HL Deb 06 July 1939 vol 113 cc1082-94

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Earl of Munster.)


My Lords, I have one or two questions to put to the Government on this Bill, and I understand that I am in order in doing so before the Government Amendments are moved. If that is so, I would like very briefly to put to the noble Earl, Lord Munster, the questions of which I have given him some short notice. I am glad to see that one suggestion which we have been pressing has been carried out by the Government—namely, this morning there reached me in the ordinary post Public Information Leaflet No. 1, on Civil Defence, which describes some of the contents of this Bill and tells the ordinary citizen what he should do if war comes. We have been asking for simple leaflets to be issued, and we thank the Government for that, but I am sorry that they have not carried out my suggestion that the leaflets should be illustrated. I even went so far as to suggest that a portrait of the noble Earl should appear, to give confidence to the lieges.

There are one or two things in the leaflet which are disturbing. To begin with, fire precautions. It describes the devasting effect of incendiary bombs and explains that water is the best way to put out fire started by incendiary bombs, but it goes on to state that water thrown on a bomb causes an explosion, and the burning thermite, I think it is called, is thrown in all directions. The last direction says you may be able to smother with sand or dry earth where dealing with the danger of thermite bombs, which develop a burning temperature of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, I believe, and are hard to put out, and which it is stated may be dropped in very large quantities. May I ask the Government, through the noble Earl, whether they are doing anything to produce a small, cheap, portable, chemical extinguisher for these bombs? It cannot be beyond the resources of this country to produce a chemical fire extinguisher. I suggest that there should be storage of these in large quantities, and that they might be distributed when an emergency comes. Perhaps they might even encourage the householder to buy them as well. I have taken some technical advice, and I am told that you can develop chemical fire extinguishers to deal with this type of bomb. That is the first suggestion which I venture to put to the noble Earl.

The second suggestion deals with evacuation. Quoting the part of Section 5, which bears on what I venture to say to your Lordships, it describes the arrangements for evacuating children, expectant mothers, blind persons and others, from London and other great cities. Then it goes on to say: Those who have already made, or are making arrangements to send their children away to relations or friends must remember that while the Government evacuation scheme is in progress, ordinary railway and road services will necessarily be drastically reduced and subject to alterations at short notice. This is a very serious matter. The London County Council Schools in London are organised for evacuation, and I understand for the most part by way of special railway trains; but there are in London a great many private schools, and although they can apply, I understand, to the London County Council for inclusion, there are many cases, where hundreds of children are concerned, where no arrangements for evacuation have been made. In certain cases, parents have been told this, and have said: "In that case we will take care of our own children and get them away in our own motor cars." Now we are told that the roads will not be available, and if that is so there are thousands of young children who will not be able to be evacuated unless this matter is dealt with.

I have therefore a suggestion to make to the Government, and it is this. You should encourage private people to evacuate children, invalids and elderly people by private means, if they can do it. That should be, I think, the Government policy. Now, when you have some great occasion such as a royal procession or the trooping of the colour, people who are entitled to attend are given special labels to put on their motor cars, for the information of the police. I would suggest that special labels should be prepared for people engaged in privately evacuating children, invalids and elderly people, so that they may be able to pass along the roads. It is only a matter of preparation and organisation, and there will be tremendous dissatisfaction with the Government if these thousands of children and invalids, who could be taken out of danger by private means, cannot be moved because of the lack of a little preliminary organisation of this sort. I do not want to paint too gloomy a picture, but I must take the occasion to warn Lord Munster and his colleagues, that if there are found to be grave deficiencies of this kind when trouble comes, the populace may deal with them very drastically indeed. They will be held responsible, and I would not give very much for their future political careers if they fail in these grave matters. I mention those two particular matters, which I think deserve particular attention—namely, the better means of extinguishing incendiary bombs and better organisation, apart from the excellent plans of the London County Council, for evacuation.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, it might be convenient if I rose at this moment to ask the noble Earl whether he has any further information to give us as to the point which was raised by me on the Committee stage of this Bill. During that stage, the noble Earl in charge of the Bill said: Certainly I am prepared to ask my right honourable friend to consider the question of compensation again…. Furthermore, since the Committee stage was taken I find that a question was asked in another place, and that the Minister for Health replied: Consideration is being given to this matter in connection with the wider question of compensation for war damage, and I would refer my honourable friend to the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on June 20. I need not go into all the arguments I raised in Committee, but this point is clearly one of great importance, though it may be confined in the main to those people who live in the reception areas, and it is highly desirable that they should have cause to feel that justice would be done to them in so far as damage resulted from the exercise of their hospitality towards the evacuees. If not, I cannot help feeling that a considerable amount of bad blood would be created, and the scheme would to that extent suffer. I should be glad to know whether the noble Earl can now give us any further information, and also whether he has consulted with his legal advisers as to the effect of the ordinary policy terms on this question.

