§ 7.5 pm
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
I beg to move,That the draft Civil Defence (Grant) (Amendment) Regulations 1983, which were laid before this House on 12th July, be approved.
§ Mr. Speaker
I understand that it will be convenient to discuss also the following:The draft Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) Regulations 1983.The draft Civil Defence (Grant) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1983.The draft Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) (Scotland) Regulations 1983.
§ Mr. Hurd
Before I deal with the regulations, I shall describe briefly the civil defence policy into which they fit. It is a great pity that discussion of civil defence should be too often distorted by polemics which really belong elsewhere. Because of the horrors involved in any outbreak of war people are naturally reluctant to think clearly about civil defence. This makes it an easy subject for vague political emotion and a difficult subject for rational debate. If we could drain some of the politics out of the discussion on civil defence, which is our aim, we could see it for what it is — a humanitarian and commonsense effort to reduce suffering and loss of life in the unlikely event of a conventional or nuclear attack upon this country.
The first duty of a Government is, of course, to keep the peace. This Government believe that their policies for defence and for multilateral disarmament are well calculated to keep the peace. They have done so and will continue to do so. This is not the place to argue those policies so I shall simply add one point. Ours is not a policy of piling up armaments for their own sake. Tomorrow my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be speaking to the first committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations about our concept of multilateral disarmament. Having held his position until a few months ago, I believe that there is a reasonable chance of agreement on multilateral disarmament in the medium term provided that we do not lose our nerve and begin to dismantle our defences without a satisfactory agreement with the Soviet Union.
But whatever defence policy was adopted by the Government, there would be some risk that it might break down. We in Britain believe that we are safest with a deterrent and with full membership of the Atlantic Alliance. Sweden and Switzerland believe that they are safest without nuclear weapons and with a neutral status. We have a civil defence programme. The Swedes and Swiss have a civil defence programme. In rational debate about this uncertain world there should be no argument about the need for civil defence in case defence policy were to break down. But if there is to be civil defence it might as well be effective, and that is the aim of these draft regulations.
Under the 1948 Act, civil defence deals with armed attack. During the lifetime of this Parliament we shall change the legislation to carry out the undertaking in our election manifestoto enable civil defence funds to be used in safeguarding peacetime emergencies as well as against hostile attacks".Obviously this change cannot be made through regulations. It must wait for a Bill in future Sessions of this 337 Parliament. It nevertheless remains as a firm statement of intent designed to underpin our argument that civil defence is essentially a humanitarian policy.
If, against our expectation, the deterrent were to break down there would be a wide range of possible actions by the enemy who attacked us. There might be a period of conventional warfare, at the end of which diplomacy would stop the war. There might be a strike, as a demonstration, by a single nuclear weapon and such a weapon might be either small or big. Such a strike might be directed against a city or a military target. If hostilities went beyond a single strike a number of nuclear weapons might then be used, big or small, but no one can be sure which targets the enemy would choose.
§ Mr. Reg Freeson (Brent, East)
What does the Minister mean by referring to the use of a small nuclear weapon? Will he define that a little more closely?
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Cynon Valley)
In the parlance of nuclear weapons, which are now a thousand times more destructive than the one dropped on Hiroshima, is not that bomb referred to as a small nuclear weapon?
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman is Missing the point. There is a wide range of possibilities, beginning with conventional warfare and stretching to a massive nuclear attack. Civil defence must deal with that range.
We are sometimes asked to be more precise in making assumptions about the expected scale and direction of attack. Of course it would be convenient in debate and planning if we could do so but the targets chosen and the methods used would depend not on us but on the political and military strategy of the enemy. In drawing up our plans we must provide the best information available to us so that planners can do their work effectively. But the range of possibilities in the unlikely event of attack is so wide that it would be wrong to start making up lists of targets or guiding the planners with arbitrary sets of assumptions.
It will in practice be necessary for every community and every major service to have a civil defence capacity. Areas which do not suffer the direct effects of attack may need to prepare against the indirect effects. Areas which suffer no effects will want to give support to those that are affected. So, although it would be convenient to be more precise, it would also in our judgment be intellectually dishonest.
Critics of civil defence often home in on the worst option as if it were the only one. But of course it is not. I cannot understand the logic of people who say—they have been saying it again in the past few days—that, because the consequences of a massive nuclear attack would be horrific, there is no point in planning, through civil defence, to deal with conventional warfare or a single nuclear strike. Civil defence would be justified for those purposes alone, even if it were true that there was nothing to be done by anybody in the event of a massive nuclear attack.
In fact, that is not true. In any nuclear attack there would be great destruction, enormous casualties and 338 unspeakable suffering. I need to say that obvious thing because the Government are sometimes accused of using civil defence to make nuclear warfare acceptable, as something that could be contemplated without horror. That is rubbish. Any form of modern warfare, particularly nuclear warfare, would be so terrible that it must be the first job of a Government to prevent it. I entirely agree with a sentence in a recent report of the Royal College of Nursing, which said that the prevention of the use of nuclear weapons is infinitely preferable to planning for the aftermath of their use. But the two thoughts are not contradictory—prevention of use and planning for the aftermath of use. The two thoughts go together.
However great the casualties in a nuclear attack, there would be millions of survivors. The ultimate survival and well-being of those millions would depend in large part on peacetime planning and training. That is what civil defence is about.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
If the right hon. Gentleman is so much in favour of civil defence for the protection of the public, will he explain why, in the general local authority functions regulations, there is no provision for a single new structure for the protection of the public? Indeed, paragraph 4 of schedule 2 merely provides for the protection of the public, as opposed to the officials, by the utilisation of existing buildings and structures.
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall deal with that point when I come to the regulations themselves.
I should like to add a further few words about casualty estimates, because there has been a good deal of recent discussion on this matter. All estimates are bound to be uncertain and no one should claim a monopoly of wisdom. Much of the research and evidence comes from the United States and should be examined in the light of British conditions — for example, British houses tend to be somewhat more solid than American houses. [Interruption.] Why the giggles? Let us try to deal with facts.
The Home Office is carrying out further research, both into blast effects and radiation, and we hope to publish our findings on both during 1984. Others have been active in this work—for example, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing.
I wish to refer at this point to the recent BMA report because of an episode connected with its publication. The reasons that I have already given about the range of risks show that we do not accept all the assumptions about the nature of an attack which are made in the BMA report. However, I was sad and sorry that a letter sent from the Home Office in April was taken by the authors of the BMA report as reflecting on their professional integrity. That was not the intention and I am indeed sorry that it should have had that effect.
Last week my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security and I had a very useful discussion with the BMA at which this point was raised. We asked the BMA to co-operate in planning to improve our medical preparedness in case of war, and the BMA agreed. I am glad to say that detailed discussions will now go ahead. We held a separate and similar meeting with the Royal College of Nursing and it, too, is to help in elaborating our medical plans. That is all good news.
Civil defence must be a partnership between central and local government, and local authorities have a vital role, 339 because theirs is the local knowledge and theirs are the resources that would have to be used and built upon in crises and in war. The existing civil defence planning regulations of 1974 and the 1975 Scottish equivalent put direct responsibility for civil defence on county, Scottish regional authorities and the Greater London council, while requiring districts to provide any information for which counties and the GLC ask in helping them to make plans.
As a result of the home defence review, the Government provided in 1980 for a substantial increase in expenditure and effort in civil defence. A number of authorities have since done as much as has been required of them and I should like to thank and congratulate them on their efforts. Others, unfortunately, have decided to pay no more than lip-service to civil defence, with the result that in many areas planning, training and exercises have been neglected.
We had hoped that encouragement, persuasion, advice and the allocation of more money to civil defence would lead to greater effort by these councils, but in several areas of the country this has not happened. Despite our efforts there are local authorities where plans are not kept in a state which would allow them quickly to be put into practice, where headquarters are not identified and equipped, where little or no training or exercising takes place and where little progress has been made in establishing community and voluntary organisations.
We believe that the Government have a responsibility to the country as a whole to bring about an acceptable level of civil defence everywhere. That is why we have introduced these draft regulations, which will place new, stronger and more precise obligations on all authorities.
The local authority associations and the Greater London council were consulted in drafting these regulations. A consultative paper was circulated to them. A draft followed and the Government received deputations representing each of the bodies we consulted. We listened and where we felt it right we made changes — in particular, a controversial requirement for local authority staff to perform civil defence duties has been dropped.
If Parliament approves the draft regulations we will issue an explanatory circular of guidance. This will need to be in the hands of local authorities as soon as the regulations come into effect, but I am proposing meanwhile to meet the GLC and local authority associations during November to consider the circular.
The draft regulations, of course, deal with local authorities as they now exist and will continue to exist for some time to come. The Government have this month published their White Paper "Streamlining the Cities" in which they propose among other things that boroughs and district councils should take over the present civil defence duties of the GLC and metropolitan counties and should be required to consult each other. Obviously there needs to be much further discussion of this and it will be some time before these proposals are in effect. We would not have been justified in holding up the present draft regulations on civil defence further. The work which the GLC and metropolitan counties will be required to do under these draft regulations can be bequeathed in good order to the authorities which will take over their civil defence functions.
The House is considering this evening two sets of regulations to cover England and Wales, the first setting 340 out civil defence functions, the second dealing with grant. Two other sets of regulations make similar provision for Scotland.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
My right hon. Friend talked about a partnership between local and central Government, but should there not be a triumvirate between local government, central Government and the massive pool of volunteers who would come forward to assist if civil defence were properly organised? Will he look particularly at what has happened with the Devon emergency volunteers? There, more than 5,000 people, with very little aid from the local authority, have come forward to try to train themselves for emergencies of this nature.
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend is right and I shall be dealing with the role of volunteers. It is vital to underline that the whole enterprise, now and in the future, will depend to a large extent on volunteers, and it is highly satisfactory and a commentary on some of the artificial argument that goes on that so many thousands of people are willing to come forward as volunteers for civil defence.
The differences between these draft regulations and the 1974 regulations which they replace are that the 1974 regulations require local authorities only to make contingency plans, whereas the new regulations require them to keep their plans up to date. The importance of this is obvious. Old plans gathering dust in a filing cabinet are not likely to be much use. The activities for which plans are required are listed in schedule 2 and follow fairly closely the 1974 list.
There are, however, three new activities for which plans are to be prepared. Councils are asked to plan for using existing buildings as civil defence shelters for the public. That is new. They are asked to plan for a rescue service, and they are asked to plan for the participation of voluntary organisations and volunteers. A working party is now considering how the training of volunteers across the country can be made more uniform than it is at present, and Sir Leslie Mayor is in charge of that co-ordination.
Local authorities will also be required to provide emergency centres properly equipped with communications and other equipment. They will have a duty to train and exercise staff and to organise, train and exercise volunteers.
The Government are not thinking of, and have never thought of, any form of conscription of local government staff for civil defence. It is for the local authorities themselves, as employers, to decide how best to meet the requirements of the regulations, so the regulations deliberately place no specific obligation on individual staff members.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I understood the Minister to say that there was no compulsion on local authorities. I had the impression that local authority chief executives would take on the role of civil defence agents in an emergency. Who will provide the training for the trainers if the obligation is placed on them to provide training?
