HL Deb 02 March 1965 vol 263 cc1027-31

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move, That the Draft Civil Defence (Emergency Feeding) (Amendment) Regulations, a copy of which was laid before this House on February 10 be approved. I will try to explain briefly why these amending Regulations are needed and what they do. They will be found, I think, quite straightforward. Their object is to correct an anomaly which has arisen from the effect of the London Government Act, 1963 and which I will shortly describe to your Lordships.

The regulations to be amended are the Civil Defence (Emergency Feeding) Regulations, 1951, which placed responsibility for emergency feeding arrangements on county councils and county boroughs. These local authorities are thereby required to appoint emergency meals officers, to prepare and carry out plans for feeding the homeless after an attack; and also to provide training in emergency feeding methods. It is this last function with which we are now concerned. Under Section 49 of the London Government Act, the new London boroughs and the City of London will become responsible for emergency feeding arrangements in their areas from April 1 next. They will therefore have a duty to give training to any of their own staff who would man the emergency feeding services. I should perhaps make it clear, at this point, that enrolment for these emergency services is purely voluntary.

Normally the staff of the School Meals Service take a large part in this work, and so they need to be trained for it. Under the present Regulations, however, the new boroughs in inner London would have no powers to train them. That is because education in inner London will, as a result of the 1963 Act, be the responsibility of the Inner London Education Authority, and so the school meals staff will come under that authority. Therefore, in order to empower local authorities in the inner London area to train school meals staff after 1st April, the 1951 Regulations have to be amended. The amending Regulations will put the matter right by giving the requisite power to train these staff to the local authorities who will be responsible for the emergency feeding arrangements in inner London. This is in line with the arrangements that operate elsewhere. The local authority associations have been consulted about these Regulations. I hope that I have made the position clear, and that your Lordships will agree to these amending Regulations which we regard as a necessary and useful step in clearing the way for the continuation of a service that would be vital, if the need for it should ever arise.

Moved, That the Draft Civil Defence (Emergency Feeding) (Amendment) Regulations, 1965, laid before the House on 10th February, be approved.—(Lord Champion.)

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord was quite right to expand the subject a little and set these immediate Regulations into their proper context in what is an extremely important aspect of Civil Defence. I enter for a moment only, certainly not to quarrel or dispute with the noble Lord. I enter because the Ministry of Agriculture, in which I worked until recently, played and still plays, I know, a most effective part in this aspect of Civil Defence. I was fortunate while Parliamentary Secretary to be living in a region with a Regional Controller who gave great importance to this subject, and I have heard from others whose work involves them in Civil Defence how much they appreciate the part played by the Ministry of Agriculture.

I should like to mention, and I think the noble Lord opposite would like me to mention, the part played in this regard by the W.V.S. I see the noble Baroness the founder of the W.V.S. is in the House. They play a magnificent and voluntary part. I know that everybody who knows anything about Civil Defence appreciates that greatly. As a carryover from the past when I was working in the Ministry of Agriculture, I am happy to say, and I believe the noble Lord opposite would be happy to hear, that at my own home in Yorkshire we are to have in the coming summer the largest rally of W.V.S. food flying squads which has ever been held. If the noble Lord can find time to attend it, I shall be happy to be his host, whether or not he is holding his present post.


My Lords, is that invitation extended to all members of the Government Front Bench or just the noble Lord?


Certainly to the noble Earl the Leader of the House, who knows how welcome he has always been at my home in Yorkshire. I think the noble Lord would also like me to refer back—it was quite properly not part of his Government speech—to the fact that even in peace time the W.V.S. play a very important part. An instance that we remember very well was on Boxing Day, 1962, when there was a tragic railway accident near Manchester. The W.V.S. food flying squad there turned out on Boxing Night and at a moment's notice supplied food to the injured and the unhappy from this accident, who would otherwise not have been able to receive this support. This means that the W.V.S. are not only on their toes in preparation for the tragedy of war but of great use and great confidence to people in peace.

I would ask the noble Lord two questions, neither I think very taxing ones. One he may have answered and I may not have completely understood it. I should like to know who is responsible for distributing the equipment under these Regulations, and whether those taking part are purely voluntary workers. He said, as I understood him, that they are at present voluntary. This may mean that they are volunteers up to now, but that in an emergency one cannot foresee what means may be required in calling upon others. Or it may also mean that the Government have in mind some new Regulation to make their services obligatory before such an emergency. I should like the noble Lord to clear up that point. Otherwise, of course, I commend the Regulations.

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I would regretfully disclaim the belief that the food flying squad is a W.V.S. food flying squad. The W.V.S. is very proud to serve in it, but the food flying squad belongs in the make-up of Civil Defence to the "Ministry of Fish and Food," as we call it, and all instructions must come from that Ministry and all caps must obviously be touched to the Commander in Chief and the owner.

The point with regard to training is, to my mind, the most important of all. As recently as February 10 there was a very interesting call-out in Westmorland where the police had to be fed at a moment's notice; 230 policemen were given breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner by the Civil Defence Corps authorities' welfare section, in which I am proud to feel the W.V.S. play a very large part. We heard that the police had been very impressed with the efficiency, speed and cheerfulness with which the operation was carried out. The only reason I want to detain your Lordships is that I feel it is important to remember that planned emergency measures are of infinite value on these occasions. It was the first try-out in the County of Westmorland of a planned call-out, which many of us had thought would be good but which proved so effective, although it was the first experiment, that we hope in future to be able to transpose it to other counties.

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the way that these Regulations have been received. Had I been discussing the 1951 Regulations and the operation of them, and everything that has taken place in connection with training, of course I should have paid tribute to the magnificent work done by the W.V.S. I am delighted that the noble Lord opposite has introduced that aspect, although we are discussing here only a quite narrow transfer of function between authorities within the Greater London Area. In any case, I would not dare pass over what he has said without supporting him, because my wife happens to be a member of the W.V.S. and might read my words. I would thank him, too, for the invitation which he has extended to me. I shall certainly consider this, and will let the noble Lord know my answer. So far as the work in future is concerned, it will continue on exactly the same basis—namely, that of a voluntary body. There will be no compulsion in this at all. But voluntary people in this connection have to be trained, and provision has to be made for their training. I was delighted to hear from the noble Baroness of what has taken place in Westmorland. The experiences they have had there are obviously of great importance in training for what I hope will never occur. I was delighted to hear also that the noble Lady has impressed the police with the work of the W.V.S. I am sure that this is welcome to her, as it is to us. I hope that now we shall give approval to these Regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.