HL Deb 22 March 1967 vol 281 cc775-814

4.22 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, now we can revert to Civil Defence. Even if the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, had not delivered so responsible, so well-informed and so impressive a speech, he would have put us all in his debt by creating this overdue opportunity to discuss this most important subject. My connection with Civil Defence has continued ever since the last war, when I had the honour to represent in another place a much-bombed constituency in South-East London, so that I became closely in touch with many Civil Defence workers there; and ever since I have never ceased to support and admire all of those who have kept the Civil Defence flag flying through difficult years, not only those in positions of responsibility, but the many volunteers to whom the country cannot express sufficient gratitude.

In the seven years when I was head of one or other of the Departments closely concerned with Civil Defence, I was so conscious of this difficulty that it was almost impossible to believe that the fantastic contingencies against which one was planning might one day become realities; and I think all of those at the head of Civil Defence activities are deeply affected by that. But, so long as nuclear weapons exist in conceivably hostile hands, then these almost unthinkable tragedies might happen. That is why it has been common ground among successive Governments that plans must be made accordingly.

All Civil Defence plans cost money. The money is an insurance premium, and we always like to pay as low insurance premiums as we reasonably can. But if in this case the premium we pay is insufficient, it would be better, maybe, to pay none at all. There are two fundamental questions here. First, is the total amount of money made available each year sufficient to produce a Civil Defence foundation that is large and strong enough in peace time to bear a vast expansion in the case of emergency? Secondly, do all the plans fit well enough together to be effective if they had to be put into action? If I may give an example, just as in battle guns are useless without ammunition, so in Civil Defence the fire services will be useless without water supplies and water pipes.

The second question is really an adjunct of the first, because there is no doubt that the planning has been done responsibly and admirably in the Home Office and at the Staff College at Sunningdale and elsewhere; and yet plans may break down if money has not been found for some essential basic needs or equipment. Financially, Civil Defence is being run on a shoestring. It is terribly irksome and frustrating for the volunteers and for those who hold paid appointments alike. They get little recognition or gratitude from the Press or the great British public, and they realise they have far too little money made available to them for all the action and preparation which they know to be desirable.

I cannot help thinking that the Government's latest cuts have snipped so much out of the shoestring that it could now be broken by the slightest strain. The figures that have been given in successive Defence White Papers have been an estimate of £24 million for Home Defence in 1964–65, £22¾ million in 1965–66, £19¾ million in 1966–67, and I think that the strictly comparable figure is £18 million in 1967–68; there is an additional £2 million which now falls on the Civil Votes which used to fall on Defence Votes. The Civil Defence budget was small enough, in all conscience, in 1964. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer has effected a 25 per cent. cut in it since then. The present Home Secretary has accepted this. I am bound to ask whether Home Office Ministers think that what will be left of Civil Defence after these cuts will retain its credibility.

May I say that we all look forward greatly to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. We are delighted that he is again able to take part in a major debate. It would have been a tragedy if we had had to debate this subject without his assistance. As Civil Defence has not been debated here for the past five years, and I believe it has not been debated in another place for 10 years, the noble Lord will realise that we must ask him a series of probing questions.

If one may approach the matter chronologically, decisions on dispersal will have to come early, should the threat of a nuclear attack ever rise above the horizon. What are the Government's plans for dispersal now? The Home Secretary said in another place on February 2, 1966: We consider it desirable to continue with plans for the dispersal of at least certain priority classes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT; Commons, col. 1094.] May I ask how far these plans have now been carried? How long will it be before they reach a point where they can be put into practical effect, if the emergency arises? Broadly, the priority classes were those under eighteen, the mothers of young children, and blind or crippled or aged and infirm people dependent on the care of someone in another of the priority classes. The Home Secretary's statement, which was in answer to a supplementary question, was slightly ambiguous, when he said: at least certain priority classes. I am not sure whether he meant that the list of priority classes was now being cut down. If so, which are not now included any longer?

Is it still the policy to carry out most dispersal by rail, in spite of the abandonment of many railways that lead to the more thinly-populated areas? I am well aware that it is expected that dispersal could only be over relatively short distances compared with former ideas, but nevertheless the rail network will be intensely important. Although successive Governments have struggled with these dispersal plans, it would not surprise me if one day a Government came to 'the conclusion that the best advice to be given to everybody was that they should stay put. I have always felt that it is almost inconceivable that any Government would take upon themselves the colossal responsibility of ordering dispersal, bearing in mind that it would virtually bring the economic life of the country to a standstill before the attack had taken place.

Now I come to the matter of warning of attack. Warning is extremely important because if you are caught in the open you have no chance at all, and even a short period of warning may enable a very large number of people to get under some kind of at any rate semi-effective cover. Is the warning and monitoring system now complete? It should be by now. Are any of the Government's current cuts falling on that system?

If I may refer to a booklet The Hydrogen Bomb, which was published by a previous Government first in 1957, and then reprinted in 1963, on page 28 it says: After a hydrogen bomb explosion vast numbers of people would be in dire need of help. In the immediate vicinity of the bomb crater there would be few survivors. Farther out, however, there would be people trapped in damaged buildings. Others would be injured and needing urgent first aid. As the noble Viscount said, the Government have now decided that there are no longer to be special sections of the Civil Defence Corps trained in the different techniques. I think they also say, or at any rate imply, that it will be impossible to rescue people who are trapped. I cannot believe that the Government will withhold the money, if it is a question of money, for people to be trained and equipped to rescue those who are trapped.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt, we have never said that. There is no publication in which we have said, nor has any Minister ever said, that we shall not have an organisation to rescue people who are trapped.


My Lords, I am seeking to make a probing speech, as the noble Lord will recognise, and one has to try to elicit from the various statements which have been made what is the truth about the Government's thinking. I should like to refer now to paragraph 10 of Appendix "B" to the recent Civil Defence circular of January 31. It says, speaking of rescue work: Extensive specialised Corps activities in this field can no longer be justified. Is it on money grounds, or is it on a new assessment of rescue possibilities? If so, I wonder whether we can hear more about this new assessment, because until fairly recently the Home Office experts told us that very large numbers of casualties, including trapped people in the less damaged areas, could be enabled to survive.

If I may refer again to the pamphlet The Hydrogen Bomb, it says on page 31: … improvisation would not be enough … adequate help for the victims of attack could come only from people trained and organised in advance. An efficient Civil Defence organisation, linked with a public that knows the facts, could save millions of lives. I find some difficulty in appreciating just what the Government envisage. I am not suggesting, as the noble Lord thought, that there was an attitude of callousness, but in reading this new policy it certainly appears sometimes that now the concept is that those who are trapped or seriously injured at a distance of miles from the burst will have to be left to die because they cannot be rescued. What matters to Parliament above all is whether the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, can satisfy us that there will still be an efficient Civil Defence organisation, and that the Government are not saying that improvisation is now all that we can manage.

The Government have announced the abandonment of national recruitment and publicity campaigns for Civil Defence. I myself regret this. It is also announced that there will be no more expenditure, save in the most exceptional circumstances, on buildings for Civil Defence training. I do not know whether the Government are applying any stimulus at all to Industrial Civil Defence, which seems to me to be lagging far behind what is required. I appreciate that the Government want to concentrate the effort of the Civil Defence Corps on helping the local authorities to man the control system and on providing limited numbers of specialists to organise first aid and welfare. By this means they expect to cut the active strength of the Civil Defence Corps by one-third. The noble Lord will not mind my asking whether this is a plan for more effective action or a counsel of despair, because if it were a counsel of despair one wonders whether it is worth spending even the £18 million a year, and whether we might not indeed abandon Civil Defence altogether.

