HC Deb 14 March 1960 vol 619 cc1071-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Civil Defence (Disease) Regulations, 1960, a draft of which was laid before this House on 18th February, be approved.— [Miss Pitt.]

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

It occurred to me that these are Regulations which are not appropriately those which the Government should get on the nod. These are Regulations dealing with the prevention or control of disease in the event of hostile action involving the civil population. To avoid coming to the Dispatch Box on two occasions, I should like to pose one or two questions which crop up in my mind and to which the hon. Lady might reply.

First, what sort of diseases are these Regulations intended to cover? Are they the kind of diseases that were so anxiously feared in the recent disaster at Agadir, for instance, contamination of water and food and diseases of the typhus and typhoid species, or is it intended that these Regulations should cover other diseases arising out of radiation?

I do not think that we can expect any kind of hostile action in future involving the civil population which is not nuclear in character, and, therefore, the diseases which we are likely to get are those caused by radiation. If we consider that, it is very difficult to see what effect and what use these Regulations will be. In that event, what is the point of having them on a local basis? If there is to be a nuclear attack, then, presumably, all the local officials, who are to be so carefully and assiduously trained under these Regulations to deal with the situation that arises, will themselves be killed about four minutes after we get the warning of attack.

What kind of training is it expected should be given to those people? Are the hospital authorities to be involved in the training, or is it to be purely on a local government level? It is perhaps a little unkind to probe the Government too deeply on their civil defence policies, because in this day and age civil defence policies are themselves of the cloud-cuckoo-land. Any Government has to go through motions of this kind, but, in the end, we must all face the fact that civil defence precautions are a kind of confidence trick which a Government are, unfortunately, obliged to perform. These Regulations provide one more argument which points to the fact that disarmament is the only practical policy for any country today.

10.15 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Edith Pitt)

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) asked me to explain the purport of these Regulations. They arise under the Civil Defence Act, 1948. The Civil Defence Designation Order, 1951, amending a 1949 Order, designated the Minister of Health under subsection (2) of Section 9 of that Act as the Minister responsible for taking measures to deal with casualties and disease for the purposes of that Act.

One of the purposes of the Act is to enable grants to be made to local authorities towards expenses in connection with the discharge of the functions conferred on them by functional Regulations made under Section 2 of the Act. In respect of casualties, the duties of making plans and giving training have been passed to local authorities by the Ambulance Regulations, 1951, and duties of casualty collection arrangements under the 1954 Regulations. It is possible for these purposes to incur expenditure and receive grant in respect of training both volunteer members of the Civil Defence Corps and members of their own staffs.

No duties have been passed to local authorities for dealing with disease or for training staff to meet possible wartime difficulties in this respect. No expenditure can, therefore, be incurred by the local authorities in giving such training to their staff. Nor can they be paid a grant for this purpose.

It is necessary to remove this difficulty. It is increasingly recognised here and in N.A.T.O. that the public health aspect of home defence is of great importance. The detailed measures that should be planned require further study, but it is necessary to cover the staff of those authorities which have no casualty responsibilities under the 1951 and 1954 Regulations. The Regulations now before the House will have the immediate effect of enabling the Ministry of Health to hold civil defence courses for local authority public health staffs specifically related to disease in war and will enable the Minister, as planning develops, to require local authorities to make plans with the object of preventing disease or its spread in circumstances arising out of hostile action, or the threat of hostile action.

The hon. Member asked me some questions about the sort of disease involved. He anticipated my answer by referring to the sort of thing which could have happened at Agadir, the kind of disease which is created when water suplies or sanitation break down, diseases which many of us had to cope with during the last war. He asked me if these Regulations were intended to cover disease arising out of radiation, to which I answer "No", so the subsequent points he made on that subject do not arise.

Finally, the hon. Member asked what kind of courses were envisaged. These will include courses organised by the local health authorities under the administration of the Ministry for their employees to equip them to deal with disease should the unfortunate necessity ever arise. I hope that the House will feel it is proper to accept the Regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Civil Defence (Disease) Regulations, 1960, a draft of which was laid before this House on 18th February, be approved.