§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)
This is the first opportunity that there has been in this Parliament for a full debate on civil defence.
On 18th July, 1952, we had an interesting debate on a Motion by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) and on 20th April, 1953, we had a short discussion on the Adjournment at the instance of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) supported by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), but the scope of those debates was necessarily limited, and I am glad that today the Committee has the opportunity of a fuller discussion of this important subject.
For many reasons it is desirable that the House should from time to time receive progress reports on civil defence, and such occasions are particularly to be welcomed because they are the best means of assisting the country as a whole to obtain a balanced view of this subject 1795 and of affording encouragement to those thousands of public-spirited volunteers who are giving up their time to this work.
All previous occasions, whether in this Parliament or before, have been characterised by complete agreement in principle between the Government of the day and the Opposition. I hope that this will be the case again today, and, though there may well be differences of approach and criticisms of detail, I am sure that we shall find ourselves in broad agreement as to the general policy to be pursued.
I should like to start by a few quotations to illustrate my point that there is no major difference between the policy of the present Administration and that of its predecessor. On 29th January, 1951, the right hon. Gentleman, the present Leader of the Opposition, in the course of a statement about the defence programme of the Government, used these words:This defence programme is designed to deter aggression, and we have therefore placed the emphasis upon the strengthening of the active defences. There must be limits to the resources which can be applied to defence purposes in time of peace, and we do not propose any general acceleration of civil defence preparations. We shall, however, press on with civil defence planning; and we shall accelerate those civil defence measures which directly support the efficiency of the Armed Forces."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 583.]The right hon. Gentleman went on to mention a number of specific measures to which priority was being given.
Statements on very similar lines have been included in the successive annual statements on defence for which the present Government have been responsible, and I would quote, in particular, from paragraph 86 of the statement for the current year, which contains the following sentences:Civil defence is an essential, integral, and continuing part of our defence preparations for any future war. In the development of a policy which gives first priority to preparations designed to deter a would-be aggressor, the rôle of civil defence is necessarily a secondary one, and its contribution to that policy must inevitably be through the indirect support which it can give to increasing the efficiency of the Armed Forces.The statement goes on to give particulars of measures which had been taken during the preceding year and explains that it is intended to make further progress with them in the present year.
1796 Similar statements have been made by Her Majesty's Ministers on a number of occasions, and it has been made abundantly clear that the general programme of priorities in the field of defence preparations has been based upon a policy which is directed to the prevention of war and not to preparations for a war considered to be imminent or inevitable.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has quoted paragraph 86 of the White Paper on Civil Defence in particular, but surely he must, in fairness, quote from the earlier paragraphs of the White Paper, which make it abundantly clear that in fact the atomic bomb is playing a major part in our defence policy?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The hon. Gentleman has, I think, if I may say so, with great intelligence, anticipated a subsequent portion of my speech.
There is, however, one important difference which has taken place in the background against which all civil defence measures have to be planned. In the debate on 24th July, 1950, my precedecessor was able to say that he did not believe, on any information that we or anyone else had at the moment, that a large number of atomic bombs could be dropped by any country. That, unfortunately, is not true any longer.
It is made clear—and here I come to the passage which, I am sure, the hon. Gentleman had in mind—in paragraph 13 of the Statement on Defence, 1954, that both the free world and the Communist world have what is commonly called the hydrogen bomb, and that it must be assumed that if a global war were forced upon us, such weapons would be employed by both sides, and that in that event it seems very likely that such a war would begin with a period of intense atomic attacks.
Since then, fuller information has been made public about the development of nuclear weapons. I have already told the House that the effect of new developments has already been made the subject of preliminary study from the civil defence point of view. It is obvious that these developments have implications affecting the whole of our defence policy and are not confined to the field of civil defence.
1797 It has been made clear on a number of occasions in this House and elsewhere that there has been from the beginning the closest collaboration between the military and the civil advisers of the Government, and my reason for emphasising the point at the moment is that major decisions in the field of civil defence must necessarily be related to and form part of decisions in the wider field.
While, therefore, studies are actively proceeding over a large part of the civil defence field in parallel with the review of wider defence policy, it would not be appropriate or indeed possible for me to make any comprehensive statement about their probable results today. I hope that the Committee and the country will not think it unreasonable to ask for more time for this purpose. I am conscious that anyone who asks for time is under a heavy burden to show later that it was not wasted.
Nevertheless, I hope to be able, in the course of a brief review of the steps that have been taken in the various fields of civil defence, to give some indication of the particular problems which face us. I should like to make it perfectly clear that we are not approaching these problems in any defeatist attitude.
There are those—as there were before the last war—who say that the possibilities of death and destruction in any modern war are so great that it is no good attempting to make any preparations. There are others who say that all our resources ought to be devoted to defensive preparations designed to save life and minimise damage. Neither of these attitudes is realistic.
We recognise, as we have made abundantly clear, for example, in the recent statement on defence, that if war should come the consequences would be infinitely more horrible than any which either ourselves or our enemies experienced in the last war, and it would be foolish to attempt the impossible task of providing immunity. We take the view, however, that much can be done to mitigate these consequences and that it is the duty of everyone to do the best they can.
That is the attitude which governed the plans and preparations of the preceding Administration; it is still our attitude, but we recognise that it is our responsibility to re-examine the plans 1798 which in many cases were started by our predecessors and to consider to what extent revision is necessary.
I have already given to the House some indication of the nature of the threat from hydrogen bomb attacks, but I am sure that hon. Members would like me, first of all, to say something more about the effects of the latest atomic bombs—those which have popularly been given the title of "hydrogen bomb."
It is important to remember—because it dispels so many of the misconceptions which are in many minds—that these bombs are simply more powerful manifestations of an atomic explosion. The effects of the more powerful bombs therefore come under the three main heads set out in the Home Office pamphlet on Atomic Warfare—which I am sure many hon. Members have read—namely, blast, heat and radioactivity.
The radius of the destruction caused by blast is proportional to the cube root of the increase in power, so—if I may put it more simply—with a bomb a thousand times as powerful as the nominal bomb—that is, the type of bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—the radius of damage would be about ten times as great. The blast damage would be graded in the same way as the blast damage from a smaller bomb: namely, there would be an inner area of total destruction; an area of serious damage where houses, if they could be repaired at all, could only be repaired as part of a long-term plan; an area of lighter damage, where house would be repairable in the short term; and, finally, on the very fringes, an area of superficial damage, where glass would be broken but very little else.
