HC Deb 24 July 1986 vol 102 cc693-712

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Motion for the Adjournment in the name of the Prime Minister may be proceeded with, though opposed, until Eight o'clock in the morning.—[Mr. Durant.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

Dr. Blackburn

Local authorities and their staff have a vital role to play, and we have a responsibility to ensure that they are trained in these matters. However, that is not enough, because we have a vital role to play in making arrangements in the organisation, control and assistance of people who come forward as civil protection volunteers. We should have a positive policy of not only providing but designating centres for civil protection.

I would welcome the comments of the Minister of State who is to reply to this debate about the present position. That would be helpful to all hon. Members interested in this subject. I am sure that the entire House will salute the manner in which the Minister of State has undertaken his civil protection duties.

I also place on record my pleasure at the publication this month of a most excellent document entitled "The Planned Programme for the Implementation of Civil Defence, General and Local Authority Function Regulations 1983". I commend this publication to the House because it is saturated with common sense and excellent ideas. If those ideas were implemented it would be a tremendous step forward.

The programme that we wish to see would not come about unless adequate finance were made available. During my research into this subject I was pleased to note that the Government have supported such a programme. I understand that the present commitment to civil protection exceeds £1 million. In addition, some £12 million has been allocated to local authorities to implement these proposals.

I had the privilege to serve as a local councillor for 12 years before I was elected to this House and I am always cautious about local authorities being given grant aid, especially for something like civil protection. I am anxious to learn from the Minister of State that we are getting value for money from this £12 million investment, because I attach great importance to that.

The Government's case for civil protection is overwhelming. I am confident that if they present their arguments to the public boldly and with confidence they will get a wonderful response and that there will be considerable support from all reasonable and responsible people who are anxious to exercise their responsibility to society.

It is with pleasure that I tell the House that the finances are available. Having established beyond question the need for such protection, it would be valuable for the debate if we were to determine what dangers we face as a community for which these services are vital beyond words. One area which could cause concern is a major industrial accident. I speak with some feeling on this aspect because I have the honour to serve a constituency in the heart of the industrial west midlands. Industrial technology continues to probe the frontiers of knowledge. As elected Members of the House, we have a solemn responsibility to take positive action.

Industrial safety techniques often follow in the wake of a disaster. We must not allow that to happen. Far too often a disaster occurs and eventually a report is presented explaining the safety measures that could have been taken. I read too many reports on industrial accidents which are probably written by people with first class honours degrees in hindsight. Hindsight is not good enough when confronting an industrial accident. Within the last few weeks in my constituency a major explosion occurred at a factory.

Hon. Members serving their constituents are responsible for taking positive action. It would be irresponsible in the extreme not to take measures designed for the safety of us all. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) feels particularly strongly about this, and his contribution to the debate on the Civil Protection in Peacetime Bill was outstanding. We shall all remember it.

There is also the possibility of a major climatic disaster in which the service of civil protection would be of value. My detailed research of the records available has revealed to me that in the United Kingdom we are not free from major climatic disasters. Our essential services are highly vulnerable to snow, flood and storm damage. Only a few days of blizzard conditions are necessary to disrupt large parts of open country in the north, Wales and the southwest.

Some conclusive evidence was produced when Devon, to its advantage, discovered that the presence of trained and organised civil protection volunteers can be vital in saving lives and reducing suffering. That is the hallmark of a caring society. I seek to promote it through the medium of this debate which I have the privilege of introducing tonight.

Positive planning for disasters involving industry, climate and, dare I say, terrorism is essential. I remember the excellent service following the Birmingham bombings in 1974.

I must now clearly show that a risk exists to a significant part of the United Kingdom's population. Any government or local authority which fails to take adequate measures to protect its people fail in its responsibilities. This, I say with some conviction, I would condemn.

There are councillors, elected by the public, some of whom have perhaps fallen in their standards by the acceptance of one-sided propaganda, and they are failing in their duties. The Government must use their resources simply to ensure that the truth is equally presented.

It would be unfair beyond belief if I did not take a moment to pay a tribute to all the men and women who give their time, services, gifts and talents in support of civil protection in this country. They deserve the commendation of this House, and I salute them for their efforts.

We must not allow a disaster of the magnitude of Bhopal or a terrorist attack to bring home to the Government and the public the reality of the threat which, God forbid, could confront us as a nation. Action now, with the wisdom of experience, could save hundreds of lives and casualties and could reduce considerable suffering. It is my prayer that positive action will be taken, and I look to the Minister for a positive and enthusiastic response to this debate which I have had the honour of promoting. For that fact alone I have discharged my responsibility, because we must reveal the caring attitude that is part of the deep and well-proven philosophy of the party of which I am a member. I commend this debate to the House.

10.11 pm
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) has raised an interesting subject. I want to examine the term that has been used to describe the debate. He refers to civil protection, which I understand to mean protection of the civilian population.

The hon. Gentleman has raised the local authority aspects of civil protection. I want to raise the security services aspects, particularly the activities of MI5 in this area. It, too, would justify its existence on the basis that its function is to pursue policies of protecting the wider population from what it and the Government believe to be external and unreasonable influences.

Much of my case is based on the excesses of the security services, particularly the reported activities of Catherine Massiter. This matter has already been alluded to in a number of articles in the media—certainly last year—and I wish to comment on it, especially in relation to the whole question of protection of the civil population and civil rights.

