HL Deb 14 July 1949 vol 163 cc1314-21

4.0 p.m.


MY Lords, I beg to move that the draft regulations, as reported from the Special Orders Committee on the 6th instant, be approved. These regulations are of a highly technical character, but as the question of civil defence has not been before your Lordships' House for some little time, your Lordships may wish me to say just a few words in explanation of the situation and of the regulations in question.

The Civil Defence Act of last year, as your Lordships remember, recognises the permanence of civil defence as part of the military organisation of the country. It is not that there is any objective in view of preparing for an imminent war, or even of a probable war, but the situation is such that your Lordships will agree that it is now necessary to re-create an appropriate civil defence organisation in an orderly sort of way. The Act of 1948 provides that much of the burden of civil defence is put upon the shoulders of the appropriate local authorities. I am sure that your Lordships would wish me to pay a tribute to the admirable work which was done by those local authorities during the recent war, and which undoubtedly qualifies them to accept this onerous responsibility in the times to come. Consultations have been held between the Civil Defence Department of the Home Office and representatives of the various local authority organisations. Although I think it would not be true to say that the ipsissima verba of these regulations have been agreed, I understand that in general the representatives of the local authorities are in agreement with the main framework of the regulations, which are acceptable to them.

I am sure your Lordships will agree that the first step is that we should build up a personnel organisation on a national basis but organised by the local authorities in appropriate territorial and functional units. With that object in view my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, as recently as May of this year established a Civil Defence Corps. It will be recruited on a voluntary and part-time basis, and the men who join it will be expected to carry through the appropriate training. It is not proposed that the recruiting for the Civil Defence Corps shall commence before the autumn months, but it will then be carried on actively. The regulations which are before your Lordships this afternoon are concerned purely with the framework under which the local authorities are to carry out their part of the work. If Parliament approves these two sets of regulations, which are preliminary, the Government will present further sets of regulations from time to time as the details are worked out. Matters which are particularly in mind are such problems as evacuation, the making of arrangements for the homeless after air-raids, the building up of the fire service organisation and matters of that kind.

Perhaps I may turn for a moment to the two sets of regulations which are before your Lordships. The first of them, the Civil Defence (General) Regulations, provide a general code to enable local authorities to make the necessary administrative arrangements to carry out the functions which are to be conferred upon them at a later stage. The regulations follow fairly closely the wording of Section 2 (2) of the Act of 1948, the main point being to enable the local authorities to set up, and work through, special civil defence committees and also, in proper cases, joint committees. There are a number of subsidiary matters, into which I do not think I need go, except possibly to mention one or two of the more important of them. Provision is made for delegation by the local authorities to other local authorities, in appropriate cases and with the Minister's consent. Provision is made for the Minister himself to take over responsibility in any case, where he is satisfied that the local authority are not doing their job effectively. Provision is also made for the local authority, after consultation and again with the consent of the Minister, to carry through works which may be in contravention of certain statutory provisions but which are necessary in the effective civil defence of the country.

The other set of regulations are the Civil Defence Corps Regulations. Here the object is to enable certain of the local authorities to organise local divisions of the Civil Defence Corps. The Civil Defence Corps, as I have mentioned, is to be a national Corps, but the work of organising it is to be carried out by the local authorities, and it will be necessary for them to establish local divisions. Regulation 2 (2) (b) has as its object to make available to certain of the county districts the services of units of the Corps. Normally speaking, the local authority units on which civil defence will be based are the county and county borough councils, and the Metropolitan boroughs in London, but in a number of cases it may be necessary to use county districts as units. Therefore it is essential that county districts should be enabled to obtain the services of units of the Civil Defence Corps. In a similar way it will be necessary to make the services of these units available to such Departments as the Ministry of Food which, as experience showed in the last war, will be very closely concerned with problems of civil defence.

There are a number of other matters even more technical than those with which I have dealt, and which I will endeavour to explain if any points are raised upon them. But I think that with these observations I have said enough to give your Lordships a general conspectus of the situation. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations as reported from the Special Orders Committee on the 6th instant be approved.—(Lord Chorley.)

