HC Deb 26 July 1949 vol 467 cc2397-405

10.26 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)

I beg to move, That the Draft Civil Defence (General) Regulations, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved. This is the first of a number of sets of regulations which will be presented under the Civil Defence Act, 1948. These particular ones follow from the provisions of Section 2 of the Act, which deal with the rôle to be played by local authorities in the civil defence system. Perhaps I may just go a little wide for the moment of these actual regulations, to say that, in respect of the local authorities' activities in the realm of civil defence, it will be necessary to enable them to recruit personnel, and that I hope the House will agree to it in the next set of regulations.

It will also be necessary, in due course, to introduce several different sets of regulations, not all of them, probably, to be introduced by my right hon. Friend but by other designated Ministers, in order to define the special functions of the local authorities—for instance, in relation to evacuation, fire services, and so on. These will follow; but first, before we reach that stage, it is necessary to give local authorities power to organise themselves to play their part in civil defence, particularly to carry out the work which is put upon them by Section 2 (2) of the Act, and that is the subject matter of the general regulations which I am now submitting to the House.

These regulations have been fully discussed with the local authorities and with other Departments, and, so far as I am aware, the administrative arrangements which they contain are generally agreed. I do not think the House will require me to go into the details of all these regulations. They are quite short, and I think that they are quite clear, and that the explanatory note at the end describes what each regulation does, probably more shortly than I could, and quite as clearly. It is, of course, intended, as the House already knows, that the local authorities should play a very big part in the civil defence system, and all that these regulations do is to enable them to set up the appropriate committees, to delegate such powers as may be necessary. There are provisions for default powers given to the designated Minister, and then, for such matters as the necessary control of civil defence works and workers, and provisions for maintaining and storing equipment. The whole thing is a purely administrative matter to enable the local authorities to take the first steps in carrying out their duties, and so I ask the House to approve these regulations.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)

I have examined these regulations and, as the hon. Gentleman has stated, they provide nothing but the bare necessary administrative machinery to enable local authorities to perform, and carry out, civil defence functions. In those circumstances, we do not propose to offer any opposition or, indeed, any comments, upon these regulations; but we shall await, with interest and with expectancy, the further regulations which will tell us precisely what the Government intends to do in the realm of civil defence.

10.31 p.m.

Mr. Bechervaise (Leyton, East)

I understand that the local authorities have been in consultation with the Home Secretary, and I would liked to have heard what was the attitude of the non-county boroughs towards these regulations when the Home Secretary was discussing the matter mainly with the county authorities and the county boroughs. I am glad to see that there is a possibility that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to use his influence with the county authorities in carrying out these regulations, so as to give the non-county boroughs, particularly those on the outskirts of London, far greater freedom than they enjoyed in the early part of civil defence activities during the last war.

We were confronted, from time to time, with various difficulties because of the ponderousness of the machine, with the result that the county authority had to give permission to approach the Ministry, at least for a time, to get permission to carry out certain work and to acquire certain equipment. Incidentally, the non-county local authority spent, in some instances, fairly large sums to get a job done quickly. Is it the intention of the Home Secretary to use his influence, particularly with county authorities in their relationship with the extra-Metropolitan non-county boroughs, so as to delegate a greater degree of freedom to these authorities in the organisation of civil defence?

10.33 p.m.

General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)

I am quite sure that the House will be pleased to know that these regulations are simple and easy to understand. But I would like to urge that their issue should not be any longer delayed because certain of the local authorities with which I have to deal have been waiting for a long time for the issue of the regulations. Moreover, regulations regarding their duties in connection with civil defence have been issued to the Fighting Services, and have been issued to other bodies besides local authorities. The local authorities feel that they are lagging behind. They have been given an intimation that they are to receive a series of regulations giving a sort of sketch of what they may be required to do, but no definite regulations have yet been issued. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that these are issued immediately.

