HC Deb 20 December 1984 vol 70 cc534-5
2. Mr. Gerald Bowden

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he considers that potential peace time major disasters require emergency plans for limited evacuation and relocation of population.

4. Mr. Greg Knight

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will seek to require local authorities to-include integrated evacuation, relocation and shelter plans in their emergency plans.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Leon Brittan)

Many types of potential peacetime emergency will require that plans are made for the population to be evacuated from the vicinity of the incident and accommodated temporarily elsewhere. The preparation of such plans is a matter for local authorities, advised as appropriate by the Government. Local authorities are already required by regulations made in 1983 to prepare plans to protect the public from the effects of a nuclear attack.

Mr. Bowden

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that a number of local authorities have already made voluntary evacuation plans? In those circumstances would he consider giving some force to guidelines to encourage other local authorities to follow suit as quickly as possible?

Mr. Brittan

I am aware that some local authorities have made plans. I dare say that in doing so they have been assisted by the guidance given in the 1975 circular and I hope that other local authorities will find that circular of continuing value in making their plans, which are certainly worth doing.

Mr. Knight

Does my right hon and learned Friend agree that not only is there a case for issuing general guidelines, but that some monitoring should take place to ensure that those guidelines are acted upon? Will he give the House an assurance that should any local authority decline to carry out its duties in respect of emergency planning he will take the appropriate action?

Mr. Brittan

I think that we are talking about two different things — civil emergency plans and plans in respect of armed conflict and nuclear attack. With regard to the civil plans, compliance with the voluntary guidelines to which I have referred has been good, and I do not see the need for further powers, although the House will know that regulations implementing the European Community's Seveso directive were laid on 18 December and come into effect on 8 January 1985. With regard to the plans dealing with nuclear attack and other armed conflict, my hon. Friend the Minister of State has explained the position regarding local authorities' cooperation.

Mr. Pawsey

Clearly it might be difficult to have evacuation plans for the entire population, the size of the island being somewhat limited. Can my right hon. and learned Friend therefore say what plans he has for persuading local authorities to identify structures and buildings in their areas which might be used as refuges in an emergency?

Mr. Brittan

As my hon. Friend may know, we are preparing, in consultation with local authority associations, technical guidance for local authorities on how they can conduct a survey to identify existing accommodation that is suitable as a shelter. I think that that is the most useful guidance that we can give. It will be as straightforward as possible and designed to minimise the resources required.

Mr. Skinner

What good are guidelines to local authorities which have been financially crippled by the Government?

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Gentleman obviously does not appreciate that there is no local authority which is not able to comply with the civil defence requirements, because the financial regime amply permits that to happen.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend about peacetime disasters? Can he tell the House whether the existence of evacuation plans is a condition precedent to the granting of planning permission when there is an application in respect of factories that carry out dangerous processes? If there is no such requirement, can he say whether he will consider talking to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment with a view to making such a condition necessary?

Mr. Brittan

In the case of hazardous chemicals there is a requirement of notification to local authorities of the details of the chemicals concerned. I think that my hon. Friend's point is covered in that way.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will the Home Secretary accept that it is far more important to develop plans for dealing with peacetime emergencies and disasters than to fritter money away on futile, misleading and unnecessary civil defence? Is it not a scandal that Government grants are available for the latter and not for the former?

Mr. Brittan

No, I do not accept that it is possible to make that distinction, although I hope that the hon. Gentleman's remarks indicate that he will support the amendments that we propose to introduce to the Civil Defence Act, which will add flexibility to the expenditure of civil defence grant-aid. However, it does not follow that because it is necessary to prepare for civil contingencies it is not equally important to prepare for nuclear or conventional attack, knowing, as we do and as my hon. Friend has pointed out so clearly, that proper preparation could save lives. We all have a duty to do that.