HL Deb 06 December 1948 vol 159 cc790-816

4.44 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill that we are now to consider for its Second Reading is the fourth of its line. The first was enacted in 1937 and was concerned purely and simply with air raid precautions; it called upon the local authorities to prepare plans for submission to the Government for approval in connection with any danger that might arise. Unfortunately, conditions in 1939 were such that the Government could not wait any longer for the replies to be received, and in that Session there was introduced a further Bill. That Bill conferred upon local authorities additional specific functions regarding the provision of public and domestic shelters, placed responsibility upon public utility undertakers to take measures to ensure the due functioning of their undertakings in time of war, required such undertakers, and industrial and commercial employers, to provide shelters and train employees in A.R.P.; further, it called upon public utility societies and the like to obscure their lights in order to avoid danger arising from raids. Noble Lords will not wish to be reminded of our experiences under those Acts of Parliament during the war period. They will, I feel sure, appreciate the extent to which we were involved, in all parts of the country, in carrying through the duties placed upon us. The third measure came in 1945—a Bill enacted for the purpose not of repealing the provisions of the previous two Acts but of suspending them, and making the necessary provision for bringing them into force once more in case of emergency.

The present Bill goes considerably further than the two Acts under which we worked during the war period. In the first place, it may be said to be an enabling measure, giving authority to Ministers to make the utmost preparations possible to safeguard the people of our country from attack, in so far as civil defence can do it. But it also makes provisions of a preparatory character which are of some importance and which noble Lords will see set out in full in Clause 1. They provide for:

  1. "(a) the organisation, formation, maintenance, equipment and training of civil defence forces and services;
  2. (b) the organisation, equipment and training for civil defence purposes of police forces, fire brigades, and employees of local or police authorities employed primarily for purposes other than civil defence purposes;
  3. (c) the instruction of members of the public in civil defence and their equipment for the purposes of civil defence;
  4. (d) the provision, storage and maintenance of commodities and things required for civil defence; and
  5. (e) the provision, construction, maintenance or alteration of premises, structures or excavations required for civil defence, and the doing of any other work required for civil defence."
Even when the proposals are set out in that way, it will be appreciated at once that they are only part of the work that has to be undertaken. There is no mention of transport under the new war conditions. There is no question of communications coming under the responsibility of the Postmaster-General. There is nothing about hospitals or evacuation, or the provision of building, and a host of other matters. So that this measure, whilst it provides great work for the community to face in preparation, will cover, in the powers it gives to Ministers, many of those things which I have mentioned but which have not in so many words been put into the measure itself.

The second subsection of Clause 1 gave rise to considerable discussion in another place, particularly when it was taken in conjunction with the second subsection of Clause 9. The Government were of opinion that preparations of this character would be so all-embracing in a period of war that practically every Ministry would be called upon to perform some function in connection therewith. They therefore provided that there should be designated Ministers, and that these designated Ministers should work as a Joint Committee as occasion required. Those of your Lordships who followed the debates in another place, will remember the keen criticism that arose on this particular point. The Government have met the criticism, the Bill has been amended, and it comes before your Lordships in its amended form. The designated Ministers will, in all probability, be the Home Secretary and such other Ministers as will be designated by particular Orders in Council, in which their duties will be very clearly shown.

Perhaps it may help your Lordships if I quote briefly from the final speech of Mr. Peake, on behalf of the Opposition, because I think that he has stated very clearly what the Amendments amounted to, and the kind of satisfaction which was given to him and to the Opposition in general. He said: By leave of the House, I should like to say that I am very much obliged to the right honourable gentleman. I think that his proposal to delete from the subsection the words 'or such Ministers acting jointly' goes a very long way to meet the objections from this side of the House. It will mean that, although different Ministers may be designated, the functions of each designated Minister will be clearly laid down in the Order in Council, and that the whole House and the public will know what is the sphere of his responsibilities. That seems to us to mark a great advance from the provisions originally in the Bill, and I thank the right honourable gentleman for the concession.


May I ask the noble Lord a question at this point? I trust that I shall not be inconveniencing him. I understood him to say that these Ministers would form a Committee. I am seeking only for information, but I should like to know whether that is to be found in the Bill.


Not now. If the noble Viscount had caught correctly the words which I read, in the course of that quotation, he would realise that there has been deleted from the Bill the words: "or such Ministers acting jointly." I was reading that passage as it expressed the gratitude of the Front Bench Members of the Opposition for the change that had been made. But the Minister thought that on the whole, whilst accepting the Amendment, it was right to make clear that there would be occasion in the new circumstances for Ministers to consult. He said: It must be understood, of course, that there will be occasions on which the Ministers will have to consider matters jointly. For instance, on the Committee stage, I gave the example of evacuation in which the Ministers of Health, Education and Transport are certainly involved. In fact, as one who went to the Board of Education—as it then was—just at the time when the second evacuation was taking place, I am quite sure that better arrangements would have been made had the Board of Education in those days been more closely associated with the evacuation scheme. So, in the view of the Secretary of State, although the Amendment has been accepted and will be operated, and although there will be no Joint Committee as previously arranged, there will be need for consultation, there will be need for co-operation, and, on occasion, perhaps, there may be need for joint action.

