Civil Defence Act - 1939

The 1939 Civil Defence Act conferred additional powers on local authorities and Ministers in respect to Civil Defence as to those already in place under the 1937 ARP Act.

In summary these were:

i) Local authorities could designate any building or part of a building for Civil Defence purposes and to carry out such works as may be necessary to make the building suitable for such a purpose. The local authority could also construct underground air raid shelters and air raid shelters on any highway (or land adjoining the highway). All these powers were subject to appeal (although on very limited grounds) and compensation.

ii) A duty was imposed on occupiers / owners of factories, mines and commercial buildings to provide air raid shelters for people working on those premises. The local authority had the power to issue a notice requiring air raid shelters of an approved standard to be provided. Grants were available for the provision of shelters.

iii) If a home owner was provided with a free shelter or materials for a free shelter, he had to follow the local authority guidelines for erection of the shelter (failure to do so would result in liability for any damage to sewers, drains etc). The local authority was required to advance money to the owners of dwellings for the provision of air raid shelters, if the occupier had not been provided with a free air raid shelter.

iv) The owners of factories and mines and any persons undertaking Public Utility services were obliged to take measures to obscure lights throughout any period of darkness with heavy penalties for failure to comply.

v) The Minister of Health had powers to acquire land and erect buildings for the purpose of dealing with casualties and disease.

vi) Arrangements for the evacuation of the civil population from one area to another in the event of war or the imminence of war.

vii) Public Utility undertakers were required to report on the arrangements in hand as to the course of action to be undertaken by employees in the event of an air raid. In addition a suitable proportion of employees had to be trained and equipped to give first aid, deal with the effects of gas and to fight fires.

viii) In the imminence of an emergency involving the possibility of hostile attack, any premises or vehicles could be taken possession of by any Government department or any persons acting on the behalf of the Crown as well as any local authority in relation to discharge of its Civil Defence functions

ix) The Minister of Transport could acquire plant and material to repair roads and bridges damaged by hostile attack.

x) Any Fire Authority could submit a scheme for the provision of water for extinguishing fires caused by hostile attack for approval by the relevant Minister.

In relation to the ‘blackout’, although the 1939 Act only deals with factories, mines and Public Utility services, Sir John Anderson (Lord Privy Seal – in charge of ARP matters then Home Secretary after the outbreak of War until October 1940 when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer) stated on 23rd May 1939 that in the event of an emergency the Government would obtain powers to impose a general ‘blackout’.


The Civil Defence Act, 1939 - The Journal of the Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute of the United Kingdom, Vol 19. August 1939

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