There is one difference in the nature of the damage in the area of total devastation which might result from the use of these vastly more powerful bombs. In order to produce the most damage with a nominal bomb—I am using "nominal" throughout as referring to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb—it is necessary to explode it well in the air, with the result that there is little or no cratering even at ground zero. The more powerful bomb, however, might not be exploded at a correspondingly greater height so that a crater would be made at the heart of the area of total devastation.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
It would, I think, be clearer to the Committee if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would give an illustration of the area which would be covered if a hydrogen bomb were dropped at the present time.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Perhaps I may take the two examples and relate them. With the atomic bomb, the area of total destruction was half a mile radius, of medium devastation three quarters of a mile, and of lighter destruction one and a half miles. With the Eniwetok bomb, to which I referred in a statement I made the other day, the corresponding figures were three miles, seven miles and 10 miles. On the mathematics which I have just given to the Committee—that is, with a bomb of 1,000 times the destructive power of the nominal bomb, in the sense in which I have used that term—my original figures would be multiplied by 10. If my vulgar fractions are still good, that would give five, 7½and 15 miles.
I was dealing with the question of height, which is a rather interesting aspect of the matter. This relative change in the height of burst would also have an effect on the consequent radioactivity. I should like to deal with radioactivity at some little length, because recent questions which have been put to me reveal that there is some confusion, in some quarters of the House, about this matter.
Direct, immediate radiation occurs at the moment of explosion in the form of gamma radiation. As the term implies, these are gamma rays, invisible and intangible, and protective clothing or washing of the body, and so on, are of no avail against them. They produce no immediate sensatory impression on those who absorb them and the results are only subsequently apparent in the form of radiation sickness, which will vary enormously in duration and gravity, according to the dose received.
Protection against this form of radiation is afforded by the screening effect of various materials, which diminish the penetration of the rays, and even the walls of an ordinary dwelling-house afford a marked degree of protection. The penetration of the rays decreases with distance from the point of burst, so that people in normal health under cover, even that afforded by the walls of a 1800 dwelling-house, outside the area of total devastation would not be fatally or even seriously affected.
Next, I want to say a word on residual radioactivity. Delayed or residual radioactivity, as distinct from the primary effects, results mainly from the fission products of the explosion. The danger from this source, as was explained in the pamphlet on Atomic Warfare, largely depends on the point of burst being relatively near to the ground. As I have already said, the point of burse with a more powerful bomb might be relatively nearer to the ground than the point of burst for a nominal bomb, and there might, therefore, be considerable danger from radioactivity.
That danger might manifest itself in two ways. First, there could, according to the circumstances, be the area, at no great distance from the scene of the explosion, where radioactive matter was deposited as a direct result. Second, there might be the subsequent fall out from the radioactive cloud itself as it passes over a strip of country.
Finally, there is the heat emanated by the explosion—
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
Can the Home Secretary give any idea of how far the cloud would travel before it ceased to be a danger to human life and health?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
There are great differences of estimation and not sufficient clearly known results of experiments for me to wish to dogmatise on that, but I will try to get the right hon. Gentleman as exact estimations as I can. I think he understands why I do not want to tie myself on that point.
Finally, there is the heat emanated by the explosion, which takes the form of a heat flash, lasting for at least half a minute, of enormous intensity. Its effects vary with atmospheric conditions and are at their greatest on a perfectly clear day, with which, fortunately, from this point of view, we are very rarely favoured in this country.
As with radioactivity, the danger from heat flash is at its greatest where the blast effects of the bomb are most fully felt. But outside the area of devastation, even as far as the fringes of damage—my third section of damage—the 1801 heat flash may start many fires, and persons caught in the open will be in danger of being burned to a varying degree.
That is the magnitude of the problem with which we might be faced as the result of the explosion of a single bomb.
My task today is to deal with the measures that can be taken to mitigate the effects of such an attack. Before doing so, I hope the Committee will bear with me if I make a brief diversion and say a word or two on what must be in the minds of all of us.
It is clear that if ever an attack with atomic weapons were made upon this or any inhabited country the loss of life, the suffering, and the material losses would be such as to constitute a tragedy without any previous parallel in history which would entail misery, hardship and a catastrophic drop in standards of wellbeing and civilisation which would require a matter of decades to restore.
None of these considerations provides adequate reasons for our taking a cowardly or defeatist attitude towards an aggressive demand upon us to accept principles or submit to action which our minds and consciences tell us are brutal and wrong. But they do make it more than ever vital far us all to strive to bring about conditions in the world which will enable peace to endure and the threat of war to disappear and effective measures of disarmament to be introduced. This, above everything, is, and will continue to be, the aim of Her Majesty's Government, as it was of their predecessors.
Meanwhile, until this aim is achieved, we must face facts as they exist. We must always remember that whatever the scale of air attacks, there will be wide areas which will escape serious damage. It is there and from there that the battle for survival will have to be fought. It is not merely a question of mitigating the damage on the fringe of the bomb damage.
Now to turn to what we are doing and what we shall have to do. I feel it right to begin with the Civil Defence Services, that growing body of men and women who have volunteered for part-time service with civil defence and who are proceeding with their training so that they 1802 may be prepared to mitigate the effects of attack from the air, whatever the type of bomb that is used.
On 31st March, the Civil Defence Corps had 328,000 members, the National Hospital Service Reserve had 44,000 and the Auxiliary Fire Service had 20,000. In addition, we have more than 150,000 volunteers in the Industrial Civil Defence Service, an organisation whose importance cannot be over-stressed. I mention that there are also some 70,000 special constables, who have, of course, duties other than civil defence work.
Further, we have the unstinting help of the Women's Voluntary Services and the voluntary aid societies, who, besides providing many members for the Civil Defence Services, play a great part in their training. Of course I remember, as the Committee does, the Red Cross and the Order of St. John in that regard.
There have been expressions of doubt, of late, about the value of retaining and building up these local services. I have made my opinion clear that the Civil Defence Services were more than ever needed in the light of the new threats and that we intended to press on with recruitment. We are still short of the peacetime establishments which were set some years ago, and those responsible for recruiting must increase, and not relax, their efforts.
One thing that is clear from the outset is that there must be the closest cooperation between one local authority and another and between one service and another. To deal with attacks on the scale of those we are considering today, the emphasis in future must be on the use of local services as reinforcements and this must necessarily lead to changes in local establishments, so that strength is built up in places where it is most likely to be available for the general good.
For example, it would be prudent to raise larger rescue forces in those areas where hitherto the rescue requirement has been small. Such changes in establishments are now being worked out in detail and local authorities, industrial establishments and others concerned will be notified of them as soon as possible. I can say at once, however, that while the changes will result in increased establishments in some areas, they will nowhere result in decreases. Every authority must 1803 Continue to strive for something not less than its existing establishment.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman passes from that matter, will he say something about the ordinary fire service? Surely that should be regarded as the backbone of the Civil Defence Services.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I agree that it is of tremendous importance and I was coming back at a later stage to the special problem of the fire-fighting services. The A.F.S. is of very great assistance, but the ordinary fire services are of tremendous importance, and I will say a word about fire-fighting techniques later in my speech. What I want to deal with now is techniques generally.
