HL Deb 08 July 1954 vol 188 cc530-51

2.40 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill takes the first step towards the development of a force of Civil Defence mobile columns for life-saving and fire-fighting purposes in war. I wish to male it clear at the out-set that it is no part of the Government's policy to maintain permanent whole-time Civil Defence mobile columns in peace. The reasons for this are simple; in the first place there would be no peace-time functions For them to fulfil, and in the second place they would not provide trained men on anything like the scale which the Government consider necessary, and which our own plans provide for.

Three things have to be achieved. First, the men selected for mobile column duties must be trained in peace to a reasonable standard of proficiency in the tasks which they would be required to perform in war, and for this purpose special fire-fighting and rescue training establishments must be set up. Secondly, these men must be allocated to operational formations. And thirdly, there must be power to mobilise them in those formations before the outbreak of war. The Bill accordingly provides the necessary powers for all these purposes. In considering this and all other Civil Defence matters, it is absolutely essential to remember the basic premise on which the policy of Her Majesty's Government—and, I may add, of the immediately preceding Governments—has been firmly founded. It is not a policy based on the presumption that war is going to break out to-morrow. On the contrary, it is a policy directed to the prevention of war and not to preparations for a war considered to be imminent or even inevitable. And, my Lords, the general emphasis of that policy is not in any way altered by recent accessions of knowledge about the development of the hydrogen bomb.

The practical implications of that development are, of course, momentous and can hardly be exaggerated. As the Home Secretary explained in another place earlier this week, all our Civil Defence plans are at present under review. But whatever may emerge from that review, one thing is quite certain—the advent of the hydrogen bomb makes it not less important but more important than ever to build up in peace time organised services trained in all the manifold tasks of life-saving, fire-fighting and welfare. The coming of the hydrogen bomb will undoubtedly make necessary widespread modifications in the detailed organisation and practice of these services; but the absolute value of the services themselves is, if possible, enhanced. That is especially true of the mobile columns. Their function is to supplement the front-line units of the Civil Defence Corps and the National Fire Service in their life-saving and their fire-fighting tasks, and it is important that they should be viewed against the background of those two services. Against that background their importance can hardly be over-emphasised.

Your Lordships may find it of value if I briefly trace the history of events leading up to the introduction of the Bill which is before you to-day. The development of Civil Defence, and in particular of Civil Defence services, has been an object of policy of successive Governments. It was the first post-war Labour Government which decided in 1947 to reconstitute the Civil Defence Service of the country, which introduced the Civil Defence Act, 1948, and which, furthermore, in pursuance of that Act, established and started the recruitment of the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service in November, 1949. It was also the last Government which took the preparatory steps for the development of a mobile column force. When the present Government took office in November, 1951, they found that the plans for an Experimental Mobile Column were well advanced, and that at the same time a study had been put in hand to find means of providing manpower for Civil Defence mobile columns in war, if possible in advance of an emergency. It was, of course, manifestly sensible that we should proceed with these projects.

The Experimental Mobile Column was accordingly established in January, 1953. Since then, experiments have been carried out on the organisation, training, equipment and operational employment of mobile rescue columns and their personnel. That experiment will finish at the end of this year. It has certainly been successful and has given us a valuable opportunity to reassess the rôle and organisation of the mobile column force. In continuing the consideration of arrangements for providing manpower for this force, the Government have examined various possible sources of supply. If the international climate were appreciably to worsen, and a shorter, sharper, pull were wanted, it might indeed be found necessary to draw on a wider field of recruitment for the needs of the force than is at present proposed. But, for the time being, the Government have decided that it should be possible to make a substantial contribution towards our mobile column manpower requirements by using men who are already within the scope of the National Service Act, 1948.

At the present time, the Royal Air Force, to meet its cold war requirements, has to take for whole-time service a considerably larger number of National servicemen than it would need to mobilise during the first year of war. A large number of the men who will not be needed immediately on the outbreak of war can—and, in the Government's view, should—be made available for Civil Defence training in peace, and for Civil Defence service in war until they are required for ordinary R.A.F. duties. It was with this in mind that, in the course of his comment on this year's Defence Statement, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence recently announced in another place a proposal that selected National Servicemen should be given training in Civil Defence during their period of liability for part-time ser- vice as an alternative to their normal Service training. He said that in war they would be mobilised in Service formations under their own officers—but under the operational control of the Civil Defence authorities; and that in due course Parliament would be asked to approve the necessary enabling legislation.

