to live and sleep in our tents, with a shelter of sandbags around us, and we were quite safe, except from a direct hit. Although the bombs were dropping continually on that thickly populated ground the casualties were comparatively light. Unless you were hit directly where you stood by a bomb you had every chance of not being touched, even when a bomb exploded quite close to you, provided you were protected from flying splinters. I think that the policy which is being pursued by the Government in that respect is a perfectly correct one.

I would like to say one word about the strutted basement referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I agree with him that for those who must go on living in the centres of cities, who cannot be evacuated, it is an extremely effective protection. Obviously in the middle of great cities you cannot use the garden shelter, because you have not got a garden to put it in. Therefore you must resort to the strutted basement, and a very effective protection, I maintain, it will be. You must remember that all these basements will be tested by engineering experts. Tests have been carried out already, and the advice of the greatest structural engineers has been taken. It has been definitely proved that if specifications are carried out, and the right steel is used, and the strength of a shelter is such as is provided for in the specification, it would be quite adequate to carry the whole weight of the top floors of a building in the event of a direct hit and of the whole of the top floors collapsing. Of course, proper attention will have to be paid in the various designs to alternative exits and approaches.

There are of course many further questions with which the Government have yet to deal, for example, the important question of the hospitals, to which Lord Horder has referred. I happen to be the chairman of a very large and important special hospital in London, and in the event of war we should be able fortunately, and would, evacuate our patients immediately to the sanatorium at Frimley, and the hospital presumably would be taken over by the Government as a casualty clearing station. It would not be right for the committee of management to spend the subscribers' money on strengthening that hospital when it is not going to be used by our patients in the event of war. And if it is to be taken over by the Government and used as a casualty clearing station, obviously the Government must spend the necessary money on the building. But they have not yet given us any plan in regard to that, and I believe that a similar state of affairs exists in all the other hospitals in London. Then of course there is the great problem of the money that is to be spent on various works all over the country. Nothing has yet been made known about that, and all these problems have to be settled by the Government at the earliest possible moment. But I do feel that what has been done so far has been thoroughly well done, and I think the Government have earned our congratulations for having got on to the right lines and done something which will provide safety for the lives of our citizens in the event of war.


My Lords, I would venture to say a very few words only in this debate on behalf of those bodies, such as the London Society, which are interested in the future of London. The general principle on which we would wish the Government to act is that of taking advantage of the necessities of defence in order to obtain improvements for peace time which in ordinary days would be too expensive to contemplate. The Government have already taken a first and admirable step in that direction by ordering the construction of country camps. Deep level shelters will provide them with a further opportunity, and I hope they will attack the problem with wide vision and with a generous scale of expenditure. There is no reason why the provision of air-raid shelters should not be combined with the solution of the traffic problems of London.

Several noble Lords have suggested already that under our open spaces there should be constructed air-raid shelters combined with parking places, but I would venture to urge upon the Government an even larger scheme. It seems to me that it would be possible to construct a great central space, say, under the Green Park, Which would be used in war time not only as a shelter against air raids but also as a casualty hospital. From that central space there could be radiated four deep-level double-track roads, north, south, east and west out of London, which would enable you in war time not only to evacuate your civilian population but also to supply in safety the inhabitants who will inevitably remain behind. In peace time this central space could be used for parking purposes, and it would also take the exit and entrance traffic out of and into London, and in addition the transit traffic across London. The east and west roads would not have to be so deeply built as the north and south if they were taken under the river.

