HL Deb 31 July 1941 vol 119 cc1009-14

LORD PHILLIMORE had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government what steps have been taken since 27th May, 1941, (I), to provide the personnel engaged in Civil Defence in the target areas with proper reliefs; (2), to provide shelter at night, however extemporary, for workers in these areas outside the area likely to be bombed; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there are a great many subjects as to which one has to walk very delicately in these days, and I hope I shall be able to show the proper reticence in asking the questions I have placed on the Paper. I am not, of course, aware of what the Government will think fit to reply nor of what they will think fit to leave unanswered, but I should like to put it to them in respect of both branches of my Motion that they should do one thing, and that is recognise the necessity of taking the course of action I have suggested. Instead of a kind of imputation almost of cowardice being laid on people who leave a target area by night, with the object of returning next morning to do their work, I should like to see a frank recognition that considerable saving of life, and still more considerable paving of panic or terror, can be effected by the comparatively simple process of removal and dispersal. So far as I know, there has been no recognition by the Government of the wisdom of night flitting. If we were on the battlefield and neglected to use any means in our power to save our men from unnecessary risks, we should be very justly blamed. Why is the situation any different on the Home Front? Why cannot the Government make a point of seeing that all possible persons whose work, or their duties to the locality, is not thereby interfered with, remove themselves by night rather than await an attack from the air which, as the Prime Minister has indicated, is only too likely to happen-again during the winter months?

May I therefore begin by asking whether the Government recognise the wisdom of dispersal from these areas by night. That would be my first question. My next question would be whether the personnel of all the Civil Defence forces are adequately relieved, or whether arrangements for their adequate relief have been made. It is well known to your Lordships that, in special, there are key men in each of these areas who are mostly doubling their work. They were formerly, possibly, officials under the ultimate control of the Ministry of Health. They now come under the Ministry of Home Security as well, and besides being, say, Clerks of the Peace or Town Clerks, they have added to their duties that of controller of the purposes of Civil Defence. Such a man is working exceedingly hard and very often late hours at night. Is a relief arranged for him in these more dangerous areas? 1 quote him as the man at the top; but, of course, ail the way down until you get to the ultimate policeman there is need of regular reliefs when frequent and punishing raids are made. I do not ask the Government to say what steps they have taken. I do ask them to say whether this problem has been met and faced.

With regard to the second portion of my Motion, I again ask whether recognition is given to the wisdom of general night evacuation in so far as it can be effected. I do not expect anything from the Government in the way of answer except that this is recognised as a legitimate cause for endeavour, as something at which they are really working hard, and as something which by, say, the middle of October they will have mastered as a problem. Obviously the Government cannot say what exact steps they are taking. I should like to put before them two special considerations. One is that the whole of this night flitting must depend on the organisation, and proper organisation, of transport. I have heard of instances where a particular firm, or a particular body of some kind, hire a 'bus, go out into the country, spend the night in the 'bus or adjoining the 'bus, leaving the 'bus there for the night, and are brought home next morning. Obviously that is a rather selfish use of a valuable means of transport. Those 'buses ought to do for five journeys out and five journeys in. Are these matters being regulated?

The other point to which I would draw special attention is this. It has been mentioned in the papers, and therefore I suppose I am quite free to mention it, that the Minister of Health has arranged camps for night evacuees. I do not ask for any particulars of those camps, but I feel extremely uneasy as to whether, on the scale I understand the Minister of Health is working, we shall ever get anything like an adequate amount of shelter by the beginning of next winter. I am told that the shelters being provided are both elaborate and expensive, and I think if they are both those things they cannot be provided in the quantities that are needed. I would like to recognise that a man or woman, or whoever it may be, living in a bombed area should have a perfect right to make his or her adequate shelter arrangements on land reserved for the purpose. I doubt whether it can be done officially in the time, but I think some sort of bivouac can be scraped together by the person needing it, once his transport is arranged for and a site allowed him where he can take refuge. Private enterprise has time and time again, proved its superiority, and especially its celerity, as against official working, and time is of the essence of this matter. I would therefore like to see a deliberate encouragement given to those who are not otherwise provided for to provide themselves with shelter in the regions which I have indicated. I have nothing further which I think it advisable to say, and I hope I have not trod on any dangerous ground. I do not think I have. I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.


My Lords, I can give my noble friend a reasonably full answer to the first part of his question, but in regard to the second part my right honourable friend, the Minister for Home Security, has told me that, while all aspects of this question of trekking at night to safer areas are under active consideration, it is inadvisable to make any public statement about the arrangements which are being made. Clearly, if I said anything on the subject, I should have to make omissions, because otherwise valuable information would be given to the enemy—information which might easily be valuable to him in selecting targets. For that reason my right honourable friend has asked me not to reply to the second half of the question.

With regard to the first part, the system of duty of whole-time Civil Defence personnel is organised throughout the country on the basis that a period on duty is followed by a period of relief off duty, and in most areas the system is that twelve hours duty is followed by a period of twelve hours rest, with one whole day a week free from duty—that is to say, a minimum rest period of seventy-two hours in a week. In addition the whole-time trained member of the Civil Defence Services is allowed two weeks leave on full pay in every twelve months. A special department of the Red Cross and St. John organisation has made substantial progress in securing offers of hospitality for Civil Defence personnel from heavily bombed areas, and the Government have decided—with effect from June I last—that in areas which have suffered heavy air raids local authorities may defray the cost of one third-class railway return fare a year, without any limitation as to the length of the journey to be taken, to enable whole-time Civil Defence workers to take leave outside the area where they work. In the case of a man compulsorily enrolled under the National Service Act, T941, the concession will be alternative but not supplementary to the grant of a return fare to his home town once in any period of twelve months.

Efforts have also been made to arrange for relief by way of effecting exchanges between groups of Civil Defence workers from heavily-bombed areas and those from areas where conditions have been quieter. That presents considerable difficulties, because in the immune or lightly-bombed areas the Civil Defence workers are, for the most part, part-time workers, and do their jobs—very often jobs of substantial importance to the country—during the day, and they cannot leave those jobs to come to London or to other heavily-bombed areas to make this exchange. Nevertheless, efforts have been made, and a certain number of exchanges have been effected; but my noble friend will appreciate that the fact that the Civil Defence workers in lightly-bombed areas are not whole-time men does make it extremely difficult for them to exchange with the personnel from heavily-bombed areas.

In the Fire Services the hours of duty vary. Arrangements for the interchange of crews between brigades in target areas and those in other parts were made as long ago as December last, and advantage has been taken of these arrangements in a good many cases, more especially on the part of the London Fire Brigade. Thus, in June last 224 firemen from the London fire district went on a tour of duty in the provinces, and this month, which is now drawing to a close, 240 are doing duty in lightly-bombed areas. I hope I have said enough to convince my noble friend that this aspect of relief for the Civil Defence personnel is being carefully studied, and what can be done is being done to make conditions endurable for these people who have in many cases been very heavily tried.


My Lords, I have to thank the noble Duke for his reply. It is clear, though he did not put it in so many words, that the necessity for affording relief is recognised by the Ministry, and I am glad to hear, at any rate, of the steps that have been taken in this matter. With regard to the second half of my question, I appreciate that I can get no further, and I dare say it might be unwise to go any further, except that I do think that I might have been allowed to be told that the wisdom of night evacuation was recognised by the Government. I do not know whether the noble Duke can go so far as that. If not, I shall be disappointed, though grateful to him for the answer he has already given. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned.