HC Deb 25 June 1965 vol 714 cc2209-20

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Howie.]

4.0 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

First of all, I thank the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department for being in his place to answer some questions about civil defence which have been raised with me by constituents and of which I have given him long and precise notice.

As I have given him notice, I hope that the House will forgive me if I fire these questions off fairly quickly, largely in the form in which they have been put to me. After putting the questions I shall content myself with a brief indication of the kind of answers I hope that the hon. Member will give the House and a brief statement of the background against which I am initiating this debate.

The questions are as follows: what civil defence area and sub-area does the Borough of Ilford, as it was—the Borough of Redbridge as it is now—come into? Is the borough a dispersal area? If so, where are the people going? How will they get there? What preparations for transport have been made? How long is the journey expected to take? What measures have been taken to feed the population? Assuming that the borough is a dispersal area, what assurance is there that the same state of affairs will not arise as that which arose between Westminster and Crawley? Some of my constituents allege that Westminster is a dispersal area and that the people of Westminster will be evacuated to Crawley, but that the Crawley Council has passed a resolution saying that it does not want to receive evacuees from Westminster.

Why is it assumed that the reception area is safer? On what assumption about the strength or kind of nuclear attack are the civil defence plans based—that is to say, how many weapons are being used against us, and of what kind? What are the assumptions based upon? Which Regional Seat of Government is responsible for the Borough of Redbridge? How will communications be kept up? Is it true that the results of two civil defence exercises—"Parapluie" and "Fallex 62" —and recent N.A.T.O. exercises proved that nuclear war would result in 15 million killed, three-quarters of the police force killed, hospitals being disrupted, and complete chaos that civil defence would be totally unable to deal with?

To what extent is civil defence in existence for the furtherance of military government after a nuclear war? Are there any underground installations connected with civil defence in the County of Essex? If so, where are they and what is their purpose? What is the connection between the police, the Terri-torial Army and civil defence? Is it true that London is to be sealed off in the event of nuclear attack, and that only official traffic will be allowed in or out?

The House will know that those were the stock questions of the Committee of 100 or the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and although they have become a little flyblown since Vietnam has become the fashionable focus for protest I ask the hon. Gentleman to answer these questions on behalf of the Government for the following reasons. A number of people who attended a public meeting which I held in my constituency during the General Election read out these questions, or similar ones, and the general body of the audience at question time seemed to receive them with the utmost boredom and impatience.

On questioning the questioners it transpired that none were constituents of mine, and when I asked the rest of the audience, who were constituents of mine, for a show of hands of those who wanted me to deal with these questions, not one hand went up. The House may think I should have left it there. The overwhelming majority of my constituents, who regard the Committee of 100 and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament with something short of interest or respect, would think so, too, undoubtedly. I can understand that view, but I do not agreed with it.

It may well be that the antics of these people, who frequently in my borough disgrace themselves by unseemly antics in the council chamber—they rush, yelling, out of the public gallery and swarm on to the floor—are really no more than a disguise for paranoia and neurosis. It is certainly the case that one of the ringleaders of these activities, one of those who questioned me at that public meeting to which I have referred, had shortly beforehand committed a very serious criminal offence, breaking into the local civil defence centre, and that he was untruthful about it in court in order to evade the consequences, and then pleaded that he was under psychiatric treatment.

It may well be that the local education authority is mistaken, as some of my constituents think, in being lenient and continuing to employ one of this gang to teach young children and influence the formation of their characters.

Though that may well be, I think that any Member of this House ought to err on the side of charitableness and patience, and that any question put to him by any constituent, however unrepresentative of the generality he may be, should receive his earnest consideration.

I therefore said at this meeting that though I would not then impose upon the patience of those present at the time, if any constituent of mine, if I were elected—as I subsequently was—put these questions to me after the election, I would, in turn, put them to the Government of the day, whatever Government it might be, and then hold a public meeting in my constituency and make the answers known, along with any comments I might have upon them. And that is what I am now doing, and what I shall do.

I am bound to say this, that I very much doubt whether the hon. Gentleman will give me the sort of answers which will satisfy those people any more than those people are satisfied with the Foreign Secretary's anti-Communist stand at the Oxford Union the other day. I believe that the hon. Gentleman, whom we all greatly respect—and I repeat, we are grateful to him for being here—will give me substantially the answers which his Tory predecessors would have given. I doubt whether the comments I shall make in due course in my constituency will be unfavourable to the hon. Gentleman or to the Government of which he is a member, though I feel obliged to observe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Cousins) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) are not in their places for this debate, and that the only C.N.D. supporter among the Labour Party who has bothered to turn up is the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins).

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, he will, perhaps, permit me to observe that I seem to recall an occasion some years ago when I was accompanied on a march by the hon. Gentleman who will be replying to him.

Mr. Iremonger

Well, I call that a very fast ball, but it is not for me to act as umpire in this. I do not want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman. I do not want to embarrass the Government about their defence policy. They are learning a lot, and very rapidly. Still less do I want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman. I would rather congratulate him in advance.

I should just like to say, in conclusion, that the real answer to these people—whom I believe to be grievously wrong, but many of whom, I believe, are fundamentally gentle and decent people, and many of them very, very young—is that if they think they are right and that the Government's defence policy is wrong, and that, with reference to civil defence, their borough council is carrying out a wrong policy in a wrong way, then they have a clear and simple duty. They should stand for the council; they should stand for Parliament. Let them put up their own candidates. If these people disagree with me, as I am sure they will, and if they disagree with the hon. Gentleman and the Labour Government for whom he speaks, as I am equally sure they will, then that is the only honest way in which they can make their disagreement effective. After all, I have over the years got used in my constituency to being told by these people how many of my constituents really support them in their hearts, how many of my constituents really yearn to follow their lead, how passionate and self-sacrificing are the supporters of the C.N.D., the Committee of 100, and the so-called peace movements which continually shower us with these sanctimonious observations. I now say to them that the ballot is secret. Let them give this massive public opinion which they claim is on their side a chance to express itself. Even a Parliamentary candidature costs only £150. Surely these dedicated souls can muster 300 people out of the 67,000 electors in Ilford, North, who think that their policy is important enough to back with 10s. a head. After all, that is only the cost of a pint of beer and a couple of packets of cigarettes. And if they are sure that they are so widely supported, they will not lose their deposits, it will merely be a loan of 10s.

I wonder whether all this C.N.D. protestation is really utterly "phoney"—now about one thing, now about another, civil defence today, Polaris yesterday, Vietnam tomorrow. I wonder whether it is just second-hand Left-wing opportunitism, claptrap, just a tale,Told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I am prepared to give my C.N.D. constituents the benefit of the doubt, and, so far as I am a Member of the House, I am at their service, whether they are "phoney" or genuine, or whether they are tools of the Left or are speaking for themselves. I represent them in this House, and I have a duty to them. But if, when it comes to it, when the issues of policy are next put to the test, in borough elections or parliamentary elections, they do not put up candidates of their own, they will deserve the indifference which they get from most people.

4.12 p.m.

Mr. C. M. Woodhouse (Oxford)

Before the Joint Under-Secretary of State gives approximately the same reply as his Tory predecessor would have given to the debate, may I say a word which, I think, may be of some comfort to him.

If the unilateralists whom my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has castigated were ever, which heaven forbid, to get their own way in this country, the consequences would not be that civil defence could be abolished. It would remain as necessary as before, and perhaps even more so, so the hon. Gentleman need have no qualms about being simultaneously a supporter of nuclear disarmament, which I am myself, and holding responsibility for civil defence.

But I share with my hon. Friend a feeling of regret that so many members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, who are vocal outside the House, do not, with the exception of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), attend our debates, and I particularly regret the absence of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Minister of Technology, and the Minister of Overseas Development; but perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not share that view.

4.13 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Thomas)

The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) gave me long and adequate notice of the points which he proposed to raise this afternoon. He and his hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), my predecessor in this office, have drawn attention to the absence of some of my right hon. Friends. I think it only fair to say that an Adjournment debate last thing on a Friday afternoon does not usually command a larger attendance than we have at the moment. In fact, it is about 100 per cent. larger than it usually is.

Mr. Iremonger

If it had not been for the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friends' prolonged filibustering in the debate on the Committee stage of the Consolidated Fund Bill we would have had it then, when they would have been able to be present.

Mr. Thomas

It did not work out that way, and I have the responsibility of answering the hon. Gentleman this afternoon in the absence of my right hon. Friend. I, of course, have the privilege of speaking for the Government on this occasion. I do not want to disappoint the hon. Member for Oxford but this is going to be a slightly different reply from that which would have been made by my predecessor.

I listened with very great interest and concern to the questions and remarks made by the hon. Member for Ilford, North. Perhaps he will forgive me saying in passing that although he said he felt it was his duty to represent or speak for his questioners who were members of the C.N.D. and other people, there are different ways of speaking for people and the hon. Member chose one way this afternoon. One of the great things about our democracy is that people who hold vastly different views from the great majority are free to express them and it is a good thing that an hon. Member will advance their questions here even though he does not share their convictions.

I begin by paying a tribute to the tens of thousands of volunteers who give so much time and enthusiasm to the work of civil defence. We are indebted to them for their devotion to duty. They give their leisure in a day when voluntary service is at a discount and they give it in aid of what is essentially a humanitarian service. They give it according to their convictions that they can best serve the community in this way. I must say straight away that I am not able to give specific answers to the points which the hon. Member has raised. I dislike so much having to come to this Box and not be able to give a full reply to any hon. Member who questions me, but there are very good reasons why today I am not in a position to be able to tell the House the answers to the questions.

In paragraph 200 of the White Paper, "Statement on the Defence Estimates, 1965", the Government made quite clear their policy in the following words: The form of our Civil Defence preparations in the years ahead is being reviewed in the light of the general reconsideration of defence". This review is under way. It is not yet possible for me to tell the House when it will be completed and when the Government will be able to take and announce decisions about the form of future civil defence policy. That being so, I have no option but to reserve the Government's position on all major issues of Civil Defence and, in particular, on the interesting questions which the hon. Member raised this afternoon.