We shall be told, of course, that a scheme of this sort is too costly to contemplate, but the financial aspect of it is modified by several very important considerations. Firstly, you would be able to dispense with one or two, in fact most, of the more expensive parts of the Bressey Report. Secondly, the scheme would take a long time to construct, and its cost would be spread over a considerable period. Thirdly, the unemployed could be used to make it, and you would gain considerable sums by reduction of the "dole." Fourthly low-lying land which is now liable to flood could be cheaply bought, and the excavated soil used for creating valuable building sites. Fifthly, you could charge motors that used the four new roads a toll until such time as the cost had been paid off, a system which used to be employed in England in the old days and is still employed very effectively in Italy and the United States. A scheme of this sort would obviously not be ready if we were faced with immediate war, but even if not completed we should have the useful and valuable section of the scheme which would have been constructed before the war breaks out, and we should at any rate have the knowledge that the energy and money used upon it would not be wasted, because the scheme when ultimately completed is essential to the peace-time solution of the traffic problems of London. I would therefore urge upon the Government not to be deterred by the not necessarily true, and in my opinion false assumption that war is imminent, from undertaking a large scheme of this character, which can be proved to be a vital addition to the resources of London both in peace and war.


My Lords, I rise to make one point which I think is rather important. Over a year ago I came back from China, where I had been in air raids in Canton and Nanking, where I had seen the advantage of digging temporary trenches. To dig permanently is not only expensive but sometimes impossible and impracticable, as in the case of districts lying near the river, where I understand the garages that we have heard of would probably be swimming pools, and that would make things extremely difficult. Digging as a temporary measure may be good, but in the long run it is illogical, for the larger the bombs the deeper you go. Therefore it is not a feasible thing in the end. Following on that, the only alternative is to build. You are able to build now bomb-proof buildings, and also buildings that will not collapse. Lord Strabolgi talks about the cellar which he constructed with beams. It is not so much a question of the house collapsing on you as the fact that once it has collapsed you cannot get out and you will have to have great gangs of people to dig you out. I am reminded of this every time I pass the Foreign Office and see what they are doing to the basements there to prevent the building collapsing. It is not the fact that people are going to be squashed so much as the fact that once they are in they are unable to get out.

There is a good deal of building going on in London to-day; there are tenement houses going up and flats going up, and it seems to me that when the Government are considering their long-term policy they should consider making it compulsory that these buildings should be in some way or other bomb-proof. It is possible—I have seen it myself and will give an example—for a reinforced concrete building to be lived in on four floors out of six, and, with special precautions, safe against direct hits, against concussion, against collapsing and against fire. This has the advantage that you keep your families together. It also has the ad- vantage that when you come to reconstruction after the war you have something to start with, and you have not to start setting your buildings all up again. There are various forms and methods. I do not know whether any of your Lordships saw the journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects of February 6. There Dr. Norman Davey refers to a scheme which he calls "Protected spine construction." Under this scheme instead of having your safety zone at the bottom of your house you have it running through your house. If it is a square building you have a cage in the middle up which your stairs go, with safety doors off it. There you have the advantage that you have all your rooms running round it as extra precautions against concussion, and you live in safety in the middle of your house. If it is a long house, the spine runs down the middle of the house where the passages go.

I am sure in the long run this form of construction should be really seriously considered. As an example, I have here a picture which I myself took in China. For about eighty days I saw Japanese bomb the administrative building of the railway in Chapei. It was a building which was bombed in 1927 and was rebuilt, and when it was rebuilt it was believed it might be bombed again and precautions were taken—reinforced concrete and so on. There were seven floors and the building had a small tower. Every single day there were always a few aeroplanes overhead bombing it. It was the only objective. It was a military objective because there were troops in it, and each day these aeroplanes came over. There was very little anti-aircraft protection. The aeroplanes used to fly at a thousand feet or so, dropping two or three bombs every half-hour. That went on for eighty days. At the same time the building was being shelled from across the river. Just before the Chinese retreated, I was talking to the Chinese officer in command, and was able to go up to the fourth floor. They were living on four floors, and in almost the full length of the building, except where a shell had come through the width of two rooms. That proved that it is possible to build against bombs and avoid burrowing underground like rabbits.