§ Mr. Hurd
I said that there was no obligation on individual local authority staff members. There are, of course, obligations on local authorities. That is what the draft regulations are about. The civil defence college at 341 Easingwold, near York, is the place where a wide range of courses and training is carried out, including that for the chief executives who might have to become controllers in the circumstances which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
Powers exist in case a local authority fails or refuses to discharge any functions conferred on it. These powers derive from section 2(2)(c) of the Civil Defence Act 1948, of the post-war Labour Government. In those circumstances the Minister can either himself discharge the civil defence functions which have been neglected or authorise some other authority or person, for example a comissioner, to do so. In both cases this would be at the expense of the defaulting authority.
The powers exist, and if it becomes absolutely necessary we shall use them rather than see citizens of this country deprived of civil defence. But I wish to make it absolutely clear that we have no appetite for using these powers. We are not spoiling for a fight. We want to use reason and persuasion to achieve effective civil defence for this country. Because this is essentially a humanitarian policy, it can be separated from polemics on other matters. It should not be a matter of political colour. We hope that all responsible local authorities, whatever their political views, can co-operate in civil defence. We shall allow fair and reasonable time for this to be accomplished and at every stage we shall consult and remain open to suggestions.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
Am I correct in saying that it is the chief executive who is in charge and that no elected representative is in charge of local civil defence but that they are all paid officials?
§ Mr. Hurd
I think that my hon. Friend is talking about the final stage of an attack when power is devolved to the controllers, and the elected representatives would act in an advisory capacity at that stage.
I must add a word about money, because much of the recent argument has revolved round that subject. The grant regulations before the House change existing grant regulations by extending the area of activity entitled to a 100 per cent. grant-aid compared with the present 75 per cent. The increased grant-aid of 100 per cent. will apply to communications and directly related equipment, the training and exercising of staff and the expenses of volunteers. Other civil defence activities remain entitled to grant-aid at 75 per cent. In addition, I can say that the Government will exempt additonal expenditure on civil defence by local authorities in 1983–84 from grant holdback which might otherwise be incurred.
Total central and local government spending on civil defence this year is expected to be about £69 million, of which about £15 million will be spent by local authorities. Additional public spending as a result of these new regulations is not expected to be more than about £2 million, more than three-quarters of which will be met by Home Office grant. Given the provisions which I have just explained, it cannot, I think, be argued that these requirements add in any significant way to the financial difficulties which local authorities may now face.
§ Mr. Hurd
I suspect that I am about to cover the point the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise.
I know that some local authorities are anxious that the new regulations will require them to build, at huge cost, 342 emergency centres. That is not the case. Local authorities are required by the draft regulations simply to designate existing premises which can offer enough protection against the effects of attack to enable essential local civil defence services to be continued. The Home Office will continue its present practice of approving for grant-aid schemes of reasonable cost for the adaptation, strengthening and equipping of such premises. That is what the requirement in the draft regulations has in mind. The costs of this work, as the experience of the authorities which have already been undertaking it shows, will be tens rather than hundreds of thousands of pounds.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland
The Minister seems proud of the fact that a sum of about £2 million will not add significantly to costs. Does he realise that it will not add significantly to civil defence? The British Medical Association has estimated that it will cost £180 billion, about two thirds of total national income, to blast-proof accommodation for the nation as a whole. He must realise that. by the same token that the sum is insignificant, the defence is non-existent.
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. We are not requiring local authorities to spend millions or billions of pounds on new resources. We are requiring them to plan effectively for the use of the resources which they already have, and buildings are an obvious example. We want them to plan so that, for example, buildings can be used to save lives and protect people while services are maintained in time of war. We are not asking for new expenditure on infrastructure. We are looking for intelligent and co-ordinated planning for the use of present resources. That is the basis of our civil defence policy and I think that it is a reasonable one.
§ Mr. Hurd
No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, as I have given way to him already.
I have set out the responsibilities which we propose central and local government should assume for the better protection of those whom we represent. The proposals are modest in scope and I accept that it would be possible to do more, as some of my hon. Friends will doubtless urge. There is no lack of good ideas for using extra resources on civil defence and I look forward with interest to suggestions in this debate. However, as my hon. Friends know, we have to balance the preparations that we make and the money that we spend against the present low risk of war, and we do not believe that that risk is increasing.
We judge that the balance is about right. The concentration of our policy is on persuading and requiring the authorities concerned to plan intelligently for the use in wartime of the resources they already possess.
I suggest that this will be regarded as a policy of common sense and humanity by those who think clearly about it. That seems to be accepted by many thousands of citizens who volunteer already for various civil defence duties. For example, two weekends ago nearly 900 posts of the United Kingdom warning and monitoring organisation were manned for an exercise by volunteers of the Royal Observer Corps. They tested the equipment and the procedures which would warn us of attack and which would be used to calculate its impact. Nearly 9,000 volunteers gave up most of their Saturday night to this exercise throughout the country. I visited some of the posts 343 and they seemed a far cry from the heated arguments which have crippled so much public discussion on civil defence. The exercise was just an acceptd fact of service to the community for those who took part in it and who take part month in and month out in this voluntary activity.
If the worst were to come to the worst, of course everyone would help—
§ Mr. Hurd
It would not matter to the survivors how they had voted, what their professional bodies had said, or whether their local authority had called their town or village a nuclear-free zone. If the worst came to the worst, all that would be irrelevant. In those circumstances the survivors would turn out and help. As that is so, there is surely everything to be said for planning and training which would make that help not haphazard but effective. That is the purpose of civil defence and of the draft regulations, which I commend to the House.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
The most memorable sentence used by the Minister of State in commending the regulations to the House was the poignant assurance that the Government are not spoiling for a fight with local authorities over civil defence regulations. That raised in the minds of my hon. Friends and myself the thought that, as the Government are spoiling for a fight with local authorities over everything else, it is surprising that they have decided to exempt them in this particular.
I agree with the Minister on one issue to which he addressed himself at the beginning of his speech. It is entirely undesirable that the preparation of civil defence and the promulgation of civil defence regulations should be used as a vehicle for arguments about defence and disarmament. I know that the Government have claimed, and I knew that the Minister would claim, that much of the opposition to these regulations and to the regulations which preceded them, about which the Minister gave a less than concise and clear description, has been whipped up by the campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament. I know that the Minister believes, and that the previous Secretary of State for the Home Department, Viscount Whitelaw, used to claim, that opponents of nuclear defence seized the opportunity of Operation Hardrock to demonstrate their influence and power, thereby setting in train a series and sequence of events which have led to the regulations.
As I have said on many occasions during the past three months, I am not a believer in what is called unilateral nuclear disarmament. I am not a supporter or member of CND. However, if civil defence has been politicised, it has not been because of the actions of those who take the unilateral nuclear disarmers' view. When the preceding regulations were promulgated two years ago, the Government regarded the civil defence debate as part of their campaign for Britain's defence, the Alliance of which Britain is a member, and their attack on some forms of local government autonomy and independence.
The Minister will recall that the Minister of State who was answerable to Viscount Whitelaw said, as recently as 7 August, that our civil defence policy is part of our defence strategy. If Ministers who are responsible for these matters are to argue in those terms, the Minister of 344 State must not be surprised when those who take a different view want to argue their case. They do not want to argue it in terms of compassion, protection, defending or looking after those who might be at the periphery of some unintentional nuclear horror; they want to address themselves to the general strategic considerations that the Minister and his colleagues have introduced into the debate. The right hon. Gentleman must not be surprised if the process started by the Government is emphasised and accepted by local authorities as a propaganda rather than a civil defence effort, especially when those local authorities judge that what the Government propose is by all standards unrealistic and unobtainable.
§ Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)
How can the right hon. Gentleman say with any degree of sincerity that the Government are politicising the debate when Labour-controlled councils have declared themselves nuclear-free zones?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I remind the hon. Gentleman, who I am sure is an expert on these matters, of the preceding regulations. They required massive preparations to be made for evacuating major cities. They also required an arbitrary insertion into every local authority employee's contract—whatever their terms of service—of a legal obligation to carry out civil defence duties. Who would be surprised if the Greater London council, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse the expression, considered a proposal which required it to evacuate the population of London into the home counties and said, "Surely the Government cannot be stupid enough to believe that this is practical; they must be doing this for reasons of propaganda"?
§ Mr. Hattersley
It appeared in the original regulations. The Minister must know that perfectly well.
I congratulate the Minister on bringing about two changes which I very much welcome—the removal of any sort of evacuation and the removal of the coercion of local authority employees. It is not only the unilateral nuclear disarmers among local councillors who believe that the Government are engaged in an exercise of propaganda. The practical men and women who run county halls and town halls have said that the Government's proposals are not feasible. I shall allow the Minister to receive confirmation from his predecessor, the Solicitor-General, that my reference to the previous regulations is correct. When he has done so, I shall gladly give way to him again. If he does not wish to intervene now, I have no doubt that he will deal with the matter when he replies.
The Minister of State cannot be surprised if practical men and women in local government say that this cannot be a real proposal and that it is concerned with argument rather than with protection. The regulations that we are debating today, barely less than those that have been abandoned, lack the reality that would make them an instrument of compassion and humanitarian policy as distinct from the propaganda that I believe they are. When the new obligations are examined, it is difficult not to believe that the revision and the proposals were put forward by the Government as part of a general argument about defence. I shall deal with that point initially.
345 The Minister of State complains that those who reject the regulations insist on arguing about what he describes as the worst case, but his colleagues who advocated them have also argued in terms that Opposition Members, whether we believe in unilateral or multilateral disarmament, find unreasonable as well as terrifying. They are based on the concept of surviving and possibly even winning a nuclear war. My commitment to collective security within NATO is no less than that of the Minister of State, but it is based on the belief that our strategy is intended to prevent, not to win, a war. It is based on the belief that our strategy is intended to talk not about survival after the holocaust, but surviving the holocaust. It is difficult for us to support the theory of a deterrent unless we are confident that the deterrent deters, yet the basis of the regulations is on a different principle and a different plane.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)
Can the right hon. Gentleman not see that the concept of deterrence has two areas? The first is the threat of imposing unacceptable losses—the pugnacious nature of deterrence. The second is demonstrating that any attack by a potential aggressor would not inflict the damage that the aggressor thinks it might. Therefore, civil defence is as much a part of the concept of deterrence as any offensive posture might be.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I understand that theory, but that is not the most persuasive argument that I have heard about the possession of nuclear weapons. Their possession may result in 50 million or 60 million dead and 500 million or 600 million mortally wounded. The argument is that as long as the other side realise that the damage is containable, perhaps it will not attack. That is not the most persuasive argument that I have ever heard. I urge Lady Olga Maitland not to include it in her armoury in favour of NATO and collective security.