The techniques that are being taught to the members of the services are in no way outmoded by the new weapons, although they were devised before their advent. There is the technique of rescuing trapped persons. Let us pause there for a moment. I should like hon. Members who can to take the trouble to go and see the rescue instruction, and see what a difference 10 hours' instruction in rescue work can make in the efficacy of the people who are instructed. I think anyone approaching it in a non-party manner would be impressed by it. Similarly the rendering of first aid, reporting information about damage, caring for homeless people in a rest centre, and constructing a cooking stove out of bricks and mud will be just as relevant and even more vital when the numbers of people to be cared for are multiplied.
Naturally, there will be some changes in the details of training since the manuals are constantly kept under review to keep them up to date with the latest possible methods of attack and they are being revised at present so as to bring them into line with the most recent information.
The important thing is to push ahead with training, both locally and at the central training establishments. I am glad that the Civil Defence Staff College at Sunningdale and the Civil Defence Technical Training Schools at Falfield, Easingwold and Taymouth Castle continue to run to capacity and provide instruction to members of all services, including the Armed Forces, and to those 1804 concerned with their direction. I am sure that the Committee will be pleased to know that the value of the work done in these establishments has recently been recognised by the promulgation of a scheme to make permanent the appointment of their commandants and a proportion of their instructors.
There are naturally variations in the progress of local training but what I believe to be a most important step to meet the wishes of both those responsible for organising local divisions of the Civil Defence Corps and the members of the Corps themselves is now being taken. It is a complete revision of the training syllabuses, with a view to cutting out duplication of them and making them more strictly pertinent to the work of the particular section to which the volunteer belongs.
These are only the local forces, and behind them must stand the centrally organised and controlled mobile columns which we have always regarded as an integral part of the civil defence organisation. The possibility of a much heavier scale of damage underlines the need for such columns. As hon. Members are aware, we began practical tests of the methods of organising and employing mobile columns by setting up an Experimental Mobile Column, based on Epsom, in January, 1953.
Since May, 1953, the column has carried out an invaluable series of exercises with local authorities and industry throughout the country and it is at present on tour.
During last year and this year, the column has been manned by members of the Army and the Royal Air Force and I am deeply grateful to those two Services for enabling us to carry out a project which has not only assisted in providing an assessment of the rôle and organisation of mobile columns but has also encouraged the holding of exercises by local authorities. The column will disband at the end of this year, when its personnel return to their units, and we are preparing to make a start next year with the training of reserves for service with mobile columns in war.
Without infringing any of the rules of order and going into the actual provisions of a Bill which is awaiting Second Reading in another place, it would, I 1805 think, be useful if I reminded the Committee of what was said by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence in the defence debate. He told the Committee that the men to be trained in the immediate future will be National Service reservists of the R.A.F. in whose case it can be established early in their period of part-time service that they will not be required for mobilisation for normal R.A.F. duties in the early stages of war. The intention is to call them up for a fortnight's civil defence training in each of their last two years of part-time service. In that period they will be given training in rescue or fire-fighting duties at civil defence or fire service establishments, of which three will be set up next year and additional ones in the following year.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman telling us that the mobile columns will be mobilised in the event of war and will not be mobilised in peace time?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I shall be dealing with that point, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will put his question to me again if he thinks I have not dealt with it. It is very complicated to switch from aspect to aspect, and I am trying to give as complete a picture as I can. I hope I shall deal with the point, and if not, I hope the hon. Gentleman will ask me about it.
§ Mr. Wigg
Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will help us to get this point clear. As I understood the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence—and I am speaking from memory—the training of the Royal Air Force reservists is not to begin until next year and will eventually reach a ceiling of 30,000 men. It is a stop-gap measure which the Government undertook with great reluctance because they did not know what to do with these part-time Royal Air Force National Service men. Is the Home Secretary now telling us that the number is to be limited to 30,000 men, because there were 100,000 men who last year did no part-time training and who could also be used for this service?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I was going on to explain the position. The hon. Gentleman appreciates my side of the problem, 1806 and I do not want to make any false point. In the first year it will be 15,000 men and in the second year 30,000 men. From the Home Office point of view, there is a great deal of work to be done, and I should like to put that aspect of the matter to the Committee.
§ Mr. Ede
On a point of order. I understand that the power to do this will be provided for by a Bill which is now before another place. Though I am not anxious to prevent the right hon. and learned Gentleman from taking us as far as possible into his confidence on this and similar matters, nevertheless if he makes a statement in much detail on this subject the probability is that other hon. Members will wish to follow him and we might get involved in rules of order. We understand that the Bill now before another place is going to have a happier fate than one or two other Bills that the Government introduced this Session, and that it will come before the House for consideration at a comparatively early moment. This afternoon we do not want to get involved in the discussion of a Bill which we shall have full opportunity of discussing in a few weeks' time.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
On that point of Order, Sir Charles, may I say that I was very conscious of that point? That was why the course which I was pursuing was simply to repeat, not word for word but the substance of, what my hon. Friend had said. Then I was going to pass to the work that would have to be done by the civil departments in relation to any scheme for providing manpower for mobile columns, whether the House eventually accepted the Bill or not, because that is on my Vote and is something for which I am responsible. So I was really passing from the Bill to the Home Office work, and I thought that kept just within the rules of order.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
I am not certain what your Ruling is, Sir Charles. Do I understand that it will not be in order to discuss the use of R.A.F. reservists in mobile columns when we come to discuss the whole organisation of civil defence?
§ The Chairman
It can be discussed on the various Votes, but to discuss legislation would be out of order.
§ Mr. Wigg
With respect, Sir Charles, the Bill that is to be introduced deals with the powers to call up those men, who are amenable to military law but who will come under the control of the civil authorities for civil defence purposes. That is not the point we want to discuss. We want to discuss civil defence and I thought that was well within the rules of order.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Arising out of that point of order, Sir Charles, you referred to various Votes that are in the Estimates. There is a Vote here for civil defence in Scotland. Should not a Scottish Minister be here? Is Scotland not interested in civil defence?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I was passing, Sir Charles, keeping within the spirit and the letter of your Ruling, I think, to deal with Home Office responsibility and to explain to the House that the depots will be Home Department establishments, each staffed by a civilian commandant and civilian instructors, although the control and administration of the men will remain with the R.A.F. In war, the men would be mobilised by the Air Ministry into R.A.F. formations, taking the form of mobile columns, which would be under the same operational control as the Civil Defence Services.
On the best estimate which can at present be made, some 15,000 men will become available each year. Thus, in the first year, 15,000 will be under training and in each subsequent year, with two intakes, approximately 30,000. Over six years' operation of the scheme, at that rate, we shall have created a reserve of nearly 100,000 men, who will be allocated in roughly equal numbers to fire-fighting and rescue duties.
I only want to say this, and then I will leave this aspect of the matter. I recognise that the scheme goes only part of the way towards providing the whole-time manpower for mobile columns that the Civil Defence Services would require in war, but I think that in present circumstances it is a sufficient contribution as a first step.