Miss Massiter tells us that, from 1981 until December 1983, she had the task of conducting the service's investigation into Communist and other forms of so-called subversive influence and activity in the peace movement, including in particular the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. During this period she became concerned that the task that she as an intelligence officer had been called upon to perform, and the use to which the information that she had gathered was being put, were guided by considerations not solely related to the defence of the realm. She felt that the scale and nature of the investigations that were being undertaken into the peace movement, and into the CND in particular, were determined more by the latter's political importance than by the real security significance of subversive elements in it.

Miss Massiter now tells us that, in the gathering of information about movements, contacts and activities of persons classified as subversives, files have been opened on people who came to the attention of the service as subversive.

This information came to hand in a number of ways —for example, through a police report of a meeting of such an organisation, mention in a publication produced by such an organisation in a context which suggested that the person was a supporter, or through a mail or telephone intercept on a known subversive individual or organisation from which it appeared that that person was a supporter. Once a permanent file was opened, notification of that fact was normally sent to the special branch attached to the subject's local police authority. On occasion, but not invariably, the police may have been asked to make an investigation to clarify or supplement available information otherwise they would just he asked to report—

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder if you could clarify the matter? I thought that this debate was on civil protection — that is, protection of the civilian community from peace-time emergencies. The speech of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) appears to be related to the totally different subject of civil liberties. I therefore seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is any Member of the House now at liberty to raise matters to do with civil liberties at large or is the debate, as I understood it, to be kept within the narrower confines of civil protection against peace-time emergencies?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

As the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) is aware, the subjects are listed but we are on the Adjournment, as it were, so I am bound to allow a fairly wide debate. I am sure the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) will relate what he is saying to the subject that has been chosen for discussion.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

That is precisely correct. I commenced my speech by commenting on the nature of the short title of the debate. It provided me with the opportunity that I wanted to raise this matter. If the hon. Member for Dudley, West had wished to confine his debate more specifically, I am sure he would have lengthened his short title to ensure that people such as myself could not raise in this debate the matters which I intend to raise.

Unless the police had been asked to make an investigation they would only be asked to report to MI5 if the subject came to their attention. In the normal course of events, the opening of a file would not lead to active investigation of the subject. Information relating to the subject would be recorded on the file if it came to hand through the usual sources available to the service —police and agent reports, intercepts and publications.

The principal reason for assembling information was for the purpose of vetting for employment in Government service which involved regular access to classified information. From the files, the service would also prepare periodic reports, for example on CND, which would be circulated to interested Government Departments and police forces.

During the later 1960s and until the mid-1970s, CND was classified as subversive by virtue of being a Communist-dominated organisation — known members of the Communist party had a large measure of control over CND. In consequence, anyone joining CND was assumed to be a Communist sympathiser and a file would be opened recording them as such.

In the late 1970s it was recognised, within the service, that the leadership of CND was no longer dominated by members of the Communist party and it could no longer be reasonably regarded as subversive in the manner described. From then on it was regarded as a Communist-penetrated organisation. In consequence, MI5 studies should have been limited to those members who are also members of the Communist party or to other persons recognised as subversive. Although existing files were not to be destroyed, action would henceforth be taken on existing files only in respect of people who fell into one of those subversive categories in their own right.

Nevertheless, once CND began to grow in the late 1970s, MI5's study of it increased. Investigation of it virtually became Miss Massiter's whole task — indeed, that was the postion by the time she left the service. Miss Massiter found that, in order to do her job properly, she had to collect information on CND as a whole and be aware of what CND as an organisation was doing. The ostensible purpose for that was that she could analyse what were and were not the effects of subversive influence.

It was suggested to the service that CND had adopted policies which were also espoused by certain subversive organisations. That was itself evidence that the influence of subversives over CND was greater than the number of their members within the organisation might suggest. Miss Massiter's studies of CND and its members had to take account of arguments of this nature.

Similarly, it was felt within the service that officers were likely to be questioned about the true political affiliation of Mrs. Joan Ruddock, who became chair of CND in 1983. It was fully recognised by the service that she had no subversive affiliations and therefore should not be recorded under any of the usual subversive categories. In fact, she was recorded as a contact of a hostile intelligence service after giving an interview to a Soviet journalist based in London who was suspected of being a KGB intelligence officer.

In Joan Ruddock's file, MI5 recorded special branch references to her movements—usually public meetings—and kept press cuttings and the products of mail and telephone intercepts obtained through active investigation of other targets, such as the Communist party and John Cox. There were police reports recording her appearances at demonstrations or public meetings. There were references to her also in reports from agents working, for example, in the Communist party. These would also appear in her file.

Other individuals such as Monsignor Bruce Kent, CND general secretary, and Barbara Eggleston, national organiser of Christian CND, were already recorded as Communist sympathisers when CND was classified as a subversive organisation in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. MI5 continued to record information on its files. As time went on, MI5 perceived it as more than ever necessary that it should be able to answer precisely whatever questions were asked about CND and its subversive penetration.

One of the means used was the introduction of an agent, Mr. Harry Newton—this has already been made public—who found his way into CND's headquarters. He joined CND in 1982 and his first job for MI5 was to attend CND annual conferences. MI5 regarded it as important to know as soon as possible after a conference who the new people on the national council were so that it could make its usual breakdown of how many subversives were on it and pass the information along to the interested parties in Whitehall. Apart from providing a list of members of the national council, the agent would also give his impressions of people he had met at the conference and notes would be put on their files.

