HL Deb 17 July 1939 vol 114 cc216-45

LORD PHILLIMORE rose to call attention to the difficulties connected with the evacuation of the civil population in times of war; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords during the debate on Clause 56 of the Civil Defence Bill, the noble Earl in charge of the Bill was good enough to invite me to put down a Motion which would enable us to go into many of the problems connected with the evacuation of the people under that clause. I am exceedingly glad that he gave me that opportunity, for the more I look into this clause the more startled I am to find that in neither House of Parliament has it received one quarter of the consideration which it ought to have received. It is, in the words of a correspondent of mine, "an infringement of the liberty of the individual and a constitutional innovation such as we have seldom seen," and these things are contained in one clause of a Bill of, I think, eighty-five clauses.

I will come back to the actual terms of the clause in a minute, but before I do that I want to make it clear that I am not challenging the policy of dispersal of the population on the imminence of war, and I also do not wish to convey to the House any idea that there is an unwillingness in the country, in the reception areas, to do their pest for the poor people who are bombed or frightened, say, away from their houses. I am quite sure we can rely on the solidarity and the helpfulness of spirit of the British people to ensure that the first reception of these refugees will be hearty and practical, but I would ask the House to note that there is a great difference between the policy of the Government as regards evacuation and as regards reception. Evacuation is in no way compulsory. Reception, now that the Civil Defence Bill has passed into law, is absolutely and entirely compulsory.

A word as to the size of the problem. I gather from the White Paper—and I think it was mentioned in this House—that 16,000,000 people inhabit the reception areas, and that the Government contemplate evacuating some 3,000,000 of people who are members of what they describe as the priority classes. What are the priority classes? We have not been told. Certainly we are not told anything about priority classes in Clause 56 of the Civil Defence Bill. But if noble Lords have furnished themselves with the White Paper, if I may call it such, Memo. Ev. 4, 1939, they will see that priority classes consist of school children in organised units in charge of their teachers, children of pre-school age accompanied by their mothers or other persons responsible for looking after them, expectant mothers, and the adult blind and crippled population, the last category being the only category that contains any male adults. Now it is to be borne in mint that the scheme of evacuating these priority classes of the people in crowded centres was worked out on a voluntary basis many months ago, and I venture to say that the great majority of this nation, and possibly even of your Lordships' House, have not yet appreciated the fact that the voluntary basis has gone and that everything now is on a compulsory basis. This, of course, makes a very substantial difference to the views of the reception areas towards the scheme.

In the first place, under a voluntary basis, there is, of course, a general elasticity possible. For example, people have put their house down to receive three children on the voluntary basis, and subsequently find that their own grandchildren or children need some of the rooms. Under a voluntary basis they notify the local authority and a change is made. It is no doubt possible that they could notify a local authority and have a change made even under the compulsory system, but they have no certainty of that. That is a very simple case, and there are thousands of others which noble Lords could think of where the hardship would be considerably greater. Then, apart from the loss of elasticity, the spirit of willingness which accompanied volunteering roust, of course, be damaged by the fact that, however willing you are, in the end compulsory power can be exerted against you, and you may be obliged to take in these evacuees.

I will now turn to Clause 56 of the Bill and read a few words to show exactly what is the burden laid by that clause upon the reception areas. I will abbreviate it as much as possible. In the first place, there are to be plans for the transference of numbers of the civil population from one area to another in the event of war, or the imminence of war, and for the accommodation and maintenance of the persons concerned. Noble Lords will note that here the reference is simply to members of the civil population. There is no mention of priority classes or any one or more sections of the people. Then we go on to find under subsection (3) that The Minister, if it appears to him that, in view of the imminence or existence of an emergency … it is expedient so to do, may make regulations for the purpose of securing accommodation for any persons transferred.… He may provide for occupiers of premises being required to furnish such accommodation as may be specified. He may declare the circumstances in which, and the extent to which, responsibility shall be assumed by occupiers of premises for the feeding and care of any children accommodated therein, and he may authorise the imposition, on summary conviction, of fines, not in any case exceeding £50. The two points I want to make on that are, first, that the whole of the civil population is included as evacuable into the reception areas and the private homes of the people in those areas, and secondly, that this is a compulsory business enforceable under a fine of £50.

If we turn back to history we find that billeting has been one of the great grievances of the people since very early times. A Petition of Right in 1628 made against the King the point that no billeting was legal whatever. In 1689—I think by the Mutiny Act—billeting in victualling houses was allowed, but, in the words of the Act, "no private houses whatever." Since then, under the Army Act, 1926, limited powers of billeting in private houses have been granted to the Government, but generally speaking, apart from the annual provision by the Army and Air Force Acts, billeting even of soldiers and sailors is in principle illegal. There is all the difference in the world between billeting soldiers who are under discipline, whose commanding officers are within easy reach and who are occupied during the greater part of the day outside the billet—apart from which they are at any rate in a position of having at any time to give up their lives for their country—and the billeting of civilians who will probably be at a loss for occupation and liable to hang about the house, and who will be under no discipline whatever. I want your Lordships to appreciate that now any householder among these sixteen million people is liable to have billeted upon him anyone of any age, of either sex—in the words of the old jingle, tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, gentleman, apothecary, thief, either mad or sane, drunk or sober. I submit that that is an innovation of the greatest importance, and a very great danger. I do not know what innovation could be greater.

The first question I would put is, what are the Government going to do? Do the Government pledge themselves not to use the powers given them under Section 56 of the Civil Defence Act to billet other sections of the population outside the priority classes on private householders? Imagine the case of some man whose business does not tie him to London being billeted in a country cottage of a normal type with three bedrooms, occupied by a man and his wife and child. The householder himself may be called up for military service, and he may find himself going to the war, leaving an adult male stranger in his house with his wife and child.