1808 The scheme will, I hope, start next spring—this was the point I wanted to put to the Committee. Whatever is the plan actually approved by the House—as we know, the House can make its suggestions with regard to the Bill—there is a great deal of preliminary work to be done by the civil Departments for the training of mobile column personnel, and all of that is being pushed forward with drive and energy. The Epsom establishment, suitably extended—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I beg pardon.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am most grateful for any interjection, but I do not know that that one helped very much.
As I have said, the Epsom establishment, suitably extended, will be used as one training centre and, after an exhaustive search, two other establishments have so far been found, one for rescue training at Horsforth, near Leeds, and the other for fire training near Preston. Extensive alterations will be necessary to adapt the existing premises for their new purpose and bring the accommodation up to the required standards.
Moreover it is essential that the centres should be properly equipped with training facilities which, in the case of the rescue training centres, must obviously include a rescue training ground.
There is, therefore, much physical work to be done before the centres can be opened and, in addition, a considerable instructional staff has to be recruited, trained and organised, and all this is in hand. In the second year, additional centres to provide for the doubled number of men under training will be needed and one at least of these will be situated in Scotland.
I recognise that this is only a beginning, but we are working out the further problems primarily concerned with securing that the columns formed by these men, if our scheme is agreed to by the House, are at their posts and ready for action before the outbreak of war. Thus we shall be concerned to see that arrangements are formulated for training N.C.Os. and officers for the columns, and for the unit training of the personnel. The best localities for mobilisation centres from the operational point of 1809 view will have to be settled, and a layout and establishment for such a centre worked out. On our intended plan, mobilisation arrangements will have to be worked out with the Air Ministry. I must not go into detail, but on that I should like to say how much help I have had already.
§ Mr. Crossman
May I ask a question on an obscure point? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that they will be there before war breaks out. In the case of an armoured division, we know either that it is one which will be called up as a reserve for use in war or that it is there in peace. Will there be mobile columns in peace-time, or is the Home Secretary saying, "We will have a good guess when war comes and get one going if we can before"?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
What I intended to indicate was that the cadre of trained officers would be there, that the columns would receive unit training in the work of mobile columns, and that arrangements would be made in order, if possible, to secure a period of mobilisation before the outbreak of war.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The cadre will be there and the trained men will be there and in that way there will be a basis. I should be glad to know what the hon. Gentleman ultimately suggests. If he suggests, as has been suggested, that it would be better to have 6,000 men employed in mobile columns throughout the period of peace than to have 100,000 partly trained men, I disagree with him entirely. In my view, it would be a ridiculous method of approach.
§ Mr. Crossman
In the Armed Forces one wants a reserve to be called up in the event of war, a minimum force available in peace-time, but 6,000 men in mobile columns in this country would do more good than 80,000 men sitting on their backsides in Suez.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I entirely disagree with the hon. Member. From the point of view of civil defence, of course, one would like to have both.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
But if there is a choice, I disagree with the hon. Member fundamentally. I do not think that the hon. Member has thought it out at all. I do not think that he has considered how civil defence training differs from the training of the Armed Forces. I say that from the friendliest point of view. The hon. Member has already done me the honour of writing articles about my views on civil defence and I should be very interested to find whether he has a constructive proposal to put forward.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughesrose—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I have a great deal of ground to cover and I have given way many times. I hope that the Committee will allow me to go on to the important point of the operational organisation of the Civil Defence Corps.
One of the most important aspects of planning is to provide an adequate operational organisation to control the employment of both local and mobile services. I should like to take the Committee through the various levels of control starting with the local authority, whose task it is, so long as it can discharge it, to deal with the effects of attack, using its own forces and any that are sent to its aid as reinforcements, from whatever source. All Corps authorities have been asked to appoint a suitable person as controller-designate and all but a few have already done so. The controllers-designate are now familiarising themselves with their task and are co-ordinating local planning and the organisation and training of the local divisions of the Civil Defence Corps.
Some local authorities have formed themselves into larger groups, for operational purposes, and will in due course be appointing a group controller to assume overall responsibility. This is a mode of organisation which is under review, since, with the greater damage, the extension of the group system would appear to be desirable. In the London area, the groups are formed into subregions, each of which would have, in war, a sub-regional commissioner, but this level of control does not exist elsewhere in the country. Again, we are examining the possibility of extending the use of the sub-region to other areas.
Then we have the civil defence regions, which would each have a regional com 1811 missioner in war, on whom would rest the responsibility for reinforcing attacked areas and deciding priorities where more than one part of the region was attacked at the same time. In a future war of the kind which we must envisage, we must be prepared for regional direction of our affairs in case communication with the seat of Government is impossible. I am ensuring that there will be a complete regional organisation. I shall not give details but as an example I remind the Committee that I appointed a considerable time ago regional scientific advisers. I recently attended their conference at the Civil Defence Staff College and I believe that their work is going on well. Finally, there is the central Government, keeping in touch with operations through the central Government war room.
Before I leave the subject of the chain of command, I should like to say something about our plans for developing operational co-ordination. This has two aspects. First, there is the need for coordination between the local or static forces and the mobile columns, and then for co-ordination between the civil forces and the military forces which would, so far as circumstances allowed, be available to help. It has for some time been recognised that additional machinery is needed for this purpose both at the national and the regional level. It would, however, have been putting the cart before the horse if we had attempted to deal with it before the foundations of a mobile force had been laid. From what I have already said, it will be clear that, although mobile columns do not yet exist, the manpower for them is in sight and we are therefore ready to proceed with the next step.
We propose to appoint an officer with the style of Commander-in-Chief designate of the Civil Defence Mobile Forces. The full scope of his duties will not be rigidly defined but his immediate task will be to collaborate with his opposite numbers in the Armed Forces in securing that the development of plans for civil defence mobile columns are in harmony with military plans and to co-ordinate plans for the employment of the former in aid of the local civil defence forces. In war, he would be in operational control of all civil defence mobile columns. His functions will extend to Scotland as well as 1812 England, and arrangements are being made with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland as to the manner in which he should discharge those functions in respect of Scotland.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
For the present, it is proposed that the appointment shall be on a part-time basis, and I am in consultation with my noble Friend the Minister of Defence on the selection of an officer for this post.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The person selected depends upon the local authority and the appointment varies from one local authority to another. Some local authorities have found it useful to appoint an official and others have appointed someone specially to the job. I cannot see the objection to leaving it to the local authorities to make the selection.