After the 1982 conference, Mr. Newton became a volunteer at CND headquarters. He carried out odd jobs such as addressing envelopes. He would provide MI5 with general information about the activities of CND headquarters and the people he met there. For instance, he had quite a strong opinion that Bruce Kent might be a crypto-Communist. That sort of information would have been noted in Bruce Kent's file, although MI5 had its doubts about its accuracy.

Mr. Newton also provided MI5 with copies of CND literature. On one occasion he provided a diagram of the layout of CND's offices. His brief was to report on the Communists and Trotskyites in CND. He knew very few of them personally, however, because most of them were much younger than he. Despite this, it was still thought valuable to have someone with access to CND headquarters. This was all in the name of civil protection by Britain's security services. They call it civil protection.

When the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) became Secretary of State for Defence—

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I fail to understand how the speech of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) relates to the subject that we are considering. I hope that you can guide me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman's remarks can possibly be within the terms of the Adjournment debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is the usual practice to keep to the subject that is listed. This is an Adjournment debate and, as long as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) relates his remarks to the subject of the debate, I cannot rule him to be out of order. He should, however, in fairness to the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn), who was fortunate in the ballot, come a bit closer to the subject that has been listed for debate.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I note closely what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am doing precisely that. I am making every effort to keep specifically to the short title, as it were, of the debate, which is civil protection. The hon. Member for Dudley, West approached the matter from the local authority position and I am dealing with it from the security service position, which I think is most relevant to the proceedings.

When the right hon. Member for Henley became Secretary of State for Defence in January 1983, the director-general of MI5 requested a lengthy briefing paper on CND as he, the director-general, anticipated that the Secretary of State would ask him questions about CND when he came to brief him. Such briefing of a new Minister on security matters relevant to his Department takes place as a matter of routine.

In March 1983, the right hon. Member for Henley established a special unit within the Ministry of Defence called the defence secretariat — DS19 — whose task was to combat CND propaganda on unilateral nuclear disarmament. Miss Massiter's branch director was approached by a senior official from DS19 who requested information about the subversive, political affiliations of leading members of CND, including members of the national council and people working for CND.

It was decided by the director-general or his deputy that MI5 could not give information from any secret or classified sources. Accordingly, Miss Massiter was instructed by her superiors to go through MI5 files and extract non-classified information from published sources on any extreme Left-wing affiliations of CND leaders. She prepared a report, which was passed to DS19.

The criteria used by successive Home Secretaries governing the interception of telephone communications are set out in the Birkett report of October 1957. I do not intend to go into that. I am sure that hon. Members who are interested in the matters will examine the report, which is in the Library.

In or about February 1983, Miss Massiter received a message via the branch director that the deputy director-general of MI5 was prepared to consider favourably an application for a telephone intercept on a member of the Communist party within CND. John Cox, a vice-president of CND, was selected, since he was well known as a member of the Communist party and had been involved in CND practically since its inception. Also, he lived in Wales and would need to be in frequent telephone contact with CND headquarters.

However, MI5 had absolutely no evidence, as required by the guidelines, that he was concerned in any criminal activity or that he was engaged in any major subversive or espionage activity that was likely to injure the national interest. On the contrary, nothing from MI5's coverage of the Communist party and its peace committee gave Miss Massiter and her colleagues grounds to suspect that they were manipulating CND.

Miss Massiter's application for a warrant to monitor Mr. Cox's telephone communications was made in April 1983. It simply stated that Mr. Cox was a long-term member of the Communist party, and prominent in CND, and that it was desired to investigate his activities to ascertain whether the Communist party was manipulating CND in a clandestine way.

In August 1983, the Home Secretary signed the warrant. It was renewed after one month and was still in force when Miss Massiter left in December 1983. Perhaps the Minister of State, Home Office, in his reply to this important matter of security services and responsibilities for civil protection, can say whether those warrants are still in force. Perhaps the Minister would care to check with the civil servants so that we may have a well-considered reply. I should prefer a reply tonight from the Dispatch Box rather than a letter.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)

I do not wish to prolong the hon. Gentleman's speech on that point. I assure him that I shall not be replying to the points that he has made.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

That shows those who observe our proceedings what importance the Government give to such matters. Perhaps that is why hon. Members such as myself must raise them in the House of Commons. Very little seems to be happening in this area. It is about time that we in Parliament drew the teeth on the question of MI5 activities. The public demand that some action be taken.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, South)

Surely the hon. Gentleman does not suggest that we should not have services that ensure the protection of citizens. The function of MI5 is to ensure that subversives do not spring surprises on us.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but with one proviso—within the law.

As I have said, the warrant was renewed after one month and was still in force when Miss Massiter left in December 1983. Pursuant to the warrant, an intercept was placed on Mr. Cox's telephone in about August 1983, and Miss Massiter saw the products of the intercept in the form of transcripts of recorded telephone conversations. As Mr. Cox lived in Wales, there was a fair amount of telephone communication between him and CND headquarters. He would routinely be in contact with the office and., for example, with Bruce Kent and Joan Ruddock. Accordingly, without intercepting their telephone communications, MI5 obtained a fair amount of information about their attitudes on a wide range of topics concerning CND.