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to reply to the questions which have been addressed to me by the noble Lord opposite and my noble friend Lord Phillimore, and I refrain from delivering at the same time a further speech, which perhaps is customary in another place on the Third Reading of a Bill. As regards the question of fire extinguishers, if my recollection serves me correctly, I recall that a similar question was raised, I think by the noble Lord, during the Second Reading debate on the Air-Raid Precautions Bill two years ago. I understand that the situation has not really altered a great deal since that time. There are private firms who are undertaking scientific research into the question whether some suitable fire extinguisher can be found for putting out a fire which might be caused by an incendiary bomb. There is, of course, a disadvantage, which I think will come to the minds of many noble Lords. The modern fire extinguisher which it is customary to find in private houses and in Government and local authority buildings is one which requires continual examination and periodical inspections to see that it has not deteriorated and that the force of the liquid inside is up to the standard required for putting out a fire. I am informed that if these fire extinguishers were stored in large numbers by the local authorities, or by the Government Departments, there would be very considerable expense continually recurring in seeing that the extinguishers were in a condition for immediate use.

I understand that this question has been examined with great care and I am advised that the best means of putting out a fire caused by an incendiary bomb is undoubtedly water. But the whole question is discussed in Air-Raid Precautions Handbook No. 9 dealing with incendiary bombs and fire precautions. It explains on page 17 the disadvantages of chemical extinguishers in meeting the situation caused by an incendiary bomb, and it states: Many chemical extinguishers are excellent for the purpose for which they have been designed, but would have certain disadvantages in meeting the situation caused by an incendiary bomb. The average soda acid extinguisher is of the 2-gallon type, and this would in many cases be insufficient to deal both with the bomb and the resultant fire. In thick smoke it would be necessary to keep close to the ground (see Chapter IV), which would make an extinguisher difficult to handle. Moreover, it would be dangerous to use some of the extinguishers designed for special purposes. For example, carbon tetrachloride, which is used in some, might generate phosgene in contact with the burning magnesium. That, I think, will give the public some indication that these extinguishers are not really up to standard for use with any degree of success to put out a fire which might be caused by an incendiary bomb. Nevertheless, as I have said, we are still making inquiries into this matter, and I understand that private firms are also taking the question up, but up to the present time no suitable fire extinguisher has been found for the purposes which the noble Lord mentioned.


May I ask my noble friend whether he is aware of a printed paper which has been issued under the aegis of the Privy Council? I have received a copy this morning, and in that paper it is stated that the worst thing to do to put out an incendiary bomb is to use water, and that you ought to use either earth or sand in order to extinguish it.


I thought I made it clear that these fire extinguishers are not the best means of putting out fires caused by incendiary bombs, and in fact water is the best method.


This paper says that water is not the best method, but the worst method, and that you ought to use sand or earth.


I have this document by me and perhaps it might clear up the matter if I say that it states that if one uses a special hand pump with a nozzle, so that it produces a spray, it is then quite serviceable and quite good for putting out a fire.


