HL Deb 27 March 1968 vol 290 cc1003-115

3.3 p.m.

EARL JELLICOE rose to call attention to the damaging effects of Her Majesty's Government's policy towards Civil Defence; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, your Lordships last debated this question a bare 12 months ago, and important though Civil Defence may be, it is perhaps not one of your Lordships' favourite perennials. I am very conscious that there are a number of speakers who wish to take part in the debate and who have a more intimate and detailed knowledge of Civil Defence than I. There is the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, who initiated your Lordships' debate with a highly informed speech last year. There is the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield who has made very distinguished contributions over a long time on the subject of Civil Defence. There is the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, who, as all your Lordships will agree, has made a unique contribution in this field. There is the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who in his forty months at the Home Office has very clearly given a great deal of thought and attention and dedication to this subject. Perhaps the noble Lord may feel that some of the things I may say in opening this debate are aimed at him. If so, I can assure him that he is mistaken in my target. Such darts as I may throw are aimed not at the noble Lord opposite but at his Government. Then, my Lords, there is my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor who will be winding up the debate from this side of the House. Over many years in Government he has paid very close attention to this matter, and his responsibilities have brought him very close to it. May I add how glad I am that my noble friend Lord Long is making his maiden speech to-day on this subject.

My Lords, I make no apology for initiating this debate to-day. At the very least the Government owe us a full explanation of what lies behind their sudden change of front on this matter of Civil Defence—a far fuller explanation than the nation has yet received. I was worried about some of the decisions and some of the implications of those decisions which the Government took last year. I was worried about the cuts in the Civil Defence Corps. They seemed to me gravely to impair the value of the Corps as an essential link in the chain of emergency communications between Government and people. I was concerned, too—and I think this concern ran through much of your Lordships' debate last year—about the overall cuts in the Civil Defence budget. They seemed to me to come very close to the bone of credibility. Nevertheless, I think there were discernible in our national Civil Defence policy—model late 1966—certain strands of policy common to most of us, to both Government and Opposition.

I think most of us would agree that, of the advanced industrial nations, this country is perhaps uniquely open to nuclear attack and uniquely vulnerable to its effects. Yet most of us, I believe, accepted the view of the then Home Secretary that although we could not contemplate a nuclear attack without the most horrific consequences, it was nevertheless right for us to maintain a Civil Defence organisation on at least the scale then envisaged, and that it would be quite wrong for any Government not to do so.

Last year the Government talked of our Civil Defence preparations as constituting a fairly small insurance premium, and rightly so, my Lords, in my view. The premium which they were then prepared to pay, or to ask us to pay, was a good deal lower than that on which we had insisted in the early 1960s. But I should be the first to grant that this is an exceedingly difficult area of judgment. It is no easy matter to decide whether the premium should cost, say, £30 million a year, or £25 million or £20 million. In any event, a few brief months ago the Government were to all appearances firmly committed to the view that we needed, as an insurance against the almost unthinkable, to maintain in being, trained and ready for quick activation, a structure of emergency controls—a decentralised "Shadow" Government if you will—straight from the regions, down through the sub-regions, and thence via the local authorities to the smaller sector and control posts. All this, my Lords, backed and in large part manned by a still substantial Civil Defence Corps.

One could legitimately argue whether the Government had got their sums right here. But on the need for a skeleton of emergency government and administration, backed by a substantial and trained voluntary reserve, most of us I think were agreed. I would put it somewhat higher. I would claim that in the event of, and in the aftermath of, the almost unthinkable, a nuclear attack upon these islands, our very survival as a nation, the ability of our society, desolated and diminished though it might be, to pull itself up from the bottomless pit of nuclear horror and to recreate in these islands a society in some recognised civilised form would in the last resort turn upon the prior existence of some structure of decentralised emergency administration, practised in peace time, adequately manned, reasonably, not lavishly, equipped and ready to be activated at the drop of a hat. I do not wish to minimise by one iota the horror which would follow a nuclear attack. It is almost unthinkable, and so are the casualties. Nevertheless, human life in these Islands, almost certainly in substantial numbers, would survive that attack; but without prior planning, without the prior laying down of some basis of emergency government, that human life would almost certainly be lived out in terms of stark barbarism.