It is made clear in the circular and in the appendix to it that local authority staffs are to be called on for a great deal more at many levels. The noble Viscount from his special knowledge said a good deal on that. I have not so far been able to discover from Government statements or publications what are the financial arrangements proposed if expenditure which has hitherto been financed centrally is in future to fall on the local authority. In connection with this new policy of integrating local authority staffs much more closely with the Civil Defence effort, it seems to me that almost everything will turn on securing the keen co-operation of the local authorities. That co-operation will only be forthcoming if there are no financial problems left outstanding and if the local authorities are left in no doubt as to where the burden of cost is to fall.

The noble Viscount spoke of the training of these local authority staffs. I am not clear whether they are to be trained in normal working hours, or whether it is to be a compulsory obligation on them outside normal working hours. The noble Viscount suggested that under the existing terms of service of local authority staffs this would be entirely voluntary. I see from paragraph 8 of Appendix "B" that the Secretary of State will seek Parliamentary approval for new regulations making explicit the duty of local authorities to train their employees for control duties. Can the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, explain exactly what will be the position of the individual member of the local authority staff in future as regards training?

Also, who is to direct all these extra activities within the local authority? In my experience in urban areas, generally speaking the town clerk has assumed voluntarily considerable extra responsibilities in connection with the overall supervision of Civil Defence in the area. Those duties will become very considerably more burdensome when local authority staffs are to be integrated so much more closely with the work of Civil Defence. It would seem to me, at any rate, that if this combined operation is to work out successfully there will be many town clerks who simply will not be able to give the time to all the Civil Defence side of their duties, and will need extra high-level staff to relieve them of some of the work. That, of course, will cost money. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, can explain what larger part he anticipates the town clerks or, indeed, the clerks of councils will have to play under the new plan, and what additional staff it is contemplated by the Government that councils will have to employ at a high level, and at whose expense. I am not sure whether all this was hammered out by the Government with the local authorities before the Government announced their plans.

I myself have never been in the slightest doubt about the intense importance of restoring law and order as quickly as possible after an attack, together with some semblance of tolerable life for the less damaged parts of the country. The stake, after all, is nothing less than the survival of the British race. If, after nuclear attack, all communications were to break down, if millions of lives were to be lost through sheer ignorance of the whereabouts of the fall-out danger, the whole population of this island might be nearly wiped out, and the British race as such would virtually disappear from the face of the earth. That would be a heavy loss to the future of the world.

There is one further most important question which I want to raise. If there will be any danger greater than fall-out, it will be fire. We know from the last war how the immediate blast effects of an ordinary bomb can be vastly worsened and extended by the uncontrolled spread of fire. A nuclear attack, far outside the range of total destruction, is going to start sporadic fires by heat radiation an immense distance away from the burst. For the last time, may I quote this booklet, The Hydrogen Bomb, which I can see will need to be revised and re-issued in the new circumstances? It states, on pages 29 and 30, that the peace-time fire brigades will be formed into a National Fire Service, which: would be greatly expanded by the mobilisation of several thousand R.A.F. reservists, trained in fire fighting. The fact is that those R.A.F. reservists do not now exist. The peace-time fire services throughout the country are highly trained, but in war they will be far too few, and the Auxiliary Fire Service is short of volunteers. I would judge that unnecessary loss, through small fires which establish themselves and spread unchecked, will be appalling unless the Government in peace-time see to it that thousands more people are trained in fire fighting. What are the Government's intentions in this matter?

None of us could make a comprehensive speech on all the aspects of Civil Defence without taking up far too much time, and I am conscious that on a number of aspects the noble Viscount has spoken much more knowledgeably than I could have done. I am quite sure it has been right in these last ten years progressively to break away from the old-time concepts of the purpose of Civil Defence in the last war. I am sure it has been right to lay progressively more emphasis on the survival and recovery period. But I do not believe that we have yet thought through all that would be essential for enabling the nation to rescue itself from that strange, almost sub-human, form of civilisation which for a time might follow a widespread nuclear attack. I am sure the Government recognise that it will be a colossal task to keep the survivors alive, with uncontaminated food and uncontaminated water; I was going to add, "uncontaminated milk", but it will probably be impossible to get any of that at all for a long time. But it is right to ask the Government whether they have planned adequate preparations for keeping the people alive, apart from maintaining law and order, in this post-explosion period. Is the stockpile of food adequate, for instance?

One could ask so many more questions. If all these plans were not properly made, the suffering of the millions of survivors might be more poignant than the fate of the millions killed outright. This is one of the reasons why we owe so much to the W.R.V.S. and to other voluntary organisations, who address themselves to the immediate emergency after the attack. But it must be the Government who co-ordinate and plan all that, and what Parliament needs to do at this stage, I submit, is not to run away from the horror of it all, but to ask the Government responsibly whether they are satisfied that their plans are adequate and comprehensive.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House, and indeed the whole country, has reason to be very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, for providing this opportunity to discuss this vital question of Civil Defence for the first time for five years. As a Controller-designate, he is one of the people on whom a great and truly awful responsibility would descend if there were a nuclear emergency or attack. His speech was informed, since he spoke with knowledge, with a complete consciousness of his responsibilities and of many of the things which he would have to do. I am extremely grateful to him personally for that, as also for his kindly references to myself.

I am also extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, whose speech I regarded as most helpful. One would have expected an informed speech on this subject to come from a former Home Secretary, and indeed from one who, as a Minister, was responsible for some seven years for various aspects of Civil Defence, or whose Department had to deal with those aspects. I therefore very much welcomed his questions and, indeed, the observations tha he made.

Although we have had two speeches from noble Lords who know a great deal about this subject and who are fully informed of the need for Civil Defence, may I say that I give place neither to them nor to anybody else in this country in my belief that an efficient Civil Defence Service is a vital necessity under present conditions. In answer to one question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, I may say that I would not be standing at this Box and would not be a Minister if I did not believe that the task of Civil Defence, which I am about to explain, was not viable and credible—and it is not only here that I would say this.

As the junior Minister responsible under the Home Secretary for Civil Defence, I gladly accept the invitation of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, to re-state Civil Defence policy and, as he put it, to set out in unmistakable terms the Government's thinking on this subject; and I hope to explain in some detail the changes on which we have decided in the light of the recent review and of the current strategic assessment. I have already been asked a great number of questions, to most of which I hope to be able to reply, but as my speech is the first from a Government spokesman on this subject for five years, I want to set out the whole thing. However, I shall try to answer the questions as I go along, although the answers may not necessarily be in the order in which the questions were put. Although one talks, as it were, to your Lordships and also, if they will listen, to the nation, I am personally conscious of the need to be talking now to the local authorities, to those with responsibility, to the members of the various Civil Defence forces, and to all those who make up the machinery that comprises our great force of Civil Defence.

The noble Viscount has opened this debate, whether through kindness or by chance, on the eve of the season for anti-nuclear marches and demonstrations. We all agree that the principle behind the slogan, "Ban the Bomb", is fervently supported by all the peoples of the world. Unhappily, the Governments of the nations of the world have not yet been able to agree on the means to implement it. Fortunately, as the Defence White Paper made clear, tension in Europe has relaxed, and there is at present little danger of nuclear aggression. Indeed, in the present state of deterrence it is difficult to believe that any rational Government would seek to expose its land and its people to the appalling risks of a nuclear exchange. But no one can say that all danger of a nuclear attack has disappeared, and until we can say that with certainty no Government worthy of the name could leave its people helpless in the aftermath of such a disaster. That is why, I am glad to say, Her Majesty's Government insist on the need for Civil Defence, and on the maintenance of an effective programme of Civil Defence preparations. My first point, therefore—because we are not always preaching to the converted; very far from it—is that, on the basis of these indisputable facts, the continuing need for Civil Defence is alike indisputable.