§ Mr. Wigg
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not telling the local authorities who will be responsible for mobile columns when they are employed in a particular area, he is landing the local authorities in a bigger muddle than that his own Department is in. Clearly, one may require ex-officers of the Armed Forces with great operational experience if they are to handle very considerable numbers of mobile columns. If that is not to be the job, then it might well be left to the local authorities.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The hon. Member has got the position completely wrong. He has confused the position of mobile columns and the position of local forces. The local forces operate under local authority direction and control. The local authority appoints its controller-designate. The mobile columns are central Government forces which will operate either under the central Government or regionally. I have foreshadowed the appointment and I am discussing the finding of the man who will do a triple job in relation to mobile columns. He will command mobile columns in the area, will ensure that there is a proper 1813 liaison between the mobile columns and the Armed Forces and will see that the mobile forces are in a position usefully and properly to co-operate with the local authorities.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
With a staff. He will be in the same position relatively, mutatis mutandis, as the Commander-in-Chief designate of the Home Forces who, I think, was appointed by the last Administration on a similar basis.
§ Mr. Alburose—
But this is very important. It is the first new appointment announced by the Home Secretary.
§ The Chairman
A number of hon. Members wish to make speeches I know, and the Home Secretary is trying to proceed as quickly as he can. I hope that he will be allowed to proceed.
§ The Chairman
I do not think there is any need to be offensive about it. I think the Home Secretary should be allowed to make his speech, which I have been able to follow without interrupting him.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I have dealt with the Civil Defence Corps and I want to say a word about the operational organisation of the Fire Service. In parallel, the Fire Service at present operates under the chief fire officers of the local authorities, but it has been agreed with all concerned that the Fire Service would become a national organisation in war. To assist with the making of plans for the war-time service, selected chief fire officers have been appointed as chief regional fire officers-designate. The National Fire Service would be organised in three or four large fire areas, in each region, with a fire commander, responsible to the chief regional fire officer, in charge of each.
The arrangements I have been describing are those for England and Wales. In Scotland, it is not proposed to have a 1814 regional commissioner; the responsibility for the central control of civil defence operations will be undertaken by the Secretary of State. The central area of Scotland has been divided into two zones, and a zone controller—already appointed—will co-ordinate the civil defence resources in each zone. There will similarly be a chief fire officer, already designated, with co-ordinating responsibility in each zone.
That is the chain of command from local authority level upwards and I have said that we are considering whether some modifications to it are desirable. I shall be only too pleased to consider any suggestions which are made in the debate. But another problem arises from the new scale of attack: the siting of the places from which control would be exercised, and that is a very important matter.
Clearly we cannot, in view of the areas of damage now envisaged, site each and every control room so that it can be guaranteed to be immune from the effects of attack, and we are therefore giving thought to the introduction, as a supplementary means of control, of mobile control units at the various levels. We have already issued a memorandum to local authorities on the use of mobile control units for the conduct of operations in the field below local authority level.
With mobility, we feel confident that we shall achieve in the field the flexibility that will enable us to meet any scale of attack. The principle of mobility must extend upward through the chain and, just as our thoughts are fixed on securing mobility in the Civil Defence Services themselves, so must we work out methods of securing it at all levels in the control of those services. This is a matter with which local authorities are deeply concerned, and it is our intention to let them have guidance as soon as possible. I do apologise to the Committee for taking so long, but all these subjects are of great importance, and I am trying to give a general picture.
I now turn to the air-raid warning system. The problems facing the Civil Defence Services would obviously be vastly intensified if we did not provide an efficient air-raid warning system and, indeed, the provision of such a system 1815 must be one of the highest priorities in civil defence. The warning system, which was virtually dismantled at the end of the last war, is therefore being re-established.
As before, it is designed to employ information made available by the Control and Report Organisation of the Royal Air Force, and steps have been taken to provide the necessary accommodation and communications at the appropriate Royal Air Force and Royal Observer Corps centres and to recruit a cadre of warning officers. A training school for warning officers has been set up and is in operation. By the end of March, the great majority of the sirens needed had been installed and were in working order, and good progress is being made with the installation of equipment for the simultaneous control of groups of sirens in urban areas.
I am sure it will be appreciated that, owing to the greatly increased speed of modern aircraft, the practical difficulties in operating a successful warning system are incomparably greater than those encountered in the last war. A study is therefore being made of possible means of distributing warning messages more rapidly than is practicable by normal means of ordinary telephonic communication. It might well be necessary, however, to sound the sirens simultaneously over considerably larger areas than was done in the last war. The provision of a warning system, capable of giving a useful public warning, has therefore reached an advanced stage but, as in other aspects of civil defence, the more powerful bomb calls for a review of plans, and attention is therefore being directed to providing a wider insurance against any widespread failure of telephone circuits.
No matter how efficient a warning system may be, however, it can do no more than help to reduce the number of casualties. These are bound to be many and the arrangements for the casualty services are therefore a matter of prime concern. The possibility of more widespread areas of damage makes it necessary to reconsider the plans for the use of existing hospital accommodation, and this is one of the matters which is currently under review.
1816 Like so many civil defence measures, this one is not easy to solve and it would be foolish to predict any speedy pronouncements. But, any increase in the number of casualties is bound to place an additional burden on the available, and necessarily limited, medical and nursing manpower. That, in itself, is a sufficient reason why more and more suitable people should volunteer for service with the National Hospital Service Reserve.
It will be noticed that I have talked simply of the problems arising from increased areas of damage and increased numbers of casualties and that I have made no mention of a revision of the method of treating casualties. I have been into this very carefully and I have come to the conclusion that no such revision is necessary. As is the case with the other services which I have mentioned, the knowledge we already possess and the training we have already given is still valid in the light of the new scale of attack.
I now turn to the question of the homeless. Just as there are bound to be many casualties if an attack occurs, so there will be many homeless: and, here again, plans must be reviewed in order to make them capable of dealing with the increased size of the problems. The fundamental aim in dealing with the homeless is to get them under cover as speedily as possible and existing plans for the use of rest centres, temporary billeting and so on are therefore being given the closest scrutiny.
As hon. Members know, we had some experience of this problem in an entirely different connection in the East Coast floods and we have seen the operation of rest centres for which there is a sudden call. This is a point which is being given the closest scrutiny, as are the plans for accommodation and emergency feeding. There again, we are trying to secure an increased mobility in the emergency feeding services.
In addition, there is the question of clothing and the collection of information about persons missing and the like. It is not possible to find easy solutions to any of these problems. Indeed, one must make it clear that it is not only a problem for the authorities but for the homeless themselves in being trained to help themselves and their fellows. We have 1817 to face the fact that if these conditions came about—that is the problem we are facing today—people would have to face hardships and lower standards if they were dispersed or became homeless. I am sure that if we work out these plans we shall have the co-operation of the people, on whose morale and self-reliance their success depends.
§ Mr. Crossman
May I ask a question about emergency feeding? I gather that the Home Secretary wants to make it more mobile. Does that mean more mobile but still under the local authority, or will it be under the mobile column? What does "mobile" mean?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The Ministry of Food is responsible for mobile feeding arrangements. Local authorities would no doubt consider the problem themselves, but in addition there would be the central Government mobile feeding arrangements made by the Ministry of Food. There was an exhibition of them a short time ago. It is an existing service which has operated successfully in other forms.