That legislation is contained in the Bill now before your Lordships. Its object is to provide statutory authority for a scheme to enable those National Servicemen who can be made available during their last two years of part-time service to be called up for one fortnight's Civil Defence training in each of those two years. In that period the men will be given training in rescue or in fire-fighting duties at Civil Defence or Fire Service establishments, and by Civil Defence or Fire Service instructors. The Home Office and the Scottish Home Department will be responsible for arranging the provision of the depôts, and the Service Departments for directing the National Servicemen for training. In the event of war the men would be mobilised by the Service Departments and employed in Service formations, but—and I emphasise this—they would be under the operational control of the Civil Defence authorities and would be formed into mobile columns, which would be tactically sited near the most vulnerable target areas. The Fire Service element would be integrated with the National Fire Service; the Civil Defence element, having no comparable parent force would be provided with an appropriate command structure from national to single column level.

As to the numbers involved, on the best estimate which can at present be made, some 15,000 men will become available for training in each year of the scheme. Thus, in 1955–56, 15,000 men will be under training, and in each subsequent year (when two intakes will be available) approximately 30,000. Therefore, a simple sum will show that over six years of the operation of the scheme—assuming that it will be possible to maintain these numbers—there will be created a second echelon force approaching 100,000 men. It is proposed that the annual intake should be divided more or less equally between fire-fighting and rescue duties.

For the training of these men we intend to provide initially for three establishments, which we hope to bring into operation in the spring of 1955. Two of these establishments will be devoted to rescue training, and one considerably larger depôt to preliminary fire-fighting training. In the following year, other depôts will be provided to deal with the additional intake, and at least one of these will be situated in Scotland. The depôts will be Home Department establishments, each under a civilian commandant and staffed with civilian instructors, but disciplinary control and internal R.A.F. administration of the men will remain with the R.A.F., who will provide for this purpose an officer in charge of the unit and other staff as necessary. Separate arrangements at other establishments will be made for training the officers and more senior N.C.Os. for the columns, since they will require a longer period of training than it is proposed to give under the main scheme.

In view of the preparatory measures which have to be completed and of the need to give the trainees adequate warning notice, the spring of 1955 is the earliest time at which the scheme can practicably be brought into operation. In addition to providing training centres it will be necessary to recruit a staff of about 250, including about 100 instructors, some of whom will have to be trained. It will in fact be necessary to take certain preparatory measures in advance of this Bill reaching the Statute Book.

The Government recognise that this scheme goes only part of the way towards providing a completely satisfactory mobile column force. It is possible, for example, that in the future, in certain circumstances, the Services might be able to contribute additional manpower. It is also possible that the national and international situation might, at some later stage, be deemed by the Government of the day to justify a call upon men outside the scope of the present Bill. In either of these ways this force might be expanded, but that is a matter which will have to be reviewed at a later date, in the light of the situation at the time and the extent and the success of the measures undertaken under this Bill. Equally, the Government recognise that the training of these men is only a begin- ning There are clearly many other problems which must be solved before a completely satisfactory mobile column force can be available. Apart from the training of N.C.Os. and officers, to which I have referred, there must be unit training for the personnel; suitable places for operational and mobilisation centres must be selected, and the layout and establishment of these centres must be settled. But though there is a lot still to be done, I submit that the Bill is not to be scorned on that account.

Moreover, the planning which lies ahead should be aided by the appointment of a Commander-in-Chief designate of the Civil Defence Mobile Forces. Noble Lords will have noted the statement which my right honourable friend made about this proposal in another place earlier this week, when he said that he was already in consultation with the Minister of Defence about the selection of an officer for this post. One of the Commander-in-Chief's functions will be to co-ordinate the plans for the employment of Civil Defence mobile columns to aid local Civil Defence forces in war-time, and he will collaborate with his opposite numbers in the Armed Forces to ensure that these plans are in harmony with military plans. In time of war he would be in operational control of all the columns, and he will clearly be intimately concerned with the development of the scheme to which this Bill relates.