My second point is that if we ever suffered the horrors of nuclear attack, only Civil Defence could ensure the survival of the nation. There are those who say that in such a disaster we should be helpless, that nothing would avail or survive. We totally reject that view. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, asked: but how are we going to inform the public? I will ask my noble friend Lord Hughes to give some detail on that subject later, but the Government have never sought to conceal or minimise the terrible consequences of nuclear attack. Official publications on sale to the public put the position very bluntly. There can be no certainty about the form of an attack or the weight of the bombs which would be used, but in training Civil Defence personnel we spell out the areas of total destruction, the blast damage and the fire hazard for various sizes of weapons, including the worst.

Perhaps I may take the extreme example, the worst that could happen: an attack with 10 megaton bombs, each of which is equivalent to 10 million tons of T.N.T. Each would totally destroy an area with a radius of three and a half miles, an area in which no living thing would survive. This has some impact on our thinking about heavy rescue, which I shall come to later. Each bomb would create a belt of fires measuring from 7 to 20 miles across, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, mentioned, and would cause varying degrees of blast damage over a similar, possibly a wider, area. Our planning also assumes that wide areas of the whole country, including many not suffering fire and blast damage, would be subjected to the hazards of radioactive fall-out. This is the situation we should face, and we make no secret about it. It would be a man-made holocaust, exceeding in its effects the worst natural disasters in recorded history.

But there would be many areas with millions of people living in them which would suffer only supportable, or even minor, damage. It is the task of Civil Defence to ensure that these people survive, and that orderly government continues wherever there are people to be helped. Our plans provide for the achievement of this task. Without them, millions who survived the first onslaught would undoubtedly perish. Our plans provide for a series of options open to the Government of the day. We are talking about a period which could be one day, ten years or thirty years hence. Therefore, it is a question of a strategic assessment and of making plans to provide the Government of the day, whenever it happens, if it happens, with certain options. And in the course of our review we have greatly improved the options open to the Government at a time of emergency.

Our current planning takes account of the fact that the period between a declaration of a state of emergency and an actual attack may be considerably shorter than that which has previously been assumed—I think the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, guessed that this was so—and we have accordingly concentrated on those protective and control measures which can be maintained in a high state of readiness. I am not referring to the four-minute warning, which some people mistakenly declare to be all the warning we should receive. We think that a "bolt from the blue" in the sense of an attack being launched without a preceding period of international tension, is highly improbable. The time from what I might call "press button"—the Government decision—to readiness would be all too short, but with realistic preparations it would be enough.

My Lords, I think it has already been made clear by the two noble Lords who have spoken, but I cannot emphasise strongly enough, both to the public and indeed to some Civil Defence personnel that I have met when going round, that our preparations are not to be judged in terms of the A.R.P. of the last war, of the rescue worker in the damaged area, of the welfare worker at the rest centre and, as it were, of Government functioning from Whitehall in the usual way. Under nuclear attack, Civil Defence means nothing less than the maintenance, at all levels, of the whole machinery of government, and it involves the control of all services essential to the community, whether in public service or in nationalised or private industry. The vast scale of damage and casualties and the disruption of ordinary communications means that we must have instruments of government able to carry on wherever government is possible. There must be provision for the creation of an authority which, in a given area, could of its own volition marshal resources for the maintenance of law and order, and of food, water, shelter and medical supplies and deploy them to the best advantage for the continued survival of the community.

The foundation for these preparations (and I put this control at the very peak of everything in civil defence; for nothing is of any use without it) is the effective emergency system of decentralised control which we have developed and are continuing to develop at all levels. The largest units are Regional Governments under Regional Commissioners. They and their key staffs have been designated, but the actual seats of Regional Government would, for obvious reasons, be established after attack, in the light of prevailing circumstances. Meantime the sub-regional Government controls—two or three to each region—which will be manned on a declaration of emergency before attack, will be responsible for communications, life-saving operations, and initial survival measures. They will be staffed by the main Government Departments, and the Police, Fire Service, Armed Forces and public utilities. Sub-regional control premises are now available in most of the sub-regions, although some are improvised, and will need to be improved or replaced in the longer term. But they are there.

The next link in the chain of control below sub-regional level is the local authority administrative area. Steady progress is being made with the provision of protected accommodation to provide controls for county borough and county authorities, and for county sub-controls within the larger counties. So far, about one-third of the permanent controls have been provided in England and Wales, and two-thirds in Scotland. Those I have visited, though spartan, are excellently equipped and sufficiently staffed for the job they would have to do (uninformed people have said that these are a sort "funk-hole" for the selected; but they are far from it), but they would not survive in an area of total destruction. That is why the emphasis must always be on flexibility, and on the units of Government operating where and how they can.

In 1964 local authorities were advised to base their plans on the assumption that emergency legislation would provide for the delegation of their peacetime powers to a small emergency committee of about three elected members, and they were asked to nominate one person as Controller. I am glad to say that Controllers have now been designated for all county and county borough areas. The Controller will exercise, in addition to his local authority duties, some central Government functions, and will have powers to co-ordinate central Government and public utility functions at county and county borough level with those of the local authority—for example, to determine priorities in the allocation of labour, materials or transport. In Scotland, planning is adapted to the somewhat different local authority control structure.

The effective discharge of these functions depends on the Controller having close touch with those with the expert knowledge needed for restoring essential services and supplies. For this reason we propose that local authority controls should be manned before attack, with experts drawn from local and central Government, and public utilities, as well as with an operational staff for life-saving. Guidance on the staff needed for the exercise of these controls was issued to local authorities on January 31 last in the circular to which frequent reference has been made. In Scotland it is being prepared, I understand.

Parallel with, and complementary to, the emergency control system we have the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation, about which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor asked a question. I can tell him that there have been no cuts at all in this Organisation. Its purpose is to provide public warning of an actual attack, and afterwards to provide information about the location and power of the nuclear weapons exploded, and the distribution and level of radioactive fall-out. This vital part of our home defence preparations is now complete and could be brought to operational readiness within a matter of hours. The system provides for attack warnings received by the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System at Fylingdales, and other military installations, to be transmitted immediately to 24,000 warning points all over the country so as to give the public a minimum four minutes' warning of actual attack, whether by missiles or by aircraft.

In addition, the well-manned Royal Observer Corps is trained and equipped to track and measure radioactive fall-out. Five Home Department sectors (manned by civil servants), 29 Royal Observer Corps group headquarters and over 1,500 underground Royal Observer Corps posts have been built and are provided with communications and essential equipment. I have visited some of these 1,500 holes in the ground and met the devoted local men and women who man them. No words of mine can pay adequate tribute to their efficiency, dedication, and unswerving determination to play their full part if the need should ever arise. Theirs is a highly efficient organisation. It is there; and, as the Home Secretary made clear last year, we intend to keep it so. Possibly it is true that, so far as the ordinary public are concerned, not one person in twenty knows that this work is going on, day in, day out, week in, week out; but it is. It is there to be used if wanted.

My Lords, coming now to the various elements of the Civil Defence organisation, I would first refer, briefly, to the Fire Service and the Police. Here we have the advantage, in each case, of an existing peace-time service which is being prepared and trained to meet emergency conditions. In the event of war, all local authority fire brigades will be brought under national control. The main part of the Fire Service, to which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, made special reference, would be formed into mobile fire columns, constituted from the regular Fire Service, recalled personnel (which he omitted to mention), and the Auxiliary Fire Service. It is true that we do not have the number of trained personnel that we should like; but those we have are well trained and are far from being a negligible quantity. These columns would be based outside the probable target areas. Ail members, both regular and auxiliary, of local authority fire brigades receive training in the special techniques of emergency fire-fighting, and use the special equipment and vehicles provided for the purpose.

Another thing I am glad to say is that we have large stocks of equipment for this purpose. This, of course, as noble Lords will be aware, is equipment that we do not use now, except for exercise, because there is no present need. But it would be used in emergency because, for example, there might then be no other means of conveying water. General training takes place within fire brigades, but we at the Home Office Fire Service Training Centres provide specialist courses; and liaison between the regional Governments would be maintained through regional fire commanders all of whom were appointed some time ago. as were the regional police commanders.

