HC Deb 10 November 1954 vol 532 cc1201-7

3.31 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 11, to leave out subsection (5).

The next Amendment, in page 2, line 20, at the end, to add: (2) In this Act the expression "civil defence" includes any measures not amounting to actual combat for affording defence against any form of hostile attack by a foreign power or for depriving any form of hostile attack by a foreign power of the whole or part of its effect, whether the measures are taken before, at or after the time of the attack, and the expression "designated Minister" has the same meaning as in the Civil Defence Act, 1948. in the name of my right hon. and gallant Friend, is linked with the one which I have moved, and with your permission, Mr. Speaker, it would be desirable that we should discuss the two together.

The Amendments are consequential upon Amendments which were accepted by my right hon. and gallant Friend in Committee. The definition of "civil defence" in subsection (5) of the Bill as now drafted would no longer operate in relation to Clause 2, which was originally a subsection of Clause 1. The opportunity has been taken to reconsider the drafting point which was raised by the hon. Drafting for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas).

Section 9 (1) of the Civil Defence Act, 1948, expressly excluded the provision or maintenance of shelter for the use of the Armed Forces from the meaning of "Civil Defence" for the purposes of that Act. The reason for the exclusion is obvious. It would be wrong, in the ordinary way, to make the Home Secretary or some other Minister of a civil Department responsible for the provision of shelter for the Armed Forces. But this exclusion seemed inappropriate where members of the Armed Forces were themselves engaging in Civil Defence activities in the kind of way contemplated in the Bill.

For technical reasons, the definition contained in the 1948 Act was, strictly speaking, appropriate for the present Bill. I gave the reasons when the Bill was in Committee, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who referred to this matter that the wording, though technically correct, might give rise to some misunderstanding. Indeed, they did so, during the course of the debate.

It is, therefore, proposed by means of these two Amendments to re-state the definition of "Civil Defence" as in the 1948 Act while leaving out the words which might give rise to confusion, since they are, in fact, irrelevant in this context.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

The Joint Under-Secretary understated the case considerably by saying that it seemed inappropriate that the Bill should have been drafted as it was. I regard it as an admission by the Government that they have been extremely off-hand in their attitude to the Bill all the way through, which is characteristic of their attitude towards Civil Defence generally.

There was much confusion about the definition in the form in which it was before us the other day. The definition of "Civil Defence" to which we drew attention was that of the 1948 Act, which reads, in part: 'Civil Defence' does not include the provision or maintenance of a shelter which is used or intended to be used wholly or mainly by naval, military or air forces. Yet the Bill was bringing the Services into Civil Defence.

I propose to say something on Third Reading about the fact that under the Bill the Home Office has to bear the expenses of these columns. I should like to know whether we are now to take it that by these Amendments air shelters for the military may still be borne on the Home Office Vote. I should like that point cleared up. I do not understand it.

What satisfaction I derive from seeing that the Government have accepted our point of view is far outweighed by the fact that the Government regard Civil Defence as so unimportant that they do not take care with the drawing up of the Bill. Even the Sunday cinema opening Order for Market Rasen is more carefully drafted than this Bill. However, the Amendments make sense and do what we want, and, subject to the point which I mentioned being cleared up, we shall support them.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for dispersing some of the fog which surrounded our discussion last week. No doubt the Amendment is an improvement upon Section 9 of the Civil Defence Act, 1948, but I am not at all sure that the definition is adequate. I wonder whether the Minister has not raised other doubts in his efforts to clear up the doubts expressed last week.

The hon. Gentleman now talks about the definition of "Civil Defence" embracing any measures not amounting to actual combat. I have thought of a marginal case or two, and I want to put a specific one to him. During the last war there were, on the fringes of all our great cities, smoke companies formed from the Pioneer Corps. That was a function carried out by the Armed Forces of the Crown. Letting off smoke cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as amounting to actual combat.

Are we to take it that the redrafting of the Clause has now brought within the scope of the Bill the work done by the smoke companies of the Pioneer Corps? Is that function now transferred to Civil Defence? In other words, in clearing up the drafting difficulties, have the Home Secretary and his Service colleagues really got down to the job of finding a line of demarcation, at least for responsibilities if not for functions, or are we to take it that because of the very great difficulties involved in settling responsibilities for shelters, the Government have cleared up the verbal difficulties but have created even greater difficulties which will be apparent when the Bill is put into practice?

Have the functions of the smoke companies of the Pioneer Corps now been transferred to the Home Secretary? Do we take it that training for that function will now be carried out at the new schools which are to be set up? Can we take it that as a result of the Amendments that work is now transferred from the Army to the Royal Air Force? That is one of the effects of the Amendments in practice.

Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)

I am not such an authority upon smoke screens as the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), but, having had something to do with that work during the war, I would point out to him that it is a military activity.

Mr. Wigg

That is what I said.

Mr. Harvey

I gathered that the hon. Gentleman said that it was not a military activity.

Mr. Wigg

Surely I did not say that. What I said was that the function of the smoke companies during the war was a military function carried out by the Pioneer Corps, but that no one could say that the smoke companies were in actual combat with the enemy. It is a marginal case.

Mr. Harvey

I do not agree that it is a marginal case, because the lighting up of a smoke screen is a military operation which is carried out to hide a particular target, and the people who are actively engaged in trying to hide the target themselves become a target just as much as those who are actively operating. Therefore, I think the hon. Gentleman's speech, though particularly interesting, is irrelevant.

Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

There is another important matter connected with the second Amendment, to which the Under-Secretary referred. I see that Clause 3 of the Bill has the sub-title "Short Title," and it is perhaps at the end of line 20 in Clause 3 that we ought to add the Amendment which we are now discussing. Surely, the second Amendment is one of definition, and, therefore, should not appear in a Clause dealing with the Short Title of the Bill. Ought it not to be in the place to which the first Amendment relates—the Amendment which proposes to leave out subsection (5)? I should have thought that this Amendment, if carried, ought to appear at the end of line 20. If not, and it is to become the second part of Clause 3, it seems to me that the Short Title will have to be altered.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Could the Minister explain a little further the Amendment which he has submitted for the purpose of allowing the Civil Defence organisation to work on shelters for the Navy, Army or the Air Force? Is it the case that the Government, as we have been told over and over again, have declared against deep shelters for the civilian population? Does it mean that in this Bill the Government intend to create more security for military personnel than for the civilian population?

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I think my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) gave an example which requires some clearing up. I will take the answer that was attempted by the hon. Member who is an expert on military smoke screens and has carried that capacity into his civilian occupation. The Amendment says: …the expression 'civil defence' includes any measures not amounting to actual combat"— and I do not imagine that anyone has ever thought that people lighting smoke screens when there was no enemy anywhere near were engaged in actual combat— for affording defence against any form of hostile attack by a foreign power or for depriving any form of hostile attack by a foreign power of the whole or part of its effect. Surely, that is exactly what the object of a smoke screen is.

Mr. Ian Harvey

Nobody would light a smoke screen if there were no enemy anywhere near, because there would be no point in doing it.

Mr. Ede

My constituency was subjected to smoke screens during the last war, and whether there was any enemy in the neighbourhood or not, they were lighted every evening. I do not quite understand the relevance of the hon. Gentleman's intervention.

Mr. Harvey

If they were lighted every evening, then it was a gross waste of fuel, because, normally, the arrangement was that no smoke screens were lighted until it was reasonably thought that a hostile attack was threatened.

Mr. Speaker

This discussion seems to be very remote from the terms of the Amendment.

Mr. Ede

Quite frankly, what I fear from these Amendments is that some Civil Defence money—money that gets through the Estimates, in the first place, for Civil Defence purposes—will, in fact, find its way into the sphere of military matters which are not really concerned with the protection of the civilian population.

I should like an assurance from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman or the Under-Secretary to the effect that these Amendments, if embodied in the Bill as the definition, will not be used by the Government to get money for the Service Departments which the House thinks is to be devoted to the actual defence of the civilian population by measures which the various designated Ministers have to carry out. I am quite sure that if people knew of some of the things done in the name of Civil Defence and those who will benefit from them if there is ever need to put them into operation, they would be astonished at the extent to which services other than those of the actual designated Ministers are the principal beneficiaries.

3.45 p.m.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

With the leave of the House, I will answer the points that have just been made. I can assure the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) that the cost of shelters for the use of the Armed Forces will not, of course, be borne on the Home Office Vote, and that the Amendment is of purely drafting effect and does not alter the meaning of the Bill at all.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) raised the question of what would come within the meaning of Civil Defence. Perhaps I may be allowed to reiterate what I said in moving the Amendment. All that we have done is to use the wording of the definition which was contained in the 1948 Act, and I think everyone would agree that it is essential that we should have the same definition here as we have in that Act, save that we have had to make this one exception to meet a drafting point raised in Committee.

Mr. Wigg

Before the hon. Gentleman put the Amendment on the Order Paper, did he consult the Service Ministers about both the wording and the meaning of the Amendment?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to ask what consultations took place, but I can assure him that all the appropriate consultations did, of course, take place.

I think it will be recognised that some types of activity cannot, per se, be classified as either Civil Defence or military, or both, and it may well be that the particular example which the hon. Member mentioned may be either Civil Defence or military. It would depend upon whether it came within the meaning of the definition which we suggest should be adopted here and which is contained in the Act of 1948; in other words, whether, broadly speaking, it amounts to actual combat. Clearly, a smoke screen designed for purely Civil Defence purposes would be Civil Defence, whereas one which is designed to protect troops in the field would not be Civil Defence; it would depend on the circumstances of the case.

I can certainly say, first, that it is not intended that this Bill should be used for the purpose of training smoke companies, and I give that assurance in response to the point raised by the hon. Member for Dudley. I would also give the wider assurance asked for by the right hon. Member for South Shields, that we do not intend by this Bill—indeed, it would be impossible—to transfer payments away from the Service Departments, where they properly fall, and put them on the Home Office.

There was one other point mentioned by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), who asked whether it was necessary to transfer this definition from Clause 1 to Clause 3. The reason is that what we want to do is to make certain that we define Civil Defence for the purposes of Clause 2, as well as Clause 1. The right hon. Gentleman will see that there are now two Clauses before the Clause which we are proposing to amend by the second of these Amendments, and both of them must be covered.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)

In other words, the Short Title is now longer than the Long Title.

Mr. Bellenger

Would it not be the best plan to make a new Clause which could be the definition Clause—as, indeed, was done in the original 1948 Act—and to make Clause 3 into Clause 4?

Amendment agreed to.