HL Deb 01 August 1951 vol 173 cc157-60

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government how it is proposed that the primary rôle of that part of the field force which may remain in the United Kingdom during the initial course of operations on the outbreak of war shall not be limited or hampered should air attack develop, assuming that the deployment areas of such forces have no relation to likely targets for air attack, unless:—

  1. (a) The Civil Defence organisation, including mobile columns in being, is fully organised and in sufficient strength to take the first weight of any onslaught from the air; and
  2. (b) The Home Guard is organised and ready to come to the assistance of the Civil Defence organisation in order to ensure that it is not overwhelmed; and
  3. (c) Air raid shelters for the civil population are adequate.]


My Lords, no field force units or formations of the Regular or Territorial Army have been allotted Civil Defence rôles. The responsibility for Civil Defence in the United Kingdom, in the event of hostilities, will rest with the Civil Defence organisation, and the primary rôle of field force formations and units remaining in this country will be defence against invasion. Nevertheless, in the event of an emergency beyond the resources of the Civil Defence Services, certain Army units remaining in the United Kingdom, depending on their location and allotted rôles, would be available to give such assistance as may be practicable.

As regards the Home Guard, planning is proceeding to ensure that a substantial force can be enrolled, organised and armed as soon as the situation requires. With regard to the Civil Defence Services, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, in another place on January 29 last, explained the emphasis placed by His Majesty's Government on the development of the various military and civil aspects of the defence programme. In order not to divert the national resources from more important demands, it is not proposed that there should be any general acceleration of Civil Defence preparations on a scale comparable to the development of the Armed Forces which His Majesty's Government regard as the main object of the defence programme. Civil Defence planning, however, is being pushed ahead; and, in particular, certain Civil Defence projects, whose development would afford support to the Armed Forces, are being undertaken in the current financial year. Among these are the installation of an air raid warning system, and the development of the network of control and communications at regional and lower levels. In short, the Civil Defence organisation is being developed as rapidly as competing demands on our resources permit; but projects which involve the substantial use of labour and materials, including projects for the provision of air raid shelters, cannot, in general, be taken beyond the planning stage in present circumstances.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount for his answer. May I ask the following further question: Is it not the case that unless, on the outbreak of war, which we hope will never occur, there is an adequate Civil Defence force available, the possibility that the Regular and Territorial Armies will have to be called in to support the Civil Defence is much greater? Are not the Civil Defence mobile columns of great importance in the structure of Civil Defence, and has any Civil Defence mobile column, experimental or other- wise yet been formed, as was foreshadowed by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, last January.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House will agree that, so far as we can arrange them within the resources at our disposal in this particularly difficult time, Civil Defence provisions of the kind the noble Lord mentioned are highly important. That is why we are recruiting as rapidly as we can and proceeding with such work as we can in that direction. As regards the Civil Defence mobile columns, arrangements are now being made to obtain an effective headquarters site and to begin planning in the direction which the noble Lord desires. I do not think I can say more than that at the present time.


My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his further information. Are we to understand that no Civil Defence column is yet in being? Was the noble Viscount aware that the purport of my question is the interdependence of Civil Defence and Home Defence, and that if at the appropriate time there is not an adequate Civil Defence organisation in being, tasks will be thrust on the Armed Forces which are not their proper rôle and which will hamper them in their primary task?


My Lords, I have no information in front of me that there is an actual mobile column in existence, but I will confirm this position and communicate with the noble Lord. Of course, it is important to have as much progress in this direction as possible, but I have laid before the House the difficulties of contending priorities at the present time. The extent to which certain courses have been successful, the result of the recruitment of volunteers for the Civil Defence service and the extent of the actual training courses in Civil Defence—which are far ahead of those of most other countries and are being used as a model by other countries—show that we are giving the subject the most serious, active attention. We shall do the best we can in this matter.


My Lords, I do not want to delay the House, but I confess frankly that I am perturbed by the noble Viscount's reply, and I shall take an early opportunity of discussing this point again in your Lordships' House.