That is perfectly true. I was really talking about fires which resulted from the explosion of an incendiary bomb after it had set fire to a building. I thought it was common knowledge that one of the best methods of extinguishing a fire caused by an incendiary bomb was as soon as possible to throw sand or earth on the place where the bomb has exploded. That does put out incendiary bombs, and it has been proved, I think, again and again in answer to Questions asked in another place and also in this House. But when a fire caused by this intense heat has started, water is undoubtedly the best means of extinguishing it.

I pass from that to the question raised by the noble Lord opposite, dealing with the evacuation of children in private schools, and the suggestion that he made that some ticket should be pasted on to the windscreen or the lamp of a motor car is one which, of course, I will take up with the appropriate Department. My noble friend Lord Phillimore also raised the question of evacuation, and here I would appeal to him and to other noble Lords, who at an earlier stage of the discussions on this Bill have raised the whole question of evacuation of the civil population from vulnerable areas to reception areas. I know perfectly well that this scheme of evacuation is causing, perhaps wrongly, serious concern in the minds of noble Lords, and I suggest that the best method of dealing with this very large question would be for some noble Lord to put down a Question for full discussion at some date before the Adjournment. I am not in a position to-day to give the noble Lord any further reply to the question which he asked concerning compensation for damage. He quoted a reply which was given by my right honourable friend the Minister of Health on June 29 last, and I am not in a position to give him any further answer on that point.

As regards the question of policy holders, and whether their policies cover them in the event of a fire on their premises at a time when they are being used by people who have been evacuated from the vulnerable areas, I am not in a position to give the noble Lord information from the fire insurance companies, but on inquiring from my own agents as to whether my own fire policy covered that very point, I was informed that it undoubtedly did, and that the undertakers were prepared to cover it. I would, lastly, mention once again the question of evacuation. It has, as noble Lords know, been actively considered again and again by His Majesty's Government. I have the clearest recollection that last September the evacuation scheme which was undertaken by the London County Council worked with great success, and I have no reason to suppose that any future scheme which would be involved would not work equally satisfactorily. But I would suggest, for the convenience of noble Lords as a whole, that it might be useful if some noble Lord put down a Question so that the House could have a full statement from His Majesty's Government on this matter.


My Lords, it does not seem to be quite clear, from the Instruction which my noble friend has just read, whether the words "road services will be reduced" imply only, as I understand, that the ordinary services, such as the Green Line 'buses, will be diminished, or whether the actual user of the roads will be in any way curtailed—that is to say, that certain roads will be closed or only certain classes of cars allowed to use them. It would be a good thing if that were made clear, although to my mind it is clear from the Instruction.


My Lords, I am not in a position to add anything further to this Instruction, but if it is so clear to the noble Viscount's mind it must be equally clear to every other noble Lord in the House.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.

Clause 8 [Powers of local authorities to construct underground car-parks suitable for use as air-raid shelters]:

4.12 p.m.

THE EARL OF MUNSTER moved to insert at the end of subsection (1): Provided that in exercising their powers under this section the local authority shall, so far as is reasonably consistent with the interests of civil defence, have regard to the amenities of any protected square or land held inalienably by the National Trust. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Amendment which I now move is designed to meet the Amendment which was moved on the Report stage by my noble friend Lord Radnor, who was supported by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I still maintain that the Bill gave adequate safeguards, but it appears to be the wish of noble Lords that we should include this proviso which I now formally beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 9, line 21, at end insert the said proviso.—(The Earl of Munster.)


My Lords, I rise only to express, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Radnor and other noble Lords, our very great feeling of obligation to the noble Earl for his concession in this respect. I am sure it is a matter of great importance, and I feel very much gratified that my noble friend has taken the view that the wishes of your Lordships ought to be fulfilled.


My Lords, I am very glad that this Amendment should be made. I do, however, regret that it has been drafted to meet two illustrations which were given by noble Lords during the debate. One was Charterhouse Square, and the other was another square in London. This is now only applying to protected squares or land held inalienably by the National Trust, which is already in the Bill. I greatly regret that the protection of amenity is only to be limited to a few open spaces in London.


The Amendment, as I understand it, does not apply only to London—it applies generally throughout the country.


My Lords, I can only speak again with the permission of the House, but the noble Marquess below the Gangway told us that Lady Salisbury sent him to Smithfield to get a leg of mutton, and he noticed how beautiful Charterhouse Square was and came back and drew your Lordships' attention to it. Charterhouse Square, under the Bill, is protected, and so are other squares in London, but no attention is paid to the amenities of Britain except to this limited extent. I regret it, that is all.


My Lords, I do not see why we should not protect squares in other places—for example, in Edinburgh, where there are some beautiful squares that deserve to be protected. They are just as much entitled to be protected as are the squares in London. The noble Earl, Lord Crawford, has raised a very important point, and as this Bill, having been amended, will have to go back to another place, I should like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Munster, whether he will undertake that this point will be considered before the Bill comes back to us.


My Lords, I would like to suggest that if Clauses 7 and 8 are loaded with too many safeguards it may be impossible to construct these air-raid shelters and car parks, which are undoubtedly very much needed for the defence of the civilian population. I am perfectly prepared to accept this Amendment as it stands on the Paper.


My Lords, by leave of the House, I should like to say that if this Amendment does not meet the wishes of the noble Lords, I am perfectly prepared to withdraw it. But I understand it meets the points that Lord Radnor raised. He has written to me informing me that it covers the points he was anxious about, and we have just heard from my noble friend Lord Salisbury that it covers the points he had in mind also.


My Lords, I do not quite understand why it is suggested that Scotland is not included. I may be wrong, but I rather think Scotland comes within this clause. I am sure my noble friend in charge of the Bill agrees with me that a beautiful square in Edinburgh is just as worthy of protection as one in London.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 58 [Special provision as to supply of water for extinguishing fires]:

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, there is a drafting Amendment to this clause.

Amendment moved— Page 59, line 39, leave out ("air-raids") and insert ("hostile attacks").—(The Earl of Munster.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 66:

Extension of borrowing powers of trustees, &c.

66.—(1) The provision of air-raid shelter shall be deemed to be an improvement authorised by the Settled Land Act, 1925, and mentioned in Part II of the Third Schedule to that Act.

(2) Any liquidator, trustee in bankruptcy or receiver shall, in addition to any other powers in that behalf, have the like powers in relation to the provision of air-raid shelter as are conferred on trustees by subsection (1) of this section.

THE EARL OF MUNSTER moved to leave out subsection (2) and insert the following new subsections: (2) Any liquidator, trustee in bankruptcy, receiver, committee or other person acting in a fiduciary capacity who is, as such, the occupier of any factory premises, the owner of any mine or the owner of any commercial building or of any building or block of buildings to which Section thirty of this Act applies shall, for the purpose of providing air-raid shelter or complying with any obligation imposed on him by or under any of the provisions of this Act, have power (in addition to any other powers enabling him in that behalf)—

  1. (a) to utilize any moneys in his hands in his capacity as liquidator, trustee, receiver, committee or otherwise as aforesaid;
  2. (b) to raise money by the sale or mortgage of any property vested in him or under his control in that capacity,
and any money reasonably expended by him for the said purpose shall be treated as part of his expenses incurred in that capacity and shall be allowed in account accordingly. (3) Where the owner of any commercial building or any such building or block of buildings as aforesaid is a mortgagee, he shall be entitled to add to his security any money reasonably expended by him for the purpose of providing air-raid shelter in connection with the building or block or of complying with any obligation imposed on him by or under this Act as owner of the building or block.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, you will recall that during the Report stage I moved a new clause which now is Clause 66, and at the same time I informed the House that I should be adding to subsection (2) something which would not in any way alter the meaning of the original five lines which appear in the Bill at the present time. The House will recall that I gave an explanation of this clause on the Report stage, and therefore it is not necessary for me to weary your Lordships with a long explanation of these new subsections. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 64, line 30, leave out subsection (2) and insert the said new subsections.—(The Earl of Munster.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 81 [Exemption of certain works from building by-laws, etc.]:


My Lords, the next Amendment in my name is drafting. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 73, line 41, after ("by") insert ("or under").—(The Earl of Munster.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 90:

Other provisions as to interpretation.