Clause 2 deals with the position of the local government authorities. This clause is framed so as to empower designated Ministers to prescribe by regulations the functions to be exercised by local and police authorities for the purposes indicated in Clause 1. It is intended that a local static force shall be recruited, trained and equipped by local authorities, and such authorities will be clothed with the necessary powers by conferring suitable functions on them by regulations made under Clause 2 (1). Local authorities will also be empowered, by regulations, to train and equip for purposes of civil defence members of existing forces and services—that is to say, police, fire, medical and health services—whose peace-time functions would have to be enlarged in war time to cover civil defence activities. Where expedient, functions can be made partly the responsibility of a Minister under Clause 1, and partly the responsibility of local authorities or police authorities, under Clause 2 (1). For example, in the field of advice and instruction to the public, action could be taken either in respect of the country as a whole, by a central Department under Clause 1 (1) (c), or as regards a particular locality by the appropriate local authority, by virtue of regulations under Clause 2 (1). Clause 1 (1) (d) will enable central Departments to obtain and house under their own control reserves of materials, plant and equipment, whilst, under powers conferred on them by regulations, local authorities will be able themselves to set up stores of such articles as may be deemed suitable for local custody and storage.

Under paragraph (a), of subsection (2), local authorities and police authorities may be placed under an obligation to discharge their functions in accordance with any directions that may be given them by the designated Minister. Under paragraph (b), local authorities and police authorities can be empowered to set up committees—that is to say, emergency committees or civil defence co-ordinating committees—to which, as agents, could be delegated civil defence functions enjoyed by the delegating authorities. This would, for example, make possible the appointment of a joint committee for civil defence purposes of a local authority—that is, a county council—and a police authority—that is, a standing joint committee. The primary purpose of paragraph (d) is to give power to deal with cases where it may be necessary to construct a shelter or a civil defence building, or otherwise to develop land in a manner which would be out of accord with the requirements of the law as to town planning.

For example, it is contemplated that the bases of local mobile services would be situated on the fringes of target areas, and a situation might arise in which civil defence operational considerations would necessitate the provision of something in the nature of a barracks for a mobile column in an area designated as a green belt. In practice, of course, every effort would be made to meet the requirements of local planning authorities, but it is to be anticipated that in some instances it would prove impossible to reach complete agreement. It is therefore essential to be armed with a power which, in the extreme case, could be used to override town planning requirements. The associations of local authorities will be brought fully into consultation before regulations are made under this and other clauses of the Bill. By Clause 8 (3), all regulations will require to be approved by affirmative Resolution in both Houses.

The third clause deals with finance. Under the Act of 1937 there was a percentage formula in operation, but the grants from the Government to the local authorities averaged about 75 per cent. During the war, certain items of expenditure were fully reimbursed to the local authorities—for example, those items covering costs of full-time workers and of shelters. But the regulations now contemplated will divide expenditure into two categories, expenses in the one being wholly reimbursable and in the other attracting grants of not more than 75 per cent. The following principles, agreed with the Treasury, have been accepted by the associations of local authorities, and it is proposed to adopt them as a basis for detailed regulations to be settled in consultation with these associations.

Any expenditure on major capital works required at the direction of the appropriate Minister for the Government's general plan of civil defence would be reimbursed. This would include, for example, the cost of any air raid shelter programme. It is intended also to include the cost of any major equipment or appliances the provision of which in peace is authorised by the appropriate Minister as a reserve against the event of war. If convenient, such equipment would be provided centrally; and, if not, the cost would be reimbursed. Minor equipment would qualify for reimbursement if it was a type which could not be turned over gradually in peace time. Other expenditure in peace time, whether on an existing or a new service, which is specifically incurred for civil defence purposes, with the prior approval of the appropriate Minister, would be reimbursed or grant-aided according to the principles applied in the later stages of the 1939–45 war to comparable expenditure by local authorities, subject to appropriate provision as to the categories of administrative costs which would attract Exchequer assistance.

The rate of Exchequer grant in respect of grant-aided expenditure would be fixed at a uniform figure for all areas for all purposes. Clause 3 specifies a rate of not more than three quarters of the expenses, and a standard rate of 75 per cent. would be adopted. Full reimbursement, in the one category, and payment of the standard rate of 75per cent., in the other, would be subject to the efficient discharge of their functions by the local authority. There are to be special provisions for water undertakings and the like, which are at present entitled to grants and compensation under the Act of 1939, an Act that could not operate unless it were brought into force once more. It is proposed to take these undertakings out of their old categories and bring them under this measure, so that if these undertakings have done any work in readiness for any emergency that might arise, that work will rank for compensation.