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, it may be for the convenience of your Lordships' House if I intervene to say that the Scottish regulations, which immediately follow these, are substantially the same as the English regulations, except in a number of minor points. If any noble Lord wishes to raise any Scottish point during the discussion on these present regulations I will do my best to answer it when I move the Scottish regulations.


My Lords, my noble friends on these Benches will be glad that these regulations have now appeared, and we shall be happy to give our support to them. I would like to thank the noble Lord opposite for having given us a rather wider account than was strictly necessary, by telling us what has been happening to civil defence since last we debated the matter on the passing of the Civil Defence Act at the end of last year. We on this side of the House had refrained from putting down a Motion in order to save Parliamentary time, in anticipation that these regulations would be in front of us before long.

As to the regulations themselves I have little comment to make, because they are largely a framework for the executive action which ought to take place once they have the force of law. I shall refer to that action in a moment. I would raise only one point on the Civil Defence (General) Regulations, a point about which I ventured to give the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, notice. Regulations 5 and 6 give pretty wide powers to the Minister to do all sorts of things which we are not accustomed to seeing done in peace-time. All sorts of Acts, and particularly the Town and Country Planning Act, can be overridden by these regulations. In our view, if that is done for an operational purpose it is quite all right, because I would not be one to suggest that we should leave operational action until after the damage had started. We ought to take it before. We want to be careful that regulations of this sort, which give wide powers, presumably for operational reasons, are not in fact used purely for administrative matters but only for operational matters. I am using the word "operations" in the case of civil defence operations. That is the only point I wish to make on Regulation 6. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir, has a point to raise presently on the interpretation of the Scottish regulations.

Now I turn for a few minutes to the wider question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. First, I think that, generally speaking, what he has told us of the activity up to date sounds quite satisfactory; it sounds as if there has been a great deal of planning already, and as if a point had been reached where it was not possible to go further until the regulations appeared. That is one reason why we are glad to see the regulations. We hope that subsidiary regulations will not be long delayed. One thing strikes me as important, and that is the appointment by local authorities of their civil defence officers. There will be a full-time officer in all but the smaller local authorities, and in those a part-time civil defence officer will be wanted.

Then we come to the question of personnel. If I understood the noble Lord aright, he said that recruiting was due to begin in the autumn. So far so good. I think that is particularly necessary, because it strikes me that at the moment an undue burden is resting on the Armed Forces. If I understand aright the results of "Exercise Britannia," it seems to me that at the moment the Armed Forces of the Crown are so to speak, underwriting civil defence to a considerable extent. Until the Civil Defence Corps becomes properly recruited, the Army will have to "carry the can." We must be careful that we do not count our Army three times over. We are counting it once owing to the necessity of providing a field force we run the risk of counting it twice in mortgaging it, so to speak, for the assistance of civil defence; and we are counting it a third time because the people designated for those two roles are doing another job of work at the docks.

