HL Deb 23 July 1935 vol 98 cc749-73

LORD MARLEY had the following Notice on the Paper:—To ask whether it is the opinion of the advisers of His Majesty's Government that the recently issued Home Office circular with regard to precautions against air raids contains provisions which are sufficiently effective for the protection of the population of Great Britain to remove the apprehensions which have been aroused as a result of its publication, and to justify the expense which will be involved; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the fare provided for your Lordships' matinee to-day does not seem to be very attractive, as indicated by the small attendance. One wonders whether members of your Lordships' House are interested in the Water Bills we have had before us, or in petrol, poison gas, the Farnham Castle Measure or what. Yet I am indebted personally to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for a really magnificent epithet to apply to the Government. I think he called them "blood-sucking vampires." That is very useful.


That is how he described London Transport.


I have made a mistake. I am sorry. Had he applied to the Government the epithet "bloodsucking vampires" it was really a magnificent preparation for the coming Election. I, on the contrary, do not want to apply any epithets at all to the Government. The object of my Question on the preparations for dealing with the possibility of air raids and poison gas is to give an opportunity to the Government to state clearly the position and to amplify the terms of the circular issued by the Home Office and headed "Air Raid Precautions." In this connection there is no need whatever to exaggerate the dangers of air attack. There is no need, either, to exaggerate the dangers from poison gas. I think a very simple and plain statement of the position will be helpful, and I am quite certain this debate will extract from the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government a clear statement of the Government's ideas on the matter.

Of course we know that there is no protection against air attack. That is acknowledged in the circular in which they say in paragraph 3 that: Developments in the air have made it possible for air attacks on a large scale to be delivered, and delivered suddenly, on many parts of this country… That means not alone on London. It means any residential or industrial centre, and, despite the steps which the Government are taking to increase the Air Force for home defence and the ground on which aircraft defences operate, it is impossible to guarantee immunity from attack. That is to say, the Government have now joined the glad throng of those who admit there is no defence against gas attack from the air.

The present Prime Minister, a, man of very remarkable gifts and great foresight—the noble Duke could never complain of his lack of foresight—more than three years ago pointed out in a speech he made in the House of Commons that the only defence against air attack is offence "which means," said Mr. Baldwin, "that you have to kill women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves." Mr. Baldwin re-emphasised that point a few months ago, when he said he had been occupying himself in studying questions from which has emerged this Air Raid Protection Circular, and he said it really made him physically sick to think that I and my friends and the statesmen in every country in Europe, two thousand years after Our Lord was crucified, should be spending our time thinking how we can get the mangled bodies of children to the hospitals and how we can keep the poison gas from going down the throats of the people. That is an instance of very remarkable foresight on the part of the present Prime Minister.

He is being backed up in many quarters. I see that The Times, just before that speech, made this statement, on May 10, 1935: Ministers recognise that it is absolutely impossible, however complete the precautions, to guarantee to the civil population immunity from aerial attack. They go on: As it is mainly the psychological effect"— which is, to say the least, rather optimistic— … steps ought to be taken to accustom the civilians to be familiar with the appropriate precautions. In this connection I want to quote one other authority, and that is the ex- director of experiments at the experimental station at Porton. That is a station run by the War Office mainly to prepare means of defence against poison gas. That means, quite naturally, that they have to prepare poison gas in order to test the value of the defence against poison gas. The ex-director of experiments, Major Paul Murphy, in reviewing a pamphlet called Poison Gas, a very striking pamphlet of which I have a copy here, asks: Is there any real defence against the modern weapons of war if the latter are to be turned against civil populations and used with full severity and in utter disregard of morality and humanity? The compilers of this pamphlet answer—very emphatically—in the negative, and even those who cannot go all the way with them in their arguments will endorse that conclusion. In other words this expert says there is no defence against air attack. "No thinking man or woman," he says, "can afford to ignore or neglect an issue so fraught with good or evil consequences to the human race."

Of course the attack which will come from these aircraft has been foreseen in the document we are discussing, and it will probably be threefold. There will be undoubtedly high explosives, there will be certainly incendiary bombs, and in particular there will be poison gases. In all probability there will be all three. With regard to high explosives, I do not personally look upon them as very serious. It is very trying to be bombed and very frightening to the civil population, but in point of fact it is localised in effect and, as is pointed out, there are a number of ways in which the civil population can protect themselves against high explosives. They can get into cellars and the probability is that bursting shells, unless there is a direct hit, will not smash the walls of houses, and even shutters will keep out small splinters. If you get into a house and lie behind the wall, unless there is a direct hit you will probably be safe.

Incendiary bombs are different. All houses, particularly those occupied by very poor people, are built of materials which will easily burn. Modern incendiary bombs are capable of producing a chemical mixture which, I am informed, will eat through steel and will certainly set on fire any inflammable material on which it falls. Therefore I imagine the result of incendiary bombing will be to set on fire a considerable number of houses, particularly the roofs, wood and so on. The authors of the circular recognise that danger because they say that among the essential services that must be provided with protection are fire brigades, and of course it is true that fire brigades will have an immense amount of work to do as the result of incendiary bombs.