Where does the noble Lord get that from? It is only cripples and children. Where do the adult males come from?


I have been trying to explain that under Section 56 the Government have power to billet adult males on any householder in the reception areas. If the noble Lord will look at the section again he will see that what I say is right. If I am wrong I shall be only too delighted to be corrected. The next doubt in my mind relates to a much smaller matter, but if this billeting is to be worked happily the provisions under which it works must be just and the regulations must be justly carried out. We all know that considerable damage generally occurs where children are concerned. The White Paper, to which I have again to refer for want of anything else, announces payment of 10s. 6d. and 8s. 6d. a week to cover full board, lodging and all care necessary to give the child a home. What does that include? We ought to know whether it is meant to include such things as breakages—broken glass, broken lights, broken crockery, damage to utensils and damage to bedding. As I say, that is a comparatively small point, but it is one which is going to rank as a grievance or not according as it is justly treated in the eyes of the housewife.

Then we come to a somewhat larger point which concerns fire, burglary and theft insurance. Some noble Lords may remember that the noble Earl in charge of the Bill made a statement as to the intention—I think "intention" was the word he used—of the insurance companies. Since then there has appeared in The Times a letter from which I should like to quote. In that letter it was stated that insurance companies had decided that they will not regard the housing of persons evacuated in pursuance of any Government or local authority scheme, in the event of a national emergency, as invalidating claims under insurance policies in respect of private dwellings in which such persons are accommodated. I do not want to disparage that generous offer, but the mere fact that it has to be made goes some way to prove that under existing policies the risk is not covered. And if the risk is not covered by the policy, no letter to The Times will alter the weight of that document. The risk will be read in the terms of the document. I have yet to learn of any noble Lord, or of any other person, receiving an endorsement to his policy from his insurance company covering this additional risk. Further I would point out that this does not cover farm buildings which might well be used for billeting purposes. I would like to ask the Government to say whether they have yet consulted their legal advisers as to whether in the absence of any further endorsement of policies they consider that the risk of fire, burglary and theft is covered.

Now I am brought to the general point of the enforcement of discipline and the settling of disputes in receiving areas. Of course, it is perfectly obvious that there will be disputes, that some of them will be acrimonious and that they will be very difficult to settle in the small compass of a country home. The most astonishing thing I have yet discovered in connection with this is on this very point. In the White Paper to which I have referred so often there is one paragraph—paragraph 74—which says: It is inevitable, however, that an influx of strangers on the scale contemplated will give rise to a certain number of difficulties and minor disputes, particularly at the outset. It is contemplated"— I hope noble Lords will mark these words— that in the event of an emergency a tribunal will be appointed by the local authority with power to determine appeals made by householders …. What judicial powers have local authorities? How can they set up a tribunal? Under what power? I suppose it is contemplated that my rural district council will be given judicial powers by some Defence of the Realm Act which will be passed when the war has begun—if there is to be a war. But at present can any judicial powers reside in a local authority, and if not, who is going to settle these disputes? Further, who is responsible for the general administration of the evacuating policy before war is actually declared and afterwards? I hope we shall have some light on that point.

Then I should like to ask the noble Earl whether the provision that is contemplated, I believe, in empty houses has yet been effectively made for handicapped children and blind and crippled persons. That surely should be seen to, and seen to very promptly. Finally, I should like to ask for what duration of time Clause 56 holds good in the eyes of the Government. Apparently, as in any other Act, the duration of its power is unlimited, and even if it is confined to a war such as the last one, to a duration of four years, the tax on the receiving population will be something appalling. It is not to be supposed that the care of little children is a light job when it is added to all the other jobs that the housewife has to perform. It can and will be gladly undertaken for a certain time, but I am convinced that if the next war should go on as long as the last, it will break down the whole morale and health of the country population that have the strangers within their homes on the scale contemplated.

It will not only be for the duration of the war. It may, and probably will, hold good until an appointed day after the war is over, when the war is finally declared to be over. We all know from experience of the last War that that day was considerably after the actual cessation of hostilities. You have only to think of the reaction against Dora after the War, and of the way in which war measures such as the Rent Restriction Act were prolonged—I do not say wrongly at all, but they had to be prolonged—to know that the housewife may have this period fixed upon her for a wholly intolerable time. I would ask the Government, if they can, to make a pronouncement upon the question of the duration of this compulsory hospitality. I will say no more, but I hope I have said enough to convince the House that this section in the Civil Defence Act might well have received greater attention than it has. I beg to move.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to enter into a debate with the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, who has brought forward this very important Motion, though I may say he has tempted me to do so. I should have liked to ask him, it he allowed me, what his alternative is. We on this side of the House agree with some of his strictures: we think the Government have rather plunged into this business, and that a great many of the implications have not been thought out. But the noble Lord goes on supporting this Government, and we are trying to efface them. If he is as dissatisfied as he makes out, he ought to help us, I would suggest respectfully, to get this Government out of office. We agree with him that this Government are muddlers. We know they are doing their best, but I do not find any alternative put forward by the noble Lord.

I wish for a very few moments to draw attention to a matter which I also ventured to raise during the discussion on the Civil Defence Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Munster, was good enough to say that he would look into one particular matter to which, I suggest, considerable importance can be attached: it is an evacuation question and is principally concerned with transport. There are a great many people whom it would be a good thing—the Government admit this—to get out of the big cities: old people, semi-invalids, young children and so on. A great many of these will be moved out by their relatives voluntarily, by their own means of transport, if they are allowed to do it. During the discussion I ventured to raise the matter because there was a good deal of doubt about whether people would be allowed, for example, to travel on the roads. I am thinking of people with their children at school in London, Manchester or wherever they may be, who want to get them into the country and are prepared to take them there themselves. There was a good deal of apprehension on that matter. Now I understand it is not intended to interfere with such voluntary effort. I also suggest to the Government that they should go a little further and try to organise it.