In paragraphs 201–211 of the White Paper the Government set out a factual account of the country's civil defence preparations as they are at present. What the review is concerned with is whether preparations should in the future continue on broadly the same lines or whether there should be a change in their form and, if so, what their new form should be. The strategic background to the home defence review is set out in paragraphs 9 to 12 of the White Paper, which many hon. Members will have read. It is here that the Government stated that the likelihood of a nuclear war between the Soviet and Western alliances has been much reduced, but that there is nevertheless always the risk of war arising out of misunderstanding or miscalculation and that the stability so far achieved in relations between the Soviet and Western alliances might rapidly be jeopardised by the spread of nuclear weapons to countries who do not now possess them.

For this reason international agreements to prevent the dissemination or acquisition of nuclear weapons must be and are an urgent aim of our foreign policy. It is against this background that we are now reviewing civil defence policy and deciding what the form of our civil defence preparations should be. Nobody in his senses denies that nuclear war would cause wholesale suffering and widespread death. Nothing could advert the horrors of a nuclear attack if it came. The rôle of civil defence is to do something to lessen the impact of the blow, to reduce suffering, and to help the the survivors to survive.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary believes that it could do a good deal, and the House must always remember that, apart from civil defence in the narrow sense, our home defence plans make provision for carrying on, so far as possible, the essential business of government and helping to restore some measure of ordered society.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Does not my hon. Friend agree that what he has said up to the moment is a very different reply from the one which hon. Members might have expected him to make? Is it not the case that the review which is now being undertaken is probably intended to break the news to the country that there is no such thing as civil defence against nuclear war and that the questions asked by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) are in fact incapable of being answered?

Mr. Woodhouse

I was struck by the similarity, not only of the thinking expressed in the Minister's speech to that which I would have expressed a year or so ago, but with the actual coincidence of phraseology at many points.

Mr. Thomas

It is a strange world. To succeed in pleasing my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite last thing on a Friday afternoon is something which I shall obviously claim to my credit. This review is a decision of this Government. It would be wrong for me to anticipate the outcome of the review. That is why my hon. Friend was inviting me to walk with him again. I cannot anticipate what the result of this review will be or what decisions the Government will take. All I can say is that before the Government come to any decision they will consider most carefully all the relevant factors, including the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman this afternoon. The speech that he has made and the arguments that he has advanced will receive very careful study. I know I sound as if I am giving platitudes. I am conscious of it myself.

Mr. Iremonger

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acquit me of having advanced any arguments at all.

Mr. Thomas

I was about to say that no stone will be left unturned—

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)

Before my hon. Friend winds up his very interesting and, as I find it, encouraging speech, will he in his review, because he is to be primarily responsible for this review—he answers to the House on civil defence—take into account, first, the fact that the money we are now spending on civil defence—£22.7 million this year—is double our contribution to the United Nations—in fact, all the funds of the United Nations put together, excluding only the financial institutions, from which we gain great benefit and which do not, therefore, in my view, come into the same category?

Will he also consider the fact that, in my view and in the view of many people, as I believe, the nation has not yet received the full facts about the damage which would be caused and the casualties which would result from any form of nuclear attack? Will he, as the begin- ning of his study, consult an article written by the Chief Scientist to the Ministry of Defence, Sir Solly Zuckerman, in the United States journal Foreign Affairs in January, 1962, in which Sir Solly makes a review of an attack by tactical nuclear weapons in an army exercise in Germany? Will my hon. Friend try to let the nation understand what would be the chaos which would result, in the light of the study made by Sir Solly, from even a very small nuclear attack?

Mr. Thomas

My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) is one of the most greatly respected Members of the House and he speaks with great knowledge and experience. Every argument that he advances will be considered very seriously indeed.

I repeat what I have already said to the hon. Gentleman: I can only say that as long as this question is under review it is impossible for me to answer any detailed questions. The country will be aware that the Government are giving this matter urgent attention. I am in no position even to say when we will be able to make a statement to the House, but I repeat, though it sounds platitudinous, that every side of this argument is being and will continue to be taken into account before the considered statement is made to the House. I am sorry, therefore, that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman much with which to address his public meeting. Perhaps he had better postpone it until I have been able to give him a more detailed reply.

Mr. Iremonger

May I ask the hon. Gentleman this question? Presumably he is looking forward, as we all are, to a full and considered statement of the Government's civil defence plans and so on. Would he be so kind as to bear in mind my position when the statement is ready to emerge into public life? Would he re-examine these specific questions and personally let me know what the answers to them are? Then perhaps I might be able to give my constituents an opportunity to examine the Government's policy when it is announced, along with the specific answers which I might then be able to let them have?

Mr. Thomas

The hon. Gentleman is not asking me to give him the answers before they are published?

Mr. Iremonger

No. If, when the policy is ready for publication, or shortly afterwards, I could be armed with the Government's view on these specific questions in the context of the policy as a whole, I might be able to give to my constituents the answers to these questions as the Government see the answers.

Mr. Thomas

I shall be very pleased to meet the hon. Gentleman once the report is made public and we may discuss the matter together at that time.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Four o'clock.