More important than that is the offence caused to practical men and women in local government who believe that they are required to become an arm of a Government publicity machine. Not only elected Labour councillors hold that view. I shall quote the opinion of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. The Minister of State will confirm my opinion that the chief executives of local authorities are not notorious for their revolutionary tendencies. On this occasion, they were meeting under the chairmanship of the chief executive of the Isle of Wight. They came to this conclusion about the Government's civil defence regulations:While the risk of war between nations continues to exist it is logical to maintain an appropriate degree of Civil Defence at home for the population.We all agree with that. The chief executives continue:We consider current levels of civil defence in this country and expenditure upon it to be inadequate, particularly in relation to defence expenditure as a whole. We complain of the approach which over-emphasises the deterrent aspects of Civil Defence and,in the local government context, fails to stress it as a humanitarian service provided by local authorities for the community.The chief executives of the local authorities complained of the relationship that the Government are creating between civil defence and deterrence. The county councils, in which the Labour party is barely represented, said:The Association is equally concerned over the damaging impact of new regulations upon public opinion which could be seen as misleading them on the work to be done when the reality of the achievement is so small.346 This package is concerned with the Government's philosophy rather than the principle on which the regulations should be based.
I hope that the Minister of State will say more about the evacuation proposals. Is he saying that no mass movement of people out of our large cities was intended? Was not that one of the things that prejudiced the people and local authorities? Is he saying that while the shelters that were considered are being abandoned, which is another welcome change, we are required, if the regulations are passed, to provide structures that the local government associations and members of all parties represented in local government regard as an impractical absurdity? During his speech, perhaps provoked by an intervention, the Minister of State said that all that the councils were required to do, when the regulations were passed, was to convert existing buildings into emergency control centres of some sort. I understand that if the regulations are passed the Greater London council will be required to produce five, the county councils two each and the boroughs one each. In the contentious language that the debate has adopted, some of the local authorities described those centres as "bunkers". That may be an inappropriate description. The Minister of State described them as emergency centres. He should tell us a little about what they are in reality.
An emergency centre may be a room in a primary school, which those of us who are old enough can remember from 1945, at the end of the war. A bunker seems to be a more expensive operation. I am told that if the regulations are passed, the law will require the provision of centres at considerable cost. The Minister of State will tell me if I am wrong, but I am advised that the borough of Southport—progressive, I am sure, in every particular—has anticipated the regulations and produced something like that. It cost £200,000. Does he want that to happen in every borough, with five in the GLC area and two each for the county councils? What is the expected cost of those centres?
What is more, what is the purpose of those centres? If a centre is no more than a place where individuals congregate, what is the practical effect when atomic and nuclear weapons have exploded in the United Kingdom? What is the reality of the proposals? That is what we are talking about.
The British Medical Association gave a judgment of what might happen if a nuclear war convulsed the United Kingdom. It said that the National Health Service could not deal with the casualties that might be expected following the detonation of one megaton weapon over the United Kingdom. It follows that multiple nuclear explosions over several—possibly many—cities would force a breakdown in medical services.
What will be the operation of the centres? What is their real purpose? What is their practical value? How will they be constructed? What are they supposed to do? Unless practical answers are given to those questions, no one will believe that the Minister of State is proposing something for practical compassion. No one will believe it unless the Minister gives reassuring and rational answers about how the money is to be provided for all those services.
The regulations allow 100 per cent. grants for only a limited number of the new obligations, such as maintaining communications equipment, training and the expense of the volunteers. Following amendment of the original proposals, those centres are the nub of the new 347 regulations. I am not sure whether money will be available for them. They are the big change and the new item that has been inserted. They are the thing of substance. No one believes that the change has been brought about because the local authorities failed to keep their contingency plans up to date.
I am advised by lawyers—I am not a lawyer—that if the principal concern of the Government is that the local authorities that constructed civil defence plans 10 years ago are not revising them in the light of the new circumstances, then they could have been obliged by the existing regulations to revise them and bring them up to date.
How much will the centres cost and who will be responsible for each part of the costs incurred? We have been told that there is no money available for acquiring land or for building emergency centres. Is money available for the subsidiary costs involved in the training of volunteers? I say "subsidiary costs" because I understand perfectly well that if a person wishes to abandon his normal local authority duties to attend a civil defence training course, the costs of the course will be met by the Government. What happens back in the town or county hall? Who looks after the job of the person who has gone on the training course? The local authority associations asked the Minister's predecessor how such a cost was to be met, but they have received no reply.
Nor did they receive an answer to the practical question, which I emphasise again, of who contributes to the judgment of whether the Government were after something which helped the dead and the dying or whether they were concerned with making a political point.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
The right hon. Gentleman asked who would pay the costs occurring from people being away from work. Would he consider those who are territorials and volunteer reservists who leave their employment and undertake other duties? How are their employers recompensed?
§ Mr. Hattersley
There is no obligation on local authorities to provide a territorial battalion in each town hall. If each council were required to raise a yeomanry regiment and to give men and women time off to do whatever those regiments do, such a question would be proper and germane. Since that is not the case, the hon. Gentleman's question is irrelevant. Councils are required to give time off to volunteers to provide them with the training that they need. Somebody must meet that bill.
The Minister also said that the money spent by local authorities would not be reduced or taken off any grant they might receive from the Government. The Minister must give an unequivocal assurance that the spending of local authorities on civil defence matters, if these regulations come into operation, will not be used in the calculations which might at the end of the year designate an individual council as an overspender, and therefore penalise the council for spending more than the Government regard as appropriate.
The Secretary of State for the Environment is urging councils to spend less and threatening them with dire penalties if they do not. The position would be intolerable if the Home Office were placing new statutory obligations on councils without providing compensatory funds and 348 using the new money they require to spend as part of the calculation which might result in their eventual penalisation.
The Opposition will not be convinced of the practical necessity of the scheme unless the Government make radical revisions in what they have done and make radical alterations to the way in which they have advocated the civil defence programme.
I offer the Government a sensible course in relation to civil defence. I assure the Minister of State, with the same frankness as I told him that my views on nuclear defence were not those of the unilateralist movement, that I am not opposed to civil defence per se.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman sounds astounded. It seems that some hon. Gentlemen are astounded very easily, although after the past 24 hours I am surprised that they have any astonishment left. Not only am I not opposed to civil defence as a means of preparation against civil emergencies; I am not opposed to it because we might be on the fringe of being involved in some form of hostility—war—which requires the assistance of small numbers to protect the civil population.
I am wholly opposed to a propaganda exercise that involves the promise and pretence that a nuclear war can be survived and won. In the light of that, I suggest that the sensible course is for the Minister to abandon these regulations and to start again. He should start by redefining the purposes of civil defence and produce a definition which includes both civil emergencies and the consequences of some form of warlike action, but the prospects for remedying those consequences must be practical. Most of us believe that an all-out nuclear war would not produce enough survivors to justify what the Minister said.
The Minister must put forward a practical proposition for what is realistic in terms of civil defence and how local authorities and others can discharge their functions. I say "local authorities and others", because this task may be wholly unsuited for local authorities to discharge. The responsibility is one for central Government. County councils and borough councils throughout the country do not regard this as an appropriate responsibility to be placed upon them. I am delighted that at least some Conservative Members are nodding assent.
When the Minister of State has explained what he means by practical civil defence, when he has determined what can be done and paid for, he should then decide how the task should properly be shared between local and central Government. If the Minister took my advice, the responsibility would fall on the shoulders of central Government. If the Minister produces something like the sensible recommendations that I have put forward, it may well be that the Opposition would support them. While he continues with an unconvincing propaganda exercise, the Opposition will vote against the regulations.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)
The House has been treated to the third or fourth example of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) standing on his head when referring to the policies which he used to advocate when in office. If one looks back to some of the reasoning which led the party 349 which used to be called the Labour party to support NATO and the Alliance, it is clear that one did not merely stop at calling NATO an Alliance which might be a deterrent. If one recognised that that might not work, one was then in a position of having to pick up the pieces.
What, in effect, the right hon. Gentleman has said is that he is happy to pay an insurance premium on his home but if the fire strikes he will do nothing about it. I suggest that that is not the way in which the ordinary people of this country want civil defence treated. The right hon. Gentleman may not remember, as was shown from his remarks, that civil defence was very well run by local authorities under the name of ARP and in conjunction with local government committees during the last war. I see no reason why the situation should be taken over and run by central Government on this occasion.
There has certainly been politicisation from the Labour party. I will deal not only with CND, but with some of the "nuclear-free" authorities.
I will listen with the greatest respect to the BMA when it tells me what prescription I shall require to fight pneumonia or influenza or what level of consultant staffing is needed for a hospital. I will not listen to the BMA when it tries to predicate the number of bombs which are likely to fall on this country. The BMA report came to the following conclusion:We remain strongly of the view that the medical profession has a responsibility to involve itself in contingency planning to meet a wide variety of major disasters. Some elements of this experience might then benefit some survivors in some areas following a nuclear attack.I suggest that that line should be followed by local authorities. I will deal with that matter later.
I start from the premise that the regulations are needed and I say gently to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that they are somewhat overdue. I hope that he will not mind my saying that he is listening too much to his civil servants if he really believes that allowing consultation to go on for a long time will influence the GLC or the Lambeths, Camdens, and Sheffields of this world. They are laughing behind his back. I suggest that there should be a short, sharp burst of consultation, so that we can get the regulations off the ground. Some of us have seen how easy it can be to spin out Government decisions and I urge my right hon. Friend not to let that happen in this case.
The regulations are practical and sensible and I do not believe that any normal person could call them political regulations. Any preparation that may save lives or alleviate suffering deserves the support of intelligent people.
All hon. Members have been bombarded—I use that word deliberately—by a mass of political propaganda, much of it produced at ratepayers' expense. It is wholly political and it might have been better if it had come directly from Labour party headquarters.
That is one reason why rate-capping is necessary to curb the excesses of local authorities. I say to my friends in local government on the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils that they should realise that ratepayers outside Sussex and the Test valley demand that local authority bodies support the rate-capping proposals that are to be put before the House.
The Association of Nuclear-Free Local Authorities asks us not to pass the regulations. The concept of nuclear-free zones is a load of nonsense. Does anyone really imagine 350 that they will make an iota of difference? Visualise the scene in the Kremlin. A meeting of the central committee is called, Marshal Ustinov and Marshal Ogarkov say, "Comrade Andropov, we fear we shall have to use a nuclear weapon." Comrade Andropov replies, "If that is your decision, so be it. But do remember, you must not drop it on London because nice Mr. Livingstone has called that a nuclear-free city." Of course, Barnet or Westminster, which have been more sensible and practical, might have been potential targets, but they are within the nuclear-free zone.
Authorities that declare themselves nuclear-free zones are deliberately fooling the public and wasting their money. It is noticeable that when the public had an opportunity to take action, they showed by their votes in the election what they thought of the nonsense of nuclear-free zones. We should ignore those authorities. They are playing politics at the expense of their citizens.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)
I am addressing my mind to this attack on local authorities which, for one reason or another, are apparently not fit to determine their own transport expenditure or other spending. We are contemplating the remote possibility of something more horrific than spending too much on transport or other matters and it seems that we Conservative Members ought to consider whether local authorities are the appropriate bodies to have such responsibility. It seems to me that the Army, central Government or another overall national body should have that major responsibility.
§ Mr. Finsberg
My hon. Friend points out the dilemma which has faced the Government since they came into power. The problem is that local government has changed out of all recognition in the past few years. It used to be accepted by local authorities that they had specific functions to perform—refuse collection, the letting of houses, employing public health inspectors, and so on. They did not try to set themselves up as experts on nuclear weapons. If local authorities do not intend to follow the constitutional lines that they used to follow and powers are consequently taken from them, they will have brought that on themselves.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
It is important that my hon. Friend should be told that, before the 1939 war, some local authorities in this country refused to build Anderson shelters. If I am called to speak in the debate I shall draw attention to that fact, because the effect of their decisions was horrendous.