Finally, there are gas bombs. The circular says that from the point of view of expense it is quite impossible to provide bomb-proof shelters for the whole of the population. It says that the provision on any extensive scale of shelters which will be proof against direct hits by bombs is impracticable. Of course in any case one ought to protect against direct hits any essential productive industrial buildings. That alone is going to be an expensive item and there is no provision in this circular for assistance to local authorities for protection of industry generally which would be an essential feature in the circumstances in which air attacks would obtain. It has been estimated by a recent writer—the article appeared in fact only yesterday—that the cost of providing bomb-proof shelters for the majority of the population would be about £1,500,000,000. That is about twice the total Budget for any one year.

If we are going to have air attacks on a really large scale; if in point of fact Clausewitz is right when he says that war is merely an extension of civil policy and that the right way to settle a war is to destroy the will to resist of the civil population, and if therefore we want to prevent the will to resist of the civil population from being destroyed, then I think the Government have not taken seriously enough the need for providing at least some bomb-proof shelters for the people in London and the large towns. If you neglect the necessity of providing bomb-proof shelters you neglect the possibility of the will to resist of the civil population being broken down by mass high explosive attacks. Therefore I venture to suggest that if the Government are reconsidering the question they might think it well worth, say, £1,000,000,000 to protect the civil population. It would get rid of unemployment for many years to come, and would ensure that when the war which we seem to be rapidly approaching does come the civil population would have some protection against direct hits.

With regard to gas-masks, paragraph 9 of the circular deals with those and with protective clothing. This subject, the circular says, needs separate treatment and the proposal is that gas-masks shall be provided only for essential services. Broadly speaking, the mass of the population are not to have gas-masks provided for them. The trouble about providing gas-masks on a large scale is that they demand charcoal, and I think I am right in saying that there is no possibility of anything like the necessary amount of charcoal being available. Therefore, the civil population are not to be provided with gas-masks except gas-masks which are ineffective against modern gas attack. The essential services are to have gas-masks but we have no guarantee that they will be effective with modern gases.

Probably the most authoritative recent writer on this subject is Mr. Davidson Pratt. He gave a lecture a few weeks ago dealing with the subject of gas-masks to the British Science Guild, and he said this: Everybody in a city cannot sit indoors until the raid is over. Essential services must go on and gas-masks will therefore be necessary for people such as the police and fire brigades … Whether the rest of the civil population will need gas-masks is a difficult question. There is the psychological argument that the civil population will demand gas-masks, and since it will not be possible to supply the millions which will be wanted if such a demand arises in an emergency it will probably be desirable to provide some simple form which could be on sale in peace and which could be readily made by the million in the event of war. Your Lordships will realise, and the Government have realised, that an air attack will come long before a declaration of war. In fact, the first thing we shall know about the next war—those of us who do know anything about it—will be in all probability an air attack. Certainly, if I were in charge of the offensive services of the country and there was need for war on a neighbouring country I should be in favour of bombing all the great population centres in that country without any declaration of war, because that would be the surest way to destroy the will to resist of the civil population of that country. As I do not suppose that foreign countries are any more foolish than we are, I have no doubt they will adopt the same course. Indeed, the Prime Minister has himself evolved that scheme, because he points out that the only possible resistance to air attack is to bomb the enemy, to destroy their civil population before they can bomb us—Mr. Baldwin's own statement.

Mr. Davidson Pratt goes on to say: A gas-mask will not protect against contamination the clothing or body of the wearer. Therefore, before the more venturesome section of the population go out into the streets after an air-raid, they will have to provide for clothing to cover their whole body, and this clothing is going to be an additional expense. Moreover, there is a danger to which I should like to draw attention in this connection. First of all, if we provide the civil population with gas-masks which are not effective, the civil population, thinking they are effective and wearing the gas-masks, will go out into contaminated areas and will die. If, on the other hand, we equally provide the civil population with ineffective gas-masks, and if the first gas attack is made with a gas of the type of mustard gas which, in the first place, is quite innocuous but merely smells of mustard or geraniums or whatever the smell is, they will go out wearing these gas-masks, find that there is no ill-effects, be completely satisfied that they are safe, and when the second attack with real gas comes they will go out feeling perfectly secure and will be contaminated by the gas.