In the case of the police, we propose that the bulk of the service should, in the event of an emergency, remain as home cover forces in their own areas. A substantial proportion of police manpower will, however, be withdrawn from police operations prior to attack and formed into mobile police columns. Their task would be to provide a mobile reserve of trained manpower for use after attack, wherever the need was greatest. To assist in training police officers for their war-time duties we have at present one mobile training column, and we shall have a second column by the end of the year.

In the maintenance of law and order the police will have the support of the Armed Forces, including the invaluable assistance of the 23,000 men of the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve III, whose training will be designed to prepare them to co-operate with the police in a variety of ways. And here I would say how glad I am to think that we shall have that support which would be so badly needed for the maintenance of law and order. I agree entirely with what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, on this subject; but we have the system there and we shall have the means, certainly the framework and the structure, which will bear, as the noble Viscount asked, the sudden necessary expansion.

My Lords, so far I have filled in the background to the whole field of Civil Defence policy and tried to illustrate the total concept and the change of governmental control right down. I come now to the reorganisation of the Civil Defence Corps itself which the Home Secretary announced to Parliament last December. This inevitably took longer to decide, and I make no apology for the delay. After all, I have suffered more than most. For two years I have been going around the country making speeches on Civil Defence—and did not say a word; and therefore it is a great relief for me to be able to say something at last. But in a matter as important as this we did have to make the most careful and searching study. It was important to be certain that the foundations we were laying for the future were sound. We had to secure the widest measure of agreement among all the interests concerned, which necessarily involved long calculations; and I want to say how grateful we are to the representatives of local authorities who worked so hard on the Working Party, which is in itself an assurance, because of these consultations, that they think our decisions are on the right lines.

In his Statement my right honourable friend said that the Corps was to be reorganised and its numbers substantially reduced. Its future role would be to help local authorities man the control system and provide a limited number of specialists to help organise the first aid and welfare resources of the community. He mentioned that, after the period of adjustment, the active strength of the Corps throughout Great Britain was likely to be 75,000 to 80,000 compared with about 122,000. A Parliamentary Statement was necessarily short and I am glad to have this opportunity of speaking more fully of the nature of the changes to be made, and our reasons for them.

My Lords, bearing in mind that the overall purpose of the vitally important control system is the carrying on of government in war, it is obvious that local government staffs are specially well fitted for this task, and local authorities will be expected to make the fullest possible use of their own staffs in manning the control system. The numbers of local authority staffs required to fill control appointments will not be large. In the extreme case, that of the very largest county controls, the maximum would be 90, and of course correspondingly less in county boroughs and county districts, but we recognise that they may need help. The position will vary from one area to another. Some larger local authorities may be able to manage; the smaller ones will certainly require assistance. At nearly all controls scientific support and help with signal staff (a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie) in manning communications of course will be needed—we recognise that—and the smaller authorities may also need operations, information, intelligence and administrative support. Provision of this help is, in our view, the principal future task of the Corps.

The system of control extends still further downwards from the local authority controls to sector posts and control posts. Hitherto it has been the role of the warden section to man these lower levels in the control system. The word "warden" has an honoured place in the history of Civil Defence, but it is no longer entirely appropriate to the role now envisaged, which is essentially that of a local leader, responsible at these lower levels for the mobilisation of community resources. The term "warden" has therefore been replaced by "control officer", and the "warden post" has become the "control post". At sector and control posts, as at the local authority controls, the task of the Corps will, in principle, be to supplement the resources of the local authority, but the manning of many of them is likely to fall largely on the Corps, which will therefore play a vital part in the system of public control at local level.

The remaining task of the Corps in the future will be to provide limited numbers of specialists to help organise first aid and welfare resources, but they will no longer be expected to provide large numbers of "pairs of hands" for these tasks. Reliance will now be placed in the main on the voluntary organisations. The St. John Ambulance Brigade, the St. Andrews Association in Scotland and the British Red Cross Society have agreed to assist local authorities, I am glad to say, in carrying out their first aid functions.

The W.R.V.S. has always made a considerable contribution to the welfare section of the Corps and has trained its own members and other women in welfare duties. They have now expressed their willingness to expand their instructional services and to make them available to more women so as to help local authorities to discharge their welfare functions in an emergency. We have made it clear in our circular that we look to local authorities to avail themselves of this valuable assistance. My Lords, the nation is extremely indebted to the W.R.V.S. for their tremendous work for Civil Defence—A.R.P. at it was—over a period of some 29 years. Now, as has already been mentioned, they approach the conclusion of their great enterprise in conveying the essential facts of Civil Defence to 3 million women in all parts of the country.

We may add to the Civil Defence workers 3 million women who have been given the facts, or the essential facts. True it has been done through the great enterprise, determination and devotion of the noble Marchioness, Lady Reading, and her members, but there are a lot of people, fortunately, who do know the essential facts about Civil Defence. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, asked about local authorities carrying this matter wider. Local authorities can conduct talks on the facts of life in the Civil Defence if they wish to do so. We certainly would not discourage that. But we are glad to know that we can look to the W.R.V.S. for indispensable assistance in preparing women for the manifold welfare duties which would be required in an emergency, including emergency feeding, care of the homeless, billeting, and (a point that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, put to me) if the Government of the day decided to exercise another option that we shall provide, dispersing mothers and children from the main centres of population.

The noble Lord was right to suggest that the system we had in mind meant shorter distances, and there has been no change in our minds as to the classes which should be regarded as priority. I agree with the noble Lord that this is an option that we should provide. We propose to provide that option. It might well be open to the Government of the day faced with the emergency to decide to advise people to stay put. But it is up to us to provide that option and to be ready, and in that case the W.R.V.S. and other voluntary bodies will have an enormous part to play.

Scientific assessment, on which we must rely, shows that rescue operations can make only a limited contribution to the saving of life after a nuclear attack. This is inevitable, given the size of the task, the limited time available for operations owing to the fall-out hazard, and the scale of resources necessary to make any appreciable impact on the situation. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, spoke about saving the lives of a few thousand people, and suggested that if it was only a question of money it should still be done. If your Lordships can conceive of an area of total destruction, a wider area ravaged by fire, and the whole area under fall-out, you will appreciate that a considerable time will elapse before anyone can get near it.

We are being realistic in our preparations. We are not thinking in terms of the A.R.P. of 1939. We do not propose to meet the conditions envisaged, as has been done three times this century, by starting a war on the basis of the techniques of the previous one. We have made a scientific assessment of the situation, subject to constant review and consideration, and what I am now putting before your Lordships is our best assessment of what should be done and of the instruments which should be created to meet the situation envisaged.


My Lords, I have listened with the greatest interest to what the noble Lord has said. May I ask him whether there has been a substantial change in policy, thanks to relatively recent scientific assessment? I remember the time when it was expected that rescue workers would have to operate under fall-out with clear knowledge as to the amount of exposure which could be permitted, but it was then hoped to be possible to rescue a substantial number of people. Is it the case that the newest scientific assessment suggests that it will be impossible to rescue as many as had been hoped?


My Lords, I am speaking of heavy rescue. It is still envisaged that Civil Defence workers with protective clothing will work under fall-out, and they are being trained for that purpose. But the noble Lord must have looked at this many times and he will appreciate that radioactive fall-out is only one of the difficulties in connection with heavy rescue. Our assessment of the situation is that vast-scale resources would be needed to make any appreciable impact on the situation at all, apart from those people, many of them in the areas of lesser destruction farther away from the centre, for whom we intend to provide rescue arrangements.