The situation is this. The L.C.C. school children are all organised and moved out by special trains, and so are the young children with mothers who are prepared to go with them—and only a very small percentage of the mothers in London, by the by, have agreed to go with them. All those will be taken care of. The invalid and decrepit in the care of the L.C.C.—I am talking of London now—are going to be moved out. But now you have a vast population who are prepared to go but have not been invited to register: there are no arrangements for them, and I suggest that you will have chaos unless there is a little organisation. One of the suggestions I ventured to make was that there should be issued a plaque or ticket to go on the windscreen or headlamp of a motor car so that the people controlling the traffic during the evacuation would be able to give priority to those holding those tickets. I suggest that the people entitled to hold those badges, or whatever they may be, should be people who are evacuating young children, aged persons and invalids—their own relatives, probably—and that they should be given priority, just as you give priority to those who are invited to attend a Trooping of the Colour, or anything else where a great congestion of traffic is made inevitable.

It is perfectly simple; it is done again and again in any big affair in London, when you issue those badges. Get the badges ready now; and the next step is to invite the people to register. From my own knowledge very little is being done in the way of organising this part of the exodus. May I also put this question to the noble Earl? I should like to add, from the correspondence I have received as a result of the Motion, the suggestion that you should issue some sort of badges or tickets—permits—to people who prefer to go, or who indeed can only go, by train, as well as to those who go by road. There are a good many people who would be just as much entitled to go away in the special trains as anyone else, or as anyone who would have priority in road travel, and some sort of badge or organisation is needed for them.

Now I come to the question of the roads themselves. I understand that the Government say: "It is all right, we are going to make the roads all one-way traffic and there will be no trouble in getting out." In order to attend your Lordships' House this afternoon I travelled up by road from Hampshire, and it was extremely difficult to make progress on that road at all between Basingstoke and Staines—to-day, now, with the ordinary Monday morning traffic. The road is up in six places in narrow lanes, with men standing and working "Stop" and "Go" signs. Now the Government have apparently prepared for some emergency or crisis during the next two months. As far as I can make out, if we can get through without serious trouble to the end of September, the danger period will be past. That can be shown by the calling-up of the Reserves, by the calling-up of the Naval Reserves, and so on; it is during the months of August and September that we pass through what I suppose can be called a danger period. Would it not be possible to make some appeal, or issue some emergency order, or do something to compel these local authorities to stop or complete immediately their road repairs so as to have such roads as we have at their maximum efficiency during August and September?

I assure the noble Lord and the Government that if, for example, they want to evacuate anyone westward—I have referred before to the westerly exits from London: they are appalling in ordinary times, but if they wish to evacuate anyone westward, the present roads will not stand the traffic which will have to use them. You have your Great West Road, and a magnificent road it is to Staines, and then you have, I think, a complete bottleneck. Then the road is narrow and winding, as in the times of the Saxons, as far as Basingstoke, and in many places it is under repair. You will never be able to get people along that road in time of emergency. I see by the newspapers that there was a terrible blockage last night—the ordinary Sunday night traffic jam—on the road between Denham in Buckinghamshire and Uxbridge in Middlesex, that 2,400 cars were passing there every hour, and that there was a two-mile traffic jam. I really think the Government will have to do two things. One is, as a great emergency, to put men especially to work on these roads, and to stop other repairs, so as to have these roads in a maximum state of efficiency during August and September. There should also be some organisation over the exits by the roads. I am not referring to children going out to the billeting areas. As to that, I think the organisation is excellent. I am talking about other people, and if such people know beforehand I am sure they will co-ordinate, but if they do not know, and if they are left to go as they please, there will be anarchy on the roads and trouble indeed. Those are my suggestions, which I hope are constructive.

May I revert to the interesting speech of Lord Phillimore? With all respect to the noble Lord, he seems to think that war under modern conditions can be waged without any special inconvenience to people who are not actually mobilised, and that his 16,000,000 people in the billeting areas are going to suffer terrible hardship because they have to put people up. I venture very respectfully to differ from the noble Lord. I believe the spirit of the people is very high, and that they will put up with anything if it be necessary, but that they will not put up with muddle and inefficiency. In this respect, I am asked by my noble friend Lord Addison, who has taken a great part in his own county in the matter of organisation, to draw attention to one other matter, and that is the provision of bed-cling and blankets. He tells me that he is on important committees, that very little has been done for the provision of bedding and blankets, that it is being left to the local authorities to tackle, and that in the last three weeks the price has gone up 25 per cent. and more. I think that that needs the attention of the Government as soon as possible.

4.52 p.m.


I ventured to ask some questions on the Second Reading of the Civil Defence Bill on the subject of evacuation, and as it was not convenient to deal with them then, I hope I shall be forgiven if I repeat them to-day. If I do repeat them, it will not mean that I am an enemy of the Government or would be a recruit to the Party of the noble Lord opposite. I should like, if possible, some explanation about the private arrangements referred to in some of these circulars. I understand that right up until an emergency is declared there is nothing to limit the absolute right of an owner to let his house to whom he likes, for as long as he likes, and at what rent he likes, and I presume that the tenant of such a house would have the same right to remain in the house after an emergency had been declared as would the owner if he had been in occupation. Again, even after an emergency has been declared there seems to be nothing to prevent the owner from letting his house to whom he pleases. Indeed, it does not seem that the Government are very much concerned about trying to maintain any accommodation clear in advance of the arrival of the refugees. I have no doubt it would be extremely difficult to do so without placing a great burden on owners in ordinary times of peace.