Coming now to the actual terms of the Bill, your Lordships will see that in general it proceeds by an extension of the Civil Defence Act, 1948. Clause 1 (1) extends that Act to enable the designated Minister (in effect, the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Scotland) to make arrangements for giving Civil Defence training to part-time National Servicemen: and Clause 1 (4) enables him to pay for the cost of the arrangements. Clause 1 (1) also makes it clear that the training which a man may be required to undergo under the National Service Act, 1948, includes training provided in pursuance of the arrangements made by the designated Minister; and Clause 1 (2) extends the arrangements to other members of the Armed Forces in order to provide for the officers, noncommissioned officers and technicians who, although not themselves National Servicemen, will be needed for duty with the mobile columns.

Clause 1 (3) deals with the application of the Crown Proceedings Act, 1947, in respect of accidents occurring at the training establishments, and Clause 1 (5)—which has been inserted for the removal of doubt—declares Civil Defence to be a duty of the Armed Forces generally. It has normally been accepted that the potential duties of members of the Armed Forces do, in fact, include Civil Defence, but, since the taking elsewhere in the Bill of powers in connection with the Civil Defence training, of Servicemen might throw doubt upon this liability, it has been thought desirable to assert the liability specifically by a declaratory provision. Finally, Clause 1 (6) defines the expressions "Civil Defence" and "designated Minister" by reference to the Civil Defences Act, 1948.

I should add that, although only the R.A.F. has National Service reservists surplus to mobilisation requirements, and although the Royal Navy and the Army will make no contribution to the projected scheme, for the present at any rate, the Bill has been framed to apply to members of all three Services in order to cater for any possible changes in the position which may occur in the future.

My Lords, I feel that I should not conclude without a reference to the help we have already received from the Royal Air Force, who have co-operated to the full in the development of these proposals. It will be the object of the Home Departments and the Air Ministry to ensure that the same spirit of co-operation governs the practical application of the scheme. In that way we feel that there is every prospect of achieving the success of a measure which will unquestionably be of great benefit to Civil Defence and which will in no way be detrimental to the interests of the Royal Air Force. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

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

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, we are most grateful to the noble Lord for the clear and easily understood explanation that he has given of the Bill now before your Lordships' House. Let me say at once that, so far as Members on this side of the House are concerned, he is assured of a Second Reading for his Bill. Having said that, I want to make briefly a number of observations, both on the Bill and on the purposes for which it has been brought in. As noble Lords are aware, the Bill is quite a short one—there are only two clauses—but it is an important Bill because it introduces a new principle; and that principle is to be found in Clause 1 (5). As it is a general principle applying to all members of all the Armed Forces, Regulars and National Servicemen, I am rather surprised that it is not placed in the forefront of the Bill, instead of being tucked away in its present position.

I am not sure whether it is at present a legal liability for members of the Regular Armed Forces to undertake as a normal duty Civil Defence and Civil Defence training, and the reference made by the noble Lord in his speech did not make it any clearer to me. The Regular Forces are recruited on a basis of voluntary enlistment for military service in one of the recognised branches of the three Armed Forces. I think I am right in saying that the complement of officers, N.C.Os. and men in the Experimental Mobile Column were drawn from the Army and the Royal Air Force, but whether this was based on a legal liability or was merely a temporary extension of their normal duties I am not clear. But there will be no room for doubt in the future. Regular forces will be legally liable to Civil Defence and Civil Defence training as a normal Service duty.

It is certainly the case that the National Servicemen are not liable for this duty under the National Service Act. There is now to be an extension of their legal liability. It is clear, therefore, that the Bill makes an important departure, that it adds new duties to the existing duties of all members of all the Armed Forces. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong in extending the legal liabilities of men of the Armed Forces to include Civil Defence and Civil Defence training, but it is rather surprising that the present method should have been adopted to give effect to such an important new principle. It would seem that it is being introduced in this way at this time, not as part of a well-considered new plan to make Civil Defence the fourth arm of national defence, but in order to make it possible for a portion of the National Service reservists whom the Royal Air Force is not calling up for part-time training to be made available for very short training for service on mobilisation in mobile columns. The very limited application of the new principle seems to justify that view.