In future the main provision for rescue will be led by those whose peace-time work and expertise fit them for it—for example, a local authority's own labour force, perhaps supplemented by industrial resources, depending on the circumstances at the time, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, suggested. Now that decisions have been made, I hope that they will continue to grow in strength. The Fire Service will also render valuable assistance. Extensive specialised Corps activity in heavy rescue can no longer be justified, but the more elementary rescue skills will be taught to every member of the Civil Defence Corps, and provision will be made for a limited number of members of the Corps to receive further rescue training, which will enable them to act as leaders and to give special advice to Corps members and others made available for rescue tasks.

Augmentation of the ambulance services in England and Wales will no longer be a function of the Corps. The Minister of Health is planning new arrangements for the expansion of the service and the local authority associations will be consulted as soon as draft plans are complete. Because of these fundamental changes in the role of the Corps, it will no longer be divided into sections. The tasks hitherto discharged by the rescue, ambulance and first-aid and welfare sections will not in future fall to the Corps on a scale sufficient to justify a continuation of separate sections for these purposes. I think that that must be generally accepted. If the Corps is not divided into sections, there will be far greater scope for local discretion in deploying its members to supplement the staffs of local authorities, and it will help to simplify training arrangements. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, mentioned the training arrangements, and I am sure that he has studied our proposals. They are being adapted to these new roles, and I think adapted effectively. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, asked how we were relating scientific assessments to training. The latest training manual for instructors, which was published in January of this year, brings our information right up to date.

The conditions of service of members of the Corps have been modified to meet the needs of its revised functions and structure. Class A will continue to provide a nucleus of highly trained volunteers to fill key posts, but a reserve which could be utilised in any emergency will also be built up to provide a source of trained manpower to deal with the many tasks arising within control post areas. Accordingly, mem- bers of the Corps will be enrolled on a short service active engagement and will ordinarily pass to the reserve on completion of a single term. The normal term of active engagement will be four years, composed of one year's recruit service followed by a three-year period in Class A.

The reserve will be divided into two classes. Emergency List I will consist of members who pass to the reserve on completion of their period of engagement in Class A. Emergency List II will comprise those who have completed recruit training, but not training in Class A. All possible links between active and reserve members will be preserved, and reservists will from time to time be asked to take part in exercises or to attend a refresher session of training. I attach great importance to the maintenance of a large, well-trained reserve, who would all have a vital contribution to make in an emergency, particularly in helping to man the sector and control posts and so provide local leadership. Indeed it is for this reason that the reduction in the size of the Corps and the change in its functions in no way reduces its importance—quite the reverse. Under the new arrangements, members will need to be able to turn their hands to whatever task is most necessary at the time, and all volunteers will be trained in more than one function so as to provide the greatest flexibility in their use. For these tasks we shall continue to need volunteers of a high calibre, with qualities of leadership and versatility—in fact, a corps d'élite, backed by a substantial, highly trained, and constantly refreshed reserve, which in my view, having regard to the remarkably good morale which prevails, will provide an even more efficient service than we have at present.

The noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, asked me to say something about the cost of Civil Defence. I think your Lordships will agree that my speech is already overlong, and I propose to leave it to my noble friend Lord Hughes to give details of finance when he winds up the debate. But perhaps I might say that, while we have necessarily had to review expenditure both in the light of the current strategic assessment and of the need to restrict Defence expenditure as a whole, we are continuing to ensure a viable and comprehensive Civil Defence organisation. This has been achieved by the most thorough revaluation of all previous plans to ensure that every measure would still earn its cost on current planning assumptions, and that our available resources were concentrated on the really essential tasks. Excluding the £2 million contribution to the cost of T. and A.V.R. III, the cost of Civil Defence in 1967–68 will be £18 million. This compares with the cost of £30 million which, at current prices, was the figure forecast for that year before we began our review and reorganisation. In these days of inexorably rising estimates it is an achievement which I am glad to place on record. The £18 million covers the Home Defence expenditure of all civil departments.

I have only had time this afternoon to discuss the preparations of the Home Departments—the control system, the Civil Defence Corps, Police, Fire and warning and monitoring. But those of your Lordships who have studied Appendix "J" of the White Paper on the Defence Estimates will have seen the number of other Departments included and the diversity of matters covered by what we call Civil Defence. The Minister of Transport's emergency port scheme, the Minister of Power's emergency plans for the gas and electricity industries and the supply of oil, the Minister of Agriculture's plans for food—the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, mentioned stocks of food—all these and more go to make up the complete picture. The price of all this is certainly the cheapest and one of the most important insurance premiums of which I have knowledge. And it has only been made possible by the selfless devotion of an army of volunteers, who year in year out train and equip themselves to face a dreadful emergency that we all pray will never happen. They deserve well of their country.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, so many people have spoken so much about Civil Defence, yet some people wonder what Civil Defence really is. I think we should make it clear, both to ourselves and to other people, that broadly speaking Civil Defence is the emergency service that one gives to the nation in a time of great trouble. As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, whom we are all so pleased to see here to-day, said, in its final analogy Civil Defence is essentially the carrying on of Government in war. But this is obviously, and should always remain, in the final sense only. Civil Defence is perhaps the most difficult of any task that any human being can undertake. It is so for a great many reasons, and primarily because it is hard to translate in its local application, because nobody ever believes that the worst can happen to him. This is true of so many things, and it is particularly true of Civil Defence.

The second reason is that it demands a great sacrifice of leisure from those who serve it; and people, although they know they should have an insurance, are slack and lax about paying the instalments on it. Thirdly, it should be the responsibility of everyone. But many people evade their responsibility until the very last moment, and then it is too late because of their unpreparedness. I do not say this in the way of just voicing words. I say it after many years' experience of Civil Defence. I feel that this is one of the prime difficulties that we always have to face as we discuss and, even more, as we operate Civil Defence itself at the local level.

Civil Defence as an arm of defence has, like all of Her Majesty's Services, gone through many phases of change. The present movement to prepare and shape a system with lines of communication, with an observer and warning system, with trained, responsible officers, is something which seems to me not only wise, but practical and workable. It means decentralisation, so that local self-reliance and local delegation of responsibility can be assumed. This is surely what we want if we want local participation, because with modern methods of communication, public utilities and transport, the local unit must to-day be self-sufficient.

It is therefore right to my mind that Civil Defence should be handled by local authorities so that they can take responsibility for the local unit. Those of us who work with this arm of defence know that the survival of public utilities is of the greatest importance. I know that I, for one, would never have realised this had I not met it head-on. And local authorities often have the full responsibility for, and always have the full knowledge of, public utilities. These, and communications at local level, are much less likely to be dislocated if they are operated at their lowest common denominator, rather than from a distance. This gives the merit of independence and the generating of a self-sufficiency which in the ultimate should be of the greatest value.

It is necessary, I am sure, to recognise that the greatest necessity of all is to have people trained at every level in every area. It is no earthly use having a lot of highly trained and highly skilled people in one area who cannot move into another one. Therefore, it seems right that local authorities should now be occupied, as they are, with the problem of changing the shape of Civil Defence in their own areas, and finding out how they can effect the economies they have been asked to make, so that a plan can be ready to dominate as from the end of September.

Many things could be overlooked if we did not suggest them ourselves. One of them, I think, is the interest that could be encouraged in youth. Too often people suggest that youth should do jobs which have no challenge. Today we know that much of youth has played an invaluable part in the past in connection with all kinds of emergencies. They could play this part in the future if those who are responsible took the trouble to encourage, to train, to guide and to meld them in with a sense of responsibility into the general structure. Local community effort and local community service could be stimulated through youth, and the initiative and the provision of minimum necessities to them for doing their work is something that should be thought about carefully.

