HL Deb 14 December 1966 vol 278 cc1672-4

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to bring to your Lordships' notice a Statement which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made in another place about civil defence, and particularly about the future of the Civil Defence Corps. I will use his own words:

"After consultation with the local authority associations, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have decided that the Civil Defence Corps should be reorganised and substantially reduced in numbers. The future role of the Corps will be to help the local authorities to man the control system, which is the system of government in emergency; and to provide limited numbers of specialists to help to organise the first aid and welfare resources of the community. We are greatly indebted to the members of the Corps. Their new role will be of great importance, and there will be a continuing need to attract people of high calibre, with qualities of leadership.

"The local authorities have expressed their general willingness to cooperate in reorganisation and we shall be issuing comprehensive guidance after further consultations with them and with the voluntary organisations. Under the new scheme, which will be adaptable to local circumstances, local authority employees and the voluntary organisations will be asked to play a bigger part. After a period of adjustment, the active strength of the Corps is likely to he 75,000 to 80,000, compared with about 122,000 at present.

"As I said in a Statement to the House on February 2, there is a limit to what we can afford by way of insurance against the risk of nuclear war. Exchequer expenditure on civil defence has been reduced to about £19.7 million during the current year and a further saving of over £1 million needs to be made in 1967–68. We shall be discussing with the local authority associations how this saving can best be obtained, both from reorganisation of the Corps and in the remainder of the civil defence field.

"The Government believe that by carrying out the measures I have indicated they will retain on the most economical basis a pattern of civil defence preparation which, if there were a nuclear attack on this country, would enable many millions of lives to be saved."


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, for repeating here the Statement which the Home Secretary has just made in another place. I should like to add my tribute to everybody connected with the Civil Defence Corps for their devoted and often unthanked work over many years in the public service. Bearing in mind that the Government are cutting down the Territorial Army, which was equipped to give so much help in civil defence, are the Government wholly satisfied that this is a good moment to impose new cuts on the Civil Defence Corps also? Have we not had recent evidence that cut-price insurance premiums may mean, when it comes to the point, no insurance cover at all? As the noble Lord has said, many millions of lives are here at stake. Can we therefore have an opportunity soon after the Recess to debate the Motion on Civil Defence which I think is already on the Order Paper?


My Lords, as regards the last question, I understand there is a Motion on the Order Paper in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie. That may be debated sometime during the first or second week of February. I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor (with whose thanks to those connected with Civil Defence I should personally like to associate myself, and my colleagues in the Government) should put down a separate Question to the Minister for Defence, or the Minister responsible for the Army in the Ministry of Defence, about the size of the Territorial Army. On this Statement, I do not think I can answer any questions about the reduction of the Territorial Army.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating this Statement. However, I do not think he quite understands the position about the reference to the Territorial Army. The point is, I gather, that the Territorial Army Part III Reserve are to have an important part to play in civil defence measures, and, in fact, their main role will come in the period after a nuclear attack. It is surprising that there is no mention in this Statement of the Territorial Army Part III Reserve, and furthermore there is no mention of the Territorial Army Associations. If the noble Lord is unable to answer the question to-day (I understand that he has only recently taken up his position, and may well not be able to answer now), I think we should like to know at some early date how this new organisation fits in with the reduced number of Territorial Army Associations which the Government are authorising in the country at large.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for appreciating that this Statement has been handed to me only in the last two hours. If he would like to put down a Question about the co-ordination of the Territorial Army Part III Reserve and the Civil Defence Corps I should be happy to answer it.


My Lords, while appreciating that the present proposals may deal with the purely civil defence side of the Civil Defence Corps, would my noble friend not agree that the Civil Defence Corps, in respect of several disasters—floods, railway accidents, and the recent tragedy in South Wales—rendered yeoman service from the civilian point of view? Will the Corps in its new form still be available for work on disasters?


My Lords, I think so. I do not think it will be limited to a nuclear war, but will be available for any civil emergency or disaster such as those to which my noble friend has referred.