Of course, what it amounts to is this: that these gas-masks are only of psychological value. They are to keep people quiet; they are to make people think that the Government are doing something to protect the people of this country when, in point of fact, they can do nothing of themselves to protect the people except with the expenditure of far larger sums of money than they have indicated that they are willing to provide. As a member of your Lordships' House said in an article in the Press yesterday: Thee non-protective, these sham, these fraudulent gas-masks will be merely to persuade civilians that gas-masks are efficient so that they may die quietly without causing trouble to the military or the politicians. The gas-masks at present available can be bought by a civilian at a cost of £2 7s. pd., and the number of civilians who are willing to provide five weeks' wages for gas-masks to protect themselves and their families is, I suppose, strictly limited by the number of people who can live on nothing for five weeks. In point of fact, of course, the thing is ridiculous, and if the Government are going to provide really for the protection of the civilian population against gas attacks, they have to take far more seriously this question of gas-masks. They must not limit it to adults. They have to consider children, they have to consider old people, they have to consider animals. Therefore I venture to suggest that-this air raid precaution document is not taking the problem seriously, but is merely pretending that there is a means of protection for the essential services, and telling the public that if they want gas-masks they can get them in the shops and that they will protect themselves.

There are a number of types of gas which are just coming on. Mustard gas we know of; mustard gas is a gas which has been described by the former adviser to the Chemical Warfare Department during the Great War in a letter which he sent to the Daily Telegraph last year, as being by far the vilest and most disgusting gas as yet employed in modern war. It is a gas which can be either sprayed from a very great height, in which case it is widespread but not too deadly; or it can be sent down in bombs, when it becomes localised and will kill everybody within a narrow area. There are many other ways of using it. Then we have a better gas than that, and that is Lewisite. Mustard gas, while it creates wounds on the flesh, does not poison those wounds; what you want is a gas which, having made a wound, will poison it so that the wound cannot be cured. Lewisite does that. Lewisite was invented by an American, and it smells faintly of geraniums. It is made from acetylene, arsenic oxide and sulphur chloride, and it poisons the burns which it produces. That is why it would be necessary to have complete clothing when this gas is used in large quantities in an air raid. The pamphlet makes no mention whatever of the provision of clothing for masses of people who must go out in an air raid, into areas which have been contaminated, and may therefore suffer from Lewisite gas.

We also have a new type of gas on which researches have been made in the Imperial Chemical Industries laboratories, a fluorine gas. Fluorine attacks metals. It makes a new type of gas-mask very necessary; the old gas-mask is quite useless against fluorine gases. I want to make that perfectly clear, because every gas-mask at present known is quite useless against these fluorine gases. Therefore it is quite certain that fluorine will be employed in gas attacks in large quantities. We may say that every gas-mask provided, even for the essential services mentioned in this very inadequate circular, will be rendered useless, and the Government have made no report that they have done anything to deal with the supply of a gas-mask suitable for fluorine. It attacks glass; all organic compounds are attacked by it; cork is carbonised and bursts into flame, benzine and turpentine are ignited, and even the petrol factories envisaged by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, will be exploded by an attack by fluorine. Above all, fluorine attacks rubber, and it will destroy all the connecting bands with which the present gas-masks or gas-mask forms can be attached to the head or body.

In addition to that, there are some very interesting new gases which are being experimented with and which are not imaginary. I have actually come across the individual who is doing the experiments, and these new gases destroy the skin and the bones. They have been given the name—I think it is an entirely wrong name—of "syphilitic gases," because they bring about certain effects which are said to be similar to the effects produced by syphilis. But the point is that these new gases are neither mentioned nor discussed, nor have the Government told us that they have made any provision to deal with the possibility of the development on a large scale of the new gases. I am bound to say that this circular is utterly inadequate as regards its provision for dealing with new types of gas. Similarly, with gas detection and decontamination, it is really absurd to talk, as the circular does, of decontamination. "Arrangements will similarly be made," says the circular, "to accumulate supplies of bleach powder for decontamination purposes." We know that bleaching powder is used for the production of chlorine, and that chlorine will be needed to carry out the line of policy envisaged by Mr. Baldwin in his speech in another place, of attacking and killing the enemy civilian population by means of our poison gases, before they can attack and kill our women and children by means of their poison gases. Mr. Baldwin is quite right. Our first task, as there is no defence against attack, is to attack and destroy the civilian population of the enemy by the provision of poison gases, for which they will have no resistance. You cannot accumulate stocks of bleaching powder and chlorine when it is all needed for the poison gases which the Government will need.

How do the Government meet all these difficulties? First they say that the responsibility is the householders. Then they say in paragraph 12: The aspects of air raid precautions which will call for the co-operation of members of the public will form the subject of a series of handbooks, one or more of which will contain advice to the public what to do in case of air attack, and a description of the precautions to be taken by householders and other occupiers of premises. I dismiss as purely ridiculous a statement by Major Freeth, Chief Research Chemist of I.C.I., that in ease of a gas raid if a man can keep his bead sufficiently to close his windows, put out the fire, and wait until the properly constituted authority has dispersed the gas, he will be safe. If he has no duty to perform and he simply gets into a hot bath, smokes a pipe and laughs he will be safe. Nothing can happen sinless the enemy score a direct hit. I might say to Major Freeth that two-thirds of the houses in this country have no bath rooms, and even those which have a bath room usually have only one, and how many members of the household can you get into one bath?

