HC Deb 14 December 1967 vol 756 cc759-64

9.52 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Ennals)

I beg to move,

That the Civil Defence (Grant) (Amendment) Regulations 1967, a draft of which was laid before this House on 28th November, be approved.

Mr. Speaker

I think that it would be convenient if we took this Motion together with the next,

That the Civil Defence (Public Protection) (Warnings) (Revocation) Regulations 1967, a draft of which was laid before this House on 28th November, be approved.

No objection taken. So be it.

Mr. Ennals

I agree that that would be convenient, Mr. Speaker.

The substantial amendment is contained in Regulation 1(b) and I propose to deal with this first.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, made a statement to the House on 14th December last year about local authority civil defence, and he referred to the decision to reorganise the Civil Defence Corps. This reorganisation has been going forward during the past 12 months. The main task of the reorganised Corps in an emergency will be to help to man local authority controls, which are an integral part of the Government control system. The purpose of the control system, initially, is to direct lifesaving operations, and subsequently to provide a framework of civil administration to marshal and co-ordinate the use of available resources to the best advantage of the community.

Before the reorganisation, the Corps was divided into five specialist sections —headquarters, warden, rescue, welfare, ambulance and first-aid—and each section had its own training. In the reorganised Corps, with the emphasis on control and co-ordination, specialist sections have been abolished.

Much of the training is now common to all members, but those who have completed the recruit stage of training will be concerned with two or more specialised activities so as to provide for flexibility in their use in an emergency, whether they are on either the active or the reserve strength. These changes in training arrangements raise problems about claims by local authorities for grant on training expenditure.

Under the Grant Regulations of 1953, relating to England and Wales, expenditure on training is completely reimbursed for those civil defence preparations mentioned in the Schedule to these Regulations. All other training expenditure— and this is the greater part—is grant-aided at the rate of 75 per cent.

To take one example of the activities mentioned in the Schedule, expenses on training in connection with the preparations for billeting, care of the homeless and emergency feeding is completely reimbursed; this training has been undertaken hitherto by the Welfare Section of the Corps, and local authorities had no difficulty in identifying and isolating this expenditure for the purpose of their claims.

The new training arrangements and the abolition of sections, however, make it impracticable for local authorities to isolate expenditure on the training of the individual member for particular activities. We have therefore decided, in consultation with the local authority associations, that all expenditure incurred in training members of the Corps should be treated alike for grant purposes and grant-aided at the rate of 75 per cent.

Regulation 1(b) of the draft Regulations makes provision for this. Paragraph 6 of the Schedule to the 1953 Regulations prescribes certain expenses that will not qualify for complete reimbursement, but for grant of 75 per cent. Regulation 1(b) of the draft Regulations adds expenses for training members of the Corps to paragraph 6 of the Schedule.

Regulation 1(a) is a drafting Amendment. Under the Civil Defence (Public Protection) (Warnings) Regulations 1951, which it is proposed to revoke, certain local and police authorities were responsible for making provision for warning the public by sirens of hostile attack. Paragraph 3 of the Schedule to the 1953 Grant Regulations enabled the responsible authorities to claim 100 per cent, grant on expenses incurred on renting equipment for the remote control of sirens for air raid warning purposes; and other expenses incurred on the warning system were eligible for grant at the rate of 75 per cent.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has assumed full responsibility in England and Wales for the provision of a public warning system under Section 1 of the Civil Defence Act, 1948. Police authorities still carry out certain functions, but on an agency basis, and all expenditure is met from the Exchequer. Paragraph 3 of the Schedule to the 1953 Regulations is, therefore, no longer of any application. The purpose of the second set of Regulations is to revoke the Civil Defence (Public Protection) (Warnings) Regulations, 1951. The 1951 Regulations conferred on police authorities in London and on certain local authorities elsewhere in England and Wales, principally county councils and county borough councils, functions in connection with local arrangements for the provision of a system of warning the public by siren of hostile attack and for operating that system in the event of war.

The warning system contemplated by the 1951 Regulations was virtually a continuation of the system used in the second world war, which had been a local authority function. Since the time when the 1951 Regulations were drafted, both the threat of attack and the nature of the dangers has changed. The responsibility for warning the public of the threat of air and missile attack or the approach of radioactive fall-out is now among the: principal tasks of the warning system, for which the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation is responsible.