I recognise that the Bill is designed to strengthen Civil Defence—and that is something which we all wish to see brought about. There has, I suggest, been too much of a tendency for Civil Defence to be treated as the Cinderella of national defence. I think it is a pity, however, that the Bill should have come before your Lordships' House without our first having had an opportunity to discuss the general problem of Civil Defence. Here, may I express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, for his ready response to our request to defer the Second Reading of the Bill until to-day. I say this because those of your Lordships who have read the Report on Civil Defence issued at the beginning of the year by the Select Committee on Estimates will be aware that it pointed to serious shortcomings in our Civil Defence organisation and preparation and made a number of constructive suggestions.

There was a debate in another place at the beginning of the week, when the present position was reviewed. In opening the discussion, the Home Secretary said that studies are actively proceeding over a large part of the Civil Defence field, in parallel with the review of wider defence policy, but that he was not yet in a position to make any comprehensive statement about the probable results of that review. That is understandable; nevertheless, I feel that it would have been better if we could have considered an important proposal such as that contained in this Bill against the background of the results of the studies.

We all recognise that the advent of the hydrogen bomb has created new problems which, for their magnitude, complexity and gravity, far exceed anything of a like nature that this country has ever had to face in war time. The Home Secretary on Monday gave us some grim facts about the effects of a hydrogen bomb explosion. They were sufficiently clear to make perfectly obvious to everyone of us the appalling consequences of such an explosion, both in terms of casualties and of destruction or damage to homes, workplaces and the public services which are vital to the life of the community. I agree that Civil Defence is of far greater importance than it has ever been, and that its needs have taken on a greater urgency. If another war comes, and if it starts with intense hydrogen bomb attacks, as is expected, the civilian population will be in the front line from the very first moment. We shall need mobile columns; in my view, they are indispensable. It is of the first importance that they should be in existence, and ready and able to undertake the heavy and difficult tasks that will fall to them.

My Lords, we welcome the decision to create mobile columns, but we are not happy at the way in which the Government are setting about their establishment. There is far too much of the part-time element about the present proposals. First of all, there is to be a part-time Commander-in-Chief of the Civil Defence Mobile Forces. His area of command will be England, Wales and Scotland. As we have been told, he is to do a triple job in relation to mobile columns. He will command the mobile columns in the areas at a time of emergency; he will ensure that there is proper liaison between the mobile columns and the Armed Forces, and he will see that the mobile forces are in a position usefully and properly to co-operate with local authorities. Those are to be his responsibilities—and I am not sure that they are all. These seem to me to be most important duties, and it is difficult to see how they can be done properly and effectively on a part-time basis.

Then the mobile columns are to be manned by part-time trained reservists from the Royal Air Force. They are to have a month's training in their last two years of reserve liability. At the end of six years—that is, by April, 1960—there will be, according to my calculations, a pool of 60,000 men who have had one month's training, and 15,000 with only a fortnight's training. But by that time, 1960, half of them will have been out of touch with training for two or more years, and inevitably their value will have seriously diminished. This is the pool of manpower on which our mobile columns are to depend on mobilisation. It may be that this force may be diminished in another way, because we have to bear in mind that at the present moment the National Servicemen are being taken in regardless of the industries in which they are engaged in peace time—apart, I think, from coal mining. But when the war comes we shall be faced again with the question of reserved occupations, when it may be that some of these men will be retained in their civil employments, as members of reserved occupations. Does the noble Lord in charge of the Bill really consider that a month's training will provide the sort of mobile column service that we shall need? Does he consider that one month's training is adequate? In the debate in another place on Monday, one Conservative Member said that: in relation to the responsibilities, four weeks will be ludicrous. I think most people will consider it utterly inadequate to provide an efficient mobile column service, capable of undertaking the vitally important duties of rescue and fire-fighting following a hydrogen bomb attack.

I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he and the Home Secretary have considered the suggestion of the Select Committee. The Committee suggested thirteen skeleton mobile columns—one for each of the regions in England and Wales, and one for each zone in Scotland. They had in mind the skeleton experimental column to which the noble Lord referred and which is to be disbanded at the end of this year. I think it was composed of 150 officers, non-commissioned officers and men. Thirteen of such columns would call for about 2,000 personnel a year for full-time service, and they would obviously be trained to a very high standard of efficiency. Or have the Government some other scheme in mind to give a fully-trained hard core to each mobile column? I believe that the mobile columns should be manned by members of the Armed Forces, but I do not see how it is possible to have mobile columns ready and equipped, and stationed for active service, if we are to rely in the main on the pool of National Service reservists with the four weeks' training to which I have referred.