10.34 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

In answer to the hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Bechervaise), I can say that I do desire that there shall be the closest co-operation between the county and the county district authorities, especially the large non-county boroughs. It will be seen that there is a small group of large non-county boroughs which have been given a special position. They are Cambridge, Chesterfield, Luton, Swindon, and the City of Peterborough, which are large urban populations surrounded by a very considerable tract of country which has no urban characteristic at all. I think they stand in a special category. It may be possible to add a few other county districts to that number. When we come to the great built-up areas a rather different position arises, because it is quite clear that there must be co-operation between the authorities throughout that belt of country. Taking the district to which my hon. Friend more particularly alluded, while I hope that each of the non-county boroughs will have considerable opportunities for dealing with their own particular problems it can be most efficiently done in consultation and co-operation with the adjoining built-up areas. I do not think they stand quite in the same category as the five non-county boroughs I have mentioned. It is my hope that as wide a measure of delegation as is consistent with securing an efficient and economical service shall be given.

Resolved: That the Draft Civil Defence (General) Regulations, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, That the Draft Civil Defence Corps Regulations, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved. The purpose of these regulations is to confer upon the councils of county, county borough, Metropolitan boroughs, and certain specified county districts set out in the Schedule, functions of organising the Civil Defence Corps. The House, I think, is already aware that the intention is that there will be a National Civil Defence Corps constituted by warrant, which will be organised in local divisions through the local authorities. It will be on an entirely voluntary basis in peace-time and it is not the intention for the time being that there will be any whole-time war commitments. Of course, the conditions will have to be supplemented by war-time personnel in the event of war and no doubt there will have to be mobile reserves under central control, but that will be for other regulations.

The Civil Defence Corps will undertake, in general, the duties which fall upon the local authorities, but not necessarily all of them. Some of the specialised activities carried out, for instance, by the Police and Fire Service, for which special qualifications will be required, will have to be dealt with separately. These regulations, like the previous ones, have been fully discussed with the local, authorities and also with the National Federation of Civil Defence Associations and the Association of London Chief Wardens. There is, once again, a general agreement about them and I can assure the House the local authorities have been kept fully informed of the Government's plans up to the present. The only outstanding point is the one to which my right hon. Friend referred in connection with the previous regulations—the possibility of additions to the county districts who might qualify to be added to the list at present in the Schedule.

The regulations are designed to come into force immediately, and if that occurs it is hoped recruiting can begin in the Autumn and training very shortly thereafter. Just how quickly training can begin will depend on the provision of instructors and it may be difficult to provide sufficient instructors throughout the country without any delay. But there are already two Schools of Instructors, one at Falfield in Gloucestershire and another at Easingwold in Yorkshire, which have been in operation since May, and already a supply of freshly-trained instructors is beginning to flow. A Civil Defence Staff College for senior officers will shortly be operating. The exact age and conditions of enlistment are not yet finally fixed, but it will be necessary to avoid cut-throat competition with the other auxiliary forces.

It is intended that the conditions should be flexible and give scope for members of voluntary bodies, including women's voluntary bodies, who will be able to play their part in civil defence while still remaining members of their own voluntary organisations. Throughout the whole organisation, so far, of civil defence, there has been an excellent understanding with the Armed Forces and I think the respective rôles of the Armed Forces and the Civil Defence Corps are fully appreciated. There never has been any question of too much responsibility being given to the army for civil defence. The army is ready to help and is taking close interest in the whole problem, but the burden of civil defence will fall primarily upon the Civil Defence Corps. I am well aware that these regulations have been awaited with some impatience by a number of keen civil defence workers throughout the country, and I hope the House will now be prepared to approve them.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Peake

We welcome these regulations, and we also welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said in explaining them to the House. However, we do not regard this as an altogether suitable opportunity for a full discussion upon the methods of raising a civil defence force and the precise rôle which that force will play. This, and other things connected with the force, we should like to debate more fully in the Autumn, when the plans of the right hon. Gentleman have proceeded somewhat further than they have yet done.

Resolved: That the Draft Civil Defence Corps Regulations, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.

