HC Deb 31 March 1983 vol 40 cc454-6
10. Mr. Neil Thorne

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to set up a special unit to promote the case for effective civil defence.

Mr. Mayhew

No, Sir, but we shall continue to encourage recognition of the fact that the provision of an appropriate level of civil defence is a humanitarian duty.

Mr. Thorne

Will my hon. and learned Friend do everything that he can to ensure that the public are adequately informed about civil defence matters and that they will not be penalised on the basis of which side of a county boundary they reside?

Mr. Mayhew

I agree with my hon. Friend that the passing on of vital information about what has happened, what help is available and other such matters following an attack on this country is one of the most important jobs for local authorities. I pay tribute to the majority of local authorities that have gone beyond the bare minimum required by the present inadequate law.

Dr. Summerskill

As the British Medical Association has totally rejected the Minister's estimates of the number of deaths and the extent of disease and injuries in the event of a nuclear attack, is he aware that that casts serious doubt on all the other Home Office estimates and assumptions about survival in the event of a nuclear war and about the protection of the population?

Mr. Mayhew

I reject the hon. Lady's assertion. I do not think that the people of this country wish to judge the merits or demerits of the policy for civil defence according to whether 1 million, 2 million, 3 million, 4 million or 25 million or 30 million people might die in an attack. The country looks for reasonable protection for the millions who will survive in the event of any attack that it is reasonable to foresee.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it was irresponsible for the Labour Government to disband 250,000 volunteers in 1968 and that today, as then, emergency planning against any form of disaster is sensible?

Mr. Mayhew

I agree with my hon. Friend. The record of the Labour party across the whole spectrum of defence has done grave damage. It is important to assess the risk of attack on this country, which is low and will remain low as long as we remain members of NATO and maintain our deterrent policy, and to take such measures for civil defence as are sensible and appropriate.

Mr. Cryer

Do not the public have a pretty shrewd idea of the true position when they see that the Home Office is spending millions of pounds on boltholes for bureaucrats? People recognise that the Home Office is using civil defence as a cosmetic to bolster the Government's defence policies and they know that in a nuclear war nobody would survive and that the dying would envy the dead.

Mr. Mayhew

The public have a very shrewd idea of the motives of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and his friends who take the same view about civil defence. Their motive, as I told the Nuclear Free Council conference at Manchester last year, is to make the country neutral, to take it out of NATO and to remove any opportunity to defend itself against attack. They need to discredit civil defence to bring consistency to their policy.

11. Mr. John Browne

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what preparations have been made to protect the population in the event of hostile attack.

Mr. Mayhew

Detailed preparations include crisis advice to the public; an effective warning of air attack; and central and local government plans for essential services. The existing machinery for the co-ordination of contingency planning is satisfactory.

Mr. Browne

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be appropriate for community Civil Service stores to hold emergency stocks of food and medical supplies, including facilities for water sterilisation?

Mr. Mayhew

It is important that there should exist adequate supplies of materials for emergency use and for use in an emergency and that there should be stockpiles of food, medical supplies, cooking facilities, motor fuel, rodiac instruments and other specialised equipment, which should include provision for the sterilisation of water.

Mr. Christopher Price

Will the Minister of State tell the House a little more about these boltholes for bureaucrats? How many bureaucrats will fit into the number of boltholes that the Home Office has built already? Will there be any for us? Shall we have any boltholes?

Mr. Mayhew

I hope that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) will survive any catastrophe that might overtake the country. There are proposals for the regional government of the country in the event of an attack that made central government no longer possible. I think that the country would hope and expect that to be the case. The idea that the bureaucracy, and even Ministers, will be protected uniformly in such circumstances is nonsense.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that for the House to get people to wear seat belts to face an unlikely eventuality and then to say that we ought not to have any defence against an attack or make preparations to protect the population from civil or military disaster is highly inconsistent? Will my hon. and learned Friend refresh the memory of the House about the warnings before the last war of the need for the greater protection of civilians, which were ignored until almost the last moment?

Mr. Mayhew

I keep always before my mind, and try to remind people when I am given an opportunity to speak about these matters, that the protection of a civil defence nature that the country was given before the last war served a very useful purpose. I do not know of anyone who said that he did not want an Anderson shelter because it would not keep out a direct hit. These are very important matters, and we should not forget the lessons that the 1930s taught us when a great many people were persuaded to join the Peace Pledge Union. That was misinterpreted and, I think, added materially to the danger that we faced.

Mr. Eastham

Does riot the Minister of State realise that people in such places as Manchester reject completely the conclusions of the Home Office when they read recommendations that they should stock up with string, light bulbs, food, water, the dog and everything else under the table and expect to defend themselves against nuclear weapons? Is it surprising that they reject what the Government are saying?

Mr. Mayhew

I wonder whether there is any matter of policy upon which the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) can confidently speak for everyone who lives in Manchester. No Government, knowing that quite simple precautions could protect millions of people, for example, from the effects of fallout coming from a war fought in Europe—with the wind blowing in the wrong direction the fall-out might even reach Manchester—could fail to point that out and urge precautions.

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