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Civil Defence

Volume 357: debated on Thursday 22 February 1940

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Auxiliary Fire Service


asked the Home Secretary what steps he proposes taking to secure recruits for and retain the existing personnel of the Auxiliary Fire Service?

The recruitment of personnel for the Auxiliary Fire Service is in the hands of the local fire authorities, who are responsible for taking any necessary measures to secure suitable recruits. As regards the retention of existing personnel, I am sending my hon. Friend a copy of a circular which I have recently addressed to local authorities, dealing with the reservation of whole-time personnel over the age of 30 and kindred matters.

While appreciating the step which the right hon. Gentleman has taken, is he aware that large numbers of trained members of this service are leaving it for other employment, and could he not take some step to make recruiting a contractual obligation rather on the lines of the Territorial Army, in order to retain the personnel?

The position varies from district to district. In some areas, particularly where ordinary employment is good, there is a shortage of recruits for the service.

Will the right hon. Gentleman look at the incidence of the scheme of personal injuries as it applies to firemen and other voluntary workers, and see whether or not that scheme is preventing recruitment and losing recruits?

Steel Shelters


asked the Home Secretary whether local authorities, instead of supplying one Anderson steel shelter for each household, may supply a larger type of steel shelter where two or more households are willing to share accommodation, thus effecting a saving in finance and material for shelters and for their erection?

Yes, Sir. With a view to make the best use of our resources, advice in this sense was given to local authorities last autumn, and many local authorities are known to have acted on that advice.

Black-Out (Pedestrians)


asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that there are a variety of luminous belts of considerable advantage to wearers during the black-out; and whether he will conduct experiments during the black-out with a view to testing the effectiveness and the degrees of luminosity of various types of these belts?

My Department has examined a large number of luminous articles suggested for wear by pedestrians in the black-out. In general they have been found to possess no great advantage, as an aid to visibility, over a similar article made from ordinary white material. As the hon. Member will recollect, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has recommended pedestrians to wear, or carry, something white at night, or to use a torch pointed downwards to indicate their presence on the road. These precautions are likely to be more effective than luminous belts or other luminous articles.

Will the Minister consider the possibility of having experiments made in Palace Yard so that hon. Members may see for themselves?

Is it not the case that most people have a white handkerchief which they could very easily tie round their arm?

Greenock Harbour


asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that the deaths at Greenock Harbour through drowning since the commencement of the black-out now amount to 20; whether he has yet reached a decision regarding modification of the regulations to meet this situation; and whether he has any statement to make on the subject?

As I promised in reply to the hon. Member's previous Question I have had inquiry made into the conditions at Greenock Harbour and I have been assured that there is an adequate number of lifebuoys and that these are being maintained in good condition. The lighting of the harbour appeared, however, to need attention and measures have been taken to provide modified lighting, to fence off the quays and to fix guard rails in dangerous places.

Is this being made a general matter? The right hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate on the previous occasion that he had in mind a modification of the regulations with regard to all harbours.

I do not think it is so much a matter of regulation as of intelligent action on the spot.

Red Cross Emblem


asked the Home Secretary whether he will state the reasons why, in connection with the instructions recently issued by his Department to local authorities prohibiting the use of the red cross on air-raid precautions ambulances and on signs at entrances to first-aid posts, a distinction is drawn between the ambulances and first-aid posts of civil defence authorities and those of the military authorities, as both equally deal with casualties, the results of enemy action; and whether he will consult with the Army Council to obtain their consent to the use of the Geneva emblem by Civil Defence authorities in their casualty services in order to meet the convenience of air-raid precautions workers and the public in an emergency?

My hon. Friend is mistaken in thinking that this matter depends on the consent of the Army Council. It is governed by the Geneva Red Cross Convention, to which this country is a party. By the terms of that Convention the Red Cross emblem may only be used to protect or to indicate the medical services of the Armed Forces and the personnel and material of the voluntary aid societies which are authorised to assist them.

Is there no other way of getting temporary consent, during the war, to its use for A.R.P. or home service?

Personnel (Number)


asked the Home Secretary the total number of persons now serving in all categories of home defence, giving, if possible, the number occupied in full-time, part-time voluntary service, the number in training, and the number of men and women, respectively?