90.—(1) In this Act, except where the context otherwise requires, the following expressions have the meanings hereby respectively assigned to them, that is to say:— Owner," in relation to factory premises or a commercial building, means—

Provided that, where any estate or interest in any factory premises or commercial building is the subject of a mortgage and the mortgagee is in possession, that estate or interest shall be deemed for the purposes of this definition to be vested in the mortgagee.

THE EARL OF MUNSTER moved to leave out the proviso at the end of the definition of "owner" and insert: Provided that, where the estate or interest of any person who, under the preceding provisions of this definition would be the owner of any commercial building, is the subject of a mortgage, and either the mortgagee is in possession or the rents and profits are being received by a receiver appointed by or on the application of the mortgagee, that estate or interest shall be deemed for the puposes of this definition to be vested in the mortgagee. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I think this Amendment is one which makes the words more simple than they read as they now appear in the Bill.

Amendment moved— Page 82, leave out lines 18 to 22, and insert the said new proviso.—(The Earl of Munster.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 91 [Application to Scotland]:

THE EARL OF MUNSTER moved, after subsection (23), to insert the following new subsection: (24) In Section sixty-six for subsection (3) there shall be substituted the following subsection:— (3) Where a heritable creditor in possession is for the purposes of this Act the owner of any commercial building or any such building or block of buildings as aforesaid, it shall be competent for the local authority to make, on his application, a charging order in his favour charging and burdening the building or block of buildings with an annuity to repay to him any money reasonably expended by him for the purpose of providing air-raid shelter in connection with the building or block or complying with any obligation imposed on him by or under this Act as owner of the building or block in like manner as they may make a charging order in favour of an owner under Section twenty-one of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1925, and the provisions of Sections twenty-one and twenty-two of that Act shall apply accordingly subject to the following and any other necessary modifications:— An annuity constituted a charge by a charging order made under this subsection shall rank pari passu with the heritable security in virtue of which the heritable creditor is in possession of the building or block. The noble Earl said: My Lords, this subsection is inserted to provide the application to Scotland of subsection (3) of Clause 66 which your Lordships decided to amend during the previous stage of our discussions. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 93, line 42, at end insert the said new subsection.—(The Earl of Munster.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do pass.

Moved, That the Bill do pass.—(The Earl of Munster.)


My Lords, I apologise for addressing you again on this matter, but it is an important subject. I want to return to the charge about the meaning of the Government's language in the leaflet with regard to road services. The noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, reads the passage which is meant for millions of the inhabitants of these islands in one way, and I read it in a different way. There may be considerable stoppages on the roads by Government authority. What we want to know is what is going to happen about these roads. I think it is important that people should know, because trouble may come suddenly, and it is in the interests of the defence of London and other large cities that children and invalids should be evacuated from them. How are these people to be moved if the roads are to be closed? I think the public have a right to know. I should be obliged if the noble Earl would give some explanation, or, if he is not in a position to do so now, perhaps he would take an opportunity of doing so. If necessary I could put down a question at some future time, and he could reply. I think we ought to have a little more information on this quite important matter.


My Lords, I fear I am not in a position to reply to the question which the noble Lord has raised. The matter is one which I should imagine concerns the Ministry of Transport. Nevertheless the whole subject is one which comes under the general term evacuation, and I did suggest in the course of replying to the remarks that were made on Third Reading of this Bill that the whole matter of evacuation should come up for discussion in your Lordships' House upon a Motion raised by some noble Lord. Perhaps the noble Lord opposite would himself see his way to put down a question so that the whole matter can be discussed. The question of motor transport on the roads in time of evacuation is one to which the Government naturally have given serious consideration, and I think it would serve the purpose of your Lordships if the whole matter was discussed at some early date.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.