I do not propose to deal with all the clauses of the Bill, because that would take up too much time. I want to deal now only with Clause 6. This clause took up a great deal of time in another place, because it was doubted whether the first proposals of the Government would meet with the response required. The clause was considerably amended. Under the clause as it now stands: The designated Minister may by regulations— bring again into force any provision of the Civil Defence Acts, 1937 and 1939, … and, in particular, … any provision of those Acts relating to factories, mines, commercial buildings or public utility undertakings, the operation of which was suspended as aforesaid: direct that any provisions of those Acts which was spent before the passing of the Civil Defence (Suspension of Powers) Act, 1945, and, in particular, … any provision of those Acts relating to notices to be given and grants to be made in the case of factories, mines, commercial buildings or public utility undertakings which was spent as aforesaid, shall again come into force; make, in any of the provisions … any such amendments as appear to him to be required owing to the passage of time or to be necessary or expedient to adapt them to any changes which have occurred since the passing of the said Acts … including, in particular, any actual or apprehended developments in the forms of warfare; repeal any of the provisions of the said Acts and, if it appears to him necessary or expedient so to do having regard to any such changes as aforesaid, substitute any comparable provision for any provision so repealed. Perhaps I may be permitted to quote Mr. Peake again in respect of the Amendments which the Government accepted on this clause, as an indication that the clause is now drafted in such a way as to be acceptable, I hope, to both sides. Mr. Peake said: This is a matter upon which consultation did of course take place on the suggestion of the Home Secretary. My right honourable friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) and myself have given very careful consideration to the terms of these Amendments and, as no one can foresee precisely the forms of attack from which we may have to defend ourselves in the future, we think these words are as fair as any which the right honourable Gentleman could reasonably give in limiting the powers which he will take for Civil Defence in the future. I hope my honourable friends behind me will be satisfied that these matters have been very carefully considered and, so far as we can be satisfied, we are satisfied about the position. Finally, it has been urged that the Government ought to make a fuller statement of what they intend to do after this Bill is passed. It is not possible to go beyond what the Home Secretary stated on the Second Reading. Before action can be taken there will have to be a good many discussions with authorities concerned, especially local authority associations, organisations of employers and the T.U.C. Discussions with the local authority associations have been carried a good way, but there remain some points for discussion, and the Home Secretary has promised that they will be consulted further before decisions are taken. Discussions with the employers and the T.U.C. have not yet been started. I think that that is all I need say about the Bill to-day. Your Lordships will note that the debate is to be wound up by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, and if there is anything that I have missed, or any points that your Lordships wish to raise, I am sure he will be pleased to reply to them. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a,—(Lord Shepherd.)

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what has been said by the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill, but I would suggest that there are many matters in it which are still shrouded in mystery and require further explanation. I think it is true to say that this Bill is nothing more than a skeleton, and I am not sure that some of the bones on the skeleton are even in the right place. We, of course, welcome the Bill as being better than nothing, but it does not set out a civil defence plan at all. It is really nothing more than a machinery Bill—and this after two years of discussions, Committees and debates in both Houses on this very important matter. The Bill is nothing less than legislation by decree of the widest possible character. It is true that the regulations are to be subject to affirmative Resolutions, but it should be remembered that such Resolutions cannot be amended; they must be either accepted or rejected. I suggest that it would be far better if these regulations were laid in draft form. I would also like to suggest to your Lordships that before such enormous powers are granted to them as are set out in Clause 6, His Majesty's Government should be called upon to provide far more information concerning their intentions than is set out in this Bill.

I am sure your Lordships are glad to see that an Amendment was accepted by His Majesty's Government (it has already been mentioned by the noble Lord who introduced this Bill), whereby one Minister is now to be a designated Minister and, after consultation with other Ministers, will have overall responsibility. I hope I am right in thinking that this is the correct interpretation of the redraft of the Bill, as it was amended in another place. If it is, it is undoubtedly a great improvement, and I am sure it will be welcomed on all sides. We are also glad to see that any question of fines for non-attendance for voluntary service has now been removed from the Bill. I cannot quite follow the chain of command under the Bill as at present drawn. Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount who is to reply will be able to elucidate that point a little further. Arising out of this matter, I should like to ask whether the Civil Defence Planning Organisation are represented on the Chiefs of Staff Committee. I suggest that this is a vital matter and of the utmost importance for proper co-ordination.

Another point is that no decision appears to have been taken as to what categories of men are to be exempt from service in the Armed Forces. I would suggest that until this decision has been made it will be impossible to arrive at the man-power figure for civil defence. We still do not know what is the shelter policy of His Majesty's Government, and what advice, if any, has been given to local authorities and industry generally. Of course we do not want to turn the nation into a troglodyte community, and waste our resources on building enormous shelters. On the other hand, I think there is a great deal that could be done, as regards shelter organisation and advice, without undue expense.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention for a few minutes to Clause 9 of the Bill, the Interpretation Clause. This clause lays down that the term "civil defence" includes: … any measures not amounting to actual combat … No doubt there must be some dividing line, but what is to happen when a locality is attacked by airborne troops? I can well imagine an unfortunate member of the Civil Defence Corps being confronted with the difficult position as to whether he is acting in accordance with his standing orders if he defends himself and his family. I would suggest that one of the greatest dangers to this country is the sudden flooding of the country with airborne troops in the early stages of a war. I hope we shall not be again met with the argument that plans could not be set out in the Bill because not enough is known about the next war to prepare them. A very great deal is already known, and I think it will be very much better that, so far as possible, the people should be told what to expect from the new weapons of war, and that plans should be prepared accordingly.