No doubt, too, the Government are relying on the promises of the owners, made at the time the survey was taken, to keep their houses clear for refugees, although a number of circumstances may have caused great alterations in the particulars disclosed in that survey. To find accommodation for the official quotas of refugees the Government appear to rely almost entirely upon their compulsory powers for billeting after the refugees arrive. For this purpose they seem to be taking very wide powers indeed. I imagine, for instance, that the billeting officers would have the right to evict, to turn out, certain classes of people if necessary. I quite appreciate that there may be no practical alternative to this rather rough-and-ready method, but I am afraid that the billeting officers will not have a particularly easy or pleasant task. It does seem to me that these difficulties, which rightly or wrongly I anticipate, might perhaps be lessened to some extent if the public had a more accurate idea than I believe they have, as to the very large changes that have been effected in this scheme since it was first introduced. For instance, we were, I believe, at first told that nobody would have children billeted on him unless he was prepared to receive them, but under Clause 56 of the Civil Defence Act, as Lord Phillimore has pointed out, that idea seems completely to have gone by the board.

As I read the Bill, people may be put compulsorily in loco parentis and made responsible not only for the feeding and accommodation, but also for the care of children, although they may not desire to take these children. That is a remarkable and quite unprecedented departure from the original scheme, and I think that if people are going to have children put upon them under those conditions, they ought to be made aware of it in advance. As to the power which I presume is inherent in this Bill, by which billeting officers can turn out certain people altogether, subject to the right of appeal to the local tribunal, I feel that if it was known generally in advance that certain categories of people were liable to be turned out in this way, they might not venture into those evacuation areas at all, and the task of the billeting officers would be made much easier. Even if the Government cannot divide the unofficial refugees into categories of that sort, I feel it would be a great advantage to know which private arrangements, if any, made by individual householders, could be counted as part of the official quota, and which could not. If, for example, an owner contracted privately to receive an entire school from a vulnerable area, could that be regarded as part of the official quota of refugees, and, if so, what would be the proper procedure to ensure that they were so counted?

My next point deals with a matter which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. It is a question of the advance expenditure on preparations for evacuation. It seems to me at the first glance that it is a little illogical that authorities should be empowered to spend a great deal of money on various aspects of civil defence, such, for instance, as the preparation of shelters and trenches on a very elaborate scale for children, and at the same time apparently be debarred from acquiring beds or blankets in preparation for maternity homes. It seems almost unthinkable that expectant mothers should be put into houses where no adequate preparations have been made for their reception. I am sure that the Government have some scheme in mind whereby these stores could be made available, but I do not think that scheme has hitherto been disclosed.

Again, I referred the other day to the situation that would arise in certain parts of the country, which attract normally large numbers of visitors during the holiday period, if the evacuation should take place during those months; and I asked whether any consideration could be given to any scheme put forward by the local authority, if they so wished, to Incur expenditure by adapting public buildings or by some other method, so as to have some reserve of accommodation if it appeared to them to be necessary. Finally, I asked whether there was any general advice which could be given to holiday makers, who might find themselves away from home at the time of a crisis, as to whether they should stay where they were, or whether they should return to their homes. I understand that there is now in course of distribution a leaflet which gives some answer to that question, although it does not appear to me to be a complete answer.

I must apologise if I am asking questions on which information has already been given. Indeed, I think that some information has been given on some of these points, but, if I may say so, it seems to have been given in rather a spasmodic way. I have found local authority officers eagerly scanning the newspapers to see whether they could get information from debates in Parliament, or from letters in the papers. I have of course every sympathy with the Ministry of Health, who have this immense task of preparing for one of the largest migrations in history, and yet at the same time have to live a normal life and to proceed in peace time as if there were none of these difficulties to cope with. I hope that at any rate a clear and comprehensive answer to this and a large number of other questions can be given as soon as possible.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I speak on this question without a great deal of knowledge, because I really am, so far as this subject is concerned, only an ordinary inhabitant of a reception area who is prepared to receive a certain number of children. I have perhaps an advantage over otter people similarly situated, in that I have had the opportunity of talking to some of these people who are voluntarily giving their services to organising the reception area in my district, and I must confess that all that I have really gleaned from conversations with them has been that if the volume of data which is being sent out on this subject is any criterion, the war has already begun. Unfortunately one knows from experience that the results from paper of this nature usually vary inversely with the volume, and so it seems from the point of view of the ordinary inhabitant. They do not in the least know what is going to happen in the event of war. They are perfectly willing to do what they can, but they would like to know beforehand what is really expected of them, and that, I think, is the principal complaint that they have.

My noble friend Lord Phillimore raised a large number of points which I think, generally speaking, one can agree with, but which are not matters of concern to the people who are expecting to have refugees in their houses in the event of war. Those people are interested in matters of much more domestic concern, and if only they could be told: "You have agreed to take in so many children. All right, you will, in the event of war, get four or five or six children of certain ages, and they will not have their parents," or "they will have their parents," or something of that sort, then those people could make their arrangements. All that has happened in most cases has been that they have said they would take in children, or they would take in blind persons, or cripples, and they have heard no more at all. They cannot make their preparations in advance, which they would like to do. They are quite prepared to receive these people, but they would like to know what the people are, and who they are. So far as the area that I live in is concerned, I believe preparations have reached the first day of evacuation. The area has been informed that so many unaccompanied children will arrive on the first day, and they have gleaned from various sources that "unaccompanied children" means children without their parents, but not necessarily without any adults. I believe they would have their school teachers with them. Is that right?