§ Mr. Finsberg
I hope to listen to my hon. Friend with rapt attention.
I believe that most of my hon. Friends and most members of the public attach as much credence to nuclear-free zones as we do to organisations such as Babies against the Bomb. The nonsense that such organisations are putting forward is diverting the public from the importance of civil defence. It is not diverting the volunteer workers, but there is a danger that such bodies will begin to believe their own propaganda.
A mass of legal arguments have been presented by lawyers commissioned by, among others, the GLC. I shall leave my legal friends to deal with such nit-picking, but I wish to deal with one part of the document that we all received from the GLC.
351 I wonder how the council's lobby of the House will go tomorrow, since we will not be debating civil defence then. The document said under the heading "Compulsory War Games":The requirement that the Greater London Council has to `participate in any training exercise' is not as happily phrased as it could be. The GLC, being an incorporated entity, is unable to take part itself in any training exercise.Next comes the example of politicking:The GLC objects strongly to becoming, under duress, an outpost of NATO.The GLC is entitled to rely on counsel's opinion and say that it does not believe that it should take part in training exercises, but by saying that it objects to becoming an outpost of NATO it is clearly making a political argument. I say in passing that most of us think that the GLC is more likely to become an outpost of the Warsaw pact than of NATO.
All of us are against war, with or without the bomb. However, one factor that is frequently overlooked is the possibility or probability —I use both words, because without access to the Warsaw pact's war plans we cannot be sure — of bombs falling in various parts of the country. It is easy to talk about 200 megatons and to base all one's arguments on that assumption. However, the people who do so forget that the bombs may all be dropped on one spot. It is assumed that they will be neatly dotted all around the country. But even then, there will be survivors who will need help. Help from trained people will be better than help from others. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State said that when trouble came everyone would flock forward, but it is obvious that the most valuable help will come from those who are trained.
We know what value to place on the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook's comment that if the Government made some changes he might vote differently or advise his colleagues to vote differently. We know that the Labour party's attitude is to assume the worst and to plan on that basis. Therefore, it says that the Government's proposals are nonsense.
The regulations will help local authorities and the general public to cope with civil disaster, conventional and nuclear war. It is not foolish to plan on the basis of possible escalation because that is one scenario which we cannot afford to ignore.
There is no question of conscientious objection. I respect genuine pacifists such as Quakers and those with ideals, but in the last war they were prepared to carry stretchers and do other civil defence work, such as air raid precautions, because they did not believe that it would contribute to war but would protect the sufferers. Conscience does not enter into this at all. I have read of some community physicians saying that they will not undertake the task of civil defence planning. They are employees of health authorities and if they will not do the job for which they are paid they should resign and not continue to draw money under false pretences. Matters of conscience do not arise in such cases.
I said that the Government ought not to allow too long to elapse before consultation takes place. A timetable which allows five weeks at each stage for consultation is more than sufficient for local authorities and their associations. Not all local authority associations have come out against the regulations. The Association of County Councils has taken a responsible attitude. It said: 352We support the general intentions underlying the new civil defence regulations but in welcoming them as evidence of the Government's determination we are bound to point out that we do so with reservations which are outlined in this document.That is precisely what the Government expect of local authority associations. They have always accepted the principles that Governments have set out because Governments derive their authority from Parliament. Local authorities have specific tasks and their responsibility is to fit those tasks into the jobs that Government and Parliament have given them. I live in hope, but not much expectation, that local authorities which are presently being obstructive and which, in the event of catastrophe, will have condemned their fellow citizens to unnecessary suffering may change their minds.
§ Mr. Reg Freeson (Brent, East)
I listened with great interest to the non-political approach of the Minister and of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Mr. Finsberg). I make no complaint about that. In fact, I shall follow suit. I have no objection to—indeed, I welcome —the sponsorship of a more effective organisation for dealing with civil disasters and for community service of a physical nature throughout Britain.
I have no objection, in principle or practice, to genuine efforts at civil defence. However, the regulations before us are not concerned with creating services in the wake of civil disasters, with community service, with physical jobs that are required in our community or with civil defence. The debates of the past two years since the regulations were first promulgated have not been about genuine civil defence, and I take that as my starting point.
As we have seen tonight, and on many occasions, the Government are attempting to persuade us that we could and should deal with the aftermath of a hostile nuclear attack. That has been at the centre of the argument and the debate, both in the House and outside, by Ministers and others over the past two years or more.
The Government's case that we could mount an effective response is fundamentally unsound. There is not one professional expert organisation of which I know outside the Home Office which believes the Government's case. That is not to say that any of them objects to civil defence as such, either in principle or practice.
Just one bomb of the power used at Hiroshima—"a small bomb" to quote the Minister's phrase—which we used to our everlasting shame in the last world war would, if dropped over a major city in Britain, produce so many people needing hospital treatment as to overwhelm medical services in the locality. Multiply that beyond the Hiroshima experience, and the imagination boggles. Yet the world now contains nuclear weapons with the power of 1 million Hiroshima bombs, capable of killing 100,000 million humans—and we are nowhere near such a world population yet—as well as destroying countless other forms of life. They are the so-called tactical nuclear bombs, referred to sickeningly by the Prime Minister and others as theatre nuclear weapons. Each so-called tactical bomb can kill 100,000 people or more—more than the population of my constituency.
Civil defence has two main alternative bases of action, either evacuation, and all that goes with it, or protection at home, and they are both mutually contradictory. They cannot operate as one policy, but are alternative approaches. The evacuation of the populations of our 353 massive conurbations, in a country the size of the United Kingdom, seems hardly possible. The Government themselves have now dropped that proposition. In any case, no place would be safe from the effects of nuclear attack. I understand that the scientific research and development branch of the Home Office recently made a feasibility study of evacuation. One wonders why the study has not been published. We are entitled to call upon the Government to publish it. When he was Home Secretary, Viscount Whitelaw said:The public has a right to knowledge of these matters."—[Official Report, 7 August 1980, Vol. 990, c. 793.]He was referring to civil defence, and we would all agree with him. Why has that study been kept secret?
It is now well established that the advice in the Government pamphlet "Protect and Survive" is nonsense. The pamphlet has not been referred to tonight, but it is still in many people's minds. Indeed, it is still available. Do the Government really believe that my two young children, for instance, will survive if they hide under a table? Do they really think that we ought to explode nuclear bombs over Moscow if the Russian army came to Calais, giving me five minutes to whitewash my windows while my children hid under the table?
That is an amusing picture, but it is the meaning of the Government's official advice, and so we have to ask these rhetorical questions. Official publications—not some silly comic strip—are advising the general public that their children will survive if they hide under the table. Would my children be helped if, during the five minutes between the time when the decision was taken and the bomb arrived, I put a supply of food and some toothbrushes under the table with them? That is another official suggestion.
Whether or not we agree with the local authorities and the GLC over the policy of nuclear-free zones, let us be non-party for a moment. Who is trying to fool whom—those who use the device of the nuclear-free zone to try to awaken public awareness, or those who, on behalf of the Government, put out documents such as that?
Whether or not they intend it to be so, the Government's advice is callous. The Government are advising people to stay at home simply because they have no plans to provide adequate civil defence. They have no plans for adequate shelters or supplies for the millions of people in this country. It has been estimated that simply to protect all our people against blast would cost about £180 billion. The Government are telling us to fend for ourselves, because they are not prepared to follow the logic of their own case and make resources and organisation available, whether through local or central Government agencies. The effect, if not the intention, of their policy is callous. They are trying to fool people into thinking that they intend to provide genuine civil defence.
§ Dr. Glyn
I am following the right hon. Gentleman's argument with care. One of the objections that he seems to be making—rightly, in my view—is that there is no central organisation to shift resources, for instance, from one area to another. There seems to be no overall control such as there would, or should, be in a military campaign.
§ Mr. Freeson
That may or may not be the case, but that is not the point that I was making. Whether civil defence is organised through local or through central Government agencies, if the Government are not prepared to devote massive resources to such a policy, they can have no 354 intention of providing genuine civil defence. The resources required would be enormous, and the Government are not prepared to make them available.
The Government are advising us to rely on ourselves. Let us set aside the phoney nonsense of the regulations, the organisation and the planning. I find the constant use of the word "planning" somewhat sickening. Planning for what? All this talk about planning does not alter the fact that the Government mean that we must fend for ourselves. They are not prepared to put the resources where, on their own logic, they are required. If we had to fend for ourselves, what would happen to the disabled, the elderly, the children and those living in high rise blocks of flats? What about the poor and deprived who cannot buy the nuclear fallout shelters now being pushed on the market so profitably in certain quarters of our country?
If the Government were sincere in wishing to protect our people, they would not be spending only a potential £15 million a year on local authority civil defence services or on so-called civil defence planning, while spending £8,000 million on Trident, which increases the likelihood of nuclear war. For years, Government circulars and advice started from the premise that nuclear attack should concern us, but recently the emphasis seems to have shifted, as we heard again this evening. It has shifted towards the need for civil defence to defend us against conventional attack. Is that shift in emphasis an attempt to deflect public awareness and concern away front the issues of nuclear war that are now giving rise to so much concern throughout Britain and elsewhere?
The planning needs for dealing with conventional and nuclear attacks are, of course, quite different. Indeed, they are opposed in certain important respects. For example, there is a need to concentrate resources when dealing with conventional warfare, but to disperse them when dealing with nuclear warfare. Protection at home or evacuation have already been mentioned. What are the Government advising the public to do?
In reply to criticisms the Government often refer to the potential effectiveness of comprehensive civil defence preparations in certain other countries. Sweden and Switzerland are often cited. However, that overlooks the fact that neither of those countries is a nuclear power or a member of a nuclear alliance, and that they spend different proportions of their resources in different ways on military and civil defence.
However limited a nuclear war may be, it is impossible to argue that there can be any effective defence. In addition to the effects of blast and burns, there is radiation. At Hiroshima, everybody within 1,000 yards of the centre of the explosion died. Those who escaped suffered, and died later from burns, injuries and then radiation. It has been estimated that, in addition to the 100,000 people killed outright, another 100,000 died not long afterwards.
§ Mr. Banks
Surely the right hon. Gentleman is making the case for civil defence. Those people on the perimeter who survived but suffered from the effects of the explosion would have been spared them had there been civil defence arrangements. If the right hon. Gentleman visited Hiroshima today he would find a modern thriving city on that site.
§ Mr. Freeson
I think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. We have only two examples, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of the explosion of an atomic or 355 nuclear bomb. To say the least, it does not follow that that is what we would experience in any future war. Expert medical opinion does not hold that we can plan to survive such a nuclear war. I do not need to quote medical opinion, because we have all had an opportunity to read the opinions and reports published on behalf of the medical profession.
There are no defences against the lethal effects of nuclear weapons or treatment for those who might initially survive such explosions. The Government are deceiving the people into believing that they might survive. The Government may not intend to do that, but they are doing so with a little whitewash here and there in our so-called "intellectually honest exchanges" — I quote the phrase that was used by the Minister at the start of the debate.