Technical advances in the system of relaying messages have enabled an attack warning to be distributed from one centre to the whole country within a matter of half a minute. We have recognised that, with the development of the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation, the exercise of local authority discretion in the provision of a warning system is no longer appropriate. Accordingly, the responsibility for providing a public warning system in England and Wales has been assumed by my right hon Friend the Home Secretary under Section 1 of the Civil Defence Act, 1948.

These Regulations revoke the functions previously conferred on police and local authorities which are no longer applicable, though the police authorities continue to carry out certain functions for the testing, care and maintenance of sirens and their control equipment on an agency basis. Expenditure incurred by the police authorities on an agency basis is fully reimbursed.

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Richard Sharpies (Sutton and Cheam)

Not much need be said about the second set of Regulations. They are sensible and take account of technical progress which has been made, and I commend them to the House.

I cannot, however, say the same about the first set of Regulations. My understanding is that the main purpose of them is to increase by 25 per cent, the charge which local authorities will have to bear for the training of local authority officers in certain aspects of civil defence. When this matter was last debated—on 20th July, 1967—it was made clear that, in future, the main purpose of Government policy arising out of the statement of 14th December, 1966, was that, in future, the employees of local authorities would be asked to play a bigger part in helping local authorities to carry out their civil defence functions. It was made quite clear in the debate at that time by the then Minister of State at the Home Office that in carrying out their functions under the Regulations local authorities were required to comply with any direction given by the Home Secretary. In carrying out those functions of training no discretion is left to the local authorities. They are simply the agents of the Government.

It being Ten o'clock Mr. Speaker interrupted the Business.


That the Proceedings on the Motion relating to Standing Order No. 65 (Chairmen of Standing Committees) may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. Armstrong.]

Question again proposed.

Mr. Sharpies

I was referring to the role of local authorities in carrying out the instructions of the Home Office for training. The then Minister of State went on to say that if the Regulations we discussed on 20th July, 1967, were approved her right hon. Friend would issue directions in the form of a circular to local authorities about the training of staff My understanding was that those instructions are obligatory on the local authorities concerned. The Minister of State also said that the local authority associations and the National and Local Government Officers Association had been consulted on the draft preparations. She went on to say that they were content with the arrangements which had been made.

The questions which I think the House would like the Under-Secretary to answer are threefold. Were consultations initiated with local authorities and with the National and Local Government Officers Association about this increase in costs now to be put on local authorities? If consultations were held, what were the reactions of the bodies then consulted? What is to be the additional cost which local authorities will have to bear? I have no doubt that we shall be told that the cost is comparatively small, but this evening we have debated other Orders which place additional burdens on the ratepayers. We are reaching a stage where every additional straw placed upon the burden borne by the ratepayer will rapidly make that burden wholly intolerable. I hope that we shall have specific answers from the Under-Secretary to the questions I have asked.

10.4 p.m.

Mr. Ennals

With permission I speak again in order to deal with the principal question about finance and to answer other questions. It is not possible to assess with accuracy the additional expenditure to be borne on the rates as a result of the change in grant from 100 per cent, to 75 per cent. A large part of the welfare training will be undertaken by people not enrolled in the Corps and expenditure on non-Corps welfare training will continue to be completely reimbursed.

Mr. Sharpies

I said in so far as the functions under the Order had increased the cost by 25 per cent.

Mr. Ennals

To that extent the hon. Member is right but, as concerns additional expenditure, the increase will be very little. The hon. Member has to take into consideration that, in consequence of the decision announced by the Home Secretary on 14th December, local authority expenditure on civil defence has been cut from £8 million in 1965 –66 to an estimated £6.3 million in 1967 –68. This represents an overall saving on training of £1.7 million of which about £0.4 million is expenditure which would have been wholly reimbursed.

The saving in expenditure, which is grant aided at the rate of 75 per cent., is therefore of the order of £1.3 million. This represents a saving in rate-borne expenditure of about £0.3 million. There will also be some saving for local authorities in administrative costs as a result of the simplified arrangements for claiming grant at one rate only.

There has not been much change in training responsibility. The Home Office is already responsible for general training policy, the co-ordination of training arrangements, and the central training establishments. Moreover, training in control duties, which will from now on be a major part of corps training, is in any case a Home Office function. There has already been consultation before the Order was laid before the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Civil Defence (Grant) (Amendment) Regulations, 1967, a draft of which was laid before this House on 28th November, be approved.

Civil Defence (Public Protection) (Warnings) (Revocation) Regulations 1967, [draft laid before the House, 28th November] approved.—[Mr. Ennals.]