My Lords, may I first congratulate my noble friend Lord Teynham, who brought forward this Motion, on his excellent speech? One can easily realise the amount of time and work he must have put into it. There are just two points I want to put before your Lordships, so that I cannot possibly be more than five minutes. I do not know what is the Government's idea about the police and fire services, and I hope the noble Earl who replies will be able to tell us something about it. In my opinion the most important people to protect are the police and the fire services, even more than the civilians. One finds it difficult to imagine London after a big bombing raid, with hundreds of bombers coming over, and the chaos afterwards, fires breaking out all over the place, and ruffians and other people coming out to see what they can make. I would like to see fire brigades and the police protected from direct hits in deep shelters such as the noble Lord has suggested, so that after a raid they would emerge intact and be able to cope with the situation. If they are not so protected, it is possible they will lose half their numbers, fire appliances will be put out of action, and there will not be an adequate strength to cope with fire and lawlessness. There is all the more reason why deep shelters—garages, as the noble Lord suggests—should be built. They would be available for fire engines and other appliances.

The other point I wish to make is in regard to making these garages pay. I quite agree with the noble Lord's idea, but we may be sure it would meet with strong opposition from large garage companies who would say they would be faced with very severe competition. In my opinion these fears are quite groundless. I am informed that even at the present time it is very difficult to find accommodation in London in garages at night. Very often they are quite full up, and you cannot get in at all. Apart from that, there is the continual increase, as your Lordships know, in the number of motor cars on the roads. In the last ten years the increase has been tremendous. I have had the figures before me, but I have not them with me now. We know the increase of traffic has been enormous, and in the next fifteen years the increase will be equally tremendous. To my mind, not only London but all the cities in the country will be glad to have extra garage accommodation, so nobody need worry at all about increased competition.

I do not often agree with Lord Strabolgi, but I certainly do agree with him that in some households it would be possible to arrange for protection at the base of the house. It depends of course on circumstances. If your Lordships will allow me, I will quote an experience which came to me in Spain. I was in a tobacconist's shop in Marida, and there was a mound of rubble opposite the shop which had been a house directly hit by a bomb. The top of the mound was not higher than the distance from the top of the Benches of your Lordships' House to the floor. The tobacconist told me it had been his house and that he and his wife and two children had been in the house when it was bombed, under stone stairs, and that the whole house collapsed on them. They were able to get out without a scratch. I have heard people say that Spanish houses are just so much rubble, but this house was certainly built of stone, and I have seen more strongly-built houses in Spain than many of the brick houses in this City of London to-day. I consider the matter to be one which could be investigated with advantage in order to find out whether it is not possible to make these bases under the house in such a way as to protect some of the people who have to live in them.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has raised a subject of the greatest importance and one which is at the moment in the forefront of all our minds. The suggestions which he made are, if I may say so without impertinence, evidently the fruit of deep contemplation on this subject and deep study, and I would like briefly to state to your Lordships the point of view of the Government upon these urgent problems. In the first place, the Government's view is that any complete policy of shelter against attack by high explosive bombs must be threefold. We have heard this already during the course of the debate, but I will repeat it: Protection for people in their homes, protection for people at their places of work, and protection for people who are caught in the streets at a time when an air raid may arrive. It is the opinion of the Government that the first two constitute by far the largest part of the problem.

First, as to the protection of people at home. There are obvious objections to a policy under which people would be expected to leave their homes at all hours of the day and, more important still, at all hours of the night, in order to find refuge in large communal shelters. I think it very doubtful whether they would be willing to do so, but, even if they were, there would remain the risks involved by the crowding of large numbers of people into these shelters at the moment of emergency, the dangers to health that would be involved in leaving the neighbourhood of one's house at night, no doubt in a hurry, with little time to amass sufficient clothing, and the greater risk still that the bombers might arrive while people were rushing through the streets on their way to the shelters. I do not know exactly how long will elapse between the air-raid warning and the arrival of the first bomb, but of this we can reasonably be certain that it will be a brutally brief period, and I hesitate to contemplate the scenes of chaos which in the initial stages of the war are liable to take place. The zoning of shelters and the siting of them within a region where they can be easily reached by large numbers of people in a short space of time obviously require very careful consideration.