I have initiated this debate because I believe that the new emasculated policy of Civil Defence announced by the Prime Minister on January 16 threatens to shatter this structure, possibly beyond repair. Last year it was trimmed to a dangerous degree. It is difficult to see how it can survive this year's amputations, given the reduction of our preparations to a care and maintenance basis, given the cut of nearly 90 per cent. proposed in local authority expenditure and given the proposed extinction of the three voluntary forces on which so much has hinged, the T. & A.V.R. III, the Auxiliary Fire Service and the Civil Defence Corps.

I must confess that I was unprepared and taken aback by these proposed amputations. Perhaps that was a little innocent of me; perhaps I and others should have been forewarned. Because for anyone who has followed the continuing downward spiral of the Government's defence policies, the pattern is only too ominously familiar. First, soon after their assumption of power, the announcement that our home defence policies were to be subjected to searching review. Then months of silence, suspicion and uncertainty. Then, in February two years ago, a semi-progress report and a pause for further consultation and further uncertainty. Then, at the end of that year, 1966, the unveiling, with all due ceremony, of the new home defence policy, the policy which was debated in your Lordships' House twelve months ago.

In that debate we were given the most careful and explicit assurances about the Government's attachment to a Civil Defence policy which would be both viable and credible. We were told that the new policy was the outcome of searching scientific assessment and we were given an implied assurance of stability. This was the home defence review to end all home defence reviews—at least until 1970. That is what we were told. What is more important, that is what all those in this country who are concerned with Civil Defence, professionals and amateurs alike, were told. The Civil Defence Corps, for example, could have read in last year's Defence White Paper that the new role of the Corps will be of great importance— and that there will be a continuing need— mark the adjective!— to attract people of high quality with qualities of leadership.

I remember that my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh was a little anxious about some of those assurances, especially as they might affect the county of Devon. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, winding up for the Government was quick to assure him, and I quote the noble Lord's words: … with the zeal which the Devon authority have for civil defence, they will find that in a year or two from now the worst of their fears were groundless, even some of their minor fears were groundless, and that they will be given the opportunity of creating or maintaining as good an organisation as they ever had in the past. I wonder what that authority thinks now. We were told, too, this time by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that in the event of a nuclear attack the police could count upon the "invaluable" support of the 23,000 men in the T. & A.V.R.III. We were told that we should have their support, which would be so badly needed for the maintenance of law and order.

Perhaps we should have been forewarned. With the benefit of hindsight, and accustomed as we are now becoming to this Government's vocabulary, we realise that those words amounted to a sentence of death. In any event they were pronounced and, within ten months, without consultation—again a rather familiar pattern—and without a word of appreciation, the three voluntary organisations, the Corps, the Auxiliary Firemen and the Territorials, were told that they were to be snuffed out. Only the Royal Observer Corps, beneath the umbrella of the Ministry of Defence, and the W.R.V.S., behind the sure shield of Swanborough, are to survive.

Given these assurances which were extended to us, and I recognise that they were extended in good faith, only a year ago, we are surely entitled to ask the Government how they justify their total volte face. What justification do they advance? There is, of course, the argument from economy. I appreciate, as we all must these days, the force of it. Even after the slimming diet of 1966, there may still have been a pound or two of excess flesh here and there to be worked off the body of our Civil Defence forces. But Mr. Callaghan's contribution to the general misery, as he has termed it, of not more than £7 million a year, can hardly be represented as a very meaty offering to his successor in No. 11. And, truth be told, the Government have not themselves leaned particularly heavily on the purely economic argument.

Their main claim, their main justification, as I have understood it, for these cuts, would seem to be that the likelihood of nuclear war has been so materially reduced that we can now afford to run down our Civil Defence preparations. That, at least, was the burden of Mr. Callaghan's case in the debate on this subject in another place last month. Now I would agree that tension between East and West in Europe may have diminished. I would agree that a nuclear nonproliferation treaty may be concluded, albeit with some significant absentees. But do the Government really claim that the change in the international climate between March, 1967, and March, 1968, is so great that it can justify our putting our Civil Defence preparations more or less on ice? Are they really prepared to take out so small an insurance against nuclear war through miscalculation or mischance?

