HC Deb 15 February 1968 vol 758 cc1551-5
4. Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what factors he took into account when deciding to reduce civil defence to a care and maintenance basis.

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

The current level of civil defence expenditure, our financial circumstances and the risk of a nuclear attack.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

Is it now Government policy to keep the civil defence organisation in a state from which it can readily be reactivated if needed?

Mr. Ennals

Yes, Sir. It can indeed be reactivated. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman is no doubt aware, we are preserving the operational physical assets and the core of knowledge and expertise which would enable us to raise the level of civil defence rapidly if necessary, and the warning and monitoring system is being continued in existence.

Mr. Hogg

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm, since we may be wanting to debate this subject, that the Government will have to lay an Order to make their policy legal and effective?

Mr. Ennals

It is not my impression that that is so, but I would require notice of that question.

Sir D. Renton

Did the Home Secretary bear in mind the fact that, in an emergency, the Civil Defence Corps, once disbanded, would not be there to form a cadre of volunteers to man the civil defence services? What will be done about the problem of manning the civil defence organisation if an emergency comes?

Mr. Ennals

It is true that the volunteers will not be there, though a great deal of work is being done by those in Government and local authority service thereby maintaining and manning the essential elements, to which can be added the volunteers.

Mr. Deedes

What change in our nuclear strategy led to this decision?

Mr. Ennals

The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the danger of nuclear war has clearly been receding over the years. However, this was not the only consideration. The financial considerations were, of course, involved in this.

19. Sir D. Renton

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what personnel will operate the civil defence system in the event of attack on the United Kingdom by a foreign power: when and how they will be trained; and what will be the cost of such training.

Mr. Ennals

In the event of an attack the civil defence control system would be manned by the staff of Government Departments, public utilities and local authorities and members of the regular police and fire services and armed forces. Training on a modest scale is to be maintained, but resumption of full-scale activity would be a matter for the Government of the day. The initial training required to support a continuously ready system of central and local government in war might cost about £2 million.

Sir D. Renton

How many permanent staff of the kind mentioned by the hon. Gentleman will there be? Is he aware that it would not be possible to have the civil defence system properly manned without thousands of volunteers and that they need to be trained in advance?

Mr. Ennals

It is recognised that if there were to be an emergency, it would take some time to bring forward the volunteers. As I have already said, there will be a centrally trained core of personnel to provide a nucleus. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be glad to know that the central civil defence training establishment at Easingwold will continue with training and specialised courses, not only for the national warning and monitoring organisation, but also for all those having continuing responsibilities for civil defence planning in both local and central government.

Mr. William Price

Is my hon. Friend aware that many of us on this side of the House are grateful for the fact that the Government have finally shed the dangerous illusion that there is some sort of defence against a nuclear attack?

Mr. Ennals

I cannot accept my hon. Friend's view. It is important that we should have both skill and training available and a system which can he activated if the danger were to re-occur.

Mr. John Hall

As an emergency implies an immediate requirement, how will it help to bring forward volunteers who require long training?

Mr. Ennals

It is true that, if there were to be an immediate emergency, we would not have the volunteers available. It is also absolutely clear that the centrally trained personnel to whom I have referred in both local government and central government will be available, trained and ready. The hon. Gentleman would be wrong to assume that we are likely to have a sudden emergency without any warning whatsoever. The Government are prepared.

21. Mr. Iremonger

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what will be the savings on salaries and wages in 1968–69 and 1969–70 in respect of cuts in civil defence services, with special reference to the Auxiliary Fire Service; how many permanent staff of each grade will be dismissed; and what provision will be made for their re-employment.

Mr. Ennals

The level of continuing activity in civil defence, and arrangements for dealing with displaced local authority staff, are under discussion with the local authority associations. As regards the A.F.S., I hope that fire authorities will find it possible to absorb all the staff concerned into the normal establishment of fire brigades. The savings in salaries are estimated at about £1.6 million in 1968–69, including £.14 million for the A.F.S., and about £2.3 million in 1969–70, including £ .3 million for the A.F.S.

Mr. Iremonger

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that members of the Auxiliary Fire Service would he very glad to serve without their small remuneration? Would it not be possible to keep this organisation in being so that it could help in emergencies, as it has done in so many cases?

Mr. Ennals

The willingness and generosity of the members of the A.F.S. and also of the Civil Defence Corps to give their services voluntarily is greatly appreciated. It is in line with their spirit of public service. However, such a saving would account for only about 8 per cent. of total expenditure and it would be impossible to maintain anything effective on a voluntary basis in that way.

Dr. Winstanley

Would the Under-Secretary give further consideration to those aspects of the present civil defence services—the Auxiliary Fire Service and others—for which there is clearly a civilian rôle? Would he consider the establishment of a volunteer defence force for use in national civil emergencies in order to provide an outlet for the public spiritedness and the expertise of the many people who will now be displaced?

Mr. Ennals

It must be recognised that this is not the purpose of the A.F.S., though it has certainly given notable service on a number of occasions of civil distress. Its purpose is to be ready in war circumstances. I will certainly give consideration to the question whether there is any other way in which volunteers can be used.