The Government contemplate three methods by which protection can be given to people in their houses according to the type of building and its surroundings: In houses with basements, the strengthening of basements by steel sheets and steel supports, as has been mentioned by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Strabolgi, who, taking time by the forelock, has fortified his own; in flats or tenements by similar structural support which will provide shelters large enough to accommodate the people living in the block; and, lastly, in houses without basements, of light or medium construction and of one, two or three storeys, the new steel shelters to which several noble Lords have referred during the course of the debate. Before I pass on to comment on the observations of Lord Teynham about deep shelters, I would like to say a word about these new shelters, which have been designed by distinguished members of the profession and are being produced with the co-operation of the steel industry. Production of the steel shelters has already begun, and the supply of them will come forward at a rapidly increasing rate. They are constructed of very strong corrugated steel sheets, and they have been subjected to rigorous tests to ensure that when they are erected they will be able to withstand the weight of any debris that might fall on them from houses of the type for which they are designed.

Your Lordships will no doubt have seen in the Press an account of a recent successful experiment to which the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, referred a moment ago, when one of these shelters, contrary to the opinion of a great many people, withstood the explosion of a 500 lb. bomb. The doubts which were held out in many quarters about these shelters were not shared by one of the most distinguished A.R.P. experts on the London Press, who asked permission to get into the shelter and remain there during the experiment, but was dissuaded, I understand with difficulty, in a fatherly but I trust not apprehensive manner, by a Home Office official. It is intended that the distrbiution of these shelters shall be made in the first place to householders who cannot be expected to pay for them themselves, and the definition of such persons includes those who are compulsorily insurable under the National Health Insurance Acts and also those not compulsorily insured under the Act but who are mainly dependent on earnings or pensions not exceeding £250. Your Lordships are aware that there are a large number of houses to which these shelters can have no application.


Before the noble Earl leaves that point, may I ask him a question? Can those people outside the insurance limits, like himself and myself, buy thees shelters and, if so, how much will they cost?


I was just about to arrive at that point, and I will answer the question a little later. There is in course of preparation a group of alternative designs for the strengthening of these basements, and the intention again is to acquire centrally quantities of standardised sheeting and strutting material, and in co-operation with the local authorities to arrange for the strengthening of basements, in the first place for those who, as in the case of the steel shelters, cannot be expected to protect themselves at their own expense. The cost to the Government of the material required for this part of their policy will be in the neighbourhood of £20,000,000, and this very substantial burden will be entirely removed from the shoulders of the local authorities in order that they may concentrate their energies on the third of the categories I mentioned—namely, communal shelters. The Government believe that this policy will within the space of a relatively few months—and I invite your Lordships to consider this very vital time factor—give householders and their families in the vulnerable areas protection at their homes from the effects of blast, splinters and the fall of debris—that is, from the causes which are responsible for the great majority of casualties from high explosive bombs and also from the effect of the falling splinters from our own anti-aircraft guns.

The second necessity is protection at work, and the Government take the view that this is a responsibility which rests primarily on the employer. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has asked about the Bill which is now on the stocks. He asked when it is to be brought in and what financial assistance, if any, will be given. I am afraid I cannot say more than that the Bill, it is anticipatel, will be brought in very shortly. I am afraid I cannot anticipate its contents. In some ways the third part of the problem, that of communal shelters for those who are caught by raids away from their houses or places of work, is the least problem of the three. The responsibility for the provision of shelters for this purpose rests upon the local authorities, with the help of very generous financial assistance from the Exchequer. A large contribution to the problem will be made as a result of the survey already referred to in connection with the strengthening of basements for domestic use, where basements are so constructed and are so sited as to be able to give shelter not only to the inhabitants of the building but also to a surplus. They will in suitable cases be adapted and strengthened for the larger numbers.