I find the Government's claim here very hard to accept. Looking back some thirty years, when I was thirty years younger, I recall something of what I felt then. I should have thought it quite unthinkable then, in 1938, that within a few years one would have witnessed Belsen and Buchenwald, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear non-proliferation treaty or no nuclear non-proliferation treaty, I myself prefer to base our Civil Defence preparations on the sombre words which President Kennedy spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in September, 1961. The late President then stated: Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear Sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, miscalculation or madness. My Lords, whatever Mr. Callaghan may now say, the world in which we live is not "simple, safe and reassuring". In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in our defence debate only a few weeks ago, it is "complicated, dangerous and frightening". It is not a world in which the Government are entitled to gamble with our Civil Defence preparations. All in all, I cannot escape the conclusion that the real reason for the dismantling of our preparations is really purely financial, and that this justification of diminished tension has been "cooked up" afterwards.

The question remains as to whether the preparations based on the new policy are, to use Lord Stonham's twin criteria, viable and credible. I must confess to the greatest possible doubts on this score. Because we have a long list of speakers, I shall only outline some of my major reservations. I am glad that the Government have decided to retain the warning and monitoring organisation, and with it the Royal Observer Corps. However, I understand—I may be wrong about this—that the Corps, with its vital network of monitoring posts, is being reduced. Can the noble Lord explain to us the rationale behind this proposed reduction?

I am greatly disturbed about the essential control structure which will remain after the new amputations. To function effectively this structure, this skeleton machinery of government, depends upon three absolutely vital elements: really good communications, good training and a good reserve of voluntary manpower. As I see it, all three of those essentials—there are others—will be missing. I have been puzzled, ever since the reorganisation of the Army Reserve Forces, as to how the signal squadrons, on which the higher echelons in the Civil Defence network so much depended, could be replaced, given the disappearance of the Territorial signal squadrons. Now, with the demise of the Corps and its network of communications, I am even more puzzled how good communications throughout the control machinery can be properly maintained.

As for training, the doctrine, as I understood it, hitherto was that the whole machinery would need to react at short notice. To be able to do so, quite clearly demands a high standard of training. But now the Staff College at Sunningdale is to be closed, and I very much regret this. Now the Civil Defence directors within the regions are, I gather, to be withdrawn—and from what I saw of their work in my short period at the Home Office I should have thought that they were quite essential spurs to preparations within the regions. Moreover, given the proposed allocations of cash to the local authorities in the future, I cannot see how they can be possibly expected to train their people properly. For example, in one region quite close to here there are eight major local authorities, counties and county boroughs. In the future, as things stand at present, only two of those major local authorities will be able to afford or e full-time civil defence officer. The more we run down the voluntary forces, the more we need to depend on professional full-time emergency planning; and I do not see how this can possibly be done by part-timers.

Finally, on the good reserve of voluntary manpower, in Civil Defence Circular No. 1, issued only 14 months ago, we read that: the principal task of the Corps will be o help to provide an official control system. It was quite clear from reading, that circular how much the Corps was needed. It was quite unclear how an efficient control system could operate without it. It is equally unclear to me how the police forces could, in an emergency, do without the help which T. & A.V.R. III could have given. This force was described, as I have sad, by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, only a year ago as invaluable. Those of your Lordships who know your chief constable will know how much the police force were counting on it in an emergency. But now, unless it can be preserved, or some part of it, at the eleventh hour as a result of the noble Duke's efforts, it too will vanish.

The noble Lord may reply that I have missed the point in all this, in that the new policy is based on the new theory that we shall have plenty of warning. According to the Government's new theory, an international crisis will not blow up out of a clear sky: it will come upon us slowly and at our convenience; we shall, conveniently, have plenty of time to react and, if necessary, to reactivate our Civil Defence operations. Frankly, I find this a puzzling and disputable doctrine. The Cuban crisis would seem to point the other way. That came cut of a clear international sky. In any event, this doctrine is totally incompatible with what the Government were telling only four months ago. I have in my hand Civil Defence Industrial Bulletin No. 4, issued in September, 1967. In that one reads: All these plans have been prepared on the thinking that there may be only a very short time in which to take final precautions, so that a high degree of readiness is essential. Have the Government, in fact, gone back on that doctrine; and, if so, what was that searching review, what were all those scientific assessments, about?

However, accepting for the sake of argument this disputable doctrine, I would ask: do the Government really think that once they have stood down the Civil Defence they can stand it up again? Let us assume that a crisis blows up gradually. Do the Government really think that they will have the will to put everything back into reverse and to reactivate the whole machine? Is it not rather more likely that they at least would shrink from such action, since it might cause, or be held to cause, alarm and despondency, and might indeed be held to be provocative? And even assuming that they decided to bring our preparations up to a reasonable pitch of efficiency, how long would this take them? We had, I thought, a rather careful Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, on this point to a Question earlier this afternoon. I would only remind your Lordships that when Civil Defence was reactivated in, I think, 1948 it took some three years to establish the Civil Defence Corps—and that at a time when A.R.P. had been wound up for only three years. For all these reasons, even accepting the Government's assumptions—which I do not—I cannot grant them that their proposed preparations are either viable or credible.