I should again like to put forward the plea which I raised during the Civil Defence debate in June of this year—namely, that with the consent of His Majesty, the Civil Defence organisation should be known as the Royal Civil Defence Corps. I am convinced that such an honour would have a very great effect on recruiting for the organisation, and would give the Corps a status in the country commensurate with its importance. I need hardly remind your Lordships of the excellent precedent which we had in the last war with the Royal Observer Corps, which did such excellent work. I cannot help feeling that this Bill will produce little enthusiasm in the country for civil defence. On the other hand, if a real plan had been set out in the Bill, I have little doubt that there would be a ready response from the people. The people are waiting to be told the facts, but all they are to be given is a skeleton structure. In the last war there was plenty of time to build up an organisation before it became actively necessary, but I suggest that it is very unlikely that such time will be available in the event of a future war. I hope that His Majesty's Government have a real plan in mind for civil defence, that steps will be taken to make it known to the public, and that the structure will be built up as soon as possible.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to go over the same ground that my noble friend Lord Teynham has covered so clearly. I want, if I may, to turn my attention to two particular points. The first is: What is the strategic conception behind this Bill? We know very well that it is largely an enabling Bill, and that it is only a framework; but, even so, one would have thought that there must be some strategic conception behind it. Otherwise, I fail to see how we can start making any plans at all. If there had not been a strategic conception accepted, I hardly think it would have been right to introduce a Bill, because to bring in a measure of this kind without having accepted any strategic conception would be really to deceive the people into thinking that something was going to happen about civil defence, whereas nothing could happen until it was decided what was the sort of danger against which preparations were to be made. The more I read the Bill, and the more I read the debates in another place, the less certain I was that any strategic conception of the threat which we have to face had been agreed upon or, alternatively, as I might say, the more certain I was that if there had been a strategic conception, then it corresponded exactly with the strategic conception of civil defence in the late war, and was aiming at a plan which might, indeed, reproduce all the successes of civil defence from 1939 to 1945, but would also reproduce all the failures. All the way through this Bill there seems to be an intense departmental desire to keep the departmental claim staked out and, above all, not to let the military have more to do with it than is absolutely necessary. That is all right, providing we can rely on the enemy to keep the same clear distinction as we wish to preserve between civil defence, civil attack, and military attack. I do not think they will.

This matter will arise, as I will attempt to show in a moment, on the man-power question. It also arises in two other direc tions. One is the question of the higher control, which I do not want to refer to at any great length, because the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has dealt with it very fairly, and has pointed to the long discussion in another place which, I agree with him, ended up more satisfactorily than it began. In other words, there is a certain amount of machinery right at the top—namely, at the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff—although I am not quite convinced that all is going to happen just as we want it to, and that departmental spanners will not get into the works. Still, no one can say that that point is not tidied up in the Bill. So far, so good. Later on I think I can see a reasonable hope of making the best use of personnel, the best use of the military when they are required, and the best use of interdepartmental co-operation.

One point in particular strikes me, and it is this. The legal position of command—that is to say, the business of placing soldiers under the command of, shall I say, Regional Commissioners, or civil defence personnel under the command of Army officers—will want to be looked at again by legal experts, and looked at carefully, in the light of the new conditions. The reason why I say that is because most of our legal arrangements, and most of our arrangements in regard to the troops assisting the civil authority, are based on a situation of internal riot and insurrection, and not on a situation where the King's enemies cause disturbance among our civil population. The latter instance, which is the one we are now considering in the Civil Defence Bill, is quite a different thing. I have a strong suspicion that the present legal arrangements in regard to command and control as between the civil and the military are now so out of date and refer so much to civil commotion that they will turn out to be positive hindrances to proper co-operation if we again have to face seriously civil defence measures. I would therefore ask that that point should be considered.

My chief complaint about this Bill and the way in which it has been presented is the total failure to deal with the organisation and the allocation of part-time man-power. I will try to explain why I think the failure to deal with that matter is likely to wreck this Bill in its operation, or to wreck any regulations which are made under it, unless this problem is dealt with at once. As I have already said, it appears to me that this Bill will have the effect of perpetuating departmental divisions and, therefore, of perpetuating private armies. When I was first introduced to this subject, which was at the end of 1940, I thought at first that there were only two private armies engaged in this matter—the private army of the Secretary of State for War, and the private army of the Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security. I was soon undeceived. I found that, instead of there being one private army in the Ministry of Home Security, there were at least four or five: the police, the wardens' service, the fire service, the fire-watchers—and I can think of some more. Believe it or not, before I had been looking after the Home Guard for very long someone tried to divide that private army into two.

Now I should keep your Lordships here a very long time were I to attempt to tell you all about the three years of boredom and waste of time which I had to experience in dealing with the question of Home Guard personnel versus Civil Defence, and all because no one at the top would really take a grip on part-time man-power. Let me take the case of fire-watching. Early in 1940, those who were responsible for fire-watching were allowed by somebody or other to make a computation of the number of fire-watchers in relation to the floor space of the premises which they had to watch. That proved to bear no relation whatever to the proportion of the part-time manpower and woman-power of the country who could reasonably be spared for fire-watching.