Again, trenches in open spaces, if properly designed and constructed, provide a very good protection against anything except a direct hit, and there is no doubt that those which were dug during the September crisis would have saved a great many lives in spite of some errors of construction and siting which I would be the last to attempt to deny. The noble Lord opposite, who has always, if I may say so, had a somewhat morbid interest in these trenches—so much so that I sometimes suspect it was he who took the photograph of the ducks floating about in them—has asked me a question as to when the decision was taken by the Government about filling them in or making them permanent. The decision was in fact taken last November, and instructions were then issued to local authorities which included the conditions on which trenches suitably designed could be made permanent.

In this same context a number of interesting possibilities emerge, including that about which we have heard a good deal this evening, from the noble Lord, Lord Teynham—that of a dual-purpose construction, covering garage facilities and shelter facilities. I can say that the Lord Privy Seal, after very careful consideration, has come to the opinion that the technical difficulties involved in this proposal are of a considerable order; but they are at the present moment under expert consideration, and while the Lord Privy Seal is not able at the moment to make any actual promise, he is optimistic of finding a workable plan by which a useful contribution could be made to the shelter problem in this way. I would like here to answers questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Horder, about the underground dressing stations. I know that the possibilities are under the consideration of the Minister of Health, who will no doubt, issue his decision in due course.

The controversy about what are called deep or bomb-proof shelters centres primarily around this question of the communal shelters, though it is urged by some of the supporters of the deep school that the communal shelters should swallow up the other two parts of the problem—that is to say, that people should during air raids leave their homes or their factories or wherever they may be in order to go to large communal refuges. We have heard a great deal lately about the merits of these deep refuges, but I do not think we have heard so much said of many essential considerations which appear to point in the opposite direction. Many of them must have been in the minds of the Governments of the great Powers of the Continent, none of whom, I think I am right in saying, have gone in for deep shelters for their populations on a large scale. The problem is, in fact, far more complex than is generally supposed, and it has been under close and continuous study by the A.R.P. Department. We must remember, as several noble Lords said very rightly, that it will be essential in any future war—more essential than in any past war—that the productive efficiency of the country should be maintained at its highest level. No shelter policy could wisely be adopted which made this object difficult or impossible. People must remain as far as possible on their jobs in time of war, and a deep shelter policy is going to raise difficulties in keeping them at their work.

There is another point which I should like to suggest is not very often considered when discussing this question. That is the question of what actually is a bomb-proof shelter. A shelter can only be described as "proof" in relation to a given scale of attack. In a book on the subject which has been widely quoted, a shelter which is proof against half-ton bombs of a standard type is regarded as reasonably "bomb-proof." To adopt any standard of this kind is to put it in the power of an enemy to dislocate the shelter system, more certainly since improvements in the carrying capacity of aeroplanes are steadily being made. I am informed also by experts that we cannot leave outside the possibility of development in the type of bombs that may be used. It is clear that, if the necessary effort is made, types with greater penetrating power than those hitherto used could be produced.

This consideration of the relative nature of bomb-proof shelters raises the most difficult questions. The first is that deep shelters would have to be relatively large. In some of the schemes which have been suggested, they are for several thousand people. If you have a number of these large shelters and you cannot be sure that they are really bomb-proof because of the progress of aeronautical science or improvements in weapons, you have the great danger that the shelters on which you have placed reliance may become death-traps on a gigantic scale. The second of these considerations which I invite your Lordships to take into account is the fact that deep shelters are, broadly speaking, an irrevocable commitment, The nature of their construction and the enormous capital expenditure which on any of the various schemes so propounded would be required would render this inevitable. Nevertheless, unless you could be on sure ground in respect of the objections to which I have referred, they would be an enormous gamble.