Of course that is ridiculous, and the Government do not take that point of view, but they do not say anything else. They tell the householder to close his doors. They tell him he has got to make his rooms gas-tight, and to take responsibility on his own shoulders. But this is only a precaution which the well-off people in this country can take. The poor people in this country have not houses which are capable of being closed. You have cases of six families living in one house with no sanitary conveniences, windows which do not open, and doors which do not shut properly. How are they going to keep out gas from the hovels in which millions of our people are living? We have had a debate on housing conditions in Scotland recently, and it is only recently that a well-known publicist suggested that every Scottish valley should be turned into a factory for poison gas. Already many Scottish valleys are factories for war materials and, possibly, gas. At Fort William and Kinloch Leven the British Aluminium Company is manufacturing aluminium products which will form a necessary target for enemy attack, and Scottish housing is not of a quality such as to enable the Scottish householder to protect himself, without help from the Government. I think the Scottish Peers might very well have been here in force, to-day, to protest against yet another injustice to Scotland, in connection with air defence.

Then this circular places on local authorities the task of taking local defensive measures, and promises a certain amount of help, but how much help we do not know. I hope to hear that from the noble Earl. One final point before I conclude. Are the Government taking any steps to prevent the exploitation of the civil population by the fear engendered by this circular and the publicity in the newspapers? I have in front of me a small booklet entitled Do not be afraid of poison gas. Hints for Civilians in, the event of a Poison Gas Attack, by F. N. Pickett, M.I.Mech.E., A.M.I.E.E., Price 1s. net. This booklet was sold with an accompanying letter by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, in which he said that be thanked the sender for the courtesy of sending him the book, and he said it was most important that civilians should learn in advance what to do in the case of such a tragedy ever happening again as a poison gas attack. He added: It is the uncertainty which lends terror and adds danger to that form of assault. I shall have very much pleasure in reading what you have to say. I am quite certain that the noble Viscount had no intention that that letter should be used in advertising this book, and I am sure that he would be the first to dissociate himself from that action.

But that is not the point. The point I wish to make is that in this book the writer says that all that men, women and children have to do is to provide themselves with gas-masks, rubber boots and gloves, rubber clothing, and chloride of lime. He goes on to say: What a tempting opportunity for the exploitation of the people's needs by unscrupulous manufacturers. I want to bring this to the notice of the Government, because I am sure they want to protect people from being exploited in their need of defensive clothing. He then goes on to say: Can anyone imagine what a sudden demand for 100,000 tons of crude rubber or even 50,000 tons would do to the price of rubber, and this would be the demand in this country alone. Add other countries, and it is certain that the price of rubber would soar out of sight. He tells us that the visible supplies of rubber once touched the price of 9s. 6d. per 1b. I do not know what the price is now, but it is much lower than that. Then this writer says that fortunately we can make vast stores of reconstituted rubber, and here I note that he himself is the Chairman or director of the Rubber Regenerating Company, the Thames Hard Rubber Company, Limited, and Kaycee Limited. I put it to the Government that here is a man who has control of the manufacture of the materials for protection against gas attack.

The Government are not providing any protection for the civilian population. This man exploits that feeling, and by his booklet tells the people that they can protect themselves by buying the rubber of which he is one of the principal makers. What form of exploitation is more dangerous than first of all to fill the people's minds with fear, and then leave it to private enterprise to exploit the fear and needs of the people by holding up the supply of rubber compounds which are necessary to protect the people? This circular raises the fears of the people, raises apprehension in their minds, and then the Government do nothing to secure that the people are protected against this exploitation by unscrupulous profiteers.

The Government have a heavy responsibility. We know that they must bear some responsibility for the fact that air attack is still possible. The noble Marquess who leads the House said a, few weeks ago that he kept on impressing on his colleagues and on the country generally the vital need of the Royal Air Force in the scheme of our defences. He said: I had the utmost difficulty at that time amid public outcry in preserving the use of the bombing aeroplane, even on the frontiers of the Middle East and India. The Government must therefore—


May I interrupt the noble Lord? This is a paragraph which is being exploited by the noble Lord's Party up and down the country. If they took the trouble to read the context they would see the whole matter explained. If the noble Lord wants any further explanation will be read the speech of Mr. Eden in the House of Commons the other day?


I have no wish to apply to the noble Marquess anything that would be unjust to him, and I withdraw unreservedly any application to him of any wrong attitude in this matter. I hope he will accept that explanation.


I wish the noble Lord could speak for his followers all over the country.


The noble Marquess knows that nobody can speak for anybody else.


And the Labour Party least of all.


If it was a question of the Labour Party least of all, I would venture to remind the noble Marquess that he himself is a member of a so-called National Government comprising people of various Parties who speak with many different voices to the members of the Labour Party. Whatever the responsibility of the Government, however—and I dissociate at once the noble Marquess from any of that responsibility, except in so far as it is a purely collective responsibility—we must realise that the Government have a responsibility to the civil population of this country. That responsibility has not been adequately met by the issue of this extremely unfortunate circular, a circular which has had the effect of arousing apprehension, but has given no protection to the civil population as a whole. It expressly refuses to give such protection. I suggest that to issue such a circular and provide no adequate protection is scarcely a good service to the people of this country. I beg to move.