In talking about part-time man-power, I am assuming that the same arrangements will hold good as held good in the late war; that is to say, that the principle will be adopted that every able-bodied person who is not a lunatic or conscientious objector or something of that sort will be required to make a draft on his time amounting to forty hours a month, and that he must give it either as a volunteer to the service of his choice or as a directed person to the service where he is wanted. If that had been done in the early days of the last war we should have had a real grip of this business. We should never have had those faction fights which went on the whole time, only slightly interfered with every now and then by another dispute which was taking place between Great Britain and the Axis Powers and which appeared at the time to be relatively unimportant. We should have avoided those faction fights and also the gross waste of man-power as between Civil Defence and the Home Guard. I know the Home Guard was not a Civil Defence Service and I may be accused of going wide of this Bill. I do not think I am, however, because the point I want to make is that until it is decided whether there shall be a Home Guard, the overall allocation of part-time man-power cannot be made with any accuracy and, therefore, cannot form the basis of any plan. Therefore, if we pass this Bill I want to go on record as saying that it will not make sense, nor will the regulations make sense, unless as a first step this question of part-time man-power is gripped and the Minister of Labour is brought into the picture. The name of that Minister should have been on the Bill but he was not mentioned in another place.

Having settled the question of manpower, then let the strategic conception be worked out. Let it be seen in the Defence Committee where the part-time man-power should go. Let it be announced whether they are going to the Civil Defence Services and whether there is to be a Home Guard. Bear in mind that if there is not to be a Home Guard, and if it is not desired to duplicate the work of the wardens and other civil defence people in the Home Guard, then it will be necessary to delete from the Bill the clause which now prevents rural civil defence workers from being trained to use a rifle to shoot the stray parachutist—who the Home Secretary thought was not coming. It may be necessary to think again. I will quote, if I may, from what the Home Secretary said. It is in column 2346 of Hansard: We do not anticipate that we shall be required to deal with paratroops. I wish I could share the optimism of the Home Secretary, but I am afraid I cannot. In all sincerity, I point to these matters which must receive attention if our civil defence measures are to become a reality and if the time of a great many people, high and low, is not to be wasted.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to say a few words, not on the important questions of strategy and forms of defence but on the strict terms of the Bill—namely, the skeleton structure of civil defence authority. My recollection goes back to the outbreak of the war in 1939, when I was sent by the Minister of Home Security—who was also Home Secretary—as Regional Commissioner for Yorkshire to prepare the full mobilisation in war of the Civil Defence Services. I presume that it is intended not to attempt to run the whole scheme from Whitehall, and that the regional organisation will be set up under this Bill and that there will be Regional Commissioners. The first thing I want to say about those Regional Commissioners is that I am quite sure their position vis-à-vis the Departments, other than the Minister who appoints them, must be more clearly set out.

In my experience, the outstanding cause of difficulty throughout the whole first year of the war was the absolute separation of the duties of the Regional Commissioner—appointed by the Minister of Home Security and dealing, of course, with police, wardens, fire services, communications—from the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health never recognised the Regional Commissioners—they had their own men in the regions. By courtesy, after some months, we Regional Commissioners were sent copies of the orders issued by the Ministry of Health in respect of its services, such as ambulances and the like. It was not until we all banded together and went to see Mr. Herbert Morrison—who was then Home Secretary, Minister of Home Security and our chief—that we obtained an interview with Mr. MacDonald and the hierarchy of the Ministry of Health. The real trouble was over all forms of evacuation. That was no concern of the Regional Commissioners no concern of the agents of the designated Minister. That was kept as the close preserve of the Ministry of Health and their representatives.

It really was tragic. I reported over and over again that inefficient vehicles were being received as ambulances and could not operate in a combined scheme or anything of that kind. One foresaw that bombs would fall and block water supplies. I remember an occasion when one-third of the City of Sheffield was without any piped water supply for a very long time. That meant getting water carts. Fortunately, there was no invasion, and we were able to obtain water carts from the Army by private arrangement. The Ministry of Health did not think water carts were necessary. That is an example of the kind of difficulty I should like to see removed, and one of the functions that I should like to see in the hands of the civil defence authorities under the Minister of Home Security. I hope that the Minister of Home Security will always be the Home Secretary, with that Minister's ultimate powers over police and the like. I am sure that that is the right way. I except, of course, hospitals; but first aid posts and their personnel should be at the disposal of Regional Commissioners and of the Civil Defence corps as a whole. That dichotomy of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Home Security—the Ministry of Health being very jealous about giving up anything to the Ministry of Home Security—is the thing which stands out most clearly in my recollections of those days.