My Lords, in my Motion I refer to the damaging effects of the Government's new policy. I have sought to demonstrate why I hold this new policy to be without justification, and why I hold this new structure of Civil Defence to be neither credible nor viable. In short, should nuclear war, the unthinkable, come upon us, I believe that this new semi-policy means that the balance for this country would be tilted against a survival of our society in any recognisable form.

I hold, also, that this new policy involves dangers for our peace-time society. The Civil Defence movement in this country has depended to an enormous extent on the volunteers who have been caught up within it. These volunteers, both men and women, have been prepared to give a great deal of time to Civil Defence; to duties which, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, well knows, are often pretty humdrum, often discharged in rather squalid conditions, and often with very little encouragement from their neighbours or from Governments. There will, of course, still be a place in the Civil Defence field for some volunteers and some voluntary organisations. At the same time, many thousands of volunteers, both men and women, have been cruelly disabused. Given what they were told only a year ago by the Government, I think it is fair to say that they have been led up the garden path and then abandoned.

The volunteer can give so much, my Lords, to our society—above all, enthusiasm, variety and experimentation: and these qualities, I would hold, have never been more important in our society than they are to-day. But the volunteer and the voluntary spirit both need nurturing, and I very much fear that the Government, in their handling of the Civil Defence movement, may have broken a spring of voluntary effort which may be difficult to repair, and the repercussions of which may extend outside the sphere of civil defence. I find this particularly sad since, with a little more thought, a little more imagination, a little more cash, and perhaps a little more willingness to tap the springs of voluntary effort, the Government might have created out of the movement which they are disbanding a new Civil Defence organisation geared mainly to peace-time emergencies. When I was at the Home Office I was enormously impressed by the desire of the Civil Defence Corps progressively to enter this sort of field. We all know how much Civil Defence volunteers have done in emergencies, natural disasters, in this country and abroad.

I believe myself a scheme could have been worked out, and could still be worked out, to meet this desire for voluntary service. I am not incapable of elaborating it in detail, although perhaps until we know the fate of the T. & A.V.R. III it would be unwise to try to do so. I strongly hold that a new national voluntary organisation of this sort, with a modicum of Government support, would have a great appeal, and perhaps, my Lords, a very special appeal to young people, especially if it could contain some Ever-Ready element—sections available at short notice for deployment to cope with foreign emergencies. Hardly a month goes by when we do not read of some great national disaster overseas. I think it would be a good thing for this country, and it would meet a desire for service from many young people of both sexes if, when such a disaster occurred, we were able to offer immediate assistance from teams of well-trained and equipped young people. I hope the Government will look at this possibility. I hope that they will give it serious, immediate and high-level attention. With good will, they might be able to salvage something from the wreck which they are making of the organisation which they are now proposing to disband. I beg to move for Papers.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I must start, I think, by declaring an interest. Of a kind. During the war I was a Regional Commissioner and, more recently, after the death of Lord Waverley, who, among his manifold public services, had from 1924 onwards played such an important part in ensuring that this country had a capable Civil Defence organisation, I succeeded him as President of the Civil Defence Officers' Association, a position which I still hold. Your Lordships must discount anything I shall say to the extent that you think I am prejudiced by these associations. My prejudice—and I am prejudiced—is, I confess, a very much more personal one, and perhaps a prejudice which some of your Lordships may share. I admit to being wholly prejudiced against being left totally unprotected against the risk of an attack which may cost me my life.

When, two or three weeks ago, we discussed the curtailment of expenditure on the police forces, the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government in a few minutes' time, quite rightly and fairly made some play with the fact that I had conceded that heavy reductions had to be made in public expenditure at this time, and we, all of us no doubt, had some pet activity or service of our own which we should want to protect from the cold winds of economy. I do not resile for one moment from that proposition. I said then, and I still think now, that the cuts which were made in January were totally inadequate to their purpose. Indeed, for the most part, and in totality, they were not cuts at all, but mere reductions in a massive increase in public expenditure which was contemplated and planned for by the Government. So, I am entirely in agreement with the noble Lord that heavy cuts ought to and must be made in public expenditure.