My Lords, if I gather aright the meaning of my noble friend, he deprecates the issue of this cir cular because he does not consider that its provisions are sufficient to guard against the danger with which we may possibly be threatened. I do not think that the pamphlet pretends to be a counsel of perfection, but you must make a beginning somewhere. Personally, I rejoice to see this pamphlet, because it lays down a certain organisation whereby steps can be taken to protect the civil population against air attack, or at any rate to enable them to protect themselves. It teaches them to a certain extent what is necessary. I hope they will all read the lurid speech of my noble friend, because his account of the dangers to which they may be exposed will, I am sure, increase in everybody the desire to protect themselves and their families against, air attack. I think that such a preparation as this for the possibility of air attack was long overdue. We all hope that this danger will not eventuate. But, as we protect ourselves against fire, so we must protect ourselves against the possibility of an air raid.

The most satisfactory thing that I see in this circular is on page 2, where it is said that the Government are taking steps "to increase the Air Force for home defence and the ground anti-aircraft defences." That is a. matter in which I have been deeply interested for a great number of years, because I have been Honorary Colonel of the Surrey Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Group, and I have always thought that our defences against air raids were lamentably insufficient and required increasing, especially as aircraft get a wider range. We only have very inadequate defences in the South-East of England and the East Coast of Scotland, and you require these defences all over the country. At the present moment there are, I think, only twelve anti-aircraft searchlight companies, three in Surrey, four in Essex, three in Kent and Middlesex, one in Aberdeen, and one in London. These certainly are not sufficient, and I rejoice to see that the Government are taking steps to increase them. But I think that the defence mentioned by my noble friend—namely, attack—should be prepared. I rejoice that there is some attempt to co-ordinate the various services, the fire brigades, hospital services, the ambulance service, the Order of St. John, the Red Cross and so forth, in order to enable civilians to protect themselves.

Whatever my noble friend may say, some beginning must be made if we are going to develop the anti-aircraft organisation. The fact that the local authorities are now cautioned to think the matter over and organise anti-gas drill, to take the necessary precautions and to co-ordinate the various services is, I am sure, a very considerable step in advance. I trust that when the antiaircraft scheme develops, we shall see further circulars of this kind which will enable local authorities to co-ordinate the services which they possess.


My Lords, the noble Lord who moved this Motion has referred in somewhat strong terms to the apprehensions which the publication of the Home Office circular on air raid precautions has aroused. I think it will be generally agreed, however, that the basic apprehension with which we have to deal is not the result of the issue of any circular, but is due to the fact that the development of aircraft has brought large parts of our country within the range of possible attack by air—an attack which could be delivered on a scale and with a suddenness far greater than anything experienced in the last War. The Government hope and believe that the risk of such an attack is remote, and the Government will continue to make every effort, as they have in the past, to maintain peace and to secure a reduction or limitation of armaments which might help sensibly to reduce this risk; but it is a risk which, although remote, is so grave that it must be present to the mind of every person responsible for the welfare of the people of this country. Are we to understand that given the actual situation, the noble Lord and his friends would do nothing whatever but leave people to panic if such a blow fell?


That is the opposite to what I suggested.


The noble Lord has in the course of his speech indulged in extreme pessimism as to the eventuality of air raids taking place with poison gases. As I shall point out to the noble Lord the present Government, as becomes a Government of a democratic country, have always sought to place before the people of this country the main factors which may determine their policy. The noble Lord opposite evidently believes that such a policy tends to lend itself to the exploitation of the public. I think that belief, which evidently he holds, may be substantially criticised by those within his own Party. The White Paper on Defence last March served this purpose in matters of active defence; and the circular which is the subject of the present debate performs the same function in respect of passive air defence. As the circular points out: it is of the essence of any such preparation that the civil population should be informed of the present and future possibilities of air attack, and instructed in the precautions designed to meet it. The risk of attack from the air, however remote it may be, cannot be ignored, and for two reasons. In the first place, the effect of an air attack on an unprepared and unprotected population would be so appalling that, however remote the risk, we must take adequate steps to ensure that the country would not be caught unprotected or unprepared. Secondly, the necessary protective measures cannot be improvised on the spur of the moment. If they are to be effective, they must be carefully prepared and may involve the work of many years.

The whole question of air raid precautions, as no doubt your Lordships are aware, has been under consideration for some years, and the issue of the circular forms part of a fully considered policy, a policy which has already been adopted in the majority of Continental countries. The noble Lord whose Motion we are considering has doubted whether the scheme of precautions, outlined in the circular to local authorities, provides an adequate measure of passive defence. I hope to satisfy your Lordships that it is a satisfactory scheme which, if unhappily the occasion should arise for it to be put into force, would be the means of saving many lives and of ameliorating much suffering. We do not claim that the active air defence of this country, consisting of fighting planes, anti-aircraft guns, and so forth, will in all circumstances prevent all hostile aircraft from reaching their objectives in this country. Neither do we claim that measures of air raid precautions can provide complete protection against the results of bombs. But we do claim that if the schemes outlined in the circular are developed and brought to completion, the effects of air attack will be very greatly reduced. The people of this country will know what to do to protect themselves and will also know what the Government are doing for their protection. Such knowledge can surely only have beneficial results. The noble Lord will therefore clearly understand that His Majesty's Government have not joined that band of people who claim that there is no protection whatever against air attacks.