Then there was the matter of evacuation—and here we are getting into rather deep water. After the fall of France, when the Cabinet told everybody to get busy because of the possibility of an invasion, the military authorities with whom I was concerned were making preparations to deal with a possible landing between Flamborough Head and Spurn Head, on the beaches of the East Riding of Yorkshire. If he had landed there, the enemy could have rushed across the open country above Hull and cut the railway. Conferences were held between the military and civil defence chiefs in the Northern Command, and the General Officer Commanding began to collect such troops as were there to repel such an invasion. Many problems arose in connection with the need to evacuate as large a proportion as possible of the population of the City of Hull; among other things a special road was to be allocated. I then discovered that I had no authority to go into that question. I was told that that was the job of the Ministry of Health. That, of course, was ridiculous, in the circumstances.

I am quite sure that we must have one civilian Minister in charge of all aspects of Civil Defence. It is only if there is unity at Whitehall, with a representative of all aspects of civil defence in the regions, a representative of the emergency committees—the county councils, county boroughs, and scheme-making authorities—and of all the local government officials, working as a team and responsible to the Minister, that we shall get a proper system. I always had the greatest difficulty in knowing whether we were right in asking the medical officers of health to do certain things; I did not know whether that was in the power of the Regional Commissioner, or whether the function was still retained within the Ministry of Health. That dichotomy must be broken down. I must say that in my region we had a splendid lot of scheme-making authorities and an extraordinarily good local government corps—that is to say, clerks of county councils, city and borough engineers, in fact, all heads of departments, chief constables and the like. They were second to none in the United Kingdom, and when the trouble began the whole scheme worked magnificently.

I am quite sure that the more Whitehall can allow those people to run their own show—especially in such matters as the distribution of man-power, the placing of shelters and in all other such matters—the better. They knew their areas; they are efficient people. And all the Regional Commissioner ought to do is to see that they help each other, and that they receive from the central authority all that they need. If there are two or three Ministries in Whitehall, all issuing different orders, all having different plans for recruiting, different conditions and different scales of remuneration, there will be chaos. I hope to see all the necessary powers transferred to the jurisdiction of the Home Secretary. One realises the difficulties in peace time: but in this civilian battle the spearpoint is the police and fire services, and it is vital that they should be in control of the other and ancillary services.

I do not wish to say anything on other major aspects of the skeleton provisions in the Bill. I read the debate which was held last Friday in another place, in which these subjects were raised, and I am sure that before we part from this Bill we must secure from the Government a very clear undertaking that if the Home Secretary selects men to be Regional Commissioners, their relations with the Ministry of Health must be clearly laid down beforehand; they must know where they stand. This is absolutely essential if the Civil Defence teams are to work as a whole.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships long, particularly as I am the only Back-Bencher to speak in this debate—sandwiched between noble Lords speaking from the Front Bench and the noble Lord who has just spoken with all the experience of a Regional Commissioner. All have addressed your Lordships with far greater authority and knowledge than I can possibly claim. I welcome this Bill as at least an advance on the debate we had on this subject in June of this year, but although it is only an enabling Bill, and as such highly streamlined, I am bound to say that the speech of the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading this afternoon did not, by reason of its lack of information, fill me with confidence as to the future. Moreover, I do not think that, with the best of intentions, it could be claimed that it will go out to the public as a clarion call that will make them flock to the Civil Defence forces. And that, after all, is what we want and must have in the future. I hope noble Lords opposite will put a little more enthusiasm into their speeches when they introduce measures of this kind into this House.

I trust that soon we shall pass on to planning from the stage of research and discussion to which the debates here and in another place have been confined. We must take early action, and it is surely time that we had more details available. The production of a plan as soon as possible is what is wanted. One is inclined to be a little suspicious of the Government's earnestness in this matter because, as your Lordships will remember, in the Home Office memorandum issued early this year the accent was laid on mobile military columns, whereas now, in both the speech of the Home Secretary and in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, the accent is laid upon the local authorities. I am not qualified to say which is the better way of dealing with this matter. I comment upon it only because such a change of mind after long consideration of this question cannot inspire one with a great deal of confidence.

It is difficult to be constructive in a speech because both the noble Lord opposite and the Government speakers in another place have enshrouded their intentions for the future with secretiveness and with vagueness. Secrecy in all the Defence Services is regarded by the noble Lord opposite as a virtue, but many people think, as I do, that that is a mistaken policy, because any potential enemy can find out the details if he wants to learn them. In any case, it is interpreted as a weakness if we hide up what we are doing or intend to do. The United States take a different attitude in this matter, and I commend their way of doing things to noble Lords opposite: their production, for example, of the Air Policy Commission Report, which brought home to the public and made them appreciate the dangers that were facing their country. Recently, on November 13, they produced the Office of Civil Defence Planning Report on this most important question, to bring home to the people of the United States the dangers with which they were faced. I am sure that if the morale of our people is to be maintained in the face of a sudden attack with unorthodox weapons of the future, the really important thing is that the public should be kept informed now of the possibilities of those future weapons and of the defence measures we intend to take. I am certain that the public are ignorant of the dangers they have to be prepared to face in the future, and I am sure that a great deal more could have been done in the last three years to work up enthusiasm amongst local authorities upon this vital matter.