Where I join issue with the noble Lord, is in this curious theory that every Department of State must contribute to these cuts. Is this not very great nonsense? This is not a kind of whip-round. This is not a sort of "Harold's benefit" in which every activity of State, no matter how vital, has to put something into the hat in order to compensate for the calamities into which we have been led. Any fool can make a cut across the board. It requires wise and responsible government to assess what are the vital needs of the nation, and then to put them in the correct order of priority. I suggest that in this matter the Government have signally failed. If the noble Lord were to challenge me—and I am sure he will not—I could at once give him a list of cuts which would save up to a hundredfold this miserable economy on Civil Defence, and save it, I think, with much more social and economic advantage to the State.

If we were considering now the mere reduction of what the noble Earl described as an insurance premium—I do not myself like this analogy—but if we were considering the mere reduction of an insurance premium in respect of a service which was still to be maintained, I would entirely agree that, heavy as the cuts were a year ago, substantial savings could still be made in the administration of Civil Defence. Certainly, if the Home Department had been exercising a more jealous and vigilant scrutiny, costs could have been greatly reduced. But we are not considering that at all. What we are considering at this time is not some saving on a service which is going to be retained, but the complete dismemberment of a service—a defence service—which had hitherto been thought vital to the survival of this country.

It is quite true, as the noble Earl has said, that some premises and equipment—not most, but some—are to be retained on a care and maintenance basis, but only those, as I understand it, which cannot be disposed of. Already, a working party has been set up to dispose of that which can be disposed of, and no doubt, as has happened on previous occasions, the vehicles and the rest of it that can be sold will be sold at break-up prices.

Will the noble Lord when he comes to reply, tell us precisely what is to be retained on a care and maintenance basis? It is true, as the noble Earl has said, that the warning and monitoring organisation and the Observer Corps are to be kept, and no doubt the telephone instruments and wires of the control system are not going to be violently torn out. But the skilled operators who maintain the main and local controls will be lacking. All the Regional Directors of Civil Defence, all their staffs, are being sacked. The Home Office will be left in a position of having to communicate direct with something over 180 local authorities who have direct responsibilities in Civil Defence matters. But, on the other hand, the Civil Defence Department at Horseferry Road is being broken up.

Will the noble Lord tell us, when he comes to reply, how the whole system of regional government in an emergency, the whole co-ordination of our home defences, our civil defences, are to operate if at an early stage of an attack—as might unfortunately happen—whatever Department remains the Home Office itself is rendered hors de combat, and the regional officers are not in post? The equipment of the control system will, no doubt, be there, but in fact there will be nobody left to control. When the Observer Corps give their warning of imminent attack, or fall-out conditions, there will be no one to give it to, no one to help, to guide, to instruct, to discipline the uninstructed and, no doubt, panic-stricken public. What is going to happen, will the noble Lord tell us, to the 2,000 graduates who were trained as scientific intelligence officers in order to help in regard to these fall-out problems?

Not long ago the noble Lord the Minister of State said this to the Civil Defence Corps: It is incontestable that the greatest dividends in the saving of life and suffering would come from precautionary measures which could be taken in the short period of intense activity between the declaration of an emergency and the actual attack. Amongst these would be dispersal and precautions and advice to the public about fall-out. Your greatest initial task"— said the noble Lord to the Civil Defence Corps, which is now all to be swept away— will be the prevention of panic through the conveyance of information". Will the noble Lord say what the Government thought, if they thought at all, would be the use of the monitoring system and the Observer Corps if there were no trained and disciplined body of men available to take the action which those warnings required? It is a complete illusion to suggest that we shall be left with any sort of nucleus around which a new Civil Defence organisation could be quickly built up. The local authorities are to be allowed to spend on such arrangements as they are to be permitted to retain no more than £500,000 a year: a sum rather less, I think, than the increase in the expenditure during the current year of that splendid Department to which we owe so much, the Department of Economic Affairs; and, of course, only a fraction of the total cost of that Department.

Hitherto in this country, and I think in every country which has pretended to have any defence system at all—I do not mean Civil Defence; any general defence system at all—Civil Defence has been regarded as an integral part of military defence. In Russia, according to The Times two or three weeks ago, the whole arrangements for Civil Defence are under review, because they have recognised a greater degree of vulnerability than they had previously thought existed. They are laying special emphasis on shelter—I suppose that means fall-out shelter arrangements. In NATO it is now considered necessary to appoint a Civil Defence Adviser. In Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, and in Sweden they have a form of compulsory service for Civil Defence. Britain alone is dismantling its Civil Defence.