But the first day is not going to be the only day during which evacuation will take place. There will surely be many others coming, either by road or by rail, and the areas and the individuals in the areas want to know. They do not mind about compulsory powers. They rather welcome compulsory powers, because that brings into the scheme those who, perhaps from selfish motives, are anxious to keep out; but they do want to know.

On one other point I think there is a certain amount of criticism. A great deal of this work is being done through the officials of the local authorities. Those officials are pretty busy men at the best of times, and superimposed upon their ordinary duties is the immense task of organising the reception of the refugees who have been evacuated from vulnerable areas. First of all, they hardly have the time to get on with a task which, if one is to believe all one hears, is of the utmost urgency, and may have to be completed in a very short time. Secondly, they are a very excellent body of men, but I wonder whether in every case they are entirely suited to understand what, in fact, are the human and the domestic problems which are exercising the minds of those who live in those reception areas. The officials are, no doubt, excellent as officials of local authorities, but I wonder whether the voluntary worker who lives in the area is not a person better fitted to carry on the organisation in the area, instead of its being under the guidance of already overworked officials, who very often have not got the experience of the country areas (because most of these are country areas) which enable them to know what the real problems are.

That is a matter of organisation, and an important matter of organisation. I have a feeling at the back of my mind that the organisation generally is far too centralised. It is centralised largely in Whitehall, and there again your official in Whitehall is already overworked. He does not know the small problems that matter to the extent which they do matter, as any countryman realises, in the reception areas. I feel very much that this question of evacuation would go much more smoothly, much more happily, if only those people who are going to receive the refugees were given the fullest possible information and told exactly what was expected of them. If they were told that I am quite certain they would do all in their power to help the Government.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I agree very strongly with what has just fallen from my noble friend. One of the chief troubles in this emergency is the complete uncertainty in which we are living. I do not know who settles the areas for evacuation, but I would just give you my own experience. A good many months ago, long before there was any question of compulsory evacuation, I settled with the town clerk of my own town, Wigan, in South-West Lancashire, to take in as many infirm and aged people, convalescents, from the local infirmary as could conveniently get into the house. That was understood and agreed between us. A few weeks afterwards he told me that my home was no longer in his evacuation area and that I had been moved into the Liverpool area. So I went across to Liverpool where I saw the town clerk, who telephoned to the director of education, and in five minutes it was arranged that a girls' school, with their mistresses, should be sent to my house in case of emergency. That suited me very well. It is a very large house, full of very famous and beautiful things, and it so happens it has Got a floor which would be suitable for teaching these young ladies from Lancashire dancing. A few weeks later I got a letter from the town clerk of Liverpool saying: "We have been shifted. We are no longer going to the Parish of Haigh. You are now in the Manchester area." I went across and saw my friend the director of education in Manchester, and he said: "We have got schools in Manchester too. I will send you one of them." And that was settled. A few months afterwards I got a letter from him to say: "You have been moved out of my area, you are now in the Salford area." I then went across to Salford and the town clerk of Salford said: "I guarantee you cannot be shifted to anywhere else this time."

But all that illustrates what fell from my noble friend just now. It is this uncertainty. I do not know who sets up this geographical distribution of evacuation. I suppose it is the local authorities. But what I find is that all these local authorities are desperately afraid of London, not merely that they look to London for guidance, but they are frightened. They say: "What will London say to us? Will London give us the money if we spend this? We are quite certain London will repudiate." There is this burden of London weighing upon the initiative of local authorities all the time. I might say that local authorities can themselves be a little tiresome. A friend of mine who lives in North London—this is not in connection with evacuation, but with the next thing to it, air-raid precautions—has got a small garden attached to his house and he was told by the authorities that he ought to put a shelter in it. He has been under fire all his life, and he did not much believe in the kind of shelter that could be erected in a back garden. But he is a man who has served under discipline and imposed discipline for fifty years in the public service. The shelter was made in the garden, and he was told the local authorities wanted to see him. His household consists of himself, his wife, and I think two maid servants. A man came and saw what he had done. He had put two or three garden chairs into the shelter, and a small hoard of food which, acting under instructions, he had purchased. "Oh," said the local authority, "this is a furnished house, and you will be rated upon it." Could we have an assurance that we are not going to be rated on our improvements?

Can we be told a little more specifically? I do hope my noble friend Lord Munster will not be afraid of making mistakes. Far better make a blunder and rectify it afterwards, if possible, than leave everything in the present state of uncertainty which is the very way to make blunders when the emergency occurs. If my noble friend will be really firm and really tell the Ministry of Health they have got to make up their minds one way or another, he will relieve our anxieties and reassure all those in the country who are really beginning to wonder if London is not a very big nuisance.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Phillimore said at the beginning of his remarks, the Motion which stands in his name on the Paper was placed there at my suggestion in order that the House might have the opportunity of hearing a full and comprehensive statement from His Majesty's Government upon the whole problem of the evacuation of the civil population from vulnerable areas in the event of any emergency. It will be my endeavour to give the House this comprehensive statement, setting out the measures which His Majesty's Government have taken or are taking, and further to reply to the very many questions that have been addressed to me. I am perfectly prepared to admit that the fullest information should be given and made available not only to your Lordships but to everybody in this country whom this scheme affects. After all, it is a scheme of such magnitude that, if put into operation, it must vitally affect the normal everyday life of many residing both in the receiving and the evacuation areas. It must be clear to everyone that all plans for evacuation must be substantially completed in peacetime in order to ensure that the arrangements made can be swiftly and smoothly put into operation.