There is only one aspect of the Bill upon which I should like to touch and about which I hope we shall hear more in the future—that is, the training of the officers and seamen of the Merchant Service to deal with such unorthodox weapons as bacteriological and biological warfare, which we can expect in the future. I am raising this point only because I feel certain that if we have an efficient Civil Defence Service ashore, the Navy can look after itself afloat. The Merchant Service, however, might well fall between two stools in this respect. It is not for me to remind your Lordships that the maintenance of the supply of both raw materials and food is probably the most vital factor we shall have to face should there unfortunately be another outbreak of war. We must see to it that the men in our merchant vessels, who may be away from this country for a long period before such an outbreak, out of touch with what is going on, and who may be bringing vital cargo into London or some other big port at a critical moment when an attack is imminent, will have adequate training to deal with the situation. I hope that their equipment and training will not be forgotten in the future. Perhaps the noble Lord opposite and the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will be able to give me an assurance upon that point. In conclusion, I welcome this Bill as a start, and I sincerely hope that the next steps will not be long delayed.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will bear with me for a few moments while I speak of the special position of Scotland in relation to civil defence. I notice that the noble Lord who introduced this Bill did not mention Scotland. I do not blame him because that country has a rather special position and I am intervening only for the purpose of asking for clarification on one or two points. In the first clause of the Bill, the civil defence functions of the designated Minister are mentioned; but, if we turn to Clause 9, subsection (2), we read: In this Act, the expression 'the designated Minister' means such Minister as may be designated by Order in Council, and so on. Then: Provided that if and in so far as other provision is not made by Order in Council under this subsection, the said expression means the Secretary of State. I apprehend that the technical position is that all of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State are equal and interchangeable, but presumably the Secretary of State meant here is the Home Secretary.

In Scotland the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible for a number of activities carried out in England by the Home Secretary. For instance, the efficiency of the police and of the fire brigades is his responsibility. The Department of Health is, of course, in his care, and almost all matters relating to land and buildings, and the acquisition of land, come under the Secretary of State. It is therefore clear that there were the seeds of difficulty, as disclosed by the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, when in the early days of the last war the system of Regional Commissioners was set up. But I would say that in Scotland those responsible worked their way through a system of trial and error to a good final result. A really satisfactory combined operation (if I may use that expression) was carried out by the then Secretary of State, Mr. Tom Johnston, who was the first Regional Commissioner at the beginning of the war and then, after something over two years as Regional Commissioner, stepped across to St. Andrew's House and became Secretary of State. He knew both ends of the rope so well that an ideal situation was created, particularly since his Deputy Commissioner was the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, who filled his place as Commissioner for Civil Defence till the end of the war.

I now want to ask whether the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor feels able in his reply to give some assurance that the special position of Scotland in relation to the duties which the Secretary of State is called upon to discharge is to be safeguarded and the lessons learned followed. The situation reached before the end of the last war was a satisfactory one, but only after a considerable period of adjustment. That is the only point which I would make, but as Scotland has not been mentioned to-day I would be happy if some reference could be made in the concluding speech by the noble and learned Viscount. Finally, I welcome the Bill. I note that it is a skeleton, but there was once a valley of dry hones which were clothed and stood up and became a great army of men. I hope the result of this Bill will be the building up of a real and active force.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the approbation with which you have greeted this Bill, and I can assure your Lordships that the observations which have been made, particularly by those who are acquainted with some of the problems experienced during the last war, will receive attention. On the whole, although there were defects, the civil defence services worked well, and let it not be thought that, because we are pointing out defects, we do not recognise that people gave a good deal of their time and valuable service to the community. It has often been said that it is characteristic of this country to fight the next war with the weapons of the last. In building up the new system of civil defence, I am most anxious that we shall not assume that the dangers against which we have to guard are the same as, or indeed anything like, the dangers of the last war. That being so, it is obvious that a great deal of thought has to be given to this matter.

Although I agree that the time for action has come, do not let us have action without having thought. Let us remember that one of the great difficulties in regard to the present time is a shortage of man-power. Here I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and I will deal presently with that question. We must consider most carefully how we are to use that rather short commodity in this country at the present time. Therefore I think it must be plainly understood—and I am sure everybody agrees about this—that the general supervision over the whole field must come under the Committee of Imperial Defence, because the allocation between what is civil defence and what is, more strictly, military defence is obviously a very difficult one to draw.

The noble Earl, Lord Beatty, referred to the Merchant Service. I should question very much whether we can completely protect or deal with the Merchant Service under any system of civil defence, however good it may be. It is quite obvious that to stretch out to something which is wider than mere civil defence, and which extends to defence in its widest sense, is to reach out into the military sphere. That being so, the necessity for thinking out how we are going to spend our money and our limited resources, and how we can do so to the best advantage, is a problem which affects this country rather more closely than the U.S.A. In considering these matters, we have to work and plan, and now we have reached the stage of starting. This Bill is not intended to be a clarion call to war. I cannot conceive of anybody getting excited about this Bill. It merely provides the machinery to help us to blow the clarion at the appropriate time; and the clarion will come when we promulgate our regulations.