§ Mr. Crossman
So that if an incident occurred there would be a central organisation which would bring into it mobile feeding arrangements? Would that be part of the mobile column or would there be another mobile column concerned with feeding arrangements?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The mobile columns which I described earlier are columns dealing with rescue work and fires. I am now referring to the mobile feeding arrangements of the Ministry of Food, and they would operate as the hon. Gentleman says, but they are not part of the mobile columns which are to deal with rescue and fire. There is a separate organisation dealing with food. [Interruption.] I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman reflects for a moment he will understand that the rescue and fire services and the columns that would help them would probably be operating near the scene of destruction, and it might well be necessary to have mobile feeding arrangements operating not only there but in other districts to which people had been moved. Therefore, the two things should operate together but not under one command.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
Since by general consent the Ministry of Food is in course of voluntary liquidation, who will perform those functions when the process has been completed?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The appropriate successor to the Ministry of Food. But that, as Mr. Kipling says, is another story—and a different debate.
I was dealing just now with those homeless who would be forced to leave their dwellings as a physical result of enemy attack. There are the other people who it is planned should leave their homes before the attack occurs—those who are evacuated to areas where their lives will be more safe. The existing plans for evacuation are receiving the most urgent attention of the Civil Defence Joint Planning Staff since on the arrangements for evacuation many of our other plans depend. The disposition of the other Civil Defence Services, the arrangements for emergency feeding, indeed, almost any aspect of the whole wide range of civil defence, is influenced by the evacuation policy.
It is clear, as I have said, that the new bombs have accentuated the need for evacuation, and the boundaries of the evacuation areas will have to be redefined. From the revised evacuation areas, it is also necessary to consider what additional categories of people can be evacuated.
I cannot at the moment give any details of how this replanning is likely to work out, since there must be a great deal of thinking and discussion both among Government Departments and between the Government and the local authorities before an equitable and practicable scheme can be devised. I wish to assure the House that it is receiving urgent attention, and that we are making progress with it. We are faced with the position that, on the one hand, there is a limit to the numbers of people that certain areas of the country can be expected to accommodate, and, on the other hand, some people must stay to carry on the essential jobs without which the life of the community could not continue. That is the clash of requirements which has to be resolved, and we are doing our best to do it.
1819 To some extent linked with the problem of evacuation is the problem of shelter, and I should like to begin by referring to the statement which was made by my predecessor in the House on 9th November, 1950. I will read the three main paragraphs in that statement. He said:In the event of a future war, there are likely to be heavy casualties. It was not possible in the last war and it would not be possible in the future to provide complete immunity from attack from the air. I am advised that it is technically feasible to provide shelter which would go far to reduce casualties from all forms of attack. The best forms of shelter in common use in the last war would again be very valuable, and a higher grade of protection against atomic effects is being considered for areas which seem likely to be selected as targets for atomic attack.Then the right hon. Gentleman went on:It would not be possible to provide shelter on any significant scale without making heavy calls on labour and materials much needed for other purposes, and it is therefore essential that, as and when resources can be made available for shelter work, they should be applied to the best possible advantage. For this purpose careful planning is essential and it has been decided to request local authorities for areas considered likely to be targets for attack to survey the areas in question, to assess the amount of additional shelter needed and to formulate proposals as to how it will best be provided."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 1124.]He then went on to say that to assist local authorities in that task, it was proposed to provide them with a "Memorandum of Technical Guidance on the provision of Air Raid Shelter," which had been prepared by the Ministry of Works, and a memorandum prepared by his Department and entitled "Planning for provision of Air Raid Shelter for the public," which would indicate the lines on which it was thought that planning should proceed.
I have more than once had occasion to remind myself of what the right hon. Gentleman said on that date and I am bound to say that, given the circumstances which then existed, I could not have improved on it myself. But it was, of course, as he will agree, concerned with long-term planning. The conditions have, however, changed since then. As I have already said, my predecessor was not thinking in terms of heavy atomic attack, and I have to contemplate a graver state of things.
1820 As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, it is not possible in war to provide complete immunity from attack and the question is whether it is feasible to provide such a degree of protection as to effect a reduction of casualties and a strengthening of morale commensurate with the effort and expenditure involved. This is not a question of bomb-proof shelter, which in general was not attempted in the last war and would not, on any view, be feasible. It is a question whether, having regard to the probable scale of attack and the range of destruction by new weapons, any worth-while plans can be made.
The Committee will not expect a final pronouncement on this point today, but it is obvious that the difficulties have been immensely increased. I can assure the House that the most careful and thorough study of the technical and other problems involved will be made before a decision is reached, but I am sure it would be the general wish of the House that, on the one hand, we should not embark on any large expenditure unless we were satisfied that it would be useful and that, on the other hand, we should not minimise the difficulties which confront us.
I should like to say a few words—I am conscious of the draft I am making on the time of the Committee—with regard to civil defence in industry. I said that we had already got 150,000 people in our Industrial Civil Defence Service. They are, of course, primarily designed to deal with the defence of the undertaking in which they are employed. I am, however, very anxious that they should respond to the appeal which I have made to them to co-operate with the local authority services and operate on a wider front.
I wish also to say a word about the question of fire fighting, about which the hon. Gentleman asked me. I have already referred to the strength of the Auxiliary Fire Service and to the steps we are taking to nationalise the Fire Service in time of war. I indicated that the National Fire Service is planned to be essentially a mobile service, with the bulk of the personnel and equipment organised into mobile columns available for operation anywhere. We have accorded high priority to the modern equipment that this service will require, and considerable 1821 numbers of specially designed fire-fighting appliances are on order, of which nearly half will have been completed by the end of this year. Control units, wireless units, hose-laying and pipe-carrying lorries are also being developed.
Adequate supplies of water are essential, and this formed one of the most troublesome problems in the last war when normal supplies broke down. We have passed the stage of planning in this respect. Considerable success has been achieved in developing light-weight piping made from aluminium and plastic materials, and experiments so far show that this piping can be carried on lorries in considerable quantities and rapidly laid. Experiments have been made in the rapid construction of water basins and in the development of light-weight collapsible tanks, and these are continuing. And so we have made some progress in that direction.
Arrangements are being made, with the co-operation of the Surrey County Council—which I gladly acknowledge—to use the new fire brigade headquarters at Reigate for experiments in the use of the new equipment, and later as a training centre at which selected members of brigades and the Auxiliary Fire Service can be trained.
Regarding equipment, the Government have decided upon and begun to build up stocks of essential equipment. Priority has been given to the equipment needed for training purposes and the equipment which would be urgently required in war, and which could not be produced at short notice, such as radiac instruments and the fire-fighting appliances and equipment which I have already mentioned. There are, of course, always delays and disappointments in the production of equipment of new designs, but, generally, we are now getting it without delay and also building up useful operational stocks.
