Clause I. — (Duty of certain local authorities to prepare and submit air-raid precaution schemes.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Air-Raid Precautions Bill. – in the House of Commons on 25th November 1937.

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Photo of Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery Lieut-Colonel Leo Amery , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The question to which I do not feel that a clear answer was provided by my hon. Friend who has just sat down was as to the actual obligations of the air-raid precautions volunteers themselves. Are these people who undertake to do the work of air wardens or fire fighters to enter into some sort of contract with the local authorities, or are they simply a list of men inspired by patriotic motives who may fade out at any moment, because they are no longer interested, or do not feel that the thing is being done sufficiently well, or rind themselves busy and gradually drop out? What provision is there for making sure that they do carry on their work for some definite time? If there is no obligatory provision, will the local authorities be authorised to give some financial inducement such as the Territorials get? After all, the Territorials are a volunteer force, but they receive financial inducements to do their voluntary work, and more than that, they enter into very definite obligations.

What is to be the position in time of war? My hon. Friend suggested that, of course, peace organisation and war organisation differ, but when war comes, the only organisation that you will have to depend upon is the organisation which was built up in peace. Are you going at a given moment in war to say that these men who have learned this work are to be subject to military discipline, or some similar discipline, subject to pains and penalties if they should drop their work? If that is to the case, clearly they ought to know it now. They ought to know exactly what they are responsible for, and unless you get definite responsibility of that sort, you may very well find this machinery breaking down. People may have enlisted in other units or, in order to look after their families, may have vacated their position and gone away. We must have some guarantee that the men who are trained for this responsible work shall be there when the hour of danger comes, and can be relied upon absolutely to carry out whatever orders may be given, and whatever the danger to themselves.

All this work has to be done at a moment of national crisis and perhaps of appalling danger, and the same necessity for discipline applies just as in the case of Territorials or even regular soldiers. If that is true of the ordinary rank and file, is it not much more true of the key men to whom the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) referred? The organisation will have to be built round 15, 20 or perhaps 50 men. Are they to be perfectly free to go away and look after their families when the moment of danger comes? Are they to be people who, on the eve of war or at the outbreak of war, can resign their posts, or are we to see to it that those who are actually selected or paid by the local authorities, are placed under a quite definite obligation? Unless there is such an obligation, I do not believe that your machinery will succeed.

I agree very largely with the hon. Member for Derby in thinking that these people, whether actually locally paid or not, should form a national corps. We want to have some uniformity and standard of training. I should be very interested if my hon. Friend could tell the Committee whether a school for training organisers is to be set up. Even our party machinery provides schools for training agents. These people are taking up much more responsibility, and more difficult tasks. How are the local authorities to know the kind of efficiency that is required? If we had a training system we could pass these men out when they attained a certain standard, and the local authorities would know that they were efficient. There also ought to be refresher courses. There are many questions in this Debate about which we are terribly anxious to know, because we want to make sure that we are starting an efficient scheme, and not one that may break down later and need a lot of amending legislation. Some of us feel that to get all this great machinery moving quickly, however keen local authorities may be, and however ready the patriotic public may be, we require a very strong impulse from the centre, and we doubt very much whether the present organisation at the Home Office, the admirable people who are dealing with it, are really big enough and authoritative enough to give the tremendous impulse that is required. Should not the Home Secretary look round and find the biggest and ablest men he can get, with the greatest driving and organising power possible, to give to this whole business, which has been so woefully neglected in recent years, a great impetus?