We have to be careful also about working in with the Territorial Army and the Home Guard. I shall revert to this point when the Auxiliary Reserve Forces Bill, now in another place, comes before this House. I am not suggesting for a moment that recruiting for the Civil Defence Corps need really conflict with the recruiting for the Territorial Army and the other auxiliary forces and the Home Guard, if and when it is formed. I do not take that view. But I do take the view—and this is a point I want specially to make—that unless this question of man-power is gripped now, there will be confusion at local authority level and a lack of liaison between the people designated in these regulations who are supposed to recruit civil defence people, and the Territorial and Reserve Forces Association, who are supposed to recruit the auxiliary forces and the Home Guard. If this is so it will arise from the Government's failure to co-ordinate; the weakness is between the civil defence organisation and the Ministry of Defence. I hope that by the time executive action is taken these points will be remedied. I am not pessimistic about it. I am not saying the job cannot be done. I am saying that I hope we shall be able to recruit both forces with far less friction and confusion than was done in the last war. Those, I think, are all the points I need make at this stage. We shall watch these matters as closely as possible, and after the Recess no doubt we shall have an opportunity of checking up again on the progress of this very necessary task. With those words I should like to support the introduction of these regulations.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps it would be for your convenience if I were now to respond to the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, to raise any Scottish points. I have only one point, which is to echo a question which I raised during the passage of the Civil Defence Act. It is in regard to the position of the Secretary of State for Scotland. In the Scottish regulations, Section 5, I know that the designated Minister, if he is satisfied that a local authority has failed or refused properly to discharge any of the civil defence functions conferred upon them, may, by order, either empower himself to discharge those functions or require some other authority to do so. Now, it is possible that the designated Minister for certain functions might not be the Secretary of State for Scotland, as the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor explained in answer to a question of mine during discussion on the Bill. There are certain functions which affect the whole of Great Britain: black-out regulations are an example of that. It is possible, therefore, that the designated Minister might not be the Secretary of State, and we might have a Minister other than the Secretary of State administering a rebuke, or having to coerce a local authority to do something that they have not hitherto done.

The Secretary of State stands in a very dignified position towards the Scottish local authorities. He is in a sense the father of them all, and they are all accustomed to going to Saint Andrew's House, Edinburgh, for advice and guidance. I hope the noble Lord will be able to assure us that before a Minister rebukes a local authority, if it be a Minister other than a Secretary of State he will be in close co-operation with the Secretary of State, and that advice and guidance should be given jointly from Saint Andrew's House. I think it is very desirable that on almost all matters local authorities in Scotland should look to the Secretary of State for guidance and preserve a close liaison with him. That is the only point I have to raise.

4.19 p.m.


I am grateful to the noble Viscount for the welcome he has given to these regulations and for his remarks concerning what I have been able to state about the background against which they have been drawn up. As he said, he kindly told me in advance that he would ask a question on Clause 6 in the first set of Regulations—the General Regulations—which I confess, on the face of it, confer a great deal of power. I made inquiries about that, and I understand that the object of regulation 6 is a very narrow one. It is to enable the fire services to take necessary measures of expansion without going through the elaborate set of procedural rules which now have to be followed. As your Lordships are aware, under the Fire Services Act county and borough councils are fire service authorities; and in the performance of these duties they have to keep a close liaison with the smaller local authorities within their areas. Matters have to go backwards and forwards, and a rather complicated set of approvals have to be obtained—a situation which would be unrealistic in respect of the fire services in face of a warlike situation. The object of regulation 6 is to overcome that. I am happy to give the noble Viscount an undertaking that it will only be so used.


I thank the noble Lord. It is precisely because I realised the point was narrow that I rather questioned the need for such wide powers.


I hope the noble Viscount will be content with the undertaking I have been able to give him. He may take it that no undue strain will be placed upon the military forces in connection with the civil defence. My right honourable friend and I recognise that the first duty of the Armed Forces is, every time military defence. They cannot be expected to assist with civil defence, except in so far as that first aspect of their duties has been satisfactorily carried out. "Exercise Britannia," to which the noble Viscount referred, was really a conference exercise carried through at the request of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, with the ob- ject of securing co-ordination with the civil defence authorities. I am happy to inform the noble Viscount that it was most successfully carried out, and the military were gratified with the arrangements, which are going forward reasonably satisfactorily.

I would not claim that in every respect things are going forward with all possible speed, but definite progress has been made in a number of directions, for example the training schools at Falfield and Easingwold have been reopened, and very soon the new Civil Defence Staff College will be opened. A great deal of careful work has been done, and we hope soon to bring other sets of draft regulations before your Lordships for approval. I think the noble Viscount may rest content that the problem of manpower is being gripped. I am glad that he could see no reason for conflict between recruiting for the Territorial Army and recruiting for the Civil Defence Corps. I am sure that we shall, in fact, be able, over the next months, to build up a fine body of men, as fine a body of men as we had before, but even better organised and trained than during the days through which we so recently passed.

On Question, Motion agreed to.