Again, as I said before, the time of warning which we may have of enemy aircraft is an uncertain factor. Here the danger to be anticipated is two-fold. There is the danger on account of panic and confusion which would take place if crowds rush to the shelter entrances on emergency, and also the risk that raiders may arrive before the people have got into the shelter. I think it is right to say that every man or woman who is killed going or coming in the street would be a victim of the "100 per cent. safe" shelter. We must also remember that if an attack came before the shelter programme could be completed, there would be a new source of danger if people tried to crowd into the shelters already completed. The results of that I leave your Lordships to envisage. It is for that reason that the Mersey Tunnel, which would appear to offer such magnificent structural protection, has been rejected as a refuge by responsible local opinion. With reference to the question which the noble Lord opposite raised about the use of the Underground, it is clear that the maintenance of communications in time of war is of great importance, and I cannot at the moment give the noble Lord the Government's final decision as to the use of the Underground for shelter.

Several noble Lords have referred to the question of Barcelona. I think a good many misleading statements have been made, not in your Lordships' House, but in the Press, and elsewhere, recently. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, referred to the bomb-proof shelters of Barcelona. The testimony on a number of essential points is conflicting, but, as regards Barcelona, it is clear from the evidence which has been collected and examined by the Air Raid Precautions Department that shelters which could fairly be described as "bomb-proof" were available for only a fraction of the population; blast and splinter-proof shelters of the various types were, however, available for a far higher proportion. Moreover, there were technical differences in Barcelona. The soil in some parts of that city was such that the walls of shelters dug out in the ground would stand, without being lined, and without letting in water. This is not true, for instance, of the London clay. Again, when shelters began to be made Barcelona was a city at war, and interference with what were in any case reduced activities was not nearly so serious as it would be with us. In spite of differences of this sort, the development of the shelter system to its final state took a long time, very much longer than the Government's policy of providing blast- and splinter-proof shelters will take.

Then there is the vital time factor. His Majesty's Government have pressed on with the practical policy of providing blast and splinter-proof protection for all in the vulnerable areas. That can be implemented in a relatively short number of months, and I do not think it can seriously be argued that we should have waited for a space, perhaps of years, before making this protection available. Closer examination of all the factors I have mentioned does not tend to resolve the doubts which any responsible Government must feel when invited to commit the civil defence of the country to deep shelters. Nevertheless, in spite of the very serious difficulties which the Government must take into account and the nature of which I have endeavoured very roughly to indicate, respect must be paid to views which are honestly held and earnestly expressed. One of those proposals, the scheme put forward by Finsbury Metropolitan Borough, which has received a good deal of attention in the Press, is indeed a most interesting piece of planning. But it was only submitted to the Department a week ago, and it would not be reasonable to expect a decision upon so complicated a matter in so short a space of time. Other proposals and representations in favour of particular systems of protection have been received in the Department, and the fact that the Government are pressing on with the policy of providing blast- and splinter-proof shelters will not be allowed to prejudice the consideration of these on their merits.

I would like to turn for a moment to the question of evacuation. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord opposite said, that one does not wish to have wholesale evacuation. Men as far as possible must be kept in their jobs on essential services, and families should not be too much divided. The first object of the Government's plan is the evacuation of the young children from the larger towns, and I do not imagine that anyone who has been in Barcelona or other Spanish towns during air raids and seen the effects on the children would deny that that in principle was a wise aim. The most important consideration is that of the accommodation available for their reception. The Government have asked local authorities to make a thorough house-to-house survey of the accommodation, and of the householders who are prepared to receive children, so that complete plans may be prepared, and the errors which during the crisis were, I am afraid, evident in some districts, will not be allowed to occur again.