MI5 obtained very little information about Mr. Cox that it did not already have, although it was perhaps a little more detailed. Miss Massiter's own assessment before the check would have been that he worked with CND because he was a committed CND member rather than because he wanted to further the interests of the Communist party. Of course, that was not the view expressed by those in the security services who take decisions in these matters and who wish to pursue people in the way that these people have been pursued.

Something is wrong. I have never doubted the need for a security service. We live in a democratic society and we all know that we have a duty to protect that society in every way and that we must use whatever mechanisms will ensure that—but always within the law. I have drawn the attention of the House to a series of incidents which do not fall within the law. MI5 has been involved in excesses. The other day I used parliamentary privilege to break an injunction in one case, which effectively I believe I have done. This case is one of probably many.

Miss Massiter broke ranks. Probably many people in the security services who see illegality every day want to speak but feel that they cannot do so. I put it to the House that we need far more control over these matters. I am no longer confident that the state is carrying out its responsibilities in the way that it should. Civil protection means protecting the civilian population. It does not mean provoking them by interfering with civil rights. That is wrong.

The Minister of State has two options. He can reply to the debate and assure me that all these matters will be looked into, although he refuses to reply in respect of one matter on which I requested a reply. Alternatively, he can say, "I intend to ignore what the hon. Gentleman says." If he does that, he will only create more suspicion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman takes the former option. If he takes the latter, people will know where he stands on the question of civil rights and the excesses of this organisation.

10.31 pm
Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) on coming first in the Consolidated Fund ballot and on his sensible and humanitarian attitude in choosing civil defence as his subject. Civil protection is a question which is particularly close to Conservative Members, and in this regard I am talking about the replacement for civil defence.

I listened with interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) on his concept of civil protection, which is rather different from that accepted by most of us. The CND's role is of some notoriety.

There is no doubt that it is the public's right and the Government's duty to provide proper civil protection. For the first time since 1945, the public have taken on board the importance of civil protection, especially arising out of the Chernobyl accident. Until then, a number of local authorities were able to bamboozle their electorates into believing that, by erecting notices declaring nuclear-free zones, they would somehow escape such a problem. Of course, the Chernobyl accident has clearly shown what rubbish that concept is.

The local authorities' campaign is not carried out on a shoestring. They go to vast expense to indulge their interest in "nuclear-free" attitudes. The Greater London council — lamented by some — spent over £250,000 on producing "London Under Attack", simply to delay the need to address itself to the civil defence and protection requirements of the London population.

I would like to congratulate the Government on taking a stand in relation to civil protection which is long overdue. Very little had been achieved until 1979 and that we have to thank a previous Government — I hardly need say Labour Government — who set about dismantling civil defence many years ago when they relied upon a policy of mutually assured destruction. They felt that because anyone was able to send nuclear weapons to any part of the world there was no need in future to provide any form of civil protection or civil defence for the population. Therefore, they set about desmantling this important aspect of local government.

The criminal irresponsibility we have had in recent years in the way in which local authorities have quite blatantly tried to push their obligations to one side has cost the Government a good deal of time and expense in trying to redress the balance. Of course, the balance has to be redressed, because if one part of the country conscientiously disharges its duty by providing adequate civil defence, that it is all very well. It costs the local ratepayers money. However, if the need to use it arises, what would happen to all the people living in areas where no provision had been made? Would they stay where they were or would they pack their bags and flood into the areas that had made provision demanding that they should be looked after? I think that the latter would be the case. They certainly would not stay at home and say, "We did not pay for this in days gone by so it would be wrong for us to take advantage of the preparations sensibly entered into by others". For that good reason the Government have to take the matter up and ensure that there is an even level of provision throughout the country. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West say this evening that the figure for investment now exceeds £100 million.

One of the first major milestones achieved by the Government was in 1983 with the civil defence regulations. A large measure of responsiblity was placed on local authorities. It was made absolutely clear what was required of them and why they were required to make preparations. The skeleton staff of officials that local authorities had carried forward over the previous 17 years desperately needed the boost that the Government gave in 1983 to show that their efforts were appreciated and that they were an integral part of the community.

The question of the adequacy of civil defence has been of particular interest to me over the past four years. Over those years I have had the honour to be the chairman of the National Council for Civil Defence. During that time we have had a list of 16 objectives. I am pleased to say that most of them have been achieved by the Government. I shall go through them.

We asked the Government to support openly and positively the case for civil defence. That was done in the manifesto for the previous election and gave rise to the support given to my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) in preparing and achieving the Civil Protection in Peacetime Act 1986.

We asked that more information be given to the public on the effects of nuclear and chemical weapons and protective measures, and that the code of secrecy be lifted from civil defence. Since then, no fewer than six sets of publications have been issued which is a major advance.

We asked for additional funding to be made available for civil defence. I have already said that the figure now exceeds £100 million a year, and I hope that it will rise further. We should compare our expenditure on civil defence with that on defence, on which £17,000 million a year is spent. I always remind colleagues that, when we ask our service men to fight on our behalf, we retain responsibility for their wives and families. If we are to provide adequately for their dependants we should take greater care of them than we have in the past. We must ensure that the type of facilities made available to service men to deal with problems likely to arise abroad should certainly he provided for their families. We cannot possibly expect them happily to fight on our behalf, if we do not look after their families who are left behind. That is an important issue which we should emphasise to those who believe that civil defence can make do with the funds at present made available.