I do not think your Lordships will expect me to be so ungenerous as to pay tribute just to Civil Defence and not to Civil Defence workers in the welfare section. I have worked with them and for them since 1938, and my interest, which I should declare, is that I am at present the Chairman of the W.R.V.S. Workers up and down the country—not just the W.V.S., but all sorts of workers—have done so much more than could have been expected of them; and words as tributes seem so very inadequate. The one-in-five scheme which the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, mentioned was merely an effort to make men realise that if they would listen to women most of their troubles would be dispersed. Therefore, knowing which was the wiser of the two, we thought that if just one in five of the adult population of women could know the basic facts of what an attack on the country could mean, this would be a help to men! We thought we must be practical in doing such a thing, and therefore we realised that it would not be any good having a target of three million. We should have to work right down to the village target figure, so that in fact, if there is to be an informed public, it will be on a local basis and not where they cannot be of use at the moment when the need arises.

Nobody so far in this debate has spoken of the fact that these are days when those of us who are old in years have to withdraw from Civil Defence. This is a truth. There are too many old people in Civil Defence, and I would boast that in fact I am no longer in charge of Civil Defence in my own service; and I would say with misery that I have to answer to one of my juniors who has now taken over the responsibility. I do not know that she enjoys it entirely; but still, I do my best.

I should like to devote my time this evening to the question of welfare, because I know that someone who is much more qualified than I am will speak on behalf of the voluntary aid services. Whether one is working in welfare or in any other field of Civil Defence work it is absolutely essential for everyone to qualify well and truly in first aid. In the field of welfare there is a body of people who will be playing a big part in survival, and I think the people who are to-day in the welfare section should have an opportunity of becoming the officers of to-morrow in connection with welfare work. Many of them will go on to the emergency list, but many others will retire, either because of age or for some other reason, and I should like to plead that it be never forgotten that all persons who have once taken a proper training are informed members of the public and therefore, wherever they lived, would be of value in playing their part if ever the dread moment were to come.

Experience has certainly taught me, and I am sure it has taught many other people, even if it were not self-evident, that at any time of emergency it is necessary to have additional and trained support for all services, whether in the field of welfare or elsewhere. For this reason, training must be carried out to a tremendous extent. As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has stated, the W.R.V.S. has undertaken to do training on a very big scale, and I need hardly say that the content of the syllabus has been agreed with the Government Departments concerned. I hope that all W.R.V.S. members will, as members of the women's auxiliary to Civil Defence, prepare themselves by training for the kind of service that they may be called upon to give.

As an auxiliary, W.R.V.S. have lived through the changes which started with A.R.P. and we have reached a belief that the approach—where women are concerned—is to prevent them from feeling that each individual woman is being asked to sign a "life sentence". This may be a feeling that women have more than men, but the difficulty in getting a woman to sign on the dotted line in connection with any sort of service is great. For this reason, we have undertaken, in addition to training our own members, to give elementary welfare training to those women who would like to have an opportunity to take this training but who are unable to undertake any specific commitment and who do not wish to join W.R.V.S. itself. We shall urge everyone who is taking such training to go on and take training in first aid. This would mean that a great mass of women, because they had taken some slight training, would be of value at the local level, if in no other way, by knowing what to do for themselves and their families.

Training will be on three bases; that it will be practical; it will be where the volunteer wants it (not making her go a distance for it), and it will be when she wants it, which will mean that it will stop a lot of quarrels with her husband. This will be a convenience to women who cannot travel distances in order to fulfill the present regulations of a class of so many people at such a place and at such a time.

I believe that this service to the "consumer" will be made possible by a great increase in the number of women who will come forward to be qualified. It can be attained only by having a sufficiency of qualified and authorised trainers, who will manifest the third letter in "W.R.V.S." and will not receive any fees, although the standard of training will be as high as it is to-day, if not higher, All trainers will have to he qualified and authorised, and, in addition —and this is a new thing which does not operate at present—they will have to be retested periodically, so as to obviate that ghastly "waffler" who always sends the audience to sleep.

Women at the ordinary local level who are doing day-to-day work will, in fact, be of great value; they are operating today in the field of welfare, and in practically every case they are working to a statutory body. Those who are doing meals-on-wheels are working ultimately to the local authority officer who is responsible for this particular phase of local authority work; those who are doing housing work are working ultimately to the housing manager; and those who are doing work for old people are working to the welfare service. This day-to-day work has unconsciously taught the worker lines of communication, chains of responsibility and local authority machinery, and this has given them their contacts with the person in control, as well as the general "know-how" of their own locality. These women are known locally and have earned the confidence of those they serve, and the type of service they have learned to give —"blown up" in an emergency and under the control of skilled persons—is not only possible but desirable from the point of view of work, of morale and of survival. What we envisage is, of course, recognised as being full of difficulties. Obstacles will be legion and will have to be overcome; but women do understand women, and we believe that the objective of this scheme can be achieved.

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, my contribution to this debate will be a brief one because there is only one particular point that I wish to make. However, I should like to begin, speaking on behalf of the Churches, to express our gratitude to the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, for initiating this debate to-day and for the most important statements which have followed. The conditions under which we might have to try to exist, if such a terrible thing as we have been contemplating should fall upon us, are so dreadful that it would be highly difficult to imagine them, and it has rightly been stressed in this debate that it is no use our thinking of Civil Defence in terms of what was done in the last war. Obviously this is an entirely different matter. Nevertheless, the basic human needs remain the same.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, spoke about the need for uncontaminated water, food, and so on, thus satisfying bodily needs. There are also the spiritual needs, and the question of the maintenance of morale. I believe that in this matter of the maintenance of the morale much can be done by those who are accustomed to working among the people, and who know them and are trusted by them. Here I would come to the part that the clergy and Ministers of religion might well play in this and would wish to play in this.

Naturally, one thinks about what happened at the outset of the last war, with the evacuation of the children and then the onset of the bombing. I found myself in those days as the vicar of a parish in Southampton, and we had both those experiences; the evacuation of the children and then, subsequently, what in those days was very heavy bombing. I know that the fact that the clergy were in the closest touch with the Civil Defence organisation in those days was of very great value. Looking back on it all, I am pleased to think that the Civil Defence organisation of those days told us in the Churches that they valued the contribution we were endeavouring to make. I remember that shortly before I left the Civil Defence organisation of the town held a special parade service in my church, and we had many contacts together which we greatly valued; and I know that the Churches were able to play a most valuable part because the people knew the clergy and I think they trusted them.

When we come to what might happen in the future, it will be appreciated that, having had all this close contact in the past, I was particularly pleased to be invited to serve on the committee which in 1963 was called together by the then Home Secretary, now the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, to consider the whole question of the part which the clergy and ministers of religion might play in war. This committee, which was under the chairmanship of a high official in the Home Office, was fully representative of all the Churches, and it included the Secretary of the Churches Main Committee—that is, the body which in these matters represents all the main Christian denominations in the country; and in this matter the Jewish community also is associated with it. We had a number of meetings at the Home Office. We went into this aspect very thoroughly, and we produced a report. It will therefore be understood that there was considerable disappointment among some of us when the Government decided, in the end, that they were not going to publicise this report, and nothing further was done about it. I am not complaining about this matter, because it is fully understood what the reasons for this delay may have been.

In 1965 the Churches Main Committee to which I have referred issued a circular setting out that it had been decided by the then Government that it would be premature to issue a report at the present juncture, in view of the further consideration which the Government were giving to the whole question of defence policy. This further consideration has been given by the Government over the last two years, and we hear that various circulars have been issued. I hope very much that we shall soon hear from the Government what they would wish the clergy and Ministers of religion to try to do in this matter; because since then we have not heard anything. I believe that it is folly not to call on people of good will who might be of the utmost assistance. We should like to play our part. Before the last war we all went to the Civil Defence courses; we went to first aid courses; we went into the examinations, and I well remember how hard I tried, because I thought it would be disgraceful if my curate passed the examination and I failed. I mention this merely to show that we were really trying.