I have tried to cover the subjects which seemed to me of the greatest importance in relation to civil defence. I can only apologise for taking so much time, but I think I have dealt with, at any rate, 80 per cent. of the interruptions which have been made.
In conclusion, I would say that the picture which I have had to paint is necessarily a sombre one. I think that 1822 everyone will agree, whatever may be their views, that it is useless to ignore the fact that hydrogen bombs and the ability to deliver them exist. As I said, it is the supreme task of any Government to try to prevent attack by these bombs by avoiding war itself. But if war is to come—which is something we all wish to avoid—then everyone of us must take such measures as we can to mitigate the consequences. We must take them with the realisation that the life of the country in peacetime must go on and that its economic position must be retained. That is the problem, and I have tried to show the methods by which I think that the perils and the results of attack can be mitigated.
It is very difficult—and those who have been in office will know it already, while those who have not will find it out when their turn comes—when you are criticised not to defend yourself.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
La Fontaine expressed that truth in a fable some 300 years ago. But I wish to make clear that I am here to be criticised and to listen to any criticism made and to hear, as I hope I shall, from hon. Gentlemen opposite constructive suggestions about how they would deal with the problem which faces the country as a whole.
There is only one thing I would ask of them. It has nothing to do with myself. It is that when they are making their criticisms they will think for a moment of the fact that nearly 600,000 people have come forward as volunteers to work in the civil defence services. Will they consider whether what they have to say—however stringently it may be directed at me, and I make no complaint about that—will have the effect of discouraging those who have come forward—sometimes with considerable difficulty—and done their training, or part of it; and secondly, whether it will discourage other people from coming forward and taking their part? That is all I ask.
I am sure that we all agree—I say this with complete sincerity—that there can be no defeatism at any level among those charged with the conduct of civil defence, and to meet this increased threat we must all plan and act with increased vigour.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The reaction of every Member who has heard the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and everyone who will read it, will be, what a mad world we are living in—that after two great wars we should be faced again with this appalling problem which oppressed me for every moment that I was in office. It has now become quite clear that the objective for which we all fought, namely, a world in which the threat of war would have disappeared, has not been attained. What I said four years ago was appropriate at that time. But in four years the resources of science and their application to the business of war have so altered the whole position that what might have sounded reasonable then can only be regarded today as a very poor estimate of what the future will hold.
I wish to take just one point from what has been said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. As I understood him, a hydrogen bomb bursting over Charing Cross could cause a fire 15 miles away; that is to say, such a bomb might quite well set fire to Epsom grandstand.
§ Mr. Ede
I hope we shall not discuss this matter in that spirit. We are all in this together no matter what our social position or our virtues and vices may be. What it means is that one bomb might cause the whole of the Metropolitan police district, which is based on the 15-mile radius from Charing Cross, to be an area that would need the immediate attention of such forces as might be available. That gives some graphic idea of the tremendous problems with which we have to deal in this discussion.
I do not grudge the right hon. and learned Gentleman a minute of the time that he took. In this the last of the great free assemblies of the world, where no Senator McCarthy or anybody else can 1824 ask for us to be brought back home from abroad because he wants to examine us for military service, it is essential that we should speak not merely to our own people but to the world of the danger in which everyone stands. Let us rest assured that what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said in some of the earlier sentences of his speech will probably be only too well justified by events if the awful moment ever comes when these weapons will be used by both sides. Let no one who contemplates dropping one assume that even if he gets in quick he will not have to face the consequences. That is an appalling statement to have to make in view of the illustration I have used in which I have tried to make quite plain what we have to do.
The only thing that one can say with regard to defence is that this may well be a matter of time, and we should do well to bear in mind an old proverb that he who runs against time has an adversary not liable to casualty. I am sure that I speak for the whole Committee when I say that we all trust that the efforts being made by this country for the establishment of the rule of law and the wiping out of the dread appeal to force in international affairs may be successful, but we must ask that, while there can be no foolish promise of providing immunity, what can be done shall be done to ensure that the loss of life and the damage to property shall be reduced as far as possible and that, in the event of the struggle coming, we shall have made such preparations as can be made to deal with the situation.
I accept the phrases the right hon. and learned Gentleman used that, should it come, whether it come here or elsewhere in the world, it will be a tragedy without any previous parallel in history. I am certain that nothing we can say today can adequately express what the awful event would be.
I was sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman made no reference to the criticisms made on civil defence in the First Report of the Select Committee on Estimates this year, particularly because it criticised me as much as it criticised him. He has virtually said that he carried on with the policy that he found. Just as the sombre shadow of the atomic bomb caused me to revise some of my estimates. 1825 so the greater problem of the hydrogen bomb has intensified the difficulties that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has had to face. Some reference should have been made to that.
I was glad of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said at the end of his speech about not discouraging the volunteers who have come forward at times when it has not always been very easy to persuade people to give up their spare time. One feature that rather oppresses me is that so many of the people who are in the present Civil Defence Services are in fact the people who were in the last Civil Defence Services. In the circumstances of the last war they were in the main people who for one reason or another—age, minor infirmity or some other reason—were not eligible for service in the military forces. Those who were then of the kind of age that was regarded as suitable are 10 years older now and, if trouble came, the demands on such physical resources as they have would be infinitely greater than they were last time.
I do not think that in future we can regard the Civil Defence Services as of necessity suitable for people who are physically incapable of the strain of military service. Therefore, we shall examine the Bill that the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, but I do not think that I need say any more than that that will be one of the considerations which we must have in mind when we consider the reasons for bringing it forward. The right hon. and learned Gentleman can no longer expect that the backbone of the Civil Defence Services can be formed by people so old or suffering from such physical defect as debars them from military service.
I do not think that at any time the civil defence needs of the country have ever been appropriately considered by the three fighting Services. I am one of those who believes that the British fighting man does not vary much from generation to generation or from war to war. The British fighting man was good at fighting a rearguard action at Waterloo, as he was at Mons and Dunkirk. He rather expects that he will be fighting a rearguard action. It comes as a great surprise to him when he is given the opportunity of doing anything else. That does not apply to the Black Watch, Colonel Gomme-Duncan. But the one 1826 thing that is likely to shake the morale of the British fighting man in battle is the belief that his dependants whom he has left behind are not receiving proper protection when in physical danger.
I see a number of hon. and gallant Members opposite and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) on this side of the Committee, and other hon. Members who, like myself, may be honourable, but who, because we never held a commission are not gallant, and I am quite sure that they will agree with me that the leaders of the fighting services when considering Civil Defence should always bear that point in mind. The only thing that is likely to break the morale of the British Army, no matter how hard pressed it may be, would be the thought that while it was fighting abroad those left behind at home were not receiving the fullest possible protection that could be afforded in the circumstances of the time. I hope that that fact will be borne in mind.