We asked that local authorities be given a statutory duty to raise, organise and train civil defence volunteers at community level. That was provided for in the 1983 regulations. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will encourage expansion in that sphere. He will remember that in the past I have suggested that deputy lieutenants should be enrolled to that end. He knows, as I do, that there is no one like a volunteer to bring pressure on his elected representatives to take due note of what he is doing. It would be a major advance in the interests of civil protection if we were to encourage a considerable expansion in the recruitment of civil defence volunteers.

We asked that modern radiation monitoring equipment be made available for issue down to community level and for training civil defence worthies. Much improved equipment has recently been issued, and today at question time my hon. Friend the Minister promised to consider the possibility of making available to the public an easy comparison of the type of radiation doses from x-rays, aeroplane travel, the sun, living in a granite house, eating ordinary food, and from many other sources. That has been done effectively by the Japanese and I commend it to him. It can be illustrated extremely effectively in pictorial form to show exactly what levels of radiation are inclined to emanate from an accident of the Chernobyl type and how that compares with everyday life.

We asked that centralised guidance be given on training civil defence volunteers and the production of training materials. That is being prepared at the civil defence college at Easingwold.

We asked that planning assumptions be revised to take account of a substantially reduced warning time for the outbreak of hostilities. That has been reduced from three weeks to seven days.

We said that planning for peacetime emergencies should be included in local authority civil defence responsibilities and that the all-hazards rationale for civil defence should be accepted. The latter is a main platform of Government policy. We asked that the name of the Home Defence college be changed to Civil Defence college, and that was conceded. We said that civil defence resources should be concentrated on planning for survival at community level, a major start has been made in that area.

We asked for the wartime home defence executive to be re-established. We have not yet succeeded in persuading the Government to take action on that, but we remain hopeful. We asked for a comprehensive and effective shelter and evacuation policy to be adopted. Again, that is subject to a survey. We hope that, as a result of the survey, the Government will see the wisdom of and need for such a policy. We said that the Government should make advances in the propaganda war on civil defence by presenting their case better. Among other measures, we said that they should consider changing the name of civil defence to civil protection. That has been answered with a new, major programme which will begin in October. Of course, the term "civil protection" is moving towards general acceptance.

We said that it should be assumed that chemical weapons would be used against the United Kingdom and we contended that measures should be taken to protect the civil population. That has been conceded. We also asked that the international civil defence emblem, as approved in the Geneva convention, be adopted in the United Kingdom, and that has been accepted. We asked that the 100 per cent. grant, outside the rate support grant, be approved for local authority civil defence expenditure. That has been conceded for some items. We shall continue to press the Government for that concession, which is an essential ingredient in an effective, nationwide civil defence plan.

Therefore, we have some reason to be satisfied with our work during the past four years and with the positive response, not only from this Minister of State, but from his two predecessors. We are delighted with that response.

Several items remain outstanding, one of which is the introduction of a civil defence inspectorate. To have a proper and effective overall system, we must have an inspectorate that can say who measures up to the Government's requirements and who does not. Such a system is readily accepted in the Territorial Army, which used to be funded at local level but it is now funded nationally. The Territorial Army expects uniform standards and has its own inspectorate.

Whatever happens, this important subject must be taken seriously. The Government have taken some major steps along the right road. We shall press them to continue in that direction. In doing so, we hope to carry with us not only the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who supports the need for civil defence, but some Labour Members. One can have an effective system only if one has all-party support. I am sorry that civil protection is considered by some in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as an area in which they will take a less than humanitarian role. They are completely misguided, and I hope that they will see sense sooner rather than later.

10.49 pm
Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)

1, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) on introducing this subject for debate. The Government and their agents in the local authorities have a humanitarian duty to provide civil protection for their citizens.

It is significant that in the last few years we have seen a distinct change of attitude towards civil defence. It is also interesting to see the way in which in the past civil defence has been the target or focus for protests of the CND whereas nowadays it is seen in its all hazards approach as a way of dealing with problems that arise not just from nuclear threat but from other hazards that occur in the community. This has made it a matter of some public interest and generates more public confidence in the approach. In this way civil defence can in future be directed towards all hazards, thus depoliticising it from the party political line that is drawn round it.

I recognise that the threat is wider that we have hitherto accepted. It is sad that we have had to experience the disaster of Chernobyl to draw our attention to the need to make this provision.

It is a matter of great irresponsibility, I think, that certain local authorities have pretended to be able to declare themselves to be nuclear-free zones. In this way they seek to bamboozle those whom they exist to serve. In pretending that the threat does not exist, they hope that it will go away. However, I think that this has now been rumbled, and that in future there will be a more positive approach.

In this respect, one welcomes the approach on which my hon. Friend the Minister has given a lead. We need a positive approach to the threats and disasters facing the community and a way of presenting what is being done in a credible and positive fashion so that those who need to be protected can have faith in what is being done for them. This requires not only that there should be an inspectorate such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) but also a wider range of discussion and research into the whole question of the threat and how it might be avoided.

I believe that we are still technically unaware of the impact of NEMP, and the way in which electricity throughout Europe could be killed off at one throw and the consequent disaster. These are areas of technicality that need to be researched with a greater understanding of how to deal with the threat that will arise.

