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Civil Defence

Volume 360: debated on Thursday 9 May 1940

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Air-Raid Shelters


asked the Home Secretary what steps are being taken to provide at once shelters for the homes of the people in cases where it is impossible to erect an Anderson shelter; and who is responsible for the planning and provision of such shelter?

It is the policy of the Government that, in all areas specified for the purposes of Part III of the Civil Defence Act, free shelter should be provided at or near the home for all who cannot be expected to provide it at their own expense. The responsibility for planning and providing such shelter rests upon the local authority; and, where the standard steel shelters cannot be made available, authorities should plan in terms of the alternative forms of shelter recommended by my Department. I am sending the hon. Member copies of circulars on this subject which have recently been issued by my Department. (Nos. 38, 68 and 77/1940.)

That is good as far as it goes, but what is the right hon. Gentleman doing to see that local authorities carry out the policy of the Government?

There are regional organisations which are in constant touch with the local authorities and do everything to ensure the most rapid progress possible.

Seeing that this is a matter of urgency, will the right hon. Gentleman send a circular to the area authorities calling their attention to the need for making this provision as soon as possible?

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the provision of shelter is reasonably adequate in most parts of the country?

In view of recent happenings, has the right hon. Gentleman applied his mind further to the question of providing deep shelters where the ground is sloping?


asked the Home Secretary what steps are being taken to ensure that adequate provision is made for air-raid shelter accommodation in houses, workshops, etc., and for the public in general, in cases where the houses are owned by people other than those resident in them; and who is responsible for the provision of air-raid shelter in such cases?

It is difficult to deal with the full range of points raised by the hon. Member within the limits of an answer to a Parliamentary Question. Briefly, the general principle is that, in areas specified for the purposes of Part III of the Civil Defence Act, a statutory obligation to provide shelter rests on the occupier of factory premises, and on the owner of commercial buildings, where more than 50 persons are employed. As regards private householders, persons in the lower income-ranges are provided with shelter free of charge at or near their homes; in other cases the responsibility for providing shelter rests generally with the occupier, though special provision has been made for certain types of private residential buildings. The local authority has also a general responsibility to take into account, in providing public shelter, the needs of persons for whom no special provision has been made.

While realising the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties in dealing with this matter in reply to a Parliamentary Question, will he take early steps to bring about serious consideration of the need to implement his circular amongst all authorities, in order that the best possible provision can be made?

I fully agree with regard to the urgency of the matter; I have been doing and am continuing to do everything possible.


asked the Home Secretary in how many churches in Scotland and England, respectively, the crypts or lower halls have been adapted for use as air-raid shelters; and how many of these are open to the public?

I understand that in approximately 250 cases, of which about 25 are in Scotland, public air-raid shelters have been sited in the crypts or lower halls of churches.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what steps he is taking to extend this form of humanitarian service?

The use of these crypts and lower halls is subject to very definite limitations because of the nature of the superstructure, especially where there is a spire. I think the fullest use consistent with the public interest is being made.

Camouflage Methods


asked the Home Secretary, in view of the effectiveness of parti-colouring as a method of camouflage being dependent upon violent contrast in tone between adjacent areas of colour, and of the numerous buildings, service vehicles, etc., camouflaged in patterns of brown, green and other colours devoid of this essential contrast in tone, whether he is prepared to take immediate steps to replace the present ineffective methods of camouflage by a scientific system based on contrast in tone?

The officers of my Department are fully aware of the principle to which my hon. Friend refers, and in appropriate cases it has in fact been applied in practical camouflage work on industrial buildings carried out under the direction of my Department. I am not directly responsible for the camouflage of vehicles belonging to the Service Departments, but I will see that my hon. Friend's Question is brought to the notice of the reconstituted Advisory Committee on Camouflage which will include representatives of all the Service Departments.

Would the right hon. Gentleman's answer still hold good if the word "parti" was spelt with a "y"?


asked the Home Secretary whether he will state the approximate expenditure to date upon research in connection with war camouflage; whether such research in the different Service Departments is under unified control so as to ensure co-ordination and avoidance of wasteful effort; and, if so, whether he will inform the House regarding the name and scientific qualifications of the responsible director of research?

I am informed that since 1937 the various Departments concerned have incurred expenditure on camouflage research amounting to above £20,000. The central establishment responsible for camouflage research has now been placed under the control of Dr. R. E. Stradling, the chief adviser on research and experiment in the Ministry of Home Security; and the Advisory Committee on Camouflage is being reconstituted so as to include, among others, responsible representatives of those branches in the Service Departments and the Ministry of Supply which are concerned with camouflage work. I hope that these and other changes which are now being made will result in better co-ordination, and a more effective pooling of information, as regards all branches of camouflage work.

Schools (Children's Dispersal)


asked the President of the Board of Education whether he has sanctioned school children being dispersed in the event of an air raid while they are at school, and has he approved the use by education committees of Anderson shelters near the schools, erected to accommodate persons resident in the house, to provide shelter for children, instead of the required shelter being provided for the children at the school?