I should like to illustrate these claims by reference to some of the detailed precautions mentioned in the circular. Take shelters, first of all. The Government have felt it necessary to make it plain that the construction on any extensive scale of shelters which would be proof against direct hits by bombs is impracticable. Concrete structures of very great thickness would be required, and the cost of these structures would be prohibitive. The Government are, therefore, recommending that the occupiers of houses and other premises should provide for themselves effective protection against blast and splinters from bombs, and detailed advice as to how this may be obtained will be made available. Although protection is being confined to minimising the effect of blast and splinters, it does not follow that this represents inadequate protection against high explosive bombs. Experience shows that the great majority of the casualities from high explosive bombs result not from direct hits but from the blast and splinters caused by the explosion, which extend over a far wider area than that immediately affected by the fall of the bomb.

In regard to the dangers of gas and the measures which can be taken against it, I should like particularly to draw the attention of the House to one point. It has been stated in many quarters, as indeed we heard from the noble Lord opposite, that there is no defence against gas attack and that, therefore, it is useless to do anything at all. The Government most strongly deprecate this attitude of mind. I am informed by expert advisers that it is perfectly feasible to provide protection against gas; in fact, it is often easier to provide this protection than protection against high explosive bombs; and with regard to what the noble Lord has said in respect of fluorine and similar gases, it may be, and I believe it is held by experts, that that particular type of gas is not efficient for use as a poison gas. It is open to doubt whether that type of gas can be utilised. I am not one to minimise the dangers of gas attacks, but it is most desirable that a proper sense of proportion should be held in this important matter. The steps which the Government contemplate and the advice which they hope to give will, they believe, go a great way towards minimising the dangers from this form of attack if it should ever be used. These stories of unknown gases possessing the most devastating properties against which no respirator or other protection is of any avail are at the present time without any foundation of truth whatever.

The Government are actively engaged in designing a form of respirator which will furnish an adequate protection against gas for members of the general public, and it is an essential requirement that the respirator should be available at low cost. Such a respirator will provide an added protection additional to such measures as people have been able to take to render some part of their houses gas-proof. On this question of protection against bombs and gas, the Government, strongly deprecate the suggestion that the wealthier members of the community will be protected while the poorer classes will be left exposed to greater risks. In the preparation of its handbooks on protection, which the noble Lord has evidently ignored, the Air Raid Precautions Department of the Home Office is keeping in the forefront the requirements and needs of working-class dwellings and it will be found that the protective devices proposed have been framed primarily with that class of dwelling in view. Obviously a well-built house requires less attention to make it gas-proof and splinter-proof than a badly-built house; but the Department is devoting special attention to the measures needed to counteract the effects of faulty construction or a bad state of repair. Time does not permit me to deal at similar length with protective measures, other than shelters and respirators, such as lighting restrictions; but it must be obvious that if, as a result of preparatory work undertaken now, all lighting in time of war can be obscured so as to be invisible from the air, we shall have devised a valuable measure of protection for the thickly populated urban areas of this country.

I should like, before I leave the detailed measures referred to in the circular, to say something about what I may call the humanitarian services—rescue work, first aid, treatment of casualties and decontamination of personnel. In the recruitment of these services we shall be dependent to a considerable extent on the British Red Cross Society, the Order of St. John, and the St. Andrew's Ambulance Society. These organisations have been good enough to say that, so far as is practicable, they will place themselves at the disposal of both central and local Governments to supplement official resources. The Government and the local authorities, in co-operation, will be concerned to see that air raid services in each area are adequate to deal with the effects of air attack, having regard to the situation and vulnerability of the particular area.

The noble Lord who raised the issue we are now discussing referred to the question of expense. I do not think that this House or the country at large will be concerned with this matter primarily from the point of view of expense. We are faced with a grave, though as is hoped and believed remote, risk; and we must take the necessary measures to meet it. The Government are involved this year in expenses amounting to £92,000. The duties at present being devolved on local authorities are mainly matters of organisation and should not require any appreciable expenditure of money. Refer leaving this subject of expenses, I should like to counter the suggestion which is being made in certain quarters that the Government is ridding itself of the responsibility of providing air raid services and throwing the burden unfairly on local authorities. Measures of passive defence for safeguarding the civil population against air attack differ from the provision needed for other forms of national defence in that they must be related closely to the needs of each district and, therefore, in practice must be organised locally. The organisation suited for London is not necessarily well suited for Hull or Birmingham, and it is accordingly the intention of the Government to allow considerable diversity in local organisation. The local authority has the necessary experience and is the best judge of local needs. Further, many of the air raid precautions services are closely related to existing functions of local authorities—treatment of casualties is akin to public health and decontamination is akin to sanitary services—and it would have been very wasteful to create separate machinery for these new requirements.