We should approach this matter from an all hazards aspect rather than limiting consideration merely to the threat of nuclear war. We should recognise also that in future the threat of terrorism may involve the use of such instruments of destruction as nuclear weaponry. We should accept too that climatic and other natural disasters may occur. It is part of the duty of a local authority to be concerned, and to take care of the citizens in its charge. In my view the all hazards approach has taken the question of civil protection away from the CND protest area. I hope that it will also be depoliticised so that all parties can come together in a common approach. I commend the Opposition to view this from an all party position rather than to focus on party political division. I trust that this approach will have the full confidence of all hon. Members.

10.53 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) on raising the important topic of civil protection.

I was rather saddened when I heard the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) reading from lengthy documents. I think that he tested us a little because there is no doubt that, when the subject was tabled for debate as civil protection, one did not expect to have that type of liberty taken. However, it was within the rules and, therefore, it was in order for him to do so. It is unfortunate, nevertheless, that he decided to do it in that way. Although the hon. Gentleman is not in his place, I hope that he will read my remarks and will note that I know Monsignor Bruce Kent extremely well, that I have debated with him on many occasions, that I have never doubted his integrity and that I am sure he has not doubted mine.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will agree that when people from the peace camps near our submarine bases take part in public debates and one finds that the spokesperson for the peace campers is not a Scot —indeed, is not even from the United Kingdom—one is bound to wonder what such people are doing here. I should be greatly concerned if we were not being properly protected by, for example, such individuals — who should have to explain what they are doing in that part of the United Kingdom, a country which allows such freedom — being examined in depth by the security services.

I do not doubt the integrity of local authorities which declare areas to be nuclear-free zones. If they oppose the presence of nuclear weapons, they are entitled to hold that view. But Scotland is the last place where such a view should be held.

Before the 1939–45 war, Clydebank council thought that Anderson shelters were not necessary because the council, being against war, said that it would not be involved in war. As we know, many of our citizens survived the blitz because of the protection provided by Anderson shelters. Because Clydebank was a major seaport area which received many of the American provisions which kept Britain going during the difficult early war years, it was blitzed and thousands of people lost their lives unnecessarily — unnecessarily because people in areas outside Clydebank with Anderson shelters survived.

Often well-intentioned, but in fact irresponsible, action must be seen for what it is. People in power who ignore threats that could make disaster a reality act irresponsibly. We must make adequate provision to respond to natural as well as man-originated disasters, and the latter include any type of threat that could result in a real problem for our people.

We in Scotland have a number of petrochemical complexes. On a ratio of risk, they are likely to present more of a problem than nuclear installations, first, because there are more of them, and, secondly, because the likelihood of a man-made error at one of them is greater.

Volunteers play a vital part in the rescue services. Most people are aware of the activities in Scotland of the mountain rescue teams. They are comprised of part-time volunteers co-ordinated by the emergency services—the police, fire and ambulance services. The lifeboats, of which we have a substantial number in Scotland, are manned by volunteers. There is no end of volunteer potential available, but it needs managing and co-ordinating, so providing people with the opportunity to serve the nation. There is no shortage of willingness. Civil protection embraces much more than protection against nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, adequate provision must be made to protect ourselves against such an attack.

That does not mean that we want to become involved in a nuclear war. I hope that I never have to witness such an event. But we must organise our defence, in just the same way as we organise our mountain rescue services and our lifeboat services. No real cost is involved, other than when the rescue services have to go into action; and plenty of people will do it for nothing. All they want is the opportunity to be trained and properly equipped and the necessary organisation to back them up. That calls for proper nerve centres and headquarters and adequate and effective communications. But that is now being attacked.

There are those who, for political reasons, suggest that this is a ghastly attempt to fight a war. That is nonsense. It provides sensible protection. I commend the Government for the action that they have taken so far. I know that they plan to do more, and I look forward to that. The Government will continue to have my support, and I hope that what has been said this evening will spur them on to do even more.

11.1 pm

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

In any approach to civil protection or civil defence it is important to distinguish between myth or propaganda on the one hand and reality on the other. Some of this evening's contributions have not made that distinction clear.

Underlying the Government's approach is the view that civil defence is an integral part of their defence strategy. That is where the Opposition part company with the Government. I distinguish clearly and firmly between protecting our population from peacetime accidents and disasters, some of which have been enumerated by Conservative Members, and civil defence that is intended —or which purports, according to the Government—to defend our population, should there be a nuclear war. The distinction between the two will form the main part of my speech.

It is a snare and a delusion to say to our people that a nuclear war can be survived. The belief that it might be possible to survive a nuclear war is a factor which could make people less keen to prevent nuclear war. It is a very dangerous myth. A large proportion of the population could not survive a nuclear war. Civil defence against a nuclear war is a delusion, because it would not work. However, it might lull people into a false sense of security.

Some years ago I was shown an advertisement for fallout shelters. I do not know in which publication the advertisement appeared, but it contained a series of questions and answers. The question was asked by the individual and the reply was given by the firm. The question was: Can I honestly survive a NBC war? I believe that "NBC" means a nuclear biological chemical war. The answer was: Yes — you can, given the correct advice and protection. The next question was: Can" the firm in question "do anything else for me? to which the firm replied "Yes". The firm in question are committed to a superb after sales service, including ancillary equipment. If that advertisement is a reflection of the Government's attitude to fall-out shelters and the possibility of nuclear war, we are a long way from giving our people sensible protection. Instead we are giving them the impression that they can be defended when that is not possible.