10.41 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)

I beg to move, That the Draft Civil Defence (General) (Scotland) Regulations, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved. These regulations are similar in nearly all respects to those just moved for England and Wales. Ministerial responsibility in Scotland for civil defence, apart from one or two technical matters, such as training, rests upon the Secretary of State for Scotland. This is different from what was the case in the last war, when the Minister for Home Security was responsible for these matters for the whole of Great Britain. Those who knew the circumstances will remember that this led to difficulties where there were borderlines between Departments of Health and other services in civil defence and those services which came under the Home Secretary. So, in this case, there has been a complete devolution of the responsibility, with the exception of the matters which are dealt with on a United Kingdom basis, such as training. The Secretary of State for Scotland, under these regulations has representatives upon all the Committees, the joint planning staffs, and other organisations dealing with these joint matters. These regulations have been before representatives of the various local authority representative organisations, and they are in accord.

The general regulations now before the House deal with Section 2 (2) of the Civil Defence Act in the same way as the other general regulations. As it is not proposed to confer any civil defence function upon a county council in respect of only part of a landward area, it is not necessary to include any provision corresponding to Regulation 8 of the draft regulations for England and Wales. As the definition of the term "local authority" for Scotland in Section 9 (1) of the Civil Defence Act includes the joint police committees, the joint fire committees and joint water boards, provisos have been added to Regulations 1 and 2 (1) to ensure that these joint committees shall exercise the powers of combining and delegating conferred by the regulations only with the consent of the constituent authorities.

10.44 p.m.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

As the right hon. Gentleman has told us, these regulations are on precisely the same lines, with the small differences he mentioned, as the regulations for England and, therefore, I have nothing to add to what the right hon. Gentleman has said except this: that we are glad to notice that Ministerial responsibility now rests with the Secretary of State for Scotland, which is where we think it ought to rest. We shall watch with interest how these regulations work out.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

How much does the right hon. Gentleman estimate will be the cost to the taxpayer of implementing these regulations?

Mr. Woodburn

I should like notice of that question.

Resolved: That the Draft Civil Defence (General) (Scotland) Regulations, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Woodburn

I beg to move, That the Draft Civil Defence Corps (Scotland) Regulations, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved. There are one or two differences between these regulations and those for England and Wales that it might be desirable to mention. It is proposed in Regulation 1 that in Scotland the function of raising a division or corps shall be conferred only on counties, joint counties and large burghs. In England and Wales the function will extend to certain county districts specified in the Schedule to the draft regulations.

The Scottish Regulation 4 is designed to provide for the case where the members of the Civil Defence Corps after receiving their basic training are, in effect, seconded to a specific service which is run by an authority other than the civil defence recruiting authority. For example, in Scotland the wardens' section of the Corps will be the responsibility of the police authorities—joint police committees and chief constables. This, of course, is to be a voluntary service and in no way a professional service.

The English regulations, on the other hand, are designed to enable the organisation of the wardens' service in any particular area to be entrusted to the chief constable or other police officer, who will act under the control not of the police authority but of the civil defence recruiting authority. As in England and Wales, it is not proposed to make use of the Civil Defence Corps for the expansion of the police or fire services in Scotland. There will be under review an expansion of the special constabulary and also the organisation of an auxiliary fire service based on the existing fire brigades. Copies of the draft regulations now before the House, together with the Government's plans, were sent to all local authorities, and they will also receive copies of the further regulations about to be presented to Parliament.

The training centres which have been opened by the Home Office in England will be available also for the training of people from Scotland in the meantime; and, of course, since training is a United Kingdom function, these will be jointly under the two Ministers. In Scotland, Taymouth Castle, also, will be available after January as a training centre for this work. These points to which I have referred are the main distinctions between the regulations of the two countries.

Commander Galbraith

I merely say that we welcome these regulations. We are glad they are at last available—not that we are complaining very much at the slight delay that has occurred in producing them—and we hope that recruiting, when it starts, which we hope will be immediately, and the training of recruits, will proceed satisfactorily. It is advisable that there should be a training centre in Scotland, and I am very glad indeed that Taymouth Castle is to be used for this purpose.

Resolved: That the Draft Civil Defence Corps (Scotland) Regulations, 1949, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.