What is needed are columns of fully trained men whose training is kept up to date. I hope, therefore, that the Government do not regard the present scheme as final. The noble Lord himself has said that it is a first step, and I was glad to hear that. I hope that they are going to produce a plan that will measure up to the requirements of war. I listened to part of the debate in another place on Monday, and I have read all the speeches that were made in the debate, and I think I am right in saying that there was not one speaker, in any quarter of the House, who did not criticise the basing of mobile columns on National Service reservists with only four weeks' training. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the present inadequate scheme has been adopted because the Armed Forces are not prepared to regard Civil Defence as having any claim on full-time manpower available for national defence. The Home Secretary has had to take what he could get and be satisfied with it. I hope that he will not be satisfied. I hope that both he and the noble Lord opposite will reexamine the question of mobile columns, and that they will insist on getting the manpower that will ensure, in the event of an emergency, that the mobile columns will be of such strength, efficiency, and up-to-date training as will enable them to undertake the very responsible tasks that will fall to them. That is all I want to say on this subject. I will only repeat that, so far as we are concerned, the noble Lord will get a Second Reading for his Bill.

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, Civil Defence never has been a Party matter and I feel very much in agreement with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has said. I welcome the Bill, not so much for what it contains as for the indications that Civil Defence, after a slow start, is really getting on the move. The Bill itself deals only with a very limited matter; in fact the substance of the Bill and the question of mobile columns are only one or two trees in a fair-sized wood. Some of us have been a good deal critical in past times of the standard of forestry which was practised in that wood, and therefore welcome now a Bill which does seem to indicate that Civil Defence is being looked at in much more the right way—that is to say, steps are to be taken by Civil Departments to deal with aggression which will be part of total war. After all, when one comes to think of it one may talk about Civil Defence, but there is no such thing as civil attack; and Civil Defence in this country simply means steps which are to be taken by the Home Office, by local authorities, and by other Ministries, in co-operating in the great task of resisting aggression. The more we take that line, the less it will be necessary for my noble friend in front of me or other people to come along to your Lordships' House and produce a Bill which says that Civil Defence is the duty of the Armed Forces.

As I listened to the noble Lord, I began to think back to 1940 and realised with horror that at that date, when I had an urgent order from Southern Command to send every possible water-cart to the relief of Bristol, where the water mains had burst, I was probably bringing myself within reach of the law. I am glad to think, after all these years, that the principle carried out then is now within reach of the Statute Book. I do not think it occurred to the nation at that time that we were in danger of doing anything that was wrong. We are told by my noble friend, Lord Lloyd, that a number of things are still under review by the Home Office. We know what those things are: they are, in fact, the subjects which were dealt with in the Select Committee in another place. I do not want to go too wide of the Bill, but I hope very much that too much time will not be spent in reviewing these matters. I want to remind your Lordships that it was because so much time was spent on reviewing armoured fighting vehicles in the 1930's that we went to war in 1939 with no proper armoured vehicle at all, and that is what will happen again if we spend too much time reviewing these masters.

The Bill does not introduce any new ideas into Civil Defence; it is really here to give statutory authority to those parts of the new idea which cannot be implemented without it. A great deal can be done administratively, and I very much hope (and I have very good reason for believing) that administrative action is going to be taken. All we are doing to-day is to make certain that we are not held up by lack of statutory authority. I agree, too, that, for the present moment, most of the manpower that is wanted can be obtained under the National Service Acts. It is a question of regular cadres, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, mentioned. Up to now, the regular cadres, if I understand the position aright, have been composed of paid Civil Defence personnel. Whether they should be enlisted or enrolled under any Statute which is a counterpart of the Army Act or the Air Force Act is another matter which we have not yet reached, and with which I will go no further to-day. I will come back to the question of part-time people with regular cadres.

To revert to the Bill, the only two clauses which matter to anybody except those in the legal profession are Clause 1 (1), which declares Civil Defence to be a proper duty for National Service, and Clause 1 (5), which authorises Regular Forces to take part in Civil Defence, which, as I say, they have been doing for a very long time. On the question of using R.A.F. reservists, may I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, said: how very grateful we should all be for the help which my noble and gallant friend the Secretary of State for Air and the Air Ministry have given in this matter. It is a good example of co-operation and augurs very well indeed for the future.