I also have a Home Office circular which says something about the information in it not being communicated directly or indirectly to the press or to any person who is not specifically authorised to receive it. It is some years out of date, so I am sure that that does not apply. Under the heading "Collapse of the Monetary Economy" it says — we should remember that it is intended as a briefing manual for wartime controllers: A large scale nuclear attack on this country would completely disrupt the banking system on which the whole monetary economy is based … It will be an essential part of the policy for national recovery to re-establish a new monetary system as soon as possible. This might take a year or more. Is that the basis of the Government's policy? I am sure that the present Minister is not responsible for that document, but does it represent the type of policy and protection that we are trying to provide, for such protection is a snare and a delusion? That is why several local authorities have developed nuclear-free zones. That is their way of saying that they will not connive in persuading people that they might be safe when they are not.

Dr. Blackburn

As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned a document which he suggests represents Government policy to protect the banking system in the event of a nuclear war, will he have the courtesy to tell the House where it came from and its date of issue?

Mr. Dubs

Yes. I said that it was issued some years ago. It came from the Home Office about 10 years ago. The hon. Gentleman is at liberty to have a look at it if he wants. I was talking about the type of thinking that underlies the approach that some Conservative Members have displayed tonight.

One of the difficulties about the Government's approach to defending the population in the event of a nuclear war is that we are never told of the assumptions on which they work. We are never told, for example, about likely targets and what areas must be protected. We are never told anything about the size of bombs and the scale of likely damage, all of which information is necessary if local authorities are to do anything in terms of the Government's policy.

Without some planning assumptions, it is hard to know how to develop a defence policy for a nuclear war. We have such assumptions regarding civil accidents. I emphatically support any action to protect the population against peacetime disasters. We must have a range of contingency arrangements. Some have been mentioned. Potential disasters included major oil spillages off coasts and accidents involving aircraft, trains and on motorways. There might be accidents where explosives are stored. There have been some dreadful chemical accidents. Bhopal was only one. People must be protected from them. Trains which carry nuclear waste go through our cities. A regular train service goes through my constituency from Balham and Clapham junction up to Sellafield. Only recently, anxiety was expressed in the press about the danger of a train carrying casks of nuclear waste having an accident in a tunnel. There is a possibility of accidents at nuclear power stations. Britain is not well protected. We have only to think of the confusion that overtook us following the fall-out from Chernobyl. We were told that water supply from rainfall might not be safe in some parts. Then we were told something about our milk supplies. Then, several weeks after the event, we were told about the dangers of eating lamb from certain areas.

If we are to have any protection for our people, one of the things that we should have is a decent monitoring system which should be made public so that our people know early on what is happening. If rumours overtake events, that gives rise to much greater fears.

The National Radiological Protection Board, in its bulletin in June, said that it had less cash year after year to provide the safety measures that are necessary. Of course we need adequate protection nationally—where the Government have fallen short of protecting our people in the case of nuclear fall-out from peacetime catastrophes in power stations in any country—and we need a system of monitoring that; and locally with a policy to provide adequate protection for other peacetime accidents.

That is where the main thrust of the debate should be, and that is where we demand more action from the Government. Despite their words about civil defence in wartime, the Government have not provided our people with adequate civil protection measures in times of peace.

11.10 pm
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I am grateful for the opportunity to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn), and I congratulate him on raising this topic, which I fully support. I also support the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) and those of my other hon. Friends.

However, in some ways, they have been a little kind to the Government, because, although I welcome the initiatives that have been taken, if I had more time I would speak passionately for a much more radical extension of our civil protection effort. Unfortunately, time does not permit me to do that, but I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister of State replies he will give a more positive commitment to the whole concept of civil protection, particularly with the new all-hazards approach which has been discussed this evening. We can do a lot more to encourage the concept of service among our people through this medium.

It is rather sad to see the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) adopting the usual approach of trying to rubbish the whole concept of civil protection or civil defence, by implying that in some way all this activity is a waste of time. That negative approach has occurred over and over again, promulgated by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and others, and has led to the confrontation between many local authorities and the Government over the issue.

It is particularly sad in my constituency where one district council is taking a positive attitude and is trying, with Government encouragement, to provide training for volunteers and for people who want to help to provide good civil protection measures, and, the other, Norwich city council, under its Left-wing leadership, has adopted the nonsensical approach of a nuclear-free zone, which has been spoken about over and over again this evening. Everyone knows that that is nonsense. To use the words of the hon. Gentleman, it is a snare and delusion. That is not the right approach. The right approach is that which has been put over tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West; and that is why I am pleased to support his remarks and those of my other hon. Friends.

11.13 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)

I join my hon. Friends in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) for introducing the debate and congratulating him not only on winning the ballot for the Consolidated Fund but on winning the first place in the ballot. That is an achievement which I would relish. I am very pleased that he was successful.

The discussion of civil protection is highly timely because, as all hon. Members will know—I see the hon. Member for Birmingham Erdington (Mr. Corbett) in his place and he will know particularly well—this has been a week in which the Government have announced a further move in the requirement to be placed on local authorities to implement the civil defence regulations of 1983. It is based upon the essential need for all those who have responsibility for civil defence to take it seriously.

