HC Deb 21 December 1973 vol 866 cc1769-87

11.20 a.m.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

I am grateful for this opportunity to refer to the important topic of civil defence which has not been discussed on the Floor of this House in this Parliament or, indeed, for 5½ years, although it was, within the limits required, discussed in the First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments on 5th December when that Committee considered the Draft Civil Defence (Planning) Regulations made under the Civil Defence Act 1948. Although there was an interesting discussion, the debate had no publicity whatever.

Our people have the right to assume, and I think they do assume, that their Government—whatever their Government's political complexion—have plans which can be brought into practical operation at short notice to protect them if war should come, whether it be a conventional war, as all recent wars have been, or a nuclear war, whether we are involved in such a war or not. I say that because there could be a war hundreds of miles away in which we were not engaged, but nuclear fall-out could drift across this country, and unless we had some adequate preparations for enabling the people to be protected from that fall-out they would, indeed, suffer. Whether the assumption, which I have stated, in the minds of our people is valid or not will depend upon what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department says in answer to this debate.

Until 1968 we undoubtedly had such plans. But then the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service were disbanded. Installations were put into mothballs. The whole thing was put on a "care-and-maintenance" basis and our preparations became mainly a mere paper exercise, apart from the peacetime duties carried out so splendidly by the police and the fire, ambulance and hospital ser-voices, assisted to a limited extent by volunteers. It never cost much to maintain the kind of insurance which the preparations up till 1968 entailed—about £25 million out of a Budget of several thousand million pounds, and many more thousand million pounds since then. But the money we spent was regarded by all parties as a reasonable insurance premium to pay.

Many of us hoped after the last General Election that fresh preparations would be made, but practically nothing was done until my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) became the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office nearly two years ago. I must say that I have taken heart from the interest which he has shown and the progress which meanwhile has been made in getting things going again.

In fairness to the Government, one should acknowledge that local government reorganisation has been the principal cause of delay in getting things going again, but the new local authorities are now working in tandem with the old, and the new emergency planning teams envisaged by the Civil Defence (Planning) Regulations which I mentioned should by now have been appointed, and I hope my hon. Friend will give us a progress report and let us know how that work of laying fresh foundations is proceeding.

In this connection I should remind my hon. Friend that it is not merely a matter for central and local government but that there are many other important agencies which should be brought into the planning and consultation process. I refer to the new health and water authorities, the nationalised industries, all of which should be consulted at an early stage. Eventually I think also that private industry should be consulted. I wish to quote from a pamphlet which is familiar to some called "Coping with Emergencies in Peace and War" where it is stated: Builders, haulage contractors and others often have mobile equipment available which could be of great value in dealing with emergencies, and they have men trained to use it. There ultimately is an opportunity which must not be missed.

I recently addressed what used to be called the Society of Industrial Civil Defence but which is now called the Society of Industrial Emergencies, and I found there a keenness and a desire to be involved in all this. Both at regional and sub-regional headquarters which have stood in mothballs for so long, trained people in whole-time public service would be needed, and I should like my hon. Friend to tell us whether they have been detailed for this work and whether they have been trained for it. What exercises have taken place or will take place? We need to know about all that.

Will my hon. Friend also tell us what financial arrangements have been made for both central and local government to perform their duties in future? One of the distressing features of the last 5½ years has been the almost complete disappearance of training facilities except for the very limited ones on a smaller scale at Easingwold, near York. However, I am happy to tell the House that this year it has taken on a fresh lease of life as the Home Defence College under the inspired leadership of Air Marshal Sir Leslie Mavor, formerly Commander-in-Chief Training Command RAF, who had his headquarters in my constituency.

Those who are interested in our country's defence—and I hope they are many, although the House is rather empty at the moment—should take the opportunity of reading, as I have done—it is not a secret document—the appraisal of the strategic situation which Air Marshal Sir Leslie Mavor gave to a conference there earlier this year. It is one of the most masterly efforts of its kind that I have come across.

While greatly welcoming that new opportunity at Easingwold for stimulating the efforts of the senior staffs and the higher echelons, I should like to know from my hon. Friend what training facilities there are to be for everybody at the grass roots level. It must include training in counter-nuclear techniques in which, according to my understanding, the police, the fire, ambulance and hospital services have had no training at all in recent years, or training to only such a limited extent that it has not permeated where it should.

We know that we cannot have training without equipment. The previous Government sold most of it and put the rest into Home Office stores. Therefore, will my hon. Friend please tell us what is to be the future policy with regard to the provision of equipment? It is no use just keeping it in Home Office stores. It is essential to let local authorities have enough for training as well as for dealing with peacetime emergencies with the aid of volunteers. It is those peacetime emergencies which provide the best possible training for wartime situations.

Only this week, here at Westminster we have had a serious bomb explosion, and only the day before yesterday there was the tragic Ealing railway disaster. We have all admired how, on those and other occasions, the regular services come swiftly to the rescue of the victims. I mention these peacetime disasters because, although the Civil Defence Act imposes a duty to prepare for war—"for hostile action", to use the words of the Act—it gives no power to co-ordinate wartime preparations with the measures taken daily to deal with peacetime emergencies. Perhaps my hon. Friend could tell us what is the policy, if any, for ensuring that emergencies in peace and war are coped with as one exercise and not two.

There is one piece of good news, on the face of it. Yesterday I asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary: what part will be played by volunteers, including members of the voluntary aid societies, in the future development of the local authority Civil Defence services. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary replied: Local authorities have been invited to make the maximum use of voluntary effort, including voluntary aid societies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th December, 1973; Vol. 866, c. 360.] I should mention in passing that the VCAS and their national organisation have held the fort for the past 5½ years, and some local authorities have been glad to use them to fill gaps in the uneven coverage provided by other voluntary services. The VCAS alone have kept going various skills since the Civil Defence Corps was abandoned, skills such as providing a rapidly improved communications system at local level. Therefore, they have a part to play.

What my hon. Friend said in reply to my Question is fine, on the face of it. But if there are no training facilities, no equipment and no money to spend on premises in which the volunteers can be mustered and trained, his answer becomes rather meaningless. I do not suggest that we should now spend money on erecting buildings, when we are trying to reduce Government expenditure, but at least it should be made clear that money will be available for renting the public halls, schools or whatever may be used, and for training and equipment.

We have been lucky in the past 5½ years not to be involved in another war in addition to what has happened in Northern Ireland. However, the world remains a very dangerous place. I believe that more tanks were engaged in the Sinai Desert in October than took part in the Battle of Alamein. For a few days there was a real risk of a clash between the United States and Russia.

The risk remains, and the insurance premium should be paid in full. The householder who says, "We have been all right for the past 5½ years. We have not paid our fire insurance premium, but we have not had a fire, and so we shall not pay for the next 5½ years" is a fool. We must pay the premium. We must acknowledge the risk. Our people would never forgive us if we failed to provide some kind of protection.

Although I greatly welcome the zealous interest my hon. Friend is taking in our renewed preparations, I hope that he will persuade my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary at a suitable time to show an interest publicly, by making a statement drawing attention to the responsibilities of local authorities, and encouraging them and the other agencies, the regular services and the volunteers, to get on with the vital job of preparing for the worst, because if we prepare for the worst we make it less likely that it will happen.

11.35 p.m.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)

I agree with what has been said by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). I am pleased that he obtained the time for this debate. I am willing to pay the insurance premium to which he referred, and I congratulate him on his initiative in raising the subject.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, it is many years since civil defence was frequently debated in the House. There was a time when I replied from the Dispatch Box to a debate on a Supply Day chosen by the Opposition. I remember going round to local authorities and local authority associations in those days speaking about civil defence. I had to admit once that civil defence motor transport was pretty ancient, because we were using wartime equipment. That was reported in the Press, and I received an irate letter critising my statement on the grounds that whenever the writer came to London the biggest and newest cars he saw in Mayfair were civil defence cars, clearly marked "CD".

As to traditional civil defence, I understand and support the right hon. and learned Gentleman's arguments, and shall not repeat them. I will touch more on a subject to which he referred and which I should like to develop. I want the Home Office to give more consideration to the creation of a national community service to help the central Government and local authorities in emergencies caused by fires, epidemics and natural disasters such as floods. That could work in well with a civil defence service.

There is often widespread sympathy in a natural disaster. The sum of £5 million was raised by the public for the Lord Mayor's Fund at the time of the 1953 East Coast floods. But the organisation needs to be improved.

I have humped sandbags in time of flood in the United States and in the Fens, and I have helped in the organisation of flood relief in Africa. In both cases I was struck by how much more could have been done at the time if there had been only a skeleton corps with even the most elementary training.

Therefore I should like the Home Secretary to consider establishing a corps with the experience of the old Civil Defence Corps, after consultation with various national organisations. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned some of them and we must always remember—especially because of the new organisation after 1st April—the local authorities, the local authority associations and the bodies concerned with health and so on. But we must not overlook the other voluntary bodies. I shall refer only to two. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to one of them which has, as he put it, held the fort for the past 5½ years, the voluntary civil aid societies and the national body which co-ordinates them.

There is one other which is too often overlooked but is by far the biggest and in many ways the most distinguished in this field. I refer to the Scout Association and the guides. There are 600,000 scouts and 700,000 guides. Included in those numbers there must be over 100,000 adults. I am not suggesting that cubs and brownies should hump sandbags. But there are tens of thousands of young men and women between the ages of 16 and 20 in these bodies. The scouts and guides could give great help if there were any kind of national disaster organisation, because both by inclination and training they are always ready to serve the community. The scout movement is one of our great national institutions. I should like the Home Secretary to recognise that and to speak to the Chief Scout, Sir William Gladstone.

I ask the Home Secretary not only to look at the traditional civil defence—there must be many people who are willing to pay the premium—but to appreciate the need to begin the widest possible consultations with national organisations such as the two I have mentioned.

11.41 a.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan - Giles (Winchester)

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) on raising the subject of civil defence. I agree also with much that the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) said. It is rather pleasant to observe the greatly improved accord that seems to exist between both sides of the House on a Friday compared with other days of the week, and this week has been no exception.

If the prime task of the Armed Forces nowadays is the prevention of war, I submit that civil defence cannot be set on one side as a separate issue. I do not want to extend the concept of the wartime use of civil defence, a theme which was well deployed by my right hon. and learned Friend, for I want to put a different point—that civil defence is needed just as much today because the distinction between peace and war in the world is an entirely outmoded idea.

For instance, no damage which the Soviets could possibly inflict on the capitalist countries by any act of overt war could by any stretch of the imagination be thought to be greater than that which they have brought about by the disruption of oil supplies from overseas. Partial disruption progressively applied is far more devastating than a total cut-off would be, because the latter would be likely to lead to military unity in the West and could cause countries to join in a "go get the oil" action, as is being said, I believe, in Washington. I hasten to add that I am not advocating such a scheme but merely saying that it is militarily perfectly feasible.

The progressive reduction of oil supplies is certain to lead in this country and other countries of the West to stresses and strains and to disagreements within the Western Alliance as a whole. So probably it will lead to a prolonged period of international tension, and it seems all too likely that people will be subjected in the near future to disruptions in their daily lives. Shortages of the necessities of life and delays in distribution can quickly lead to rivalries and disorders on the domestic front.

Equally, there is the threat from without. For instance, Soviet medium-range missiles may be deployed in the Warsaw Pact countries, or there may be the threat of missiles launched from undersea U-boats, which could lead to panic and confusion among the civilian population. That is not too far fetched. It was not many years ago that the well-known actor Orson Welles made a broadcast over one of the American radio networks about the Martians supposedly having landed in New York. That broadcast led to wild scenes of panic, with people rushing into their motor cars and driving out of town. At the time of Cuba, people in the United States and Canada, perhaps not as phlegmatic as we in Britain, rushed to improvise air raid shelters in cellars and gardens.

The civil defence organisation is already trained and prepared to prevent misunderstanding, confusion or panic, which can so easily get out of control even in times of supposed peace. The function of the civil defence is not for a time of declared war only. It exists today in what is called, however euphemistically, peace time.

I agree with the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend about civil disaster, which is all too topical in the light of recent events. Flooding of the Thames is another potential disaster area which he did not mention. That is a real possibility, so much so that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has an officer watching this situation ceaselessly right round the clock. In addition, and this, too, is topical, there is the threat of sabotage, which may mean increasing weight being thrown on the police. The proper delineation of duty should be for the civil authorities and for the civil defence organisations to clear up and give first-aid when an incident has occurred. Logically, the police should direct their efforts to arrests and prevention.

There is one even larger argument which I want to put to the House. The dismantling of a Civil Service organisation—which is what it was—and the great reductions in Territorial and Reserve Forces brought about by the Labour Government involved frustration for the whole mass of voluntary effort, which now has nowhere to turn. I have been tremendously impressed by the feelings expressed to me by my constituents. Those comments make it clear that there is a great reservoir of what can only be called patriotism—I do not apologise for using the word, because I do not believe it to be outdated. There is a widespread wish to be helpful.

To channel and direct this feeling the Government should urgently direct local authorities to reconstitute the Civil Defence Corps as it was, but perhaps on somewhat broader lines. It should be concerned not only with first aid and casualty evacuation and clearance of bombed buildings and so on, but action should include listing names, addresses and telephone numbers of volunteers who would be able and willing at short notice to guard vulnerable buildings which might be under threat—telephone exchanges and so on. A list should be prepared of those with special skills, including, for instance, car and train drivers and retired electrical engineers. Computer storage, now available to many local authorities could be used for a comprehensive list of people who might be available and valuable in any emergency. What is needed is the ability to mobilise the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers who could and would be useful in any emergency.

I should be out of order if I referred to the TAVR3 but that might also be urgently reconstituted as a more military type of Home Defence Corps. Some remnants of the civil defence organisation still exist, specifically some of the communications network and underground headquarters and so on. Some of its officers and many volunteers are still waiting in the wings. Transport would be easy to arrange for them and uniforms could come later.

But mostly what is wanted is the men and the women. In essence we need strong, cool, practical and sensible people, men who have known discipline, who could help to control a crowd, who could be relied upon to keep their heads in any emergency and who would put the national interest before their own. Such people have always existed in Britain—indeed they are one of our great national assets: this is no time to ignore any part of our national assets.

11.49 a.m.

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

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) for giving us this opportunity to have a rare and overdue debate on this matter and for his kind personal words. As he said, this is an important topic. My right hon. and learned Friend and others of my hon. Friends have done a great deal to encourage interest in and support for continuing civil defence and to stimulate successive Governments. I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary my right hon. and learned Friend's suggestion about my right hon. Friend making a statement on local authorities' responsibilities.

This week we have very much in mind short-term emergencies, notably the bomb terrors in London, and therefore it is timely to be thinking also of the ultimate emergency—nuclear war—and of one of our shields against it which civil defence represents. I am glad, too, because the debate gives me the chance to pay a warm tribute and to say a word of thanks to all the people, professional and volunteer, who work month after month in civil defence. They perform an invaluable national service which I hope is recognised by the whole House.

Before I say something about the subjects raised from both sides of the House, it might be helpful if I were to describe the general background of our civil defence policy and the progress which recently we have been able to make. It is a realistic and credible policy. I do not wish to say much about military defence policy or foreign policy. As I said in the Statutory Instruments Committee the other day, I am sure that every Member and every person in the country looks forward to the success of our efforts in disarmament and to a lessening of tension between nations. However, as long as nuclear weapons are held by a number of States, we must be prepared against the risk of their being used, if not deliberately, then, alas, by miscalculation or by accident. Perhaps fortuitously, most of the measures which can be taken in the context of a nuclear war would be of equal relevance to a war which began with conventional weapons.

I know that there are some people—I do not think they are represented in the House today, but they were represented in the Statutory Instruments Committee—who think that in the event of a nuclear attack on this country the whole population would be wiped out and the whole country destroyed. They argue that, in these circumstances, any plans for survival after the attack would be quite meaningless. Even some highly intelligent people take that line, but my suspicion is that they do so because they are totally opposed to our membership of NATO, to our defence and foreign policies and to our possession of nuclear weapons.

I want to say this much to those people. Surely they know, as all of us know, that there are some non-aligned countries on the continent of Europe and yet these countries tend to make even more extensive preparations to safeguard their people from the effects of nuclear warfare than we do. Civil defence is necessary for us all, and I am glad that we have the chance to emphasise this message to the country.

The keystone of our preparations in civil defence for national survival after an attack lies in the measures which are designed to provide a regional system of internal government. This system should make it possible to care for the population, to provide services which are essential to survival and to manage whatever surviving resources we had until some form of more democratic central and local government could be reestablished. In a war involving the widespread use of nuclear weapons, clearly we could not rely on the continuing exercise of powers of government from the capital. For example, communications would be bound to be severely disrupted for a considerable time.

Therefore, the basis of the wartime machinery of internal government is decentralisation and concentration of all domestic functions within a number of home defence regions. I refer hon. Members who want more details of these arrangements to Home Office Circular ES7 of 1973, which is available in the Library. The boundaries of the 10 home defence regions which take account of local government reorganisation from 1st April next year are shown in Circular ES1 of 1973, which also is available in the Library.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire mentioned, we also have the network of sub-regions. I was fortunate to have the chance of vising one of the sub-regional headquarters when I was in Yorkshire in the autumn. Coming fresh to this matter, although there is much work still to do, I have been very impressed by the degree of progress which we have made in the arrangements for regional and sub-regional government, and not least in the communications systems and the preparation of the necessary hardware for this survival form of government.

But, and more immediately relevant as an integral element of our domestic regional government, we cannot overestimate the part which local authorities would have to play in a post-attack situation. It is therefore essential that the plans made by the local authorities in peacetime for discharging their post-attack responsibilities should be realistic and workable and constantly kept up to date in the light of the latest assumptions and best scientific advice we can give them. We have budgeted for increases in spending by local authorities to enable them to fulfil their co-ordinating and planning task. I shall have something to say later about the general financial picture as we see it.

Under the Civil Defence (Planning) Regulations 1973, recently approved by both Houses, the co-ordinating of war emergency planning in peacetime is a function of the county in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, and every county was advised in Circular ES 1/72, which is the basic circular in the new style of civil defence, to appoint a small full-time emergency planning team composed of suitably experienced officers.

Because of the effects of local government reorganisation in England and Wales which will come into operation next April, some counties have not yet been able to finalise their proposals—and obviously they include, in particular, the counties where the major reorganisation in boundaries and geography is involved. Nevertheless, over half of the total of new counties have already set up their emergency planning teams and a rising number of the others, including Greater London, are proceeding to do that.

Parallel to the local authority effort there must be a similar response from central Government Departments, the nationalised industries, private industry, the police, commerce and other public authorities. We are apt to think of this problem in terms mainly of public authorities—national, regional and local—but there is a very important part to be played by people in private industry and commerce as a total team response. In all these respects we are making steady progress, although I know that it is not as fast as some people would like.

Let me give one or two examples. The plans of the police have recently been overhauled and improved. New guidance is being prepared on food control and on survival under fall-out conditions. We are also reviewing the arrangements for public mass information, an exceedingly important matter in the situation we are envisaging, and we are also maintaining at a high degree of readiness the Warning and Monitoring Organisation, of which I have been able to see a certain amount in the time I have had responsibility for these matters and with which I have been very impressed. In addition, some preparatory work has been done with representatives of private industry.

In all these fields the Home Office has undertaken, in close consultation with other Departments, to complete the bringing up to date and the revising of the general central Government guidance before the end of 1975. We are doing this in a regular pattern of guidance issued progressively on different subjects. We have already issued a number of circulars and others will be following during next year and steadily up to the end of 1975 to get the new picture complete.

Sir D. Renton

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend is telling us, but I am rather worried about the time scale he envisages. Is there no hope of his shortening that?

Mr. Lane

I cannot absolutely undertake to shorten it, but I will look further into the programme in the light of what my right hon. and learned Friend said. If we can shorten it even by months I shall be glad to do so. I will see what may be possible.

That is the general picture as we see it. I have had to put it briefly but I hope that it has set the general background. I will now say a little more on a few of the main elements of the picture that have been specially mentioned in the debate and on the elements that I should like to go into in slightly more detail so as to give the fullest information I can.

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned the reorganisation of local government and the development of the emergency planning teams. Perhaps I may fill out slightly the picture I have given. The position today is that approval has been given to the setting up of emergency planning teams in the Greater London Council area, in two metropolitan counties and in 21 non-metropolitan counties. Six other authorities have made outline proposals, and a number of other local authorities in the total of 54 counties in the new régime are considering the number and grading of the posts that will be required for their emergency planning teams. I have no reason to think that any new county will not have established some sort of emergency planning team by April 1974, just four months ahead. I repeat that Home Office officials are available and willing to advise any county if their advice may be useful.

I entirely echo what has been said about voluntary effort and the need to make the maximum use of volunteers. I am happy to make clear again, as we have made clear on other occasions and in our circulars and guidance, that the Government are looking to local authorities to make the best use of voluntary effort which is provided in the main by the various voluntary societies. I hope that the local authorities in making their plans will take note of the strong views which have been expressed today. The extent of help from voluntary societies is bound to vary from area to area, and that is why we have left considerable discretion to local authorities, as we explained in the original circular of March last year.

The right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) suggested a new national body. I am not convinced that that is the right solution. I would rather build on the arrangements we already have with the voluntary societies. This procedure, too, will bring closer together planning for emergencies in peacetime as well in wartime. I am glad to have the chance of emphasising again the ample opportunities that exist in the voluntary community services for people who want to volunteer, whether in the civil defence context or in the wider context of emergency work in peacetime as well as wartime.

I will give one or two examples. If a volunteer, man or woman, wants to join an organisation with a formal commitment to serve, there are great opportunities. I underline this because we should make use of people's services even more than we do at present as special constables. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) mentioned the police, and I am glad he did.

Sir G. de Freitas

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I do not expect anything less than courtesy from him. After all, he is my Member of Parliament. What I should like to emphasise about national organisations is that I hope the Home Office will not simply leave it to the local authorities. Local authorities and their associations are important, but sometimes something can be done by the Home Secretary or another Minister in the Home Office getting in touch with the national organisations—I mentioned the scout movement—to see what they can do to help the local authorities. My point was that it was better to approach this rather at the top and then pass it on to the local authorities.

Mr. Lane

I was just coming to that. I am grateful for that idea, which I should like to consider with my right hon. Friend to see whether there are more moves that we could take nationally for stimulating this procedure—as well as by referring to it in speeches, as we always do—to parallel what is being done at local level. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to this.

There is, too, the Royal Observer Corps, which is a vital part of the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation. Then, mainly for women, in a large variety of work much of which is directed to particular groups which need social welfare support, there is the Women's Royal Voluntary Service which has done such marvellous work for the Ugandan Asian refugees in the last 12 months. For first aid there are the ambulance associations and the British Red Cross Society. There are the scouts and the guides and, in some parts of the country, the operational units of the National Voluntary Civil Aid Service whose aims are directed towards both peacetime and wartime emergencies.

I will go on doing all I can to make certain that the great amount of voluntary effort, patriotic good will and experience of people of all ages is fully tapped by local authorities as our plans develop.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester spoke of peacetime emergencies and disruption. I assure him that we have reminded local authorities of this responsibility in our circulars. The local authorities' power to spend money on a disaster situation are further clarified in Section 138 of the Local Government Act 1972. I hope that this also will help in the direction which my hon. and gallant Friend urged. There is a reference to this also in paragraph 11 of the main circular ES1 of 1972.