Evacuation being out of the question, the essential issue, which has implications beyond civil defence, is control. We can organise civil defence by controlling what happens in our area, not by protecting people from the effects of nuclear war. This is causing much concern. We should not spend our resources on phoney activities. It would be far better if we used them to remove the conditions that can give rise to the conflict — power-mongering and war. That is one reason why it is important to switch resources on a massive scale to world development particularly in the areas where we find the forces that might bring the world to the type of war that we all fear.
We are caught up in what can only be described as obscene madness. At its mildest, it is the reductio ad absurdum of war which has little to do with defence, but a great deal to do with social, military and economic power complexes of enormous drive, power and influence, involving millions of people in those countries which have gone nuclear. We are becoming incapable of standing back and rationally assessing and changing the giant processes in which we are caught up. We must do so, and we do not need to wait for someone else to act. Our priority must be to move towards non-nuclear defence policies.
The Government's myth-making on civil defence reinforces the urgent need to move towards such non-nuclear defence policies. There are risks in any defence policy. Security cannot be guaranteed, but so-called defence, based on nuclear weapons, must mean catastrophe if ever it is tested. We risk total destruction by the so-called nuclear defence, which cannot by its nature provide civil defence. It is about time that the House came to that conclusion and acted accordingly.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
One of the most remarkable things about this debate is that the level of attendance is one of the best that we have had during a civil defence debate.
The Government deserve great credit for having transformed what was a bleak and hollow picture when they came into office in 1979. Civil defence has been lifted from obscurity and placed in the correct position. I welcome these regulations, although I regret that it has been necessary to bring them in.
There was some discussion about whether we should refer to civil defence as such or as home defence. There was a feeling that by calling it civil defence we were harping back to the last world war when civil defence 356 played a vital part. I think it is right that we have returned to the term "civil defence" as it is one that everyone understands. If people appreciated its value during the last world war they will understand how important it is in the nuclear age.
I regret that civil defence has become a target for criticism by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. To declare a nuclear-free zone is one thing; to declare that we have no civil defence is another. The next thing that it will be doing is declaring an epidemic-free zone. That means absolutely nothing. It is its usefulness as protection against conventional attack that so many people seem to denigrate and which I think is an error. Any war that developed—heaven forbid that it ever should—might start with a conventional attack, and that is where we need civil defence to protect people.
If it grew to a nuclear war, who is to know what sort of nuclear war it would be? Critics, of course, like to assume that it would be an all-out nuclear attack which would destroy everything and everyone. I do not believe that that is possible, likely or feasible. I believe that many people on the perimeter of any nuclear explosion would desperately need protection, and it is our duty to provide them with that protection to minimise loss of life.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland
The hon. Gentleman has claimed that a conventional attack might precede a nuclear one. Has he any opinion about the time that might be involved? If he is recommending that in a conventional attack we should employ civil defence forces — ambulances, fire brigades and so on—they would be caught on the ground during a nuclear attack. Rather than aiding defence, it would weaken civil defence.
§ Mr. Banks
The parity of forces between NATO and the Warsaw pact is our best insurance against a nuclear war. In the last war there was no chemical attack from either side, because Germany and Great Britain had sufficient stocks of chemical weapons so that it was known that if one side used them, the other would. They were never used. That is my belief. There is no question of trying to decide the time scale that one would adopt.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland
In that case, the hon. Gentleman is changing the ground of his argument. He is saying that deterrence will work. If he is so confident of that, why does he interest himself in civil defence? He cannot have it both ways. It is an example of the double thinking that we have from the Conservative Benches in the debate on this issue.
§ Mr. Banks
I base my arguments strongly on the need to protect people from conventional attack, but as a double insurance it is better to escalate that protection to include nuclear attack.
We need long-term planning. Those who criticise "Protect and Survive" as a leaflet are justified in their criticisms because it was designed originally to be used during a period of extreme tension and crisis and gave advice to householders on what measures they could take with the material that they had to hand.
We are now talking about long-term planning. I hope that the Government will produce more leaflets and advice so that the population can be given advice as to what reasonable precautions can be taken in the buildings in which they live, and where underground structures exist they can be adapted to provide sensible accommodation.
357 There is one important aspect of these regulations— the harnessing of voluntary help. I have always believed that there is a huge reservoir of people who are willing, qualified and able to give voluntary help. We have no better example than the Royal Observer Corps which for many years, against a great deal of opposition to civil defence measures, has maintained its numbers and done a remarkably good job. [Interruption.] Its members give their time for virtually no pay. They attend exercises and are always on call. I do not think anyone should ever criticise the national assistance that they will always give if called upon to do so.
In north Yorkshire we have the home defence community adviser programme. I think that there is a problem in determining the role of the volunteers. Are they to give advice to communities and parish councils alone or do something more? We need to declare clearly what the role of the volunteer is to be. I should like to see it expanded into taking positive steps in the organisation of civil defence, and in particular to play a major role, if not the major role, in the survey of buildings to determine where underground structures exist — for instance, cellars in pubs and underground car parks.
Volunteers should also play a part in co-ordinating voluntary bodies and involving people in industry, who have employees and have the plant that could be of value in an emergency. They should also bring in the police, the fire brigade, doctors and so on in a voluntary capacity to work out how best certain areas can deal with the obligations to be put upon them. It will be important to give this new body an identity. Some people may smirk about the old civil defence corps but there is no doubt that it did a marvellous job and saved many lives. We should come down to the idea of giving a badge of authority to those who are playing a part in civil defence.
More especially, the regulations require that we have a civil defence comissioner, who, with an inspectorate, will have the responsibility of giving information direct to the Minister as to the state of civil defence among the various local authorities. These inspectors could go round the country to the various authorities, not to oversee but to look through the range of activities that are taking place and advise and apprise the Minister of the arrangements that are in hand.
The argument in all this centres on survival. I do not share the view that there is no case for anybody surviving, even in an all-out nuclear war. It is possible for people to survive where they are in certain areas, but more especially when they have the insurance of knowing that there are means by which they can get protection and take protection themselves if necessary. Therefore, I heartily commend the regulations, the Government's attitude towards civil defence and what they are doing to get something moving on it.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)
Unlike the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) who represents a rural area, I represent —
§ Mr. Deakins
I apologise. The hon. Gentleman represents a small town in a rural area. I have a rather different perspective, that of those who live in the largest metropolis, and, if my remarks are geared rather towards 358 those who live in large urban areas such as London, I hope that the hon. Member for Harrogate and others who have a different perspective on this matter will forgive me.
The Government are keen that we should, as in these regulations, take appropriate civil defence precautions everywhere. We in London recognise that, whatever else may happen, London is the nation's capital and the administrative centre. It will be the main target and, therefore, issues of defence and civil defence are matters for all Londoners and all London local authorities. We shall be involved whether we like it or not.
Local government in London, both the GLC and the 32 London boroughs, is being required to act by these regulations, but there is a lack of Government information. The Minister made some attempt to meet these points, but he did not do so sufficiently well to allow the Government to get away with the lack of information at the moment. For example, what is to be the likely warning period? What is to be the likely scale of attack or of destruction? What are likely to be the problems in the aftermath of a nuclear attack? All these problems will have to he faced in London.
The Minister's predecessor said in a parliamentary answer:We advise those working in the field of civil defence to plan for a range of possible attacks, including conventional bombing, a nuclear attack confined to military targets, and a full-scale nuclear attack aimed at destroying both military installations and major cities." — [Official Report, 4 May 1983; Vol. 42, c. 67.]Any local authority faced with that advice has no real alternative other than to plan for all three. Any planning for all three must mean planning for the largest attack, and that would encompass plans for a conventional attack, That raises problems for local authorities, especially those in urban areas such as London.
The Government have not made clear their policy on what the population should do in the event of a full-scale nuclear attack. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that at one stage the Government were advocating an evacuation policy. However, the Minister of State did not refer to that in his speech. I hope that the Minister who will reply to the debate will comment. Are the Government now advising people and local authorities — which must do the planning for civil defence during the next few years—to stay put? Is that the advice this evening from the Government to the people, especially those in London?
There is a conflict of advice available to local authorities about the scale of likely destruction. The Government claim that millions will survive, but many of us are sceptical about that. Local authorities planning for a nuclear attack must ask how long the survivors can be expected to survive and what conditions they will face. In what condition will the survivors be? Will there not be epidemics, starvation and, for a considerable period, contamination of water and food supplies? What is to happen to medical services? Without some guidance on those issues, it is a footling exercise to expect local authorities to plan properly for the aftermath of a full-scale nuclear attack.
The British Medical Association has given advice that the Minister and some of his colleagues have tended to dismiss. However, it is clear from the BMA report that in the event of a full-scale nuclear attack there will be an 359 almost complete collapse of medical services, especially in major urban areas such as London. That must be taken into account by local authorities when planning for civil defence.
We have the result of an exercise undertaken in 1980, code named Square Leg. It was based on five one-megaton bombs being dropped around the periphery of London. That showed that 5 million people in London would die within the first two months after the initial explosion from blast and radiation. In addition, there would be deaths from burns. The medical services could not cope with all the burns. There would also be death from disease. If local authorities were to take advice from the 1980 exercise, I wonder how many of the 7 million Londoners would survive. It would not be millions. It might be hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands, but it would not be many.
It is clear from the debate that no Government action is contemplated in the regulations to protect the people of London and other major areas against attack. The concern shown during the lead up to the regulations by such organisations as the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives is that the Government are concerned solely with the survival of bureaucrats who will be invested with total power—ruling rather like demented Hitlers from their bunkers over a nuclear wasteland. If the Government do not provide shelters for the public, and if there is a major nuclear attack, the only people likely to survive unscathed for a time are those with their own official, classified protected bunkers, no doubt built at great public expense. I do not envy them because there will be little for them to rule over after such an attack.
Another issue of interest to Londoners, especially in my constituency in the borough of Waltham Forest, is local authority staff. The Minister, in his opening remarks, said that the Government had made a change in policy and that there would be no need for any conscience clause because there would be no obligation on individual members of staff. It would be left to local authorities to pick and choose. I wonder about that, because paragraph 4(1)(d) in the regulation dealing with general local authority functions says that one of the functions of the Greater London council and the London boroughs isto arrange for the attendance at any training course…of any member of their staff…who is within a category of persons of any description specified by that Minister as being persons for whom that course or other form of training is provided".It seems to me that the Government are taking the power to say to local authorities, including the GLC and the London boroughs, "There is a certain category of people in your employment, and people in that category must attend training courses." I regard that as compulsion and in my opinion that warrants having a conscience clause. Of course, there is no conscience clause because most people in local government and elsewhere are fairly sensible and have no confidence in the deceitful civil defence charade that is being paraded before us tonight. In my view, this is a new attack on civil liberties.