What is now happening is that each year 15,000 reservists in the last two years of their Service will be given a fortnight's training in rescue duties. Whether that is going to be a satisfactory answer to the problem of proper training in rescue duties I am not so certain. After all, the National Service plan in other directions than this service is that the soldier and the airman should be trained full time for a certain period to do a job which he will have to do in war. They are then sent to the Reserve and called up from time to time to be trained for the same thing. This plan reduces the Royal Air Force reservists to a fortnight's training, apparently, without their having had any full-time or previous training in mobile column work or in rescue work. If that plan is going to work satisfactorily, it will have to be carefully watched. Equally, the National Serviceman who does his service in the Territorial Army not only does a fortnight's camp but also does certain periods of evening and week-end training. It is not quite clear to me at the moment why that arrangement should not be taken advantage of for these reservists who are going to train not with the Territorials but with the Civil Defence people in mobile columns. It seems to me that there is a good case for following that line. I agree that this Bill is a good start. We should see how things go on and be ready to alter them if alteration be necessary.

Then we come to this part-time commander who was mentioned by my right honourable friend in another place and by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I noticed that there was a certain amount of criticism on the grounds that the appointment will be a part-time one. I am not sure that I see it the same way as the critics. If this individual can do the job in part time, I see no point in paying him whole time, at any rate until the emergency arises. If this is a full-time job, of course, he should be employed full-time and paid for it, but I am not certain that it is. What I am concerned about is the responsibility that this individual is going to have. I am bound to say that I did not like the wording used in another place to describe his appointment. It seems to me that his responsibility was ill-defined, and you cannot command anyone unless the terms of your command are defined. If the poor man is merely going to walk round the corridors of the Home Office, hoping for someone to take his advice, I shall be very sorry for him. I trust that we may be told before long, in precise terms, just what his responsibility is to be, and whether he is to be allowed to have any say in the training of the people whom he is eventually going to command—if he is going to command them.

Now we cone to another point: namely, exactly what command does mean, in war time, of mobile columns. Mobile columns are really Reserves; they are people trained in fire and rescue duties, who are available to be sent to any point where they are particularly required. When they get to that point, however, if they are anything like any other troops I have ever heard of, they will not do their job under their commander; they will come under the command of the local commander—the Regional Commissioner or whoever it may be—and carry on the battle there. I suggest to my noble friend, Lord Lloyd, that a little clear thinking is necessary on this question of command. Indeed, I think one of the most important subjects to be considered now in Civil Defence is the whole question of staff work and communications, and everything that goes with it. Unless the standard of efficiency is what it ought to be in that connection, these things will happen: the trained men may be there, but they will not get to the right places and they will not be told what to do.

My Lords, I think those are the main points which arise out of the Bill. As I say, I do not regard this as being by any means a thoroughly satisfactory solution of the problem, but neither would I say that I think it is possible to get a satisfactory solution of the problem until a great deal more practical experience has been had with regard to mobile columns and, indeed, with the whole of the staff work and control of Civil Defence. The position that the local authority is, so to speak, a commander, still wants a good deal of consideration. The question of how the cadres of the mobile columns and other Civil Defence units are to be enrolled is still far from clear to me. Going back for a moment to what Lord Henderson said, I am not worried about having a lot of part-time personnel in the mobile columns, provided there is a well-trained regular cadre of people holding the key positions. After all, a good many of the people in the mobile columns are persons who need not have a very high standard of training. The gunners used to call these people "higher numbers." They would do such jobs as passing shells to one another, and so forth. Provided they know what to do, what to fetch and carry and where to go to, or can drive motor vehicles—which many people in civil life can do—it is not necessary that they should be more than part-time. What is necessary is to have proper, full-time cadres, which ought to be on much the same basis as Regular cadres in the Reserve Army or corresponding units in the Navy or Air Force, because the problem is exactly the same. I repeat that I welcome this Bill as one more sign that unnecessary barriers are being broken down and that the problem of Civil Defence is seen in relation to the grand design of prevention of war—so we hope—or defeat of the enemy if it comes to war.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a word or two as one who had a good deal to do with Civil Defence during the war, and to support what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, in welcoming this Bill as a sign that the Government appreciate the importance of unity between the Armed Forces and the Civil Defence forces. It was very much borne in upon us during the war years that there was not quite as much unity as many of us felt desirable. That was to some extent overcome by the development of excellent relations between those in charge of Civil Defence arrangements in the regions and those in charge of the Home Guard—of whom the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, was such an eminent leader. I think that his good will was one of the most important elements in that situation. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, who was one of those who brought the most profound thought and originality to bear on these problems, frequently said that it was not possible to organise Civil Defence satisfactorily without complete unity between the civilian and the military side—both part-time and whole-time soldiers and the Home Guard. Although I think that some steps have, in fact, been taken—and this Bill is a sign that further steps are being taken—in that direction, I feel that we are still a long way short of the objective. The war situation—if we are to be cursed with another war—will clearly be more difficult to handle than it was during the last war, and I have no doubt that if we are to handle it successfully we must have much greater unity. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgman, has said, this Bill takes us some distance in that direction. Therefore, I think it is important.