In the areas which have been allocated as evacuable areas the total population amounts to 13,000,000; that in the neutral areas to 11,000,000, and that in the reception areas to 16,000,000. It is obvious, I think, from those figures that any plans capable of being put into effect in the near future must be based primarily on the use of existing houses. Use will, of course, be made of all supplementary forms of accommodation; that is to say, empty houses, and, where they are suitable, other sorts of buildings, and camps of various kinds. The Lord Privy Seal has recently announced the Government's plans to make available £1,000,000 for the construction of camps, which will serve in peace time as school camps and will be available for evacuation purposes in war time. With regard to the objections made by Lord Mansfield, I understand that the Government have plans in existence for supplementing the supplies of food through the agency of existing retailers.

I would like, lastly, to say a few words about the proposed regional organisation for civil defence, because it has been subjected to some comment and there are certain points which I should try to make plain. The proposals have on the whole been well received. The only serious criticism has been a suggestion that the Regional Commissioners would act as dictators in time of war, and that their appointment was contrary to the principles which have guided administration in this country. I should therefore wish to make it clear to your Lordships that the Regional Commissioner will only exercise his executive powers if communication breaks down between his region and the Central Government. I think that to fail to provide for this contingency would be to invite a condition of anarchy, in which every man would be free to put his own interpretation on what he thought the Government's view was, or, alternatively, a situation in which the military authorities would have to take command. The Regional Commissioners' organisation therefore really provides for the continuance of civil government.

To close, I would like to say one word about the reorganisation of the wardens' service. One of the main functions of air-raid wardens in war would be to give help and guidance to the public, as far as they can, and to maintain order and morale. In both functions they will, of course, be closely associated with the police. For this reason many local authorities have entrusted to Chief Constables the responsibility for organising and controlling the wardens' service, and the Lord Privy Seal has now advised all authorities outside the Metropolitan Police district to do so. In this, as in other matters, London presents a special problem, but in January of this year the Standing Joint Committee of the Metropolitan Boroughs, with the support of the London County Council, urged that the wardens' service in their area should be placed under the control of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. They argued that the organisation of the wardens' service was outside normal local government experience, and that the wardens' functions were very closely related to those of the police. The Minister felt that he could no longer resist the views so strongly pressed on him by the elected local authorities, and the Commissioner agreed to accept the responsibility. Sir Philip Game will act in a dual capacity as Commissioner of Police and as administrative head of the wardens' service, which will remain an entirely separate body from the police.

I am afraid that although I have detained your Lordships for some time I have not covered as much ground as I would have liked and that there have been more points raised which I have not had time to cover, but I thought it right to try to present your Lordships with a general survey of the Government's policy.


My Lords, I fully appreciate the arguments and point of view put forward by my noble friend Lord Birkenhead, but I would like to deal with one or two points put forward by Lord Dudley and Lord Mansfield. Lord Mansfield referred to mechanical car parking and said he had seen or heard of inventions on the Continent or in America. I would like to inform him that there is a system in this country which I think is superior to any system abroad. The noble Earl, Lord Dudley, referred to the time which it would take to build deep bomb-proof shelters, and mentioned a period of three and a half years. I can prove to him that that time is not accurate, and that they can definitely be built in a much shorter period. When I say three to five months I believe I am not exaggerating. Lord Dudley also referred to certain experiences in the Great War, but I would ask him to remember that explosive bombs to-day and their power of destruction, are very much greater than in 1914.

Lord Birkenhead also raised a point as to whether these deep bomb-proof shelters might become useless in course of time owing to the use of larger bombs. Certain special 'planes now carry bombs of five tons, and they have service for dropping bombs on an object which they can single out, such as a battleship. If in the course of time aeroplanes are designed to carry even larger bombs it will not be difficult to fit these shelters with larger burster platforms, and to increase the strength of these bomb-proof shelters. Whatever may have been said by Lord Birkenhead I am confident that in the course of time public opinion will force the Government to build some deep bomb-proof shelters, and in the hope that the Government will reconsider their decision and come to a definite policy quickly I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at ten minutes before seven o'clock.

Back to