HC Deb 20 June 1963 vol 679 cc619-21
6. Mr. Swingler

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in view of the fact that it is impossible to defend the civil population against a nuclear attack, if he will now reorganise the Civil Defence Corps into a civil rescue service.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. C. M. Woodhouse)

The training given to members of the Civil Defence Corps has enabled them to render valuable service in peace-time emergencies but the primary purpose of the corps remains that of training to save life and relieve human suffering in the event of war. My right hon. Friend has no intention of changing this purpose.

Mr. Swingler

Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that it is admitted on all sides that there is now no such thing as civil defence? Is it not a fact that for years Ministers of Defence have admitted that it is impossible to organise the defence of the civil population in case of nuclear war? Since he admits that the purpose of the corps is to rescue survivors of war or of natural disasters, would it not be better overtly to recognise this purpose and reorganise and rename the corps to take account of it?

Mr. Woodhouse

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says. May I make two points? First, nuclear attack is not the only possible form of attack against which defence may be necessary. Secondly, civil defence as defined in the 1948 Act 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… I think that that is very clearly drafted and does not call for any revision.

20. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in view of the recent advances of science and changes in the risks to British citizens, if he will now alter and extend the scope and duties of the Civil Defence Corps.

Mr. Woodhouse

The Civil Defence Corps exists to help save life and relieve human suffering in the event of war, in whatever conditions may result from attack. Whilst this fundamental purpose should not be changed, my right hon. Friend would not hesitate to introduce changes in organisation or training shown to be necessary by any changed appreciation of the type of attack that might be made. For the present my right hon. Friend does not consider changes are called for beyond those introduced last October of which the House was informed on 12th July. 1962.

Mr. Hughes

Surely the hon. Gentleman must agree that the advance of science makes it essential that the education and testing of people seeking to enter the Civil Defence Corps should be enhanced in the public interest? Will he do that and also publish details as to the increased educational requirements of people seeking to enter that corps?

Mr. Woodhouse

I am entirely in sympathy with that point. If the hon. and learned Member studies the circular put out last October, which set out the new arrangements, he will find the details of the substantially higher standards which are expected of recruits to the corps now. Of course, the ordinary member of the corps is not expected to have highly technical scientific qualifications, but I am glad to say that we are able to recruit a number of trained scientists to the corps for specialist services and their services are extremely valuable.