Let me say this about these regulations. I have often said that I dislike a very wide regulation-making power. In this particular case, however, I feel (and I believe all your Lordships agree with me) that it is necessary to have a flexible instrument. I believe the best way we can obtain a flexible instrument—because we shall have to move and change, and make a variety of provisions and arrangements—is to have power to make regulations, always provided that we bring the matter under the control of both Houses of Parliament by laying these regulations, as we have to, in draft form, and thereafter obtaining affirmative Resolutions. In that way Parliament can keep control over what we are doing, and I think that is the right thing to do. That is my answer to those who say that in this Bill one does not see the strategic concept—that there is nothing to get excited about. There I fully agree.

As to the first step, I quite agree that it would be very wrong to concentrate too much of the organisation in Whitehall, whether it be in one or more Departments. I believe that we ought to build largely on the local authorities. Therefore, I think the sensible thing to do, in the first instance, is to try to think out the regulations which will define what is to be left to the local authorities and what is to be for the police authorities. I do not myself believe—and here I am answering the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman—that we can cope with the man-power problem unless and until our minds are clear about that. But, having cleared our minds about that, and having laid down as nearly as possible what are to be the functions of the local authorities and the police authorities, then I think the right course is to proceed to the consideration of man-power. And this question of man-power must, I think, he considered in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour, because then only can one be sure of drawing on the right sort of field and not drawing away from useful and essential work, people whose absence from that work is doing more harm than their presence in a particular form of civil defence work is doing good.

The first step, therefore, must be the allocation of responsibility to the local authorities and police forces. The second step must be to allocate man-power and to see that it is drawn from appropriate fields. At the present time I am not prepared to say (since I do not know, and I do not suppose anybody else does) to what extent, if at all, it w ill be necessary to have anything analogous to the Home Guard of the last war; it may or may not prove necessary. In the course of the debate, I think some noble Lords seemed rather to stray outside the region of civil defence into the region of military defence. That, of course, I do not propose to discuss. On the question whether there should be one or two Departments in Whitehall, or even three or four, I observe what the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, speaking from great experience, said. For my part, I am not sure that it may not be wise to delegate certain matters—indeed, I think it is the intention to do so. For instance, the noble Lord would, and did, agree about hospitals. Whether or not ambulances come within the category, I do not know. But what is essential is that we build up some machine which will override and prevent these internecine quarrels between various Departments.


I wonder whether I may venture to make a suggestion here, drawing upon my own experience in dealing with Regional Commissioners and also upon my practical experience as a Resident Minister who is in effect a projection of other Ministers. I think there is great difficulty in making one Minister entirely responsible at headquarters. After all, the various Ministers must get together to settle their differences and co-ordinate their activities. What seems to me to be absolutely vital is that the Regional Commissioner should constitute, so to speak, the one headquarters in his region, and that representatives of all these different Ministries—the Home Office, the Ministry of Labour, and so on—should be on that Regional Commissioner's staff. That I believe to be absolutely vital.


I cannot speak, as some noble Lords can, with personal knowledge of this matter I think there is very great force in what the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has just said, though I do not go quite so far as the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, in thinking that there must be one Minister in London. I believe the wires ought to contact somewhere, as it were, and a convenient place for that to be arranged would be in the headquarters of the Regional Commissioner always provided (and I regard it as practically certain) that the system of Regional Commissioners will once more be adopted. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, that we must surely take steps in some way to avoid the possibility of departmental quarrels interfering with the efficiency of the machine.

I think I have dealt with many of the questions that have been asked, but I would like to say a word with regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir, said about the Scottish problem. I apprehend that the answer would be that the Secretary of State in and for Scotland is, broadly speaking, the counterpart of the Minister—the Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security—in England; and be will be responsible in Scotland for these specialised services for which the Home Secretary will be responsible here. I use the word "specialised" because of course there are some questions which will be over the boundary, as it were, between the two countries. Such questions as the desirability of a blackout, a warning system, or what the warning system should be, will presumably apply equally to both countries. It would fall within the special province of the Home Secretary in England to deal with such problems and, subject to that, the Secretary of State for Scotland would deal with the specialised functions in Scotland. As yet, of course, nothing is fixed or certain. The matter is still being worked out, but that is what I apprehend would be the position in Scotland.


Will the noble and learned Viscount forgive my interrupting him? The anxiety I expressed was that the lessons learned from the last war should be fully taken into account in working out the new scheme. In Scotland, we worked our way through to a satisfactory situation by the end of the last war, but not before there had been a period when a good many differences were apparent. I hope that the lessons learned will be taken into account.


My Lords, if, in fact, Scotsmen have learned lessons, and are in agreement upon what they have learned, I should be the last person in the world to disregard such lessons!

Those, I think, are all the general observations which I have to make. We shall, of course, be very ready to consider detailed provisions and detailed matters when we come to deal with the different clauses of this measure. But we are all at one in this matter. There is no question of any lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Government or anything of that sort. One feels great regret that at this stage we should have to consider this topic—as, I am sure, do all noble Lords and everyone else. But in that we have to consider it, we must see that we make the best possible job we can of civil defence, having regard to all the calls upon our man-power and other difficulties. I am grateful for the observations which your Lordships have made, and I can assure you that they will all be duly considered.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at five minutes past six o'clock.