My right honourable friend in dealing with the whole of this question has worked in very close co-operation with other Government Departments. The Ministry of 'Transport, for instance, who deal with railways, and the Traffic Commissioners have been brought into consultation; the Food Defence (Plans) Department, which deals with food rationing for the evacuated people during the first forty-eight hours and, further, with the redistribution of food supplies; the Ministry of Labour and the Unemployment Assistance Board, who deal with maintenance allowances and, finally, the General Post Office, which in the event of this emergency will deal with the questions of allowances to householders who provide accommodation for the evacuated persons. The whole object of my right honourable friend's scheme is to secure the organised dispersal of the priority classes, and it would be useful for me to repeat once again—for they have already been stated in this debate—exactly what these priority classes are. The whole of my remarks to-day will be based entirely on these priority classes and nobody else. They are, firstly, school children with their teachers; secondly, young children under five years of age and their mothers; thirdly, expectant mothers; and, finally, the blind and crippled. Those are the priority classes to whom my remarks will refer.

The House will note that the classification of the country into evacuating, neutral and reception areas has already been completed in discussions of my right honourable friend with the local authorities concerned, and the general proposal is that of moving 3,000,000 children from the vulnerable areas into the reception areas, which have, at the present time, a total population of, roughly, 16,000,000 persons. As far back as January 5 last, a circular letter was sent out by the Government to all local authorities concerned requesting them to carry out a survey of the accommodation in their areas, and that survey was made on the basis of one person per habitable room. From the results which were finally submitted to the Ministry of Health there appeared to be ample accommodation available for those who were to be transferred. I think, as that question has been dealt with at some length by noble Lords who have spoken, perhaps I might give the House quite briefly what actually resulted from this survey.

It appeared that the amount of surplus accommodation, on a basis of one person per habitable room, would provide for about 6,250,000 persons; further, that private arrangements had been made in these areas for about 1,130,000 persons, and that voluntary offers to take in accompanied school children were made in respect of 2,500,000 children. In the opinion of the local authorities who submitted replies to this circular letter, accommodation could be properly made available for 1,200,000 additional persons. That survey did show a most remarkable willingness on the part of all those in the reception areas to assist and to render every possible help that was in their power in order to reach the goal which my right honourable friend had in view, and indeed no words of mine can express the gratitude that we feel to those private persons who have wholeheartedly entered into this problem. I have little doubt that we can rely upon their co-operation to bear this burden in precisely the same cheerful spirit that was so apparent in this country on Saturday last when the first batch of young men were called up for military training.

These summaries which finally reached the Ministry of Health were examined and a decision was given as to the number of persons to be allocated in each district. I understand that quite soon intimation will be given by local authorities to the individuals in the reception areas as to the number of children they will take, but I want to make this quite clear. Any noble Lord who has agreed and told the local authorities that he is prepared to take a certain number of children will receive that number in the event of an emergency, but compulsory powers will be used to enable the local authority to make those individuals in their area who have not agreed to take these children liable to house and board a certain number. In determining the figure as to how many persons should be allocated to each district, my right honourable friend has three points in mind, which perhaps for the sake of accuracy I may read to the House. First, that the total number should not in any case be more than double the total number of children and teachers for whom voluntary offers have been made; secondly, that the total number should not exceed the surplus found to be available by local authorities after making allowance for private arrangements reported to the local authority at the time of the survey; and, thirdly, that the figure communicated to the local authority should be the net figure after making allowance for accommodation required for military billeting and other Government arrangements. These allocations communicated to the local authorities at the end of March amounted to 3,700,000 persons.

Before I go on to the large number of questions that were addressed to me, perhaps I might deal with one other matter. There appears to have been a certain amount of anxiety and bewilderment expressed by noble Lords. For my part I regard this evacuation scheme as another stage in our policy of preparedness, for we are assuring as far as human ingenuity can devise it a scheme for 3,000,000 persons of the priority classes to be moved from what I might describe as the battle zone into less vulnerable areas, and I fell sure that by this means we are imparting a feeling of encouragement to a very large number of parents and lessening the chances of slaughter of non-combatants by hostile aircraft.

There might be questions raised that were not mentioned in your Lordships' discussion to-day, in regard to payments to persons in reception areas who receive one or more of the priority classes. We propose to pay 10s. 6d. a week if one child is taken; 8s. 6d. a week for each child where more than one is taken, in the case of children under school age accompanied by their mother or some other responsible persons. Where the householder is providing only lodging and not board, payment will be at the rate of 5s. a week for each adult and 3s. a week for each child. There will be a further sum of 5s. paid where the householder provides lodging for any teacher who accompanies the schoolchildren.

Having given the House a brief statement of my right honourable friend's intentions in dealing with a scheme of great magnitude in the event of an emergency, perhaps I might now reply to some of the questions which have been addressed to me in the course of our discussion this afternoon. My noble friend Lord Phillimore asked me if I could give him any indication of the length of time during which these priority class persons would be allowed to remain in the reception areas. It is frankly not possible for me to forecast the length of time during which occupiers of premises are to be required to furnish accommodation, any more than it would be possible for us to forecast with any degree of accuracy whatever the length of the duration of a war. But I think I can say that the approximate duration of time during which these children would remain in the reception areas can be defined as that period of time during which it is considered probable there would be danger if they remained in the crowded cities.

I pass from that point to the question of the Civil Defence Act and in particular to Section 56 of that measure. It is quite true that this Act gives compulsory powers to the local authorities, and such powers must be in existence for use by the local authorities in the event of any emergency. I look upon these compulsory powers which will be given to the local authorities as powers enabling them, as I have already said, to force these priority classes upon individuals who have not been willing to take them under a voluntary effort. But I have not any doubt in my own mind that the response to the circular sent out by my right honourable friend will cover every single child whom it is wished to transfer in the event of an emergency. There will be regulations made under Section 56 of that Act, and my right honourable friend is I think at the present moment discussing these regulations with the associations of local authorities. He proposes to set up small tribunals with a simple and easy procedure. Those tribunals must be localised and have full knowledge of local conditions. For instance, housing conditions will be one most important matter. Let me make it quite clear that the local authorities themselves will not be the appeal tribunals, but will be responsible for seeing that the machinery of these tribunals is set up and functions at once. I shall refer again to the appeals which may be made to these tribunals in the course of a few moments.