The Board's policy has been that, in cases where air-raid shelters for school children are necessary, they should be provided, wherever possible in or near the school premises for all the children attending the school. Local education authorities were, however, informed in the Board's Administrative Memorandum 212, of which I am sending the hon. Member a copy, that it would be open to them, in consultation with the Regional Commissioner and subject to certain safeguards set out in the Memorandum, to make arrangements for the dispersal to household shelters of those children for whom it was not possible to provide shelter at the school owing to restricted school site or similar reasons.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this is a criminal suggestion that children should be dispersed in the event of an air raid, and will he ask the Board to reconsider their decision in order that panic may be avoided and adequate shelter provided for all children?

I am aware that there are difficulties in certain places. I am in touch with the authority at Stoke. My inspector has already seen the regional commissioners and is seeing the local education authority this week.

I have not only one locality in mind. This applies to other industrial centres. In view of the seriousness of this, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Board to reconsider their policy?

I could not accept the suggestion that throughout the country dispersal would be as dangerous as the hon. Member suggests, but I will look into the case of any specific locality.

Reception Areas, East Coast


asked the Minister of Health whether he is now prepared to reconsider the scheduling of the Blackwater River area of Essex as a reception area, in view of its position on the East coast and the experiences suffered recently in that vicinity from hostile aircraft?


asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of recent happenings on the East coast, he will now remove East and South-East coast towns and villages from the list of reception areas, and arrange for the transfer of the children now in those places to areas less vulnerable to enemy aircraft or other forms of attack?

I assume the hon. Members have in mind particularly the recent crash of a German aeroplane at Clacton. I do not think that this incident justifies a change in the classification of the neighbourhood as a reception area. There are very wide areas of the country in which a similar occurrence might take place. If these areas were excluded from the reception areas the number of children who could be dispersed from the crowded cities would be substantially reduced. It is considered that, in the event of air attack on land developing the areas selected as reception areas, which offer the advantage of dispersal, give a greater degree of safety than the towns in which the children would otherwise be left.

In view of the experience of air bombing in this area berth in the last war and now in this war, does not my right hon. Friend consider it inadvisable to treat as a reception area a district which is obviously in the danger zone?

I am aware of the experiences of this area in the last war but the range of aircraft has greatly increased since the last war.

Apart from the vulnerability of these areas does the right hon. Gentleman think it in the interests of these children that they should be subjected to the noise of heavy gunfire for the duration of the war?

I have to take these matters into consideration, but I must be guided by the considerations that I have mentioned. If all these areas were excluded the number of children who could be dispersed would be substantially reduced.

It is not only the danger from the air in a place like Clacton but mines are being continually washed up?

I have that very much in mind but the area covered by the sea coast and a short distance inland is a very large area.

Money And Orders From Germany


asked the Home Secretary what information he has showing the receipt of money or orders from Germany to formations or persons in this country; and whether he will give full details?

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the reply which I gave on 2nd May to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir R. Gower).

Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House when and as soon as he gets any information regarding the organisations in this country getting money and orders from Germany?

My answer was that information of that kind ought not to be disclosed unil action has been taken on it.

Will the Home Secretary make inquiries about the hon. Member's own organisation and where it gets the money from?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is unfair that people of this country should be led to suppose that German funds and orders are coming to this country when there is no foundation in fact?

I always do my best to correct any unfair impressions which are held by the public.

Subversive Activities


asked the Home Secretary whether he is keeping under close observation the members of the organisation in this country which is receiving money from and carrying out the orders of the Comintern with a view to their deportation or internment, in view of the fact that they are working for revolution through this war; and what steps he is taking to prevent breaches of the peace resulting from the campaign of vilification of their opponents by this body?

Close observation is kept on all persons who are seeking to subvert constitutional methods of Government. As regards insulting words and behaviour which are likely to occasion breaches of the peace, the law on this subject was strengthened by the Public Order Act, 1936, and active measures are taken by the police to enforce the law.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the essential characteristic of the Comintern is that it is not Russian but International-Jewish, and that, therefore, in opposing the foul works of this body those who do so must to that degree be anti-Semitic?

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider the advisability of applying what he said in answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's previous Question and doing what he can to make it clear that false and unfounded fraudulent statements of that kind do not receive public currency?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no one would be more pleased than I if such a thing were done?

Is the right hon. Gentleman keeping a sharp watch on the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Anti-Semitism And Pro-Nazism


asked the Home Secretary whether he will give an assurance that care will be taken, both in the administration of the present regulations and in framing revised regulations, that a distinction is made between anti-Semitism and pro-Nazism?

I hope that any restrictive measures applied to organised propaganda may in practice be confined to such propaganda as is calculated to impede the national war effort; and from that point of view I cannot recognise as relevant the distinction which my hon. and gallant Friend seeks to draw.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his reply, in view of the fact that he seems to be somewhat confused on the point, will he assure the House that he refuses to be stampeded into identifying the two things by a ramp in our Jew-ridden Press?