HC Deb 17 May 1984 vol 60 cc496-8
7. Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to issue detailed guidance on the new civil defence functions.

Mr. Hurd

We are preparing a consolidated circular bringing together and updating all previous guidance, and adding new. This is a big task. We shall consult local authority associations on a draft in the summer and intend to issue the circular in the autumn.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

Does my right hon. Friend accept that that is a wholly unsatisfactory answer? Are not the Government being exceptionally dilatory on a matter about which there has been grave public concern for a long time? Will my right hon. Friend please tell his civil servants that the contents of the document must be enforced before the House rises for the summer, or he will let down all those who want to do civil defence voluntary work?

Mr. Hurd

The regulations in force are those that were passed by the House in December. The consolidated circular is intended to help local authorities to carry them out. We intend to proceed in an orderly but effective way. Local authorities should have no doubt— I think that they have no doubt—that we have both the will and the power to make the new regulations work.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister realise that many local authorities are sitting on the fence, waiting until the guidelines are issued?

Mr. Hurd

We shall send out a questionnaire to local authorities asking what progress they have made in implementing the regulations which Parliament passed. In the light of that, we shall consider what further action may be needed.

Mr. Neil Thorne

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the alarm and concern expressed by emergency planning officers, for whom he has frequently expressed admiration, at the announcement in the House on 4 May that responsibility for emergency planning in the GLC area is likely to be vested in the fire brigade committee when the GLC is devolved?

Mr. Hurd

I am glad that my hon. Friend has brought that up, because it gives me the opportunity to say that although the linking which he mentions seems to be a sensible solution to the problem in London, it certainly does not imply the downgrading of the importance of civil defence.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Is the Minister aware that many local authorities share my view that civil defence is largely irrelevant over huge areas of need? Is he further aware that that is why the local authorities are resisting the Government's proposals, and, what is more, that that is the view of the general public, who rightly feel resentful because money is being spent on building nuclear shelters to protect a few bureaucrats in areas such as Manchester, which would be totally destroyed in the event of a nuclear war?

Mr. Hurd

If the worst came to the worst, which we think is highly unlikely, effective civil defence could make all the difference to many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the effectiveness of civil defence depends very much upon information being available at local level? Is he aware that many emergency committees and county councils are ignorant of how to deal with a range of civil emergencies? Will he therefore disseminate regulations and plans from his Department down to local parish level?

Mr. Hurd

That is certainly our intention.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is not the Minister's failure to issue these guidelines six months after they were promised an admission both of the low priority that the Government accord to civil defence and an acknowledgement that such defence is a waste of time and money when far more serious and pressing problems confront local authorities and their citizens? In any event, how can local authorities plan properly for civil defence against nuclear war when the Government refuse to share with them their assumptions about the nature, scale, likely targets and potential consequences for any local authority area of such an attack?

Mr. Hurd

When we discussed the regulations, the deputy leader of the Labour party said that the Labour party supported civil defence in principle. We are always willing to listen to suggestions, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman, in his new and exalted position, will do his best to back up his deputy leader's statement, instead of rubbishing a programme that is humanitarian and responsible.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest moment.

8. Sir Antony Buck

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what non-police civil defence grant was paid to county councils in 1982–83; and what estimates he makes of grant payable in 1983–84 and 1984–85.

Mr. Hurd

The total civil defence grant payable to county councils in England and Wales in 1982–83 for non-police expenditure as submitted for audit was £5,127,460. The corresponding figure for 1983–84 based on provisional claims was £7.8 million in round terms. For 1984–85, county councils' preliminary estimates indicate a figure at 1984–85 cash prices of £6.86 million, but this will have to be adjusted as the year proceeds.

Sir Antony Buck

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is he satisfied that those sums are being used effectively? Does an analysis of the figures reveal which local authorities are fulfilling their obligations on civil defence?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. and learned Friend is right in his inference. That is one reason why we asked the House: to pass the new regulations and why we are strengthening the division in the Home Office that monitors performance.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Has the Minister seen the findings of the international conference in Washington on the effects of a nuclear war on the environment? Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the conference's predictions that there will be an environmental disaster of unparalleled magnitude—a climatic disaster? Is it not ludicrous to talk about giving grants to local councils when the world will be destroyed by any nuclear conflict? Is that not nonsense?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman knows that scientific discussion on that thesis is continuing and is not yet completed. The money which we are allocating and which local authorities are spending on civil defence could, if the deterrent were to break down—I repeat that we believe that that is highly unlikely — make all the difference between life and death to many hundreds of thousands of people.

Mr. Hunter

Will my right hon. Friend comment more generally and further on the response by, and reaction of, the county councils to the civil defence measures that were passed by the House last December?

Mr. Hurd

Not yet.. but I hope that we can do so later.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Will my right hon. Friend urgently consider ways of improving the status of and increasing the resources available to civil defence volunteers? That form of public service deserves and should command more widespread support. We are spending on civil defence only one tenth of 1 per cent. of the money that we spend on the major Departments. We should provide better encouragement to our civil defence volunteers.

Mr. Hurd

Volunteers are an essential part of civil defence. I am glad to say that there are now 35,000 of them. It is precisely to give them that encouragement, which my hon. Friend lightly advocates, that we put great emphasis in the new regulations on the need to bring together the training and exercising of volunteers.

Mr. Nellist

Is the Minister aware that the figure that he cited of £6.86 million in 1984–85 for civil defence amounts to 12p per man, woman and child per year spent on defence, whereas the Ministry of Defence spends £6 per man, woman and child per week on arms? Does that not show how little hope the Minister has of anyone surviving a war?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman has not followed either the question asked by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) or my answer, which related to a small part of the total of civil defence spending.

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