I shall shortly return to the implementation programme, but first I should like to take up the challenge put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) to strengthen the claim for the all hazards approach. I unreservedly accept that challenge, recognising that during this year we passed a Bill, thanks to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), which will allow the civil defence grant that the Home Office administers to deal with the capital staff and training costs in relation to civil defence preparations also to be used for peacetime purposes. That is a dual approach and the right approach and is increasingly commending itself to local authorities.

In answer to a question this afternoon from the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mrs. Shields) I inadvertently said that 100 per cent. grant would be available for the construction of civil defence emergency headquarters. That is not the case, because that grant applies to communications equipment. I shall write to the hon. Lady to correct that. The grant for construction is 75 per cent. Grant at the rate of 100 per cent. is available for a wide range of items, and grant expenditure now is treble what it was when the Government came to office in 1979.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West said, expenditure generally on civil defence is now £100 million. Grants are important and, as I said in previous debates, we are still reviewing the prospect of increasing the 75 per cent. grant. My hon. Friend rightly stressed the importance of training and of getting value for money. With the grant aid that we have at our disposal, it is our intention to see that plans are properly drawn up within which the expenditure can be made. My hon. Friend was quite right to say that we must ensure that grant aid is correctly spent.

Part of the programme that we introduced this week will provide for a rolling targeted programme agreed between local authorities and the Home Office. That will ensure that not only are the plans correctly laid, but that they are implemented by a given date. By 1 April 1987, there should be clear specification of objectives and organisation; by 1 October 1987 resources and implementation details of plans for collection and distribution of information on the results of attack should be ready; the target date for resources and implementation details of plans for accommodation and the prevention of disease and matters of that character is 1 April 1988; by 1 October 1988, resources and implementation details of plans for rescue should be ready; and 1 April 1989 is the target date for resources and implementation details and plans for shelter and other essential services.

I give those examples to the House to dramatise the fact that we intend to see that those plans and target dates are met. In order to earn the civil defence grant, local civil defence authorities and joint civil defence authorities will have to lay plans in that degree of detail.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) chided me for the paucity of planning assumptions. I say to him that, first, the original planning assumptions are being updated and in the documentation issued this week he will find a further resume on planning assumptions for the guidance of local authorities. Second, it is impossible to deploy in logical argument every eventuality which a local authority might come across. We are suggesting that local authorities should make preparations not just for the nuclear option that he seems to favour as the most likely thing, but for the range of disasters, military and civil, that could occur.

The conventional risk is infinitely greater now than the nuclear risk and after 40 years of peace and a committed NATO Alliance based upon our nuclear deterrent, there is little doubt that the risk of a nuclear option has substantially receded under this Government. Long may that remain the case.

My hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) and for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) spoke about a nuclear-free zone. Surely a nuclear-free zone is the tattiest argument in the Opposition repertoire. It is not only irresponsible but illogical to believe that somehow or other a wish to deploy a protection argument which says, "Do not touch us, we are free," is a sufficient insurance policy with which to protect their citizens.

If the Opposition were logical, every nuclear-free authority would have to deploy arguments against nuclear energy, which is of great importance to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) because the Sellafield plant is in Cumbria. Between 17 per cent. and 19 per cent. of our energy is generated from that source. We might also have to consider shutting the radiography departments in hospitals to avoid the use of the most concentrated and professionally handled form of nuclear device—X-rays.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South asked about volunteers. That will be part of the planned implementation programme which we announced this week. The public information campaign based upon a new film and new written material which will be available in the autumn will deal with civil protection. That is why I welcomed the choice of this topic by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West. This will be the platform and persuasion within which we shall work.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) said, many questions have still to be researched. The electro-magnetic pulse is one such matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North referred to major industrial problems and the complexes which could create a hazard. Emergency planning officers must have that problem within their competence. Already, adequate provision is made under the Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards Regulations to deal with industrial consequences. I can assure hon. Members that the new implementation plans will apply to Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be making similar provision for Scotland's civil defence authorities.

The intentions that we have announced this week are the second phase in forcing local authorities, somewhat reluctantly, to operate the 1983 regulations. The assessment made at the beginning of this year in response to the questionnaires was that the majority of local civil defence authorities have provided some returns —although three have not. However, the majority of returns were not adequate in planning for this vital public service. So we think it right not only to update and refine objectives for local authorities, but to set a targeting programme. We shall do that through consultation and by regular inspection, checking each civil defence authority's progress each year against the targeted dates which I have disclosed. We shall not hesitate to whithold civil defence grant from those authorities which fail to keep pace with the implementation programme.

Three authorities failed to produce any plans in relation to the civil defence regulations—Avon, Mid-Glamorgan and South Glamorgan—and they are in danger of their grant being held back this year. No final decison has been taken, but it is possible that Avon risks the loss of £38,900 in grant; Mid-Glamorgan £31,700 and South Glamorgan £45,500. Those local authorities face penalties for failing to carry out their duties in relation to the civil defence programme.

We regard civil protection as a humanitarian response to what could be a disaster within a community. It could be on a small or large scale. It could be of military origination or of civil or industrial origination. It is clear that, post-Chernobyl, authorities should take seriously the need to protect their citizens. I can conceive of nothing more important than to ensure civil protection in emergency. For that reason, the Government are determined not only to put civil protection firmly on the map but to ensure that regulations are implemented according to a time scale and to a quality which will lift the standard of protection throughout the land.

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