In the awful conditions we are contemplating I believe that the spiritual needs of people will be very great, and I believe that the clergy can do much to help them at that time. But we, the clergy and ministers, will be far more able to help the people if we are given the necessary instruction and given the lead for which we are asking. This report tried to give that lead, and we worked very hard. Perhaps the report that was not published may have been no good, but I certainly hope that something will be done in order that we may be given the lead for which we are asking and pleading.

I should like to touch on one other matter, and that is the question of premises. Again, we are thinking in different terms altogether from those of the last war, but I know that at that time premises owned by the Churches were very valuable in moments of stress. How well I recall, for instance, my own church hall suddenly having a whole lot of French troops billeted there after they had been withdrawn from Dunkirk! I am sure that the Churches would like to play their part in being as helpful as possible in this matter of the use of premises. The present position is not over-clear, and if the Churches could be helped a little more in this matter by the Home Office it would assist us.


My Lords, may I intervene?—because I am not sure why the position is not clear. In any case, as the right reverend Prelate will be aware, he and other Bishops have been invited to let us know if there were any points which were not clear.


My Lords, perhaps if I could have a word with the noble Lord at a later stage I could make it plain why it is not quite clear.

Finally, I would say this. It has been my duty and privilege during this week to take the Prayers in the House, and I always feel that they are magnificent Prayers: that Prayer for the Parliament is most moving, and in it we speak of "the peace and tranquillity of the realm". The subject we have been discussing this afternoon is one which concerns the very life and death of the nation, and while obviously, as is rightly being stressed to-day, we must take all possible steps to see that we meet such a calamity as efficiently as we can, what I would ask is that we should pray that this calamity may, by God's mercy, never come. I therefore feel that I should be remiss if I allowed this opportunity to go by without saying that I hope that all believers in God in this country—and I trust in many other countries too—will continually pray that men may not be so led along the paths of folly and wickedness that such a disaster as this ever overtakes the human race. And in that effort all of us can surely play our part.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I will only detain the House for a few minutes, as most of the points I wanted to make have been made, and probably better than I could have made them. I would welcome the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who I am delighted to see back in his place, and quote what he said, that Civil Defence was "a vital necessity". "Vital" is the right word. Where a country is threatened with attack, only two things are vital, and the rest are merely mightily important. The first is the will to resist, and the second is possession of the training and equipment with which to resist. We are a little apt to think of Civil Defence in the present day as entirely our own affair. It is a preoccupation of a great many of our allies as well.

No two countries have quite the same problem. In Canada, where you have 13 large centres of population, strung along about a 3,500 mile border, and a wind that blows predictably evenly so that you can guess where the fall-out is going, and with a car to every three and a half people, some possibility of evacuation might very clearly be considered. Whether they will consider it I do not know. But we, I think, with this overcrowded country of ours, have to budget to stay pretty well where we are. As noble Lords have said, we depend on two things, a large force of trained volunteers—and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, said, properly trained in every area—and a public that knows what to expect, what is expected of it, where to go, and what to do in a survivable situation. That is what we are dealing with—the area beyond the ring of fire, the survivable belt.

I think the first thing that I would press on the Government is the urgent need for much more publicity. I join the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, who made a most earnest plea for this. It must not be local publicity, where some authorities do it and others do not. It must be national publicity, however contentious, however horrible, and however unpopular. The right reverend Prelate has made a most eloquent plea for this very thing. Governments did not flinch before the war to tell the people of Britain the full horrors of mustard gas, Lewisite gas, and all those other things to which we were going to be exposed.

It is possible to reduce one's commitments in the foreign field, and consequently to reduce one's armaments, by shrinking these overseas commitments. But this is an absolutely unshrinkable commitment to the people of Britain, who stay there in their same numbers, and to whom we owe the maximum protection that we can properly give them. This is not anything absolutely new. I think it helps to see this threat in some kind of historical perspective. There always has been a threat. I was reading the other day a letter to the journals from a gentleman who was most concerned about the invention of a new death dealing weapon. He picked up his pen and he wrote to the paper as follows: If, moreover, this new system is applied to the military, war could shortly become so frightful as to exceed all bounds of imagination, and future wars would threaten, in a few years, to destroy not only armies, but civilisation itself. That letter to the papers was written in 1817, by a man who was immensely concerned to read about the invention of the percussion lock; and it was thought that that would be the result if it ever succeeded the old flint lock.

I have only a word or two to add to that. I think it is well worth remembering what tremendous achievements Civil Defence has had in this country. It has now become accepted by the civilians of this country, like the fire brigade and the police, as an arm of public service which is there to help. They felt that, I am sure, at Aberfan. We in Scotland certainly felt it in Aberdeen some few weeks ago when a large building collapsed, burying a number of people. The Civil Defence people were on the spot quickly, and undoubtedly they helped to save a number of lives. I see Lord Hughes in his place, and I would ask him to comment, if he would, on an article which appeared in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of March 10. It was an interview with Mr. James Smith, the Civil Defence officer there, who said that in the event of a nuclear attack Aberdeen would need 3,000 workers. He said he had 1,000. Perhaps Lord Hughes could comment on that, and say when we could possibly hope to recruit the rest. Mr. Smith, I may say, expressed the greatest possible confidence in the Government's new plan. What sometimes clouds our thinking is only considering the blazing centre of a nuclear explosion. There must be an enormous area around it which could be called survivable.

I would venture to say two further things before sitting down, just to remind your Lordships of two calamities which have happened in my lifetime and that of most other noble Lords, too. One was the Napier earthquake, and one was the flooding of the Fraser River in British Columbia, the first in the early 1930s and the second in early 1948. Napier was a town of 19,000 inhabitants in New Zealand. With a most law-abiding people, they had but a small police force, and, I imagine, not a large fire fighting force. They had no soldiery anywhere about. They had not been needed. They had in fact no formed body to deal with the calamity. That was one of the most terrible earthquakes that has ever occurred in history. In a trice the water-mains were broken; there was no food, water or transport; and there was no light. Two warships reached there the following day and brought some kind of government structure to help out. But of the 260 people who perished in that earthquake, I feel that had there been a chain of command many of them would have survived.

Then in 1948 the Fraser River came down in tremendous flood, sweeping away whole villages and parts of townships, flooding farms and a great deal of the country. The flood waters were rising. It was only three years after the war, and they got hold of three or four militia regiments—territorials, as we call them here—who were battle-hardened men for the most part, strongly disciplined, and they took over the entire fight. It was they who rescued the people; it was they who dealt with the sandbagging of the river banks, preventing the flooding getting worse. It was they who kept law and order. It was they who produced medicines, food, rescue, communications and everything. It happened in a part of the world where they had these trained people, and an almost inconsiderable loss of life resulted, whereas if they had not been there, the loss of life would have been something terrible.

In bringing my remarks to an end, I would just say (as I think many noble Lords have already said today, but it bears repeating) that this intractable commitment to the people of Britain depends on the morale and training of volunteers; and it depends on the level of information of the public. I wish Her Majesty's Government extremely well in putting through their policy, and in bringing to an end this uncertainty which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, has mentioned, has hovered over us for the last two years. I end by saying that perhaps not everybody quite realises that one of the most significant deterrents to prevent an aggressor nation going to war is the realisation that the nation they intend to attack is determined to survive, and that, I believe, is our resolution here.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, it has been communicated to me that, at a certain time of the clock, we shall have to adjourn during pleasure, so I shall endeavour to trim what I had intended to say into the time that remains. But I do want to declare where I stand to start with, by saying that I believe that an adequate, but not necessarily extravagant, Civil Defence organisation is necessary. I greatly admire the men and women who serve in it.

One particular difficulty in the Civil Defence movement is that it is an organisation without glamour, particularly in peace time. But a week or two ago I discovered one quarter where the Civil Defence organisation was appreciated. It was in Chelmsford Gaol. They had enjoyed a lecture from one of our Civil Defence officers. He found that they were far more attentive than the normal audience which he addressed. Whether they thought that he would be training them in the use of ladders for rescue purposes, I do not know.