One other point. There has been a little controversy over the matter of the mobile columns. I think that we in the North-Western Region, if not the originators of the mobile columns at any rate did much to develop those columns; indeed, did more to develop those columns than was done in other regions. Of course, one naturally likes to feel that one's own particular region was in the forefront; but I do think that that was really so. It was found that it requires a great deal more training than any other branch of Civil Defence. My noble friend Lord Henderson is right when he says that, so far as can be judged from the proposed set-up, the amount of training envisaged for these mobile columns is not going to be adequate. I disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, on this matter. The fact that a man can drive a motor car and do this, that, and the other, does not mean he is able to fit into the complicated scheme of these columns. We found that a high standard of training was necessary, and I do not imagine that under the conditions of another war that will be less necessary. I think the Government are right in placing emphasis on these mobile columns—and very rightly, because they were one of the best developments of the middle years of Civil Defence when we were really getting ready for attack, which of course never came. I feel that under the conditions of another war these columns will have to be more highly trained and expert than under the conditions of the last war, and a good deal more training is necessary than is envisaged at the moment. I support what my noble friend, Lord Henderson, said on that point.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like briefly to put one or two questions to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, to which he may find it possible to give an answer in the course of his reply. They will be brief and rather general questions. The first is this: Do the Government imagine that this development of Civil Defence is in any way commensurate with the danger which faces us in the case of the use in war of chemical agents? The second question is: What period of warning have the Government calculated upon in making preparations for Civil Defence, for example, in London? And the third is: Do the Government consider that a defensive war may make it necessary for us to strike the first blow with the hydrogen bomb? That is a very important question, because it governs the period of warning we may get. As the noble Lord knows, I have raised these questions several times before—it is difficult to find an opportune moment to put them. If he can give me some reply, or indication of a reply, I shall be grateful.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I think it fair to say that the Bill has received a welcome, albeit a cautious one, from most of your Lordships. It is interesting to reflect that, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said, this Bill for the first time places legal liability for Civil Defence on members of the Armed Forces, but I do not think that this is such a departure as the noble Lord suggests. The Armed Forces have, in fact, been engaged in Civil Defence for a long time. This is a legal departure, but I do not think it is a practical departure. Most criticisms that noble Lords have made of the Bill seems to me to have been based on the assumption that this is the Government's last word on Civil Defence. I am sorry that this should be so, because I did my best in my opening speech to emphasise that it is a beginning. It is the logical extension of the policy carried out by the noble Lords opposite, and it is merely a beginning. Nor can I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, when he said that this was not part of a well co-ordinated plan. We feel that the first requirement is an adequate reserve of trained men. I profoundly disagree with the suggestion that we should have thirteen mobile columns producing 2,000 men a year. We feel that that would be about the most expensive and unsatisfactory way of doing it. The yield would be the smallest and the expense the greatest.


My Lords, may I interrupt? If we had thirteen mobile columns—that is an arbitrary figure, because I do not know how many the Government have in mind, and a large number would be required to do the job properly—with 150 men as their permanent cadre, we should then have units with a full-time backbone to which we could relate reserves for training. I am at a loss to understand how we are going to train reserves when there are no mobile columns in existence at all. These men will do their month's training and then disappear. Am I to understand that all we are going to build up are these training centres with qualified instructors? Are we going to put the Reservists through their paces and will they then disappear, and another bunch come along for the same thing? If so, I agree that we shall have a pool, but I do not think we shall have mobile columns.