I think the Committee will agree that in making the commandants and staff of the Staff College at Sunningdale and the schools members of a permanent establishment the right hon. and learned Gentleman has given what, I hope, will be confidence to the Civil Defence forces of the country that their needs are to be the subject of permanent study, and that as things progress—if that is the right word to use about some of these devilish inventions—or, at any rate, as things grow more intense, so the work done there and the advice tendered will also be brought up to date.
I am glad that the question of the mobile columns received so prominent a part in the statement made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman this afternoon. I am quite certain that, whatever else we may be in doubt about, we can be in no doubt that, in the event of our being involved in a war in which the weapons we have considered this afternoon are used, we shall have to make arrangements for the moving in of assistance to any area which may be attacked.
The idea that such a war can be at all localised is one that should disappear straight away from everyone's mind, and the siting of the places at which the mobile columns are to be held in readiness and the necessary equipment stored 1827 must be a matter of very serious concern. I welcomed the statement made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, even with regard to local control, mobility in control units was now receiving consideration.
I have heard of some people being compelled to build, or who allege that they are being compelled to build, fixed control rooms above ground. I am bound to say that, in a vulnerable area, I would not expect that such an above-ground fixed control room would be likely to be in existence for very long after the attack commenced. We must get into our minds some idea of a complete mobility that will impose fresh troubles on those responsible for preparing the organisation. At any rate, they will have to expect that a very great deal of improvisation will have to occur should an attack ever come.
I do not propose to enter at this stage into the dispute between the right hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) about the 6,000 men in these units as compared with the 81,000 men in the Canal Zone, but I am concerned that there should be available as soon as possible an adequate number of men fully trained who could act as the skeleton around which something more numerous could be built up. I have no doubt that if the attack came there would be thousands of people rushing to do something—quite ill-equipped to do anything—and success would depend upon our having a sufficient number of people who were, as it were, the officers, warrant officers and potential non-commissioned officers of the mobile columns and of the other Civil Defence forces available to give these people speedy instruction and to organise their first inefficient efforts.
Therefore, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that, in giving support to the principle of the mobile columns as being the basis upon which most of the effective work will have to be done, as we can only do it on the assumption that these columns will, in as short a time as possible, have a number of people fully trained ready to take over and to go into action if necessary.
1828 I come now to the question of the operational organisation as described by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The problem of the local controller is one of the greatest urgency. May I say that when I held the office now occupied by the right hon. and learned Gentleman I met some of the local jealousies which sometimes exist on this matter. The controller is not necessarily the town clerk. He is not necessarily the chief constable or the city or borough engineer. The local authority should take stock of the personnel that it has, and should choose the man who is best fitted by temperament for this heavy and responsible task.
The idea that any person, because of some other office which he holds inside the municipal heirarchy, is entitled to this post—not because of his abilities but because he was chosen as a lawyer or an engineer to perform quite other duties and to take leadership in quite other spheres—is a thing which might quite easily land us in disaster. I hope that the greatest possible care will be taken by local authorities to make quite sure that they have a man of sufficient resource to be able to deal with the kind of sudden and appalling emergency with which he may be faced, and of sufficient gifts of leadership to be able to inspire people to keep going in very desperate circumstances.
I am very glad to know that some thought is being given to the question of the grouping of some authorities. After all, British local government is such that on occasion some dots are very inconveniently placed on the map when it comes to matters of this kind. Whoever was responsible for placing them there—and some people have ascribed it, I think, to Alfred the Great—were not persons who had any conception of the area over which a hydrogen bomb might spread devastation. It might very well be essential that some of our most populous areas, where the vulnerability is greatest, should have group control, in which the authority of the group ought to be placed very high indeed. I therefore welcome what has been said about that consideration.
I come now to the civil defence regions in which, in wartime, there are to be regional commissioners. I hope that the list of prospective regional commissioners is kept up to date. Like other people, they do not improve with advancing age—and 1829 I am in a position to be able to say that without anyone saying that I am jealous. I sincerely hope that they will be getting to know their regions and establishing with the civil authorities the relationship which will enable them should they ever be called into action to deal appropriately and quickly with any emergencies.
I must say that I have some doubts about the national organisation which the right hon. and learned Gentleman outlined. In the first place, I very much doubt whether the commander-in-chief designate of the civil defence mobile columns ought to be a part-time officer. What is he doing with the rest of his time? I understand that when General Dempsey was appointed he was to give full time to the job. At any rate, he was doing a very nice job for me at the Home Office as chairman of the Betting Control Board. I do not imagine that that job took a very great part of his time, but in order to take over the post of commander-in-chief, Home Forces, he thought it necessary to resign it.
I would have thought that this was a job which required a man's whole time. I understand that there has not yet been any selection, and I urge on the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if he really wishes to give a sense of urgency to the people with whom this officer will be acting it is desirable that he should be full time. Here again, it is essential that this man should get to know the people in the civil sphere with whom he will be acting. In this country some suspicion always exists between the civil and the military authority. A man who, presumably, has been trained in the military sphere and who for the success of his operations has to rely on co-operation with persons who are steeped in the civil tradition, will need a good deal of time to make himself acquainted with those people and to understand some of the angles from which they approach problems and which may very well make them differ from him.
I think that he has a pretty big job to do. It was described as being a tripartite sort of job. To get co-ordination first between mobile columns and the Services, and then between the mobile columns—which presumably by this time have reached an understanding with the Services—and the civil authorities will be a pretty heavy task. It will require a man not merely of great ability but of a par 1830 ticular kind of temperament that will ingratiate him with the two distinct parties on either side of him who are apt sometimes not to be pleased by the same person. A person can sometimes please the soldier but not be very acceptable to the civil local controller, who will be approaching things from an entirely different point of view.
Another consideration is the fire services. All the local authorities were warned when they took over the fire services that on the outbreak of war the first thing would be to bring that service under national control. Since they got them back the local authorities have groused so much about the expense and the difficulties which confront them that I hope that no promise will be given to them this time that at the end of the war they will get them back. We should wait and let them come and ask for them next time. I very sincerely hope that serious thought will be given to the question of whether it is necessary to maintain this as part of the local government service.
I hope that nothing that has been said will give people too great a reliance on the air-raid warning in the circumstances of the next war. That is not to say that I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his staff ought not to be giving thought to seeing how effective it can be, but this is a matter where speed has now greatly outdistanced any imagination we had during the last war. It is quite clear that it is an entirely new problem as to whether it would be possible to give any real warning, particularly to those great centres of population, including London, which are situated near to the coast and the probable line of any enemy attack.
I do not quite know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman meant by saying that he was looking for an insurance against the failure of the telephone system. I can well see that one nicely-placed bomb might destroy the whole telephonic communication in a very great area, but by that time, so far as that particular bomb was concerned, either the air-raid warning would have been given or the dropping of the bomb would have indicated that the aircraft coming over at the time was not one of ours.
1831 On the question of casualties, I think that at the beginning of the last war the number of casualties was over-estimated; and, in fact, no single raid ever produced as many casualties as had been thought would be likely. But on some occasions they were very terrible—