Then there is the matter of the abolition of the GLC which the Minister, to do him justice, mentioned in his opening remarks. He said that we have to plan for local authorities as they are now. If the GLC is abolished—if the Government get their way, which I hope they will not — those functions will be handed to the 32 greater London boroughs. I ask the House to consider this: if the 360 civil defence work of the GLC is to be bequeathed, in the Minister's words, to the London boroughs, surely that is a recipe for confusion. Furthermore, are the Government really saying that smaller civil defence units are preferable to larger units, because that will be the effect of the abolition of the GLC and handing over its civil defence functions to the London boroughs? The abolition of the GLC will weaken the civil defence effort in London, because there will no longer be a co-ordinating authority. Of course, that is not an argument for resisting the abolition of the GLC. Many powerful arguments are being advanced elsewhere, but, on the Minister's own terms tonight, he is undermining his case.
There is another important issue in London and other large centres at present, and that involves hospital closures and staff cuts in the National Health Service. That will lead to a concentration of hospital services in fewer hospitals in the greater London area. That, in turn, will mean greater vulnerability of those hospital services to a full-scale nuclear attack, even a partial nuclear attack. I wonder whether the Home Office talks to the DHSS about these matters. Certainly the lack of liaison between the two Departments—one going one way, and one advising local authorities to go the other way—suggests that the Government are not really concerned about what will happen to the health of the people of London in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.
There is another issue of great concern to Londoners. No money is being made available in these civil defence regulations for civil defence in industry or public utilities providing power. It means that local authorities, if they survive the initial nuclear attack, will not be able to count on having adequate medical and power supplies at their disposal to carry out their functions. How could any surviving hospital, let alone local authority, function without adequate medical supplies and power? Again, has there been any planning in this respect? I think that the answer is no, because the Minister did not mention that aspect in his opening remarks. Again, I wonder whether the DHSS has been asked to give an opinion about what might be needed in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.
Civil defence preparations and these regulations are trying to get the British people to think the unthinkable. If deterrence works—as long as that is the policy of this country, we must all hope that it does work—there is no necessity for civil defence, because deterrence will prevent a war and therefore we shall not need civil defence. The emphasis now — the new emphasis, I stress, since 1971 on civil defence in these regulations means that the Government appear to be losing confidence in their own deterrence policy. I wonder whether the Ministry of Defence is aware of that. The Government may laugh at this, but I believe that it is a matter of pure logic: if one believes in deterrence, one does not need a civil defence policy and one certainly does not need regulations of the kind that have been put before the House tonight. I ask the Minister and the House: is it a coincidence that the regulations that we are debating tonight come to the House within a few weeks of cruisemissiles being installed in this country? Perhaps the Government believe that those missiles will increase the threat of nuclear war and that we should, therefore, start to take the failure of our defence policy more seriously.
From the debate this evening it seems that civil defence is merely a public relations exercise by the Government. Ministers do not believe in its effectiveness because no 361 other Department, except perhaps the Defence Ministry, is planning for the aftermath of a nuclear attack. We have heard examples of other Departments going their own way to make the civil defence task after a nuclear attack more difficult instead of easier. If the Ministries do not believe in the efficacy of civil defence, why should London Members, London local authorities or the British public believe in it? That is why I hope that we shall throw out the regulations.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)
Labour supporters have three basic attitudes to the issue. Some, like the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins), do not believe in civil defence at all and prefer to declare nuclear-free zones. Some, like the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), say that they believe in civil defence but are not prepared to give examples of what type of civil defence they believe in. The third type, from whom we shall not hear tonight, personify the millions of Labour party supporters throughout the country who not only support civil defence but are involved in it, as members of the British Legion, for example. We all know that they are there, and we see them each day.
§ Mr. Latham
I have only just begun my speech, so the hon. Gentleman can wait. He has already intervened in other speeches.
Some of us on the Government Benches think that the regulations do not go far enough. Local authority chief executives, in a report which includes the signature of the chief executive of Leicestershire, roundly declare that the law is being broken by local authorities and that the Government are also falling down on their job. Although the regulations will go some way to improving the present unsatisfactory state of civil defence planning, they ignore the key weakness at the heart of the present system. It is that no one is centrally co-ordinating the activities of the 70 autonomous local authorities and civil defence units in the United Kingdom, or even monitoring them effectively.
Each of the 70 authorities has its own emergency planning team which is left to its own devices to write its own plans. There is no check by the Home Office to ensure that the plans are adequate. No monitoring of progress takes place. There is no standardisation or attempt to ensure that the proposed plans are practical. Some local authorities have made big efforts; some have done little or nothing. I see little in the new regulations to convince me that the situation is likely to change much.
There is a case for effective civil defence, there is a case —although I do not agree with it—for no civil defence, but there is no case at all for ineffective or chaotic civil defence, with no central scrutiny and no real Home Office commitment to practical action.
We need three further steps now. First, we need a proper civil defence inspectorate in the Home Office. At regional level, and based upon the home defence regional government offices, we should have a regional emergency planning co-ordinator as part of the civil administration of government, whose job it is to assist local authorities in the formulation of their individual plans. That job is not being done by department F6 at the Home Office.
362 My right hon. Friend, in an answer to me on 19 July, denied that the Home Office had received any representations from county emergency planning officers asking for such regional structure, but the vice-president of the Society of Emergency Planning Officers wrote to Mr. Howard of F6 on 27 July showing that that was not a fair or accurate reply. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has since written a courteous letter to me to explain.
Secondly, it is time that local emergency planning staff were selected, appointed and paid for 100 per cent. by the Home Office and seconded to local government. In that regard, I support the throwaway line by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook towards the end of his speech. It is scandalous that local authority employees, 75 per cent. of whose salaries are paid for by the taxpayer, are effectively prevented from carrying out their legal duties by the political activities of their local authorities.
Thirdly, a realistic deadline must be set for local authorities to carry out their duties. The new regulations will impose a considerable extra workload on councils. The Home Office will need to ensure that the duties are carried out with energy and speed. Local authorities must be told what practical steps they are supposed to take. The advice will need to be regularly updated. At present, some of the emergency planning circulars are 10 years old. There must also be a requirement on other important bodies such as the police, the Health Service, the fire service and the nationalised industries to prepare civil defence plans. Is this being done at present? If so, who is monitoring it and how?
The truth of the matter is that this whole business has been neglected for decades and only now is it being taken seriously. No one expects war and I believe that deterrence will prevent it, but the time has come for the Government to say loud and clear that the present position is unsatisfactory. It is an insult to those who are trying to work it seriously and a new attitude of determination and central direction is needed if civil defence is to be taken seriously by the people.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
It is a great pleasure to follow immediately what was without question the most constructive speech that has been made in the debate. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) put forward serious propositions that the Government should not only think about but respond to at the conclusion of the debate.
I had some sympathy with the Minister of State in opening the debate when he expressed the hope that civil defence might be treated in a non-partisan way in future, but I do not suppose that he had any genuine expectation of his hopes being realised either in the House tonight or in those politicised local authorities which are using this issue to pursue arguments about national nuclear defence policy. Certainly the response from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was as partisan as one would have expected it to be. It was notable that he did not at any point in the first 19 minutes of his speech say whether he supports the concept of civil defence. The right hon. Gentleman threw away in three suggestions at the end of his speech the idea that, if other regulations were brought forward, he might be prepared to consider them. For the deputy leader of the Labour party to give no more view as to what type of civil defence 363 would be acceptable to Her Majesty's Official Opposition appeared to me to be falling rather short of the obligations of his new position.
The Minister of State's hope of obtaining a new climate in which civil defence could be discussed rationally was never likely to be achieved in the light of the history of the past two years of this debate. Not only has there been a background of local authorities declaring nuclear-free zones and using that as an argument against civil defence, but there has been apparent the most incompetent handling of this issue by the Home Office and the most appalling lack of communication between local authorities, which are supposed to be participating in civil defence, and central Government.
This was brought out dispassionately and forcefully by the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives in its trenchant criticism of the Home Office for its lack of appreciation of the financial difficulties of local government and its lack of guidance on the duties expected of local authorities. So vast has been the gap of communication between local authorities and central Government that it appears that the Home Office was taken by surprise when operation Hard Rock could not be mounted.
If the Home Office had been in possession of the understanding which informed the Solace report of the degree of unpreparedness of local authorities and the virtual total nonconformity with the obligations imposed under the 1948 Act and the dependent subsequent regulations, operation Hard Rock would never have been called for. It is clear that the Home Office was ignorant of the fact that local authorities were not even beginning to comply with the limited obligations imposed on them by the 1974 regulations.
Where should we go from here? I do not see how anyone can seriously argue that there is no case for civil defence. The arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) are flawed in that he makes the assumption, as have others on the Opposition Benches, that the catastrophe of nuclear war renders all civil aid to the community worthless.
No one would deny — the Minister did not, and I would not—that the catastrophe of nuclear war on the minimum scale imaginable would not wreak the kind of unimaginable horrors of which we in this country have no direct experience. But that does not discharge any Government from the responsibility to do whatever may be done by forward thinking and planning to minimise by however small an amount the harm which such a war would cause.
The regulations which we are debating are defective in that they do not carry forward the appreciation of the sort of plans that can realistically be made by the authorities which are to be responsible for civil defence and which would have a beneficial effect in the range of circumstances which they are intended to meet.
There is no doubt that the Government have been too hasty in promulgating the regulations — without doing the necessary homework and without the necessary communication with local authorities about what their job would be—because it is not good enough simply to impose new responsibilities on local authorities without a strong co-ordinating hand from central Government.
364 It is arguable that in the sphere of civil defence the main responsibility should be a central Government one, with local authorities simply acting as agents in interpreting and giving effect on the ground to the duties imposed on them by central Government, who are able to make the kind of appraisals about the consequences of various types of outbreak of hostility which local government cannot make.
Following that line of reasoning, it must be the case that local authorities should not be expected to finance the function of civil defence. It should be 100 per cent. grant-aided by central Government, and that is another defect of these regulations. The expenditure on salaries and the associated costs of the planning staff and headquarters will continue to be grant-aided at only 75 per cent. That is bound to lead at a time of financial stringency for local authorities to the greatest scepticism about their role and some reluctance to meet their obligations under the regulations. The Government say that only a small amount of money is involved. I accept that it is, and that seems to be all the more reason for the Government to make the money available by means of general taxation.
The Minister has said that there will be an explanatory circular of guidance issued after the regulations have been passed by the House. This is a somewhat odd procedure to adopt. It would have been better if the Government had preceded the regulations with a full explanation of how they would be implemented and the basic assumptions which were being made by the Government about what should be done by local authorities in providing civil defence. There has been far too little communication between the Government and local authorities on this issue. I do not argue that a vast consultative process is needed. I am not arguing for unnecessary delay, but I am asking for a great deal more clarity from the Government on what they want to be done.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook about the opacity of the provisions on the centres that have to be provided by the local authorities under the regulations. It is far from clear whether they are to be bunkers or, as the right hon. Gentleman put it, primary schools, which some of us remember from 1945. We have not been enlightened about that even in the course of the debate.
The Minister has talked about the utilisation of existing resources. That will not narrow the choice in the minds of local authorities and it does not reveal what the Government have in mind. Much of the politicisation of which the Minister complains flows from the lack of clarity of the Government's objectives and their requirements of local authorities. The reason for this may be that the Government recognise that with the expenditure which they have in mind and which they project, running at about £60 million per annum, they do not see a way in which they can answer the criticism that civil defence will be a pretty meaningless effort in the circumstances of any war which can be conceived. They may prefer instead to take refuge in exhortation without having to answer detailed questions. If that is so, that rather vitiates their position. It suggests that their case is flawed and is not being advanced in wholly good faith.