The Government have already indicated that they are prepared to afford financial assistance towards the provision of additional hospital equipment and stores, where that course is essential in order to assure adequate reserves, and that they will supply respirators and protective clothing to persons employed on air raid precautionary services. I can see no justification for any suggestion that the Government are shirking their proper responsibility. Such expense as these precautions may involve can be amply justified on humanitarian grounds, no less than on the necessity for preserving the life of the people of this country in time of emergency. The comparatively modest sums which may be required are to provide an insurance against possible risks, and if they go a good way to achieve this object no one can say the money has been ill-spent.

The circular itself does not purport to cover the Government's complete schemes of air raid precautions. It is couched in very general terms, and is meant as an introduction to the problem for the use of local authorities. Details will be developed at the series of conferences which it is proposed to hold in the autumn. I could detain your Lordships by illustrating in detail the sort of work that the Air Raid Precautions Department has already in hand, and I should be pleased to supply such information to any noble Lord who may wish to have it. The Government have already got under way certain schemes such as detailed plans in regard to lighting restrictions, and handbooks are being drafted which I think will provide all the information that the noble Lord who introduced this subject implied was so necessary. Further, they have schemes in hand with the Electricity Commissioners, with the principal gas undertakings, with the Metropolitan Water Board and all those undertakers who are concerned with the necessary precautions against air attacks.

We must all regret the necessity of taking these measures of precaution against air raids. The necessity, however, exists, and I can assure your Lordships that the Home Office and their expert advisers in this matter will apply their best endeavours to the task of devising an effective scheme of precautions in this country. The Government are confident, in spite of the alarmist fears which the noble Lord has laid before your Lordships this afternoon, that the humanitarian services which form so important a part of these air raid precautions will not appeal in vain to members of your Lordships' House and to others in this country who see the necessity for offering their voluntary services for the efficiency of the precautions that it may be necessary to take.


My Lords, before my noble friend replies I should like to thank the noble Earl who has spoken on behalf of the Government for the very full statement he has given us. He has supplemented what the circular says by a good deal more. I am sure that not only are we grateful to him but that the public outside will be grateful to him. He was good enough to tell us that this was not complete but was an introduction and that it would be supplemented by a great deal of detail. But I think the noble Earl rather mistook my noble friend's intention in bringing this matter forward. My noble friend wanted to point out that this circular and any enlargement of it is really misleading the population. I do, if I may say so, criticise passages in the noble Earl's speech in which he spoke of adequate steps. We do not know. We are absolutely in the dark with regard to this thing. In a few years time this will be regarded with absolute derision. We do not know what is going to happen and the most imaginative of us thinking in the most pessimistic way possibly do not grasp a quarter of the truth of what this air warfare means. It may come really to a parting of the ways for civilisation itself. To mislead the population into supposing that this circular is going to lead to safety, or to anything like safety, or to safety for any appreciable number of them, is doing an ill-service to the people of this country.

The noble Earl deprecated my noble friend talking of these new gases, the names of which I cannot even pronounce, and the possible effect they may have. I do not know whether my noble friend has exaggerated. I think it is very difficult to exaggerate. The course of science is so rapid in these days that within a few years or even a few months new explosives can be invented before which the explosives and gases that we know at present will all pale into insignificance. I think it is very risky for any one to say that such-and-such a gas cannot be used in this way or that way or the other way. I mistrust any expert who would be dogmatic on that point at all. I think we have to look forward to hideous possibilities so long as the nations agree to this form of attempting to settle international disputes. But in addition to misleading the population, a circular of this sort is bound to produce a certain amount of panic, because when it is examined very closely it is found to be so grossly inadequate as compared with the possibilities of the attack while, at the same time, there is a sort of feeble attempt to regiment and control and militarise the population under the supposition that they are by that means going to defend themselves.

I do not want to go into the details of the case. I think my noble friend made out an extremely strong case on the point of gas-masks and other points. I only want to say, having heard the Government case, that while I appreciate the noble Earl's efforts to give all the information he could possibly give, we on this side of the House are convinced that the Government have not found an adequate means of defending this country, or any appreciable number of the people of this country, against these possible raids, and that by the pretense that this circular sets out necessary methods of precaution they are misleading the people, which we think is most undesirable.


My Lords, I should like to join with my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition in thanking the noble Earl for the very full reply he made and for the helpful explanatory details he gave about the circular. I am sorry that he accused me of alarmist fears. I had the experience of being in the first gas attack at Ypres at a time when gas was not what it is to-day and at a time when we had no means of defence. That was before the time when the first respirators made of black lace impregnated with urine were sent out to the troops in the Salient. Before that, when we had nothing whatever, this first gas attack came. It was made against men trained, disciplined and courageous, but completely unable to deal with such a state of affairs, a state of affairs which was entirely unexpected and against which we had no defence. We did not know what to do, and I lost many of my men and some officers through simply not knowing what to do—perhaps being in a dugout, breathing this gas deeply, or moving about when they ought to have been sitting still. I remember quite well a little conference we had of commanding officers to see what we were to do to deal with this gas attack. I shall never forget it, and it is because I myself experienced it that I deprecate being accused of alarmist fears, when I have been through it myself.

