HC Deb 14 May 1968 vol 764 cc1029-30
Q1. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister which Departments are responsible for dealing with a civil nuclear disaster leading to fall-out spreading over the country.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

An event of the kind described by the hon. Member is highly improbable. Nevertheless, the many Departments who would have a rôle to play have inter-related contingency plans for any credible emergency. As the House knows, general responsibility for co-ordinating Ministerial action on civil emergencies rests with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Marten

Is the Prime Minister aware of the really genuine anxiety existing in the country that in the event of a civil nuclear disaster—and it could happen—there will be fall-out drifting across the country and that arrangements are inadequate to cope with it? Could the Prime Minister clarify, perhaps without reference to previous speeches, precisely what would happen, say, next year when civil defence is disbanded?

The Prime Minister

This was dealt with rather fully in a speech by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in the debate on civil defence on 28th March. I know that the hon. Member would not want me to go over all the very extensive ground then covered on civil disasters of all kinds where the civil defence forces have provided a very notable addition to the professional skills of those involved. We should still have all the organisations listed by my hon. Friend on that occasion.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Does the Prime Minister recall that the radioactivity released by the accident at Wind-scale was as great as, or greater than, the radioactivity released at Hiroshima? In view of the very great dangers, could he institute a very careful survey of all nuclear plant, civil and military?

The Prime Minister

Following Wind-scale, the most elaborate precautions were taken not only to prevent a recurrence but to deal with any lessons learned. On that occasion, as I recall it, the situation was prevented from getting out of hand by the very great bravery of the manager of the plant and his immediate staff. When it is a question of a nuclear civil disaster as opposed to other serious disasters, this is an area where enormous professional expertise is needed, and this is provided in the main by the Atomic Energy Authority staffs.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Has the Prime Minister not noticed the number of events that have overtaken his Administration which he considered improbable before they happened?

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Now that civil defence is on a care and maintenance basis, does my right hon. Friend not think that it would be a wise practice to put the Polaris submarines on the same basis?

The Prime Minister

That is an entirely different question, which we have debated on many occasions in this House.

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