HC Deb 30 November 1948 vol 458 cc1910-7
The Chairman

I think the first two Amendments are alternative, and perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will indicate which he wishes to move.

Brigadier Head

I beg to move, in page 7, line 30, after "not," to insert: being measures taken for the purposes of the armed forces nor. These are alternative Amendments, and I think it might be better if I moved the second one. I think that we on this side of the Committee have no very strong feelings about this Amendment. We put it down because we felt that in the Bill the definition of Civil Defence—and we recognise that it is no easy thing to do—is an unfortunate one. It seems to us, looking at it closely, that it could easily be interpreted to refer to aerial warnings by radar, or to refer to such things as the digging of trenches and making of gun emplacements by civilians for the Armed Forces. Again, it might refer to operations by the Armed Forces, except where armed combat took place, and it might also refer to measures taken and carried out by the Armed Forces themselves which were done purely for their own passive defence.

We felt that it did not fulfil the purpose for which it was intended, and that the best way to set about defining Civil Defence, rather than on the principle of what is defended, was to define it on the principle of who does the defending. While it is admitted that it is a difficult problem, we felt that the best way would be to give a definition of the object of Civil Defence and then exclude from that category any measures which come under that definition and are carried out by the Armed Forces themselves. That really is the object of this Amendment.

Mr. Younger

I am glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has chosen to move the second of the two Amendments, because I think it is the more nearly practicable of the two. We could not have done without the definition suggested by the first one, and we feel that, the one that has been moved is the better one. We appreciate what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said about radar, the functions of the Observer Corps, and so on. It is not, of course, intended to put those duties upon the Civil Defence personnel. On the other hand, if one introduces a phrase such as that proposed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, we feel there is a danger of ruling out some other functions which might—I will not say will—be considered desirable. One instance which comes from the experience of the last war is that, in London, a duty was put upon the wardens to notify certain incidents, not primarily for the benefit of Civil Defence, but for the R.A.F. I believe it was a question of notifying the first flare dropped, and even notifying the dropping of bombs. That was done specifically for the benefit of the Fighting Services though, of course, it was not a combat duty.

This field is so uncharted, and so uncertain at the present time—we cannot say precisely at the moment what the necessities might be—that we are reluctant to accept a definition which would positively rule out the inclusion in Civil Defence duties of co-operation with the Armed Forces in that sort of way. Therefore, I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will not think it necessary to press this Amendment. I know it is not always satisfactory for the Opposition simply to rely on the assurance that it is not intended to include a wide series of functions, such as those mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member, but it seems that, with this Civil Defence force widely dispersed, it might be necessary, on certain occasions, to ask them to do certain things which were primarily, if not wholly, for the assistance of the Armed Forces, though not amounting to combat.

Mr. Peake

Of course, the importance of the definition of Civil Defence in this Bill lies in the fact that local authorities will be called upon, and in my opinion, quite properly called upon, to contribute 25 per cent. of the normal cost of what falls within the meaning of Civil Defence services. It is, as the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State has observed, a very difficult matter indeed to define Civil Defence in modern conditions. At the same time, it is important to safeguard the local authorities from having to contribute 25 per cent. of the cost of measures which should properly be carried out by the Armed Forces of the Crown, and should, therefore, fall upon the Exchequer. It was for that reason that we put down alternative Amendments, of which we prefer the second.

The first Amendment would strike out the definition of Civil Defence altogether, and it would then simply become a matter for the Minister to decide what was or what was not Civil Defence. Of course, if we look at the definition chosen by the Minister in the Bill, it is perfectly clear that it may be construed to include a number of matters properly falling within the province of the Armed Forces of the Crown. Civil Defence, we are told, includes any measures not amounting to actual combat, though affording defence against any form of hostile attack by a foreign Power. Obviously, that is so wide as to include a large number of measures, such as the making of gun emplacements and the digging of trenches, which are not measures amounting to actual combat, but which are designed to afford protection against attack by a foreign Power.

I do not think that, however long the Committee were to go on trying, they would ever find an adequate, satisfactory and conclusive definition of what should or should not be Civil Defence. Therefore, I think we are bound to rely upon the good sense of the Ministers concerned. We take it that the right hon. Gentleman, on the one hand, and the Minister of Defence on the other, will decide between themselves what is or what is not Civil Defence expenditure. In the circumstances we are bound to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment and to leave the matter there.

The Deputy-Chairman

The right hon. Member cannot withdraw the Amendment, as it was moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head).

Brigadier Head

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy-Chairman

Does the right hon. Gentleman want any discussion on the last two Amendments on the Order Paper?—namely, in page 8, line 18, leave out from "Minister," to "as" in line 19, leave out from "Council," to "Provided," in line 22.

Mr. Peake

I beg to move, in page 8, line 18, to leave out from "Minister," to "as."

We should like to have a division on this Amendment. We have already had a full discussion on the first Amendment

we took today, which covered the last two Amendments upon the Order Paper, and I made it clear that we would reserve our right to divide the Committee upon this matter, which we regard as of the utmost importance. We still object strongly to the idea that the designated Minister may be a group of six, seven or eight Ministers acting in a corporate capacity. For that reason, although the matter has been discussed and argued fully, I say once more that we cannot reconcile in our minds the two powers taken in the Bill, the power, on the one hand, for the designated Minister to delegate powers to fellow Ministers, and the power also taken in the Bill by Order in Council to appoint a body of Ministers as the designated Minister for the purpose of the Bill. We think that either one or other must be wrong, and for that reason we propose to divide the Committee upon this Amendment.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 237; Noes, 95.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 10 and 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be reported to the House."

Mr. Ede

May I express my thanks to the Committee for the expeditious way in which they have discharged this Bill?

Bill, reported with Amendments; as amended to be considered Tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 28.]