The noble Earl said nothing about Papers. I venture to suggest to him that there are certain Papers which he might lay. First of all, I think there might be a much wider distribution of this official circular. Secondly, he mentioned that he would be prepared—I quote his words—to provide detailed information for any noble Lord who might wish to have it. I do not think it ought to be confined to members of your Lordships' House; I think detailed information ought to be available for the public at large.


May I just correct the noble Lord? I think I intended to say, if I failed to say, that I should be ready to supply detailed information as to the work already in operation at the new Department, of the Home Office.


I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I hope I did not misunderstand him, but I think that such information might very well be made available for the public, so that we may know the extent of the preparations for the attack we may have to face. I hope that these handbooks will be very widely circulated to the whole of the public, and I hope that the noble Earl will say what the Government are going to do in the way of provision of protective measures at prices within the capacity of the people to pay. The Royal Army Clothing Department might be extended to take up the manufacture of gas-masks and protective clothing and so save the public from exploitation. I hope that something will be issued by the Home Office in conjunction with the War Office on this very important aspect of the matter. Those are the Papers I should like to see laid, and as I understand the noble Earl is prepared to lay those or similar Papers, or any Papers—


My Lords, I should like the noble Lord to understand quite clearly that I should be pleased, rather than to delay your Lordships unduly in explaining exactly what the Air Defence Department of the Home Office have in formulation as to air protection schemes, to lay that before the noble Lord if he so desires, but I do not feel prepared to lay other Papers.


My Lords, I cannot help thinking that this is not a satisfactory way to leave the position. We have here a circular which I venture to believe the public regard as inadequate. We have dangers which have been emphasised by Ministers; by the Prime Minister, by the noble Lord himself, by many people in extremely responsible positions. The public are told that they must themselves provide the means to protect themselves, and we know the risk of exploitation when the public are faced with the necessity of purchasing goods to meet an emergency. It does not seem to me to be satisfactory that the Government are not prepared to give any more information. Of course I cannot do anything about it. If the Government are not prepared to give further information to the country, I suppose the country must draw its own conclusions. I am not prepared to force this to a Division, but I do feel that it is extremely unsatisfactory that no further information should be laid.


My Lords, I think perhaps there is a difference of opinion which can be adjusted between the noble Lord and my noble friend who sits beside me. I think the noble Earl has made very clear that the Government are fully alive to the dangers about which the noble Lord has made his speech. This is a matter which is being gone into very carefully. The information which is being arrived at is going on from day to day, and I can assure the noble Lord that in response to further questions, which no doubt he will put at different times, all the information which is available and which it is possible to give him will be given. I cannot say that I agree with the noble Lord's strictures in relation to the White Paper which has been laid. That has given the full information available at the present time, and I am sorry that the noble Lord should think that it is misleading the public. I cannot say that I take that view at all. I think that the White Paper as it stands is the information which the Government have at the present moment and which will naturally increase as time goes on, and the advice which they should give to the public.

The noble Lord opposite has also made this categorical statement that there is no defence against air attack. I could detain your Lordships far longer than I should be entitled to by going into those matters. Old quotations have been brought up which have been answered again and again, but the discussion still goes on. The same quotations are repeated and the same allegations are made, and it is left to me, in the form of interjection—which I dislike having to do—to get up and say that if noble Lords would read the text of my speeches, they would see that the remarks which they have made are not the correct ones. That will go on for some considerable time, I suppose, but I should not like the noble Lord to think that some information was being withheld from him, nor should I like the impression to go out that the Government are not fully alive to the danger of air raids, nor doing what they think right in that direction. If the noble Lord thinks there is any supineness or ineptitude on the part of the Government, he must form his own opinion, but I can assure him that there is no supineness or carelessness. The Government are doing everything possible for the safety of the people of this country, and the White Paper states fully what is in the minds of the Government.


Perhaps the noble Marquess or the noble Earl can tell us when this new handbook is to be issued?


My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, a handbook is very shortly to be published as to the anti-gas precautions that should be taken by the public. Several subsequent handbooks will be followed at intermittent periods from the date of that publication, and conferences will be held, beginning in the autumn, between local authorities, the Department at the Home Office and those undertakers concerned in the necessary schemes for the adoption of defence measures.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl will also arrange for a broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation in order to initiate the population into the elementary means of protection. That is a suggestion; otherwise I have no desire to delay the House. I am very much obliged to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House for his intervention in this matter, and I will put down a Question to elicit further information after the Recess—unless the next war occurs in the interval! I beg leave to withdraw.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.