However, I do not want to argue about ideology or psychology, except to say that I think it would be stupid to create the impression that if we have a Civil Defence service we can almost shut our eyes to the menace of the H-bomb. There is no complete defence against that weapon. We have to face it. All the same, an efficient Civil Defence service can save a large number of lives, and could keep the community running; and in the present state of the world, some form of Civil Defence is most certainly necessary.

Let us look round the world. America has some 1,700 bombs of the biggest size. Russia has about the same. De Gaulle is experimenting by blowing them up in the Sahara. Even China is discovering the secrets of nuclear weapons. And in Germany there has been really alarming progress in the technique of making bombs and putting plutonium to warlike uses. My attitude to Germany is a friendly one. But will Germany always be friendly? We are hearing quite a lot about the Oder-Neisse line, about the eastern provinces and about new Nazi leaders who are trying to drive the band-waggon. I do not feel quite so comfortable about the future as I should like to be.

However, at the moment we are living in a relatively peaceful present, and I think we can take a broadly calm and rational view of the situation. I do not think that any of us fears a Russian offensive. I think a new era has dawned in Russian relationships with the West. But to get rid of Civil Defence now, in a somewhat uncertain state of the world, would, in some respects I think, be like getting rid of our dog and hoping that burglars will never visit us. A word has to be said about the value of the Civil Defence organisation in dealing with what one might call civilian catastrophes. We have seen much of their efforts in recent months, and they will always be a valuable reinforcement for the civil forces of law and order, to use the term in its broadest sense.

What kind of Civil Defence organisation do we need? We want to have our minds on two things. We must not spend more than we can afford. On the other hand, what we do spend must assuredly yield us a service which we can regard as efficient. I think that the scheme which the Government are now considering is justified on both those grounds. But there are some rather jagged edges which will have to undergo close examination in the next few months. First of all, there is the question of money. If the cuts are made too drastic, we might have chaos. We might not be saving money, but might be wasting the whole of the money which has been spent on the Civil Defence force. There is more sense in spending 10s. and getting 10s.-worth of real value, than in spending 8s. and wasting the lot.

We have already had cuts of £4 million in the last three years. The large shelter system has been abandoned, quite rightly, and the dispersal system has been restricted and limited. The spending on training centres has been cut, and I would ask my noble friend what the position is about the famous training centre at Warley which was to cost £60,000. Is my noble friend able to assure us that the Warley Civil Defence training centre will now be abandoned or postponed?


My Lords, is my noble friend speaking about the shattered village?




I can give him that assurance.


I think that is pleasant, having regard to the present state of people's minds.

As we know, 45,000 people are going to be sacked from the Civil Defence force, with some considerable saving of money. Personally I do not like the way we say to these 45,000 people, "You have sacrificed your time, you are serving well, you will probably be useful. But we cannot keep you—go away!" I do not like that, but I realise the inevitability of it. We are now asking for a cut of £1 million, which brings the cuts up to 20 per cent. since 1965. I doubt whether that £1 million saving will be achieved. If it is achieved it might be counterbalanced by extra work and expense which will fall on staffs of local authorities and the ratepayers.

Cutting off £1 million is not an easy task at the moment. There will have to be control rooms built in council offices, and that will cost money. There are many leases which are now running for premises built for Civil Defence and which will have to be surrendered. There will also have to be compensation. There are many Civil Defence officers whom we shall have to suspend, and they will have to receive redundancy pay. Many voluntary organisations will be called upon to put in more work in the future than they have done in the past, and probably there will have to be some subsidies or subventions. Many Civil Defence centres are going to be closed, with the result that volunteers will have longer distances to travel to the centres, and we shall have to meet the extra travelling expenses. Therefore, this cut in expenditure to the extent of £1 million is not going to be an entirely one-sided operation.

Incidentally, I would ask whether the Home Office have yet completed the costing operation which they told us a few months ago they were undertaking. If some of this counter-expenditure eats into the £1 million saving, I hope the Ministry will not come back in a few months' time with a programme for another set of cuts for local authorities to put into operation.

My main interest is to see whether the exercise will result in more efficiency. I think it will. I think we may need a longer transition period in order to get into full working operation. There are many difficulties associated with it, there will have to be many delicate negotiations, but I think that it will be a good thing. As noble Lords are aware, at present the Civil Defence bodies are the county councils and county boroughs, and quite rightly under the new scheme they will continue in that capacity.

In this new scheme there is a considerable change in the whole emphasis and orientation. The councils will have direct responsibility to undertake more work, and there will be a change in emphasis all round. The local authorities will be made more responsible for manning the controls and for constituting the system of civil government in an emergency. It is right that they should be the linchpin, for they know the areas and the resources and people in those areas. But much will depend on the amount of time which the employees of councils put in. In one of the documents issued by the Ministry this passage appears: Local authorities should as far as is practicable provide from their own resources the staff required to man the controls and posts in the control chain. I think we are going to encounter some snags in that regard, and I will say a word or two about that later.

The uniformed Civil Defence Corps is to be cut by 45,000. I think this involves some radical changes in our conception of the organisation and its composition. The rescue sections will be abolished, as will the ambulance sections and the welfare sections. The Corps is to become a kind of general duty Corps, with some elementary rescue and first-aid training. The ambulance work is to be handed over to the Red Cross and St. John, and the welfare work to the W.R.V.S. I am sure that they are capable of rising to the occasion, as they have done so many times in the past.

I am rather doubtful about sacking so quickly the 45,000 men who are to leave the Service. It does not necessarily follow that in a particular district there will be in the Civil Defence Corps the kind of man who can fulfil the needs of the particular technician required in that district. I feel that there must be a certain amount of elasticity when cuts of this kind are being imposed. I wonder whether we are not embarking on the sacking too soon, especially in regard to the Class A men, who are very superior trained people, and three-quarters of whom will be denied the opportunity of re-engagement. The scheme will also involve the sacking of a number of Civil Defence officers, some of them municipal employees, some not. They have been trained in all the duties of the Corps, and they will be very steadily lost when new people are taken in to learn the new duties of the revised Civil Defence Forces. Having said that, I would add that I believe the scheme is on sensible lines and will ultimately result in a far more efficient organisation.

But there is one matter that must be tackled, because it goes to the heart of the whole problem, and that is the manning of controls. My own chief Civil Defence officer was good enough to give me a report on this matter—I shall not quote it, as I have only a few minutes left before the ceremony which is to take place in a moment. However, it is quite clear from his report that those controls are not properly manned, and he insists that there must be more volunteers from the local government service to man them and to put them in a workable condition.

There were many more things that I wanted to say, my Lords, but I will take only a few more minutes.

At the present moment, the grant to local authorities for Civil Defence purposes is 75 per cent. of the sanctioned expenditure. I feel that it should be 100 per cent. The local authority is not called upon to pay the cost of the local Army unit, of the naval ships which happen to be standing in its harbour at the moment, or of the aircraft which happen to be standing on the airfield within its boundaries. But this Civil Defence force is, as much as those other three Services, one of the defence forces of the nation; and it is not right that, whereas with the other three Services the Government pay the whole of the cost, for the Civil Defence Service the local authority itself is required to pay a quarter of that cost.

There are many other things to say, but as a company sergeant major, I was reared in a good disciplinary atmosphere, and I shall strictly obey the time limit which was given to me. I would close by saying that, on the whole, this changeover of the system will involve some pains somewhere: we have to face that. But when the changeover is completed we shall have a far more efficient force than we have at the moment. I hope that if the Minister finds that he cannot complete all these changes by the deadline of September 30, he will allow a little more time so that the job can be done properly, as it should be if it is worth doing at all.

House adjourned during pleasure:

House resumed.