I prefer to think that is not the reason for the Government's lack of clarity, lack of specific guidance and lack of proper instruction to local authorities. I think that the answer is that they have not turned their mind to these issues for a long time. It is only since the Hard Rock 365 experience blew up in their face that they have become aware that local authorities are not carrying out their responsibilities under current legislation.
Civil defence is a necessary national function in protecting the people from the failure of defence policy. We do not believe that defence policy will fail but it is imprudent not to plan for that possibility. That being so, I make it perfectly clear that the Social Democrats want effective civil defence. The speech by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) was a good starting point. It is a pity that it came two and a half hours after the debate started. I hope that the Minister of State will take his points on board and that the Minister who replies will give the Government's firm views on those points.
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) speak in favour of civil defence. The hon. Gentleman made some valid, critical points. I trust that what he said carries the support of his entire party in the House. If so, that is a good sign.
I must express my wholehearted support for the introduction of the regulations. I deplore only the necessity for the Government these days to dot every "i" and to cross every "t" before some local authorities will agree to cooperate in spheres that are clearly for the public good.
As chairman of the National Council for Civil Defence, I meet many local emergency planning officers who wish to serve the public in a typically selfless way, but who are being frustrated by misguided local politicians at every turn, except when their services are called upon to help in a civil emergency, when they suddenly become popular. My criticism does not rest entirely on those who are refusing to co-operate with the minimal requirements placed on them.
§ Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)
Why does the hon. Gentleman assume that locally elected representatives are misguided but that nationally elected representatives have all the answers?
§ Mr. Thorne
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I shall come to that point later.
All Governments since the second world war, particularly those in power during the past 15 years, have let the civil population down badly in civil defence. I cannot understand how those who shout the loudest about survival and unilateral nuclear disarmament are blind to the basic humanitarian need to protect the population against every eventuality. No one I have ever met claims that there would be no survivors, even in a nuclear conflict. Civil defence is designed to cater not only for nuclear conflict. If that is so, surely it is every human being's obligation to offer help and assistance.
The saddest factor in civil defence is the lack of all-party agreement. The National Council for Civil Defence has supporters in all parties, but how I wish that we could all work towards the achievements in civil defence of countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, West Germany and. for that matter, China and the Soviet Union.
The Government spend enormous resources on defence without considering deeply enough the effects on the morale of our fighting forces. I had the honour to serve in the territorial forces for many years. During my service it was necessary for me to take part in exercises involving 366 nuclear possibilities. When taking part in those exercises, I frequently found that the soldiers also participating, particularly sergeants, were concerned about what would happen to their families if they were ever called upon to serve their country, especially abroad. The Government have to consider most seriously the question of what protection is to be provided to ensure that our soldiers can go off to protect the nation, confident in the knowledge that the Government are providing adequately for their families. It is unsatisfactory to expect them to leave their families to fend for themselves.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State mentioned the need for direction, as the last resort. I am sorry that that was questioned by Labour Members. It is essential that we have a minimum level of civil defence throughout the country. If some authorities are careful in the civil defence that they provide and others provide little or nothing, we may find that, if the worst comes to pass, those living in areas that have made no civil defence preparation will realise the error of their ways and try to move into areas that have been prudent and provided for their ratepayers. It would be wrong to expect such authorities to have to take vast numbers of people from areas that had no adequate provision. There could then indeed be civil conflict if the Government do not ensure a basic minimurn service throughout the country. They have no alternative but to do so.
I ask the Government to spend more time and trouble on civil defence. If the man in the street were as keen on civil defence as I am, the Government would be persuaded to increase civil defence expenditure considerably.
Immediately after the war, when the atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in everyone's minds, there was a requirement that the underground space in new buildings, whether used for car parking or storage. should have a civil defence capability. That was certainly the case with buildings in central London, but I do not know how long that requirement lasted, whether for two or three years or well into the 1950s. We may find out as a result of the new regulations that will require local authorities to carry out surveys.
Surely the Government should be thinking of today's new buildings. What civil defence capability are developers required to provide? What provision is there for an underground shelter here in the Palace of Westminster? I am not thinking for the benefit of hon. Members because, if an emergency were likely to occur, Members would probably depart for their constituencies fairly quickly. That seems particularly likely in the light of some remarks that I have heard today.
However, there would be a great need to have our underground car park available for such a purpose. Have the Government considered that? Was the construction of the car park such as to make the provision of shelter facilities simple and easy, or will we be in a panic and have to provide air conditioning plant, fresh water storage, and so on, under great pressure? Surely we should plan ahead so that we can make the necessary provision. I am sure that many people who work in this area would be grateful to know that they have been provided for.
The Government should also think about what they could do to encourage adequate civil defence facilities in older buildings. There are many things that they could do. For example, they could offer rate relief to those who make adequate provision. I would expect domestic shelters to be exempt from rates, and there are strong arguments 367 for allowing 50 per cent. rate relief on parts of commercial buildings that could be used as shelters in times of need. That would allow the owners or occupiers of the buildings to use the space for the time being whether for car parking or for storage under those beneficial arrangements.
§ Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham)
As the hon. Gentleman is chairman of the National Council for Civil Defence, can he tell the House how much notice hon. Members will have to return to their constituencies in the event of a nuclear emergency? Will only hon. Members such as myself—or even hon. Members such as myself — be able to reach their constituencies? How much warning will be given to enable us to join our constituents in a nuclear shelter?
§ Mr. Thorne
I am sorry that the hon. Lady has been present for so little time that she did not hear much of the previous debate. In a time of conflict varying lengths of time apply. In the second world war six months elapsed before any hostilities of any magnitude took place which affected the civilian population but — [Interruption.] Labour Members may have more information than I. They may know what the Kremlin has in mind while I do not.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Does my hon. Friend agree that aerial attacks against the United Kingdom did not commence until many months after the war started and the main attacks took place in 1940?
§ Mr. Thorne
That is exactly the point that I was making. Labour Members seem to think that they will have only four minutes in which to make preparations. That is clearly not the case. The idea that there would be no adequate warning and that an attack would come entirely out of the blue confines one to believing that that could happen only if some madman were to have his finger on a nuclear button somewhere in the middle east causing a nuclear attack to descend upon us without prior warning so that there would be no preparation for conflict. If we expect the attack to come from some country in Europe, the warning period will be much greater than the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) seems to think.
Other countries in Europe which have given much care and attention to this matter over the years have made adequate preparations. We are a long way from doing that. In the past 10 years Switzerland has made adequate provision for no less than 90 per cent. of its population in shelters which include provision for hospital treatment and many other facilities. It is alleged that we do not have the same resources to devote to that because we have other defence commitments and to do so would therefore take us longer. My point is that if we had started in 1945 and continued over the next 35 years there is no doubt that we would have more adequate protection today.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
Is not one of the significant matters to be taken into consideration that a so-called civil defence policy would make the Government more likely to want to wage a nuclear war and to win it? I have rarely listened to such unadulterated rubbish as I have tonight. We are in the realms of fantasy. [Interruption.] The loony Right should keep quiet for a bit. We have listened to much rubbish tonight. The Government have fought one war already and I fear that 368 they will fight another. We are still waiting for an answer to the earlier question. Why is local government irresponsible while the Government are not?
§ Mr. Thorne
The hon. Gentleman has not been here long but he should have listened to what I have been saying. I was asked in what way local government was acting irresponsibly. Responsible local authorities, which make provision, cannot be expected to accommodate the people who would flood into their areas if the need arose. That is what I mean when I say that some local authorities are acting irresponsibly.
If the Government require local authorities to provide something—whether education or shelters—they must provide it, and everyone will then be provided for by Government requirement. It is clear that some local authorities, if they had their way, would make no provision whatsoever. That would be completely irresponsible from the point of view not only of their own population — the electors who, perhaps in hindsight irresponsibly, put them there—but of those who had made adequate provision for the safety of their population.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman has now made the same point twice. When he made it for the first time, I thought that he was joking. He says that we need universal provision so that people from areas of inadequate provision will not flood into areas with adequate civil defence. Will he tell us when this flooding will take place? At what stage in the emergency will people move from one area to another?
§ Mr. Thorne
People would move in whatever time was available after the outbreak of hostilities. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe, like his hon. Friends, that there would be only four minutes' warning? Does he believe that there would be no build-up and that a catastrophe would arrive out of the blue?
§ Mr. Thorne
I am astonished. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks earlier this evening suggested to me the faint hope that he felt some measure of sympathy for the idea of civil defence. I thought that, at the back of his mind, he believed in the right of people to try to survive in such an emergency. I am very disappointed in the right hon. Gentleman.
The Government must pay great attention to the training of civil defence volunteers. I welcome their present proposals.
The report of the board of science and education of the British Medical Association represents the views not of the BMA as a whole, but only of the board. I disagree with the board's views, but it made the valid point that the Government have not so far made adequate provision for civil defence. It would, however, be wrong to assume that the report represents a rejection of civil defence by the BMA at large.
I hope that there will be much more encouragement for civil defence research. There is room for much improvement in the interplay between various Departments. There should be co-operation between the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence, which has very good training facilities in this area. The Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food also have an important role to play. I 369 hope that all those Departments will be encouraged to play a full part in civil defence planning and that the Home Office will not be left to get on with it.
In the past few months I have noticed that questions on civil defence matters have received rather disappointing replies from Departments other than the Home Office. Those Departments are in need of education by my right hon. Friend.
The rate support grant penalty is a short-sighted solution. I understand that the proposal now put forward is that those local authorities which will spend more on civil defence in the coming years than they have in the past will be allowed an exclusion from their penalty assessments. I think that it is wrong in principle to leave authorities, which have been playing the game and doing their part, to suffer when others which have not been doing their hit get off scot-free. Such a policy is not a very good example for the future.
I entirely support the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland and other hon. Members who requested a 100 per cent. funding for civil defence. I do not think that there is any alternative to that figure, for the simple reason that we are dealing with a national matter. I appreciate that the Government want to leave ultimate control in the hands of the local authorities as civil defence is locally organised, but I believe that such funding should be taken out of the local rate arena. There is of course no reason why a suitable adjustment should not be made in the rate support grant to take account of this extra Government expenditure.
I believe that those who do not support the survival of the population in the most humanitarian way possible are entirely neglecting their responsibility to the population at large. I also believe that politicians must ensure that this matter is put right, and to do this they must make up for a great deal of lost ground during the past 20 years.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the House that this debate ends at 11.30, and a large number of hon. Members wish to speak. There must also be time for the winding-up speeches.
§ Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)
Much of what needs to be said has already been said by Opposition Members. Much information is available from the various organisations which have distributed good facts and figures about the effects of a nuclear war, and the irrelevance of some of the civil defence measures which are intended to be brought in. I do not intend to deal with the logical, technical or practical side of this matter. Most Opposition hon. Members understand what the practical difficulties are. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was right when he pointed out that the Opposition are not against civil defence per se, but we are protesting about using civil defence as a con trick to persuade the general public to feel a sense of security. The false sense of security is the underlying lie, irrespective of whether the Government put in all the regulations in the world.