I assume that the hon. Member has in mind the Air-Raid General Precautions Services and the Auxiliary Fire Service. The number of paid volunteers in these Services in December was some 264,000, exclusive of the regular employés of local authorities who were engaged whole-time on civil defence duties. I am at present taking steps to obtain up-to-date information as to the effective number of unpaid volunteers in the Air-Raid Precautions Services.

Contract, Bristol (Bricks)

39. s

asked the Home Secretary with regard to the contract for 60,000 tons of bricks for the construction of air-raid precautions shelters, recently placed with the London Brick Company by the Bristol Corporation, what was the maximum price per 1,000 bricks which his Department permitted the corporation to pay; what was the contract price per 1,000 bricks; and whether such bricks are available locally?

This contract was put out to public tender and there was no question of prescribing a maximum price. The tender of the London Brick Company was much more advantageous than any of the local tenders, both in price and also in rate of delivery.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a coal shortage in Bristol; and that quite apart from this contract depriving local manufacturers of employment, it has caused an unnecessary burden to be placed on the railways at this time of acute difficulty; will he, in future, take into consideration the availability of local materials as well as the question of cost and, in addition, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise the fact that if the London Brick Company is allowed to undercut provincial brick factories, it will, in time, bankrupt them?

Steel Helmets Issue (Birmingham)

asked the Home Secretary whether there has been any delay in the issue of steel helmets to air-raid precautions wardens in the city of Birmingham; and whether such helmets will be issued to reserve wardens?

Birmingham has received all the steel helmets required to equip its authorised establishment of air-raid wardens. I regret that no equipment can be issued to volunteers enrolled in excess of the authorised establishment.

Football Prohibition (Birmingham)


asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware of the strong public feeling in Birmingham at the refusal of the chief constable to permit the opening of the St. Andrew's football ground; and whether, in view of the changed circumstances, he will make a new regulation to allow all sports grounds to be re-opened?


asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been drawn to the recent meeting of the Birmingham City Council, at which the question of allowing first-class football matches to be played at the Birmingham football ground was discussed; and whether he is now prepared to issue a new order restoring the usual Saturday afternoon entertainment to the workers in all large cities?

I have been in communication with the chief constable and I am satisfied that he gave full weight to all the relevant considerations before he exercised his discretion under the Public Entertainments (Restriction) Order to prohibit the holding of football matches on this particular ground. I do not think it would be expedient to amend the Order, as my hon. Friends suggest, so as to deprive chief officers of police of their existing discretion to prohibit the opening of football grounds or other places of entertainment in individual cases where they consider that special risks are likely to arise.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Birmingham is the only town in England in which first-class football is disallowed; that all sections of the public in Birmingham are desirous that it should be permitted; further, that the chief constable who is the only dissentient, has agreed to accept the ruling of the city council but that this cannot be given owing to a technicality; and will he do something to end this deadlock?

Will the right hon. Gentleman review this matter later if I bring him more evidence?

I am willing to consider any further relevant facts, but, as to the discretion of the local authorities, I cannot properly intervene in the matter.

Evacuated Children (Parents' Visits)


asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the new provisional evacuation scheme, he will consider increasing the facilities for parents to visit their children; and whether, as an inducement, he will arrange that two free monthly travelling passes be granted to parents or guardians of children evacuated now or in the future?

I have no evidence to suggest that the special facilities already provided are not generally adequate. Parents in receipt of unemployment assistance who cannot afford the specially reduced fares available under these arrangements may apply for special assistance to enable them to visit their children, and I do not think that any further payment from Exchequer funds would be justified at a time calling for every possible economy in the national expenditure. For visits to sick children parents in need can, of course, obtain help at any time from the evacuating authority at the expense of the Exchequer.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that one of the biggest factors in marring the success of evacuation schemes may be the parents' desire to see their children more frequently than they do, and, in the circumstances will he reconsider the decision in regard to this matter?

The hon. Member is speaking of the future scheme which has not yet come into operation. It will be necessary to review the considerations of that scheme when we come a little nearer to the actual event.

Is it not very upsetting to the children to be frequently visited as suggested?