Then my noble friend asked a question concerning insurance offices, and here perhaps I may make some observations to the House. This question as to the compensation for damage which may be suffered by householders as a result of their reception of evacuated persons has been raised on several occasions. I think my noble friend on a previous occasion mentioned the possibility of damage being caused by the town child's ignorance of lamps as a method of lighting. Then there was the question of loss which might be suffered by householders from larceny, and next damage in general. On the first point—namely, the question of damage by fire—my noble friend and I were successful in obtaining from the insurance offices in the form of a letter to The Times a statement of what they were prepared to do to cover against fire those individuals who receive the priority classes. I have been in communication again with my own agents to find out in what position I should be in the very unlikely event of larceny by one of these priority classes. I am informed quite definitely that my insurance company is prepared to cover me against that eventuality without any additional premium. But let me say at once that I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend that it is high time, if it has not already been done, for the insurance companies to state quite categorically their intentions with regard to insurance policies, so that every individual in the reception areas may know exactly the position in which he stands. It will undoubtedly remove a source of grave doubt in the minds of many persons.

I informed my noble friend Viscount Samuel that I was going to refer to a question which he raised during a previous discussion in the House as to whether the Government would pay for damage caused as a consequence of evacuated persons being of a criminal character. As I have pointed out at some very considerable length, the persons to be evacuated are those in the priority classes—of which I have given a definition—and therefore I think the question of evacuated persons having a criminal character does not arise.

Now I come to the main question of damage. I think my noble friend will realise that this word "damage" may cover anything from substantial injury to my noble friend's property to the normal depreciation which results from the occupation of a house. I cannot help thinking that it would not be reasonable or practicable to pay compensation for the latter, which must be regarded as being covered by the amount paid for billeting. Nevertheless, His Majesty's Government do accept the principle that householders who undertake this work should be able to make claims for any substantial damage to their premises. The Government will undertake to consider such claims, as they are now doing in the case of other claims for war damage, at the expiration of an emergency.

Having dealt with these principal points, I now come to answer some other questions which were addressed to me. My noble friend opposite asked whether it was contemplated that persons owning cars would be allowed to make their own arrangements for transporting themselves and their children out of vulnerable areas at the outset of any emergency. It is not our intention to impose any general ban on the movement of private cars at the beginning of an emergency, but persons transporting themselves and their children out of vulnerable areas must not, of course, interfere with the official evacuation plan. For instance, they must not attempt to take accommodation reserved for the official classes of evacuees. Further, the Commissioner of Police is now in the course of making arrangements to minimise the possibility of chaos on the roads leading out of large towns and cities. The question of the noble Lord opposite concerning repairs to main roads I will certainly communicate to my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport. In the Metropolitan Police District, however, the Commissioner of Police has worked out plans for getting evacuation traffic away as soon as possible and with the least possible interference with essential traffic. I am advised that in an emergency a scheme of one-way outward routes will be put into operation and the roads will be sign-posted by the Automobile Association. Arrangements have already been made for policing these routes. I understand further that the attention of chief constables in the provinces, which will presumably be the reception areas, will be drawn to this question, and that they are working out similar plans, also with the co-operation of the Automobile Association.

In the previous discussion we had on the Civil Defence Bill, I think my noble friend Viscount Mersey asked me whether the operation of public service vehicles would be curtailed in an emergency. I think my noble friend anticipated quite correctly the reply which I should give him to-day. It is obvious that during the progress of official evacuation considerable demands will be made on public service vehicles, in some cases for the picking-up of persons for entrainment, in others for the transport of evacuees from the entrainment station to the point at which they will be dispersed to billets. In case of war the existing services of public service vehicles would be curtailed by reason of the rationing of fuel, and possibly also by the creation of new demands for services consequent upon movements of the population. I understand that a short pamphlet was issued some time this year on the organisation of public service vehicles during war, and if my noble friend will endeavour to obtain one of these pamphlets he will find the answers to the majority of the other points which I think he raised on that discussion.


May I ask whether the noble Earl will be good enough to answer my question whether the Government propose to invite the registration of the priority classes I have mentioned who are outside the London County Council scheme, so that you know where you are?


Yes; I have not finished yet. The noble Lord interrupted me before I reached that point.


I am sorry.


My noble friend raised the question, as I understand it, of persons who are not of the priority classes, and asked whether they could have badges to be fixed to the windscreens or to the lamps of their cars. I have communicated that suggestion, as I promised, to my right honourable friend, and he is in the course of considering it. I am not at present able to give my noble friend any further answer to the question which he put to me on a former occasion, during the discussion of the Civil Defence Bill.


Could I just make this point plain? Children in London of the same age as London County Council children are surely in the priority class, even though they cannot be brought within the London County Council scheme?


I think it would be true to say that children of any class, rich or poor, certainly all come within the priority classes. One further question, about the transport arrangements for the civil evacuation: there is, as I see it, bound to be a certain dislocation of traffic on main roads. It is the intention of my right honourable friend that the majority of those evacuated from vulnerable districts should in fact use the train services. Arrangements have already been made with the four main-line railway companies and the London Passenger Transport Board, and a comprehensive scheme has been worked out to give effect to the wish of the Government that the greater majority of these priority classes should move by train and not by road. I have here a long description of the time-tables which it is proposed to set in motion in the event of this evacuation taking place: how and when goods traffic will run, and a variety of other details which I do not think it would be the wish of the House that I should enter into at the present time.

