HC Deb 24 July 1986 vol 102 cc584-6
8. Mr. Rathbone

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he proposes to take to ensure that local authorities implement their all hazards responsibilities in relation to civil protection.

10. Mr. Leigh

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to bring to the attention of local authorities the all hazards aspect of civil protection.

Mr. Giles Shaw

As I announced on 22 July in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki), new guidance on the preparation of plans and on the all hazards approach has been sent to local authority associations with our proposals for a planned programme for implementation of the 1983 civil defence regulations.

Mr. Rathbone

I welcomed my hon. Friend's answer on that day. It is indicative of the humanitarian desire and social obligations of national Government and most local governments to meet those ends. However, could he reassure the House that at borough council, district council and town council level those plans will be carried through?

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend will be aware that the prime responsibility rests with those authorities which carry civil defence responsibility, mainly the county councils, but also the joint boards for fire and civil defence. I can assure him that it will be a requirement upon the counties that the plans they produce to conform with the 1983 regulations must show that they have a countywide network of communications and monitoring. That will include districts as well.

Mr. Leigh

Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever one's views on the desirability or otherwise of the possession of nuclear weapons, any country must have plans for adequate protection for the civil population against disaster, whether natural or man-made, native or imported? In that respect, opposition to civil defence on narrow unilateralist grounds puts at risk the wider concept of civil protection against all hazards.

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend is correct. Civil defence is a form of humanitarian protection for the civil population and it is essential that local authorities should realise that that is what they are denying their electorate in many cases. The widespread response we had on the review undertaken last year shows that many local authorities have failed to provide adequate plans for protection. We are determined to correct that.

Mr. Evans

Will the Minister confirm that he is aware that on Saturday 28 June an oleum tank at a chemical company in St. Helens split and released a cloud of sulphur trioxide over St. Helens and the police had to put into effect Operation Cloudburst? Is he aware that the local authority had no input into Operation Cloudburst? Does that not make nonsense of the statement he made the other day?

Mr. Shaw

If the local authority had an effective civil protection system under its emergency planning officers, there would be consultation between the police and the civil protection authority on that matter. As for Operation Cloudburst, it was quick action by the police that prevented any real disturbance as a result of that incident.

Mr. Skinner

How on earth can the Minister argue that local authorities can provide civil protection in case of a nuclear attack when, only a few months ago, as a result of one nuclear reactor going up in Chernobyl, there was enormous emission of radioactivity affecting not only this country but the Western world, and resulting in hysteria, not only on the continent, but in Britain? In view of that hysteria and the hundred times greater damage that could result from a nuclear attack, how can civil protection be provided?

Mr. Shaw

I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman had now totally destroyed the concept of a nuclear-free zone. It is absurd to think that any local authority or population can protect itself against the possibility of radiation unless it has a fully worked out plan for civil protection.

Mr. John Browne

Will my hon. Friend accept that the county of Hampshire has a greatly increasing population and, therefore, a greatly increasing civil defence problem? Will he further accept that the chief constable and the chairman of the police council, Councillor Michael Boyle, are extremely prudent men? Is he aware that both those men are applying for a significant increase in the establishment of the police in Hampshire, which does not seem to be coming through his Department? Will he look into that question urgently and meet the legitimate demands of those police authorities?

Mr. Shaw

I am well aware of the application, which was originally for 33 posts and now is for 28 posts for Hampshire. It will be given urgent consideration in the light of my right hon. Friend's decision to ensure that all police authorities should have any proposed increases analysed for proven need. We hope to arrive at a decision shortly.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Bearing in mind that civil defence in respect of hostile attack is subject to statutory control, does the Minister agree that it would be much better to put the all hazards approach on a statutory basis? Does he further agree that we shall never have an even-handed approach to civil defence unless we have statutory control on an all hazards basis and requirements laid down by central Government?

Mr. Shaw

The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that we have made some progress with the small amending Bill to the Civil Defence Act 1948 which was piloted through the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminister (Sir N. Bonsor). In addition, the 1983 regulations are statutory. If the plans which we now require are brought under those regulations, they will have all the statutory force required to provide the civil protection cover that the hon. and learned Gentleman seeks.