We will not argue too much on the details of that matter. I will deal with it more fully when I come to training. The most general criticism is that we have too many people working part-time. Reference was made to the Commander-in-Chief of the mobile forces and it was felt that this should be a full-time job. I assure the noble Lord that we have not closed our minds on this matter. We are going to appoint this officer on a part-time basis; but as things develop it may prove necessary that he should be whole-time. We shall see as we go along, because we are feeling our way in all these matters. This is not the final word; but at the beginning he will be part-time, and we shall see how that works out. My noble friend Lord Bridgeman said he thought the Commander-in-Chief's duties ought to be more fully defined. My right honourable friend did give a fair definition of those duties in another place, and if my noble friend will forgive me I will read what he said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 529 (No. 141), col. 1815): We propose to appoint an officer with the style of Commander-in-Chief designate of the Civil Defence Mobile Forces. The full scope of his duties will not be rigidly defined but his immediate task will be to collaborate with his opposite numbers in the Armed Forces in securing that the development of plans for civil defence mobile columns are in harmony with military plans and to co-ordinate plans for the employment of the former in aid of the local civil defence forces. That seems to be a reasonable definition. My right honourable friend went on to define also what the Commander-in-Chief would do in war.


My Lords, the paragraph which my noble friend read out was exactly the one I had in mind. What I feel concerned about is the phrase that his duties "will not be rigidly defined." I want to be quite certain that his responsibilities are rigidly defined; otherwise it will be impossible for him to get to work.


I think the noble Viscount will find that gradually things will take a firmer shape than they do to start with. On the matter of training, I freely admit that a slightly longer period of training might be ideal, but I am bound to point out that the actual number of hours spent in training under the scheme will be broadly comparable with the aggregate time a volunteer spends in, say, rescue training in the local Civil Defence Force. To say that his training will be totally inadequate is pushing it too far. We must be careful not to go to either extreme in this matter. We cannot fully train a man in rescue duties in two months; a month may be shorter than we should wish, but it is all we can spare, and in rescue duties and fire fighting the men will have very tolerable training in that period. A point was made about having men permanently on Civil Defence. But what could we do with them? After three months they would be fully trained in rescue duties and fire-fighting. Although our plan may not be perfect, I think the training provided will yield a useful nucleus for time of war. My noble friend Lord Bridgeman stressed the importance of command and staff work. I assure my noble friend that we shall not entirely forget about these things. We are reorganising all our plans at the present time, and those considerations are very much in our minds in the changes that we are making.

Finally, I should like to deal with the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. He asked me, first of all, whether the Government imagined that the present development of Civil Defence was commensurate with the danger. If he had heard the early part of my speech (perhaps he was not here) he would know that I did point out that the main emphasis of our policy at the moment is to try to prevent war, rather than to sit down and prepare to be bombed. We believe in doing it that way. Clearly, with the amount of manpower that we have, it is difficult to do both, Therefore, while we follow our present policy Civil Defence must always lag behind the Armed Forces. As regards the period of warning, the noble Viscount is as wise as I am. Nobody can tell what period of warning will be given. All I would say is that we hope to have some period of warning; but it is impossible for me to answer a question like that.


Does the noble Lord mean that the experts at his command have not studied the question of whether it will be five minutes, quarter of an hour, or an hour? It is important. If he says that the Government have not finished their studies, that is all right. But if he says that no one will ever be able to know, then no one will ever be able to make an efficient Civil Defence.


That is an extraordinary proposition. Nobody outside the Kremlin—supposing that was the opposition—could tell what warning might be given. Anybody can make guesses, and that is what I should be doing if I gave an answer. For me to get up and say that we think we shall have so much warning would be patently absurd.


I am afraid that I have not made my meaning clear. I am not speaking about policy. The noble Lord assumes that some persons are threatening to attack this country—that is a matter of policy. I am talking about the technical side. When there is some intimation that somebody has started, what warning, do we get to make our defence?


I do not think there is much object in pursuing this matter. It seems to me self-evident that it is impossible to know what warning we shall get; and we hope that we shall get as much warning as possible. We base our plans upon having a reasonable warning, and if the noble Viscount has any information as to what warning we are going to get, perhaps he will pass it on to the Government.


I call that a very silly answer.


It was a very silly question. As regards the last point about the hydrogen bomb, that is outside the scope of this debate, and I do not propose to be drawn into a general discussion on foreign policy.

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