I apologise for keeping your Lordships so long, but the question is of immense magnitude. I am endeavouring now to answer the principal points which were put to me. There is the question of bedding and blankets, which I think was raised by the noble Lord opposite: have they been ordered? I understand that tenders have been issued for these beds and that the greater number of blankets have been obtained and are in fact in the course of distribution to the local authorities. Perhaps here I might mention one matter which is probably in the minds of many noble Lords. It has appeared to me that noble Lords might wish for some information upon the domestic management of a house in the event of receiving some of the priority classes to which I have referred. It is hoped that the local authorities will provide personally for domestic arrangements in certain cases. In such cases it will be for the local authorities to do what they can to further and assist these domestic arrangements. But it is the wish of my right honourable friend that wherever possible domestic staffs in private houses should be encouraged to remain at their posts. There will be a variety of work which they can well accomplish in the general care of the priority classes, and in helping to look after the clothes and other requirements of these persons. Moreover, the receiving local authorities have been asked to arrange a system of communal meals during the day, which of course will save the housewife in the poorer-class district from having to engage herself in considerable heavy work in looking after those whom she may have been willing enough to receive.

My noble friend behind me, Viscount Gage, asked me what would be the position of those from the vulnerable areas who were on holiday in the event of war coming. Here again my right honourable friend is anxious that persons who may be caught in an emergency spending their holidays by the seaside should remain where they are, but the male member of a family should return to the district from which he comes—that is to say, if he is naturally in a vulnerable area. My noble friend further asked me a variety of questions dealing with the arrangements which he might have made privately with a certain school for the evacuation of that school or block to his own house, even though he has informed the local authority that he is prepared to receive a certain number of refugees who might be allotted to him. I am not quite certain that I could give the noble Viscount a clear and concise answer, but my advice to him would be that if he has accepted the local authority's scheme voluntarily to take a certain number of children, and now desires to add to that number by taking the whole of one school, he should certainly consult his own local authority first. I can envisage a situation arising in which the local authority, because of my noble friend's action, might have to force others in that district to take a number of extra children or refugees, which would not otherwise have been the case.


Do I take it then that it is impossible to include children from the vulnerable areas, coming as a school together, in the official quota for that district? I noticed in a communication to the Press the other day some information from the Minister which did not seem to tally with that which the noble Earl has now suggested.


I do not see any objection on the merits of such a proposal as the noble Lord has suggested to me, but I think it will depend on the position in the district whether such a change would cause any embarrassment. For instance, the transport arrangements might be seriously curtailed, either on the journey down from the vulnerable area or from the time when the children were coming from a particular station to the house which had been given to them by my noble friend. I perhaps did not make it quite clear that the number which a local authority will have the responsibility of accommodating in their district will remain as before, but if this quota occupies the available accommodation in the district the withdrawal of the offer to take a number of children in the district would obviously cause some embarrassment. On the other hand, if there is a surplus of accommodation the matter is quite capable of adjustment. As I have already said, it would he helpful if individuals who want to make any changes of the kind suggested would communicate with the local authorities, and ascertain whether such a change will cause any embarrassment to them.

I think I have replied to the majority of the questions put to me. My noble friend Lord Radnor complained that there had been a volume of paper sent out, and Lord Gage said that no instructions had been received at all. I feel somewhat between the devil and the deep blue sea, but I have no doubt that the local authorities are making every possible arrangement they can to meet a question of immense magnitude, which has been thrown upon them by the situation which has developed throughout the world to-day. I am quite sure that my right honourable friend will continue with his plan for removing the priority classes from the vulnerable areas, and that he will make sure that anything which is now lacking shall be completed forthwith, until such time as we can look to the future to see law and order, and peace and happiness, prevail in a very weary world.


Before the noble Lord withdraws his Motion, may I say that it is not quite clear from what the noble Earl said about private arrangements—where private arrangements are made to take a school as a whole, and private arrangements are made for their transport—whether the transport arrangements are likely to be upset by the Government arrangements with the transport companies?


I think, as Lord Crawford has just suggested, that the answer is "most probably.'

5.54 p.m.


I feel grateful to the Government for giving us this opportunity of debate, and to the noble Earl for having cleared up many matters which were obscure. I feel very gratified by the answers which he has given to my questions, and particularly that he gave a pledge, in so far as the Government can give a pledge on a matter of this kind, which he phrased when he said that the whole scheme will be based on priority classes, and no other. I take it that the powers under Section 56, under which any of the population can be transferred to the receiving areas, will not be used beyond the priority classes?


They certainly will not be used at present, for the scheme which the Government have always worked on is that of priority classes. I can picture, however, in the event of war, some disaster happening in some particular district whereby the whole of that district might have to be moved forthwith, and by compulsory powers. I can, however, give the noble Lord this assurance, that it certainly will not be used in peace time.


The noble Earl has now raised up the very dragon of which I was afraid. It is quite possible that a situation might arise of the kind which he has described, but it would not necessarily be met justly or well by the compulsory billeting on private houses of the adult male section of the population. There are other ways of housing such people outside private houses, and I am sorry indeed to find that my fears in that direction are not altogether allayed. The noble Earl also said—and there I received great comfort, because I do not think he could have said anything more—that as regards the period of duration of billeting it would not last beyond the time when danger in the evacuated area could be said to exist. That is very satisfactory. I thought also that his reply as to claims for substantial damage being admissible was very valuable, and I only received with a certain amount of regret the intimation that the general powers conferred on the Minister of Health by this Act will be used to set up local tribunals. Some of these powers seem to go very far, and raise the question of the relations between the local magistrates and police and these tribunals. The noble Earl has been set a heavy task, and I am very grateful to him. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.