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned special training and this, too, we have tried to encourage in the new countries. They will be responsible for organising the minimum of essential training for the wartime staff of both county and district councils. We have invited the local authorities to make one member of the new emergency planning team particularly responsible for training. That will include the organising of local exercises and studies, with some help from the staff of the Home Defence College at Easingwold. I am glad that my right hon. Friend said what he did about Sir Leslie Mavor, whose services we are glad to have as the new principal. The amount of local training required in normal peacetime conditions will generally be limited, but I emphasise that there is available to any local authority which wants to put in a bid for it an allocation of grant aid especially for this purpose for any authority which sets up a planning team and wants to undertake more training.

My right hon. and learned Friend also mentioned exercises. There is a need for exercises and studies in the wartime setting, and these will be arranged as our local plans and public authority plans are developed in the time ahead. I happened last week to be at a gathering in Cambridge of the regional scientific advisers who spent much of last Saturday afternoon and early Sunday morning on an exercise of this kind, which I hope we shall see on an increasing scale.

The essential training takes the form of seminars and studies at the Home Defence College. That concentrates on presenting courses emphasising the dissemination of knowledge about nuclear war problems to senior management and specialists. It is also studying problems of adapting peacetime services to function in major emergencies in war and peace.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

To tie this matter together, will my hon. Friend undertake to speak to the Secretary of State for Defence about TAVR3? Although I appreciate that it is not a Home Office responsibility, I understand that many chief constables—the Chief Constable of Hampshire in particular—realise that without an effective TAVR3 force they will be hampered in some of their contingency plans.

Mr. Lane

I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to that point to see whether co-operation can be made closer. The Home Defence College deserves the active support of local government officials and elected members. I hope that in future we shall have many more senior officials of central Government Departments attending, particularly those concerned in peacetime planning, to carry on essential services in and after a war or because they are earmarked for posts in the wartime internal regional government organisation. May I extend an invitation to hon. Members who would like to visit Easingwold to make a visit on an open day during the Summer Recess next year.

I should like to say a few words about equipment. There is nothing to prevent a county or district council helping voluntary bodies with facilities for training or equipment. Most of the Home Office stores are suitable for peacetime emergencies, such as flooding. They are not suitable for the purposes of training for voluntary bodies, but this is something on which we keep in touch with local authorities. If there is any way in which we can help, we shall do so. We believe that these matters are best left to decision at local level because of varying local needs, but I am giving all the encouragement I can to training and to the use of whatever equipment may be available locally.

Lastly, I wish to mention the subject of finance. We have recast our budget to make enough funds available to all the county councils to meet the expenses of their emergency planning teams and to provide essential briefing and training for key individuals. The total budget, allowing for price increases, has not been increased but we have made some economies by getting rid of what we regard as unnecessary stockpiling and storage costs and by ending the non-statutory grant for the demolition of air raid shelters from the last war. The money thereby made available can be spent in a more relevant way.

Our present information is that the 1974–75 budget will be about £12 million or £13 million. The local authority share of this sum is likely to be about £2 million, of which £1½ million would go to the cost of emergency planning teams. This compares with the sum of £600,000 which was the annual cost of the old civil defence officers between 1969 and 1972. The rest of the £2 million is taken up by training and communications work.

The remainder of the total home defence budget goes to such major items as the maintenance of our Warning and Monitoring Organisation and of essential wartime stockpiles, such as basic foods and radiac instruments, the regional communications system and police wartime planning costs.

I will list the broad percentage breakdown of the total budget for the next two or three years. The amount that will go to local authorities, police and training is 23 per cent., to warning and monitoring, 22 per cent., to storage and stockpiling, 26 per cent., and to regional and other Government expenditure, including communications, 29 per cent.

To sum up, I think we have already done something to repair the damage caused by the drastic cut-back during the time of the Labour Government. In the months during which I have had some responsibility for these matters I have met a variety of people around the country and I look forward to meeting many more. I detect a brighter new spirit among them and morale has undoubtedly risen. Many senior people to whom I have talked confirm that our policies are now on sensible lines. I know there are some people who would like still more money and faster progress, but I am anxious to do all I can to make sure that all parts of the machine work together for steady progress. I hope that this civil defence debate, the first we have had for over three years, will help to sustain the new air of confidence among those who are concerned with our emergency preparedness.