From listening to some Conservative hon. Members, on this subject they believe that if their house is on fire they must put it out. They seem to think at that level when talking about defence in a nuclear age. They seem to have a total misconception of what nuclear war means.
370 The Opposition accept that we must have civil defence. The Government say that they want to help people, but they have returned to the period of tin hats and red crosses. I am surprised that in their shopping list they did not have a Vera Lynn record. That shows how far the Conservative party has progressed.
I do not know how many hon. Members know much about nuclear weapons. Perhaps none of us knows a lot, but we all know a little. I know my little hit, as I was in the Royal Air Force—[Interruption.] I had the dubious pleasure of training for a nuclear war. It convinced me that no form of civil defence could save us from such an attack. In the name of truth the Government should tell the people what nuclear war is about. In a nuclear war the first essential point is to look after the armed forces so that they can make the first strike back. The second step is to look after the military forces on the ground. The last step is to see to the villages and homes. There is no civil defence. The important thing is to protect enough people to enable the country to strike back and to create as much devastation as possible in that other country. People do not seem to understand that. I think that it was the chairman of the National Council for Civil Defence who spoke about a warning beforehand, but—
§ Mr. Michie
Many other hon. Members wish to speak and I shall make my point briefly.
Some people say that we have the right to decide about waging war. We in this Chamber may feel that we have the right—although that is debatable—to say that there should be a conventional war that could kill thousands of our fellow citizens. Perhaps we have that power and right, but no one on God's earth has the right to declare a nuclear war, which would decide the future of unborn children and of the rest of the world. No one has that right, not even Parliament.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
I welcome the regulations as an essential first step by the Government in forcing local authorities to make effective plans for civil defence. Tonight Opposition Members have said that civil defence does not make any sense. If that is so, why does virtually every country in the world— from neutral Switzerland to the Soviet Union—have civil defence? The answer is that no one can foretell what horrors war will bring or whether we shall have to face a conventional or a nuclear attack. Every country in the world accepts that, on the perimeter of a conventional or nuclear attack, effective civil defence plans could save millions of lives. That is why Conservative Members believe that it is the humanitarian duty of Government to make those plans in the first place.
My criticism of the Government is that there is no point in laying down such regulations if Home Office officials are not prepared to enforce them. I refer to the question asked by the Earl of Kimberley in the other place about 371 south Yorkshire. South Yorkshire has, of course, decided to abolish civil defence. In reply to the noble Lord, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Lord Elton, said:My Lords, the South Yorkshire County Council has passed a resolution which includes continued compliance with the Civil Defence (Planning) Regulations 1974." — [Official Report, House of Lords, 9 March 1983; Vol. 440, c. 230.]That answer was misleading, because although it is true that on 28 October 1981 south Yorkshire county council instructed its emergency sub-committee and officers to refuse to co-operate with all but the legal minimum under the civil defence legislation, at the same time it decided —and unlike the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) it is the authentic voice of the Labour party — to accept in total the Labour party's "Nine points on Civil Defence". I have a copy of it with me.
Paragraph 7 states:We believe that the war planning role of Emergency Planning Officers should be discarded".Legislation would be needed. However, south Yorkshire took it upon itself to discard civil defence. The Sunday Times said on 24 January 1982 that the county council hadtold its emergency planning officers to stop work on plans for survival in a nuclear war".A confidential document from the county council says:As from October 1981 we have made no attempt to draft any further sections of our war plan. At this point seven sections had been drafted, approved and distributed; of the ten further plans which we envisaged drafting three are in the initial stages covering (1) Water, (2) Radiac Reporting and Release Scheme, (3) Communications. For some months now no work has been attempted to complete these drafts.It is interesting that the document ended by saying:It is no secret that the Home Office does not currently seek confrontation with dissenting local authorities on the level of civil defence preparations.In other words, south Yorkshire is successfully cocking a snook at the government.
These regulations have been brought in today because the GLC employed David Turner Samuels, QC, to discover legal loopholes through which the GLC could wriggle out of its humanitarian duties to civil defence. Even that silk conceded that even under the existing legislation there was a clear duty to make plans which covered the matter specified in regulation 4(a) of the 1974 regulations and that such plans must bear a "reasonable relationship" to the problems with which they were intended to cope.
The GLC complied with that opinion, but south Yorkshire did not. It is misleading for the Home Office to say that the Government should not intervene because the south Yorkshire county council puts up a smoke screen and says that it will comply with the minimum legal requirements.
I believe that I have established that south Yorkshire has effectively abolished civil defence. I shall not argue the why's and wherefore's of civil defence. We are wasting our time tonight in promoting new regulations when the officials in the Home Office have not been prepared to enforce the old regulations.
§ Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
The Government's attitude to civil defence is integral to its 372 policy on nuclear weapons. The Home Secretary in a previous Conservative Government, in a statement to the House of Commons in August 1980, said:a review of civil preparedness for home defence was set in train so that this important element of our defence strategy could be considered as part of the improvement of our general defence effort.—[Official Report, 7 August 1980; Vol. 990, c. 790.]More recently, United States Vice President Bush stated:You have the survivability of command and control, a survivability of industrial potential, protection of your citizens and you have the capacity that inflicts more damage on the opposition than it inflicts on you. That's the way to come out on top in a nuclear war.Fundamental to our opposition to these regulations is the belief that they condition the British people to believe that a nuclear war is survivable. It is disturbing that these regulations and this approach to civil defence has been pushed forward when the new generation of counter force nuclear weapons is being deployed. These are first strike weapons which undermine the policy of deterrence and mutually assured destruction. They are weapons to fight wars.
There is no defence from nuclear weapons. The British Medical Association provided the most authoritative report in this country on the likely effect of a nuclear attack on the British population. The Minister of State referred to it when he opened the debate. The report stated:Civilised life as we know it, and the human values and the ethical standards upon which the practice of medicine is based would cease to exist in vast areas of these islands.The Minister sought to undo some of the damage done by that notorious letter sent by the Home Office scientific research and development branch to the regional civil defence scientific advisers. He will have to do better than he did this evening. If the Minister looks at the letter which was printed in The Guardian he will see what it said about the BMA report:The style of this presentation, and the arbitrary conclusions in favour of the SANA figures"—that is Scientists Against Nuclear Arms—
where they were deemed by the inquiry to conflict with Home Office figures, reflected a high degree of bias towards the CND case, and lack of cogent argument or analysis. The report"—it was released on 3 March—must be regarded as strongly influenced by CND — type propaganda; it cannot be regarded as an objective, scientific document.When the Minister replies he had better make it clear that the Government dissociate themselves from that smear on the integrity of the BMA's document. I hope also that the Minister will address himself at greater length to the Home Office estimate of the likely number of casualties following a nuclear attack. The Home Office estimates, of course, are much lower than those of the BMA. The BMA conclusion was based to a large extent on evidence given by Scientists Against Nuclear Arms who were relying heavily on the American work that has been done.
The Home Office is currently reviewing its estimate of the likely number of casualties following nuclear attack. Last July, I asked the Minister, in a written question, whether he would meet the independent SANA experts who are scientists with a great deal of knowledge of these matters. The Home Office scientists should meet those scientists to see whether they can start to reach some understanding on the basis of the estimates which should be made in calculating the figures.
373 I hope that I shall receive a better answer from the Minister when he replies. In the written answer on 20 July, the Minister of State said:We shall consider this when the revised calculations on nuclear weapon effects are complete."—[Official Report, 20 July 1983; Vol. 46, c. 141.]A great deal has been said about the likely number of casualties and survivors following a nuclear attack. I should like to quote from a letter that I received from the Minister with responsibility for Home Affairs and the Environment at the Scottish Office. It said:Even if we did nothing to protect ourselves, both as a nation and as individuals, millions would survive any kind of nuclear attack which may realistically be envisaged, and would go on surviving.That approach is totally at variance with the objective conclusions of the BMA report. There is no meaningful defence against nuclear weapons. Those who deceive the British people into believing that there is are irresponsible and should be condemned by the House.
§ Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)
On the point of deception, does my hon. Friend believe that the debate is ludicrous because it has given people a false sense of security and credence to the evils of the Arms race which is the Government policy?
§ Mr. Strang
The overriding anxiety of Opposition Members is that the threat of nuclear war is increasing because of the dangerous escalation of nuclear weapons. The philosophy of imbuing the British public with the idea that somehow they might survive a nuclear war and to compare nuclear war with the conventional second world war is grotesque.
For someone to say that we are likely to get six months' warning of a nuclear attack is ridiculous. If the Minister believes that, it is no wonder that he believes in these civil defence regulations.
The Government's civil defence policy is fundamentally flawed and it is not surprising that so many professionals outside the Government machine who are supposed to be involved in that work have no belief in the Government's approach.
Let me give one or two examples. There is the Government's document "Protect and Survive". No Government publication has ever been subjected to as much justified ridicule as that one. The idea that people will survive by spending 48 hours under the table in the kitchen is ridiculous. The Government's approach to evacuation has been one of vacillation as to its desirability. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government will publish the Home Office internal report on evacuation.
The Government are pretending that somehow these civil defence measures do not have be be justified in terms of a nuclear attack but can be defended in terms of a conventional attack. Does anybody believe that if conventional war breaks out between NATO and the Warsaw pact this will not lead to nuclear war? Will that not be because NATO is prepared to use nuclear weapons first? Is it not the case that if there were any validity in these supposed civil defence measures, clearly, immediately war broke out, conventional or otherwise, the 374 Government would have to set about putting these civil defence measures into operation? Thus, we cannot draw a distinction between civil defence for nuclear or conventional attacks.
It is despicable for the Government, as a last ploy, to pretend to local authorities that the regulations should be supported because they are not only about nuclear or conventional war but about civil emergencies such as an aeroplane disaster. The Government know that that is not the issue, and they have brought that red herring forward only to undermine the support for those brave local authorities that have stood out against these measures and have sought to explain to their people that there is no defence against nuclear war and no way of surviving or winning a nuclear war. It is because the Labour party stands four square with these local authorities that we are opposed to the regulations, and that is why the House should reject them.
§ Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)
I am glad to have been called at this stage in the debate. I have listened with great interest to the speeches and in particular I wish to take up points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh).
I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) and I do not challenge the sincerity of his rhetoric. He fairly expressed the view that many other Labour Members are making. I am aware that the great divide between his point of view and ours is that in any event we believe that some measures of civil defence are better than no measures. However, we are not talking just about "some measures" but are insisting on a central plan for the immediate aftermath of the holocaust. Time and again, Labour Members challenge us with the charge of deceit. My counter-challenge is that they are guilty of the greater crime: irresponsibility.
I welcome the appearance of these regulations. I understand that as recently as March the House turned its attention to civil defence. I note from my reading of Hansard that on that occasion Labour Members chose to make no contribution to the debate. I note also in that debate many expressions of concern about the provisions of civil defence. It is because I share this concern that I particularly welcome these regulations.
The level of preparation and the general state of preparedness are now worse than they were 45 years ago. The potential threat to our towns, cities, villages and countryside is now much greater. That disparity is unacceptable to a responsible Government.
As so many speakers have said, there is a quite unacceptable inconsistency in the level of planning and provision provided by the many local district authorities.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.