I venture to suggest that this really makes the whole of our military defence arrangements completely illusory. They are based on the second-strike theory that we could survive a nuclear attack and still be able to deliver a crippling blow at our enemy. But, as the noble Lord the Minister of State himself made clear not very long ago, there is no possibility of our survival if in fact our Civil Defence does not exist. The credibility of our whole defence programme, on which we are spending £2,300-odd million a year, is destroyed by this comparatively negligible saving on the Civil Defence arrangements here at home.

The noble Earl has referred to the Home Defence Review, published, I think, at the end of 1965. After two years of study, the Government announced their policy upon it. Economy at that time was very much in point; everything was looked at in terms of cost effectiveness and the Government statement said this, if I may quote: But the country's economic circumstances are also very relevant—there is a limit to the resources which it would be right to devote to these preparations. Every measure that is adopted must be worth what it costs. And if an attack were to come there might be no more than a very short period during which precautions could be authorised: this limits the value of any measures which cannot be maintained in a high state of readiness. That is this Government's own answer to this Government's "mothball" policy of care and maintenance. Up to, I think, last November, we were working on a state of preparedness of 24 to 72 hours. The Government statement went on: Some assumptions must be made as to the time which would be available for taking overt Civil Defence preparations before an attack started. The current assessment is that there might be only a very short period". Then this statement was made, which is as relevant to-day as it was then in regard to the theory that international tension would build up slowly and we should have plenty of time to re-establish the system of Civil Defence: The fact that the attack had been preceded by a period of international tension"— this is the Government's own statement— is not relevant since there might be strong arguments against taking overt steps during such a period since the making of open preparations might in itself accelerate the deterioration in international relations That is the answer to this new theory that the Government are putting forward now—the Government's own answer to it.

I gather that we are now assuming a state of preparedness of many months instead of a few hours—six months, twelve months. I do not know what the period is, but certainly six months is the one that has been talked about in official circles. If that were the case, it might of course put a different complexion upon things, although I venture to suggest that at least a year would be required to reassemble any credible Civil Defence organisation. I ask the noble Lord, as the noble Earl asked him: What has happened during the last few months—it is not a year—to suggest that this period of preparedness, which the noble Lord only a few months ago said would be very short, would in fact now be quite long, and indeed that the preparation of Civil Defence arrangements during that period would not now be likely to lead to a deterioration in the international situation, and would therefore not—as was previously thought—be a step which we should be completely inhibited against taking during that critical period? What has happened?

Is it not the fact now that the Soviet Union are deploying 40 divisions in Europe, fully armed, fully ready for immediate attack? Is it not the fact that in the last few months they have built up significant naval strength in the Mediterranean? Is it not the fact that the Chinese are now capable of significant nuclear activity? What has happened that enables the Government to say now, if indeed they say it, that the period of preparedness would in fact be longer? Is it recent events in Israel and the Middle East that have led Her Majesty's Government's present advisers to think that there would be a longer period of preparedness before any attack took place? Surely the whole of military history during this nuclear age suggests that the important and likely thing is surprise attack.

The noble Lord said in answer to one of the questions put to him this afternoon that full consideration had been given to the risks involved. I ask the noble Lord to say whether the Chiefs of Staff had advised that Civil Defence could be safely disbanded. And I suggest to the noble Lord that the action and policy of the Government have been decided upon against all professional advice. May I quote again from what the noble Lord the Minister of State said?—and I am quoting him only because what he said represents in this House, at all events, the policy of the Government, and I can quote no one else. He said: The long period of waiting"— the noble Lord was referring here to the home defence review period— was a period of frustration and anxiety for us all. But it was worth it because the January circular made sense in terms of a viable, efficient Civil Defence Corps. You may remember me saying that if it did not I would not remain a Minister. I do not for a moment quote that remark to taunt the noble Lord with not having resigned. I have great personal regard for the noble Lord, whom I have known for a very long time. It would have been complete nonsense for the noble Lord to resign on this matter of policy when those higher up, whose policy this really was, continued to cling to office; and nobody would suggest that he should have resigned. As for other resignations, the old honourable practice, that a Minister—even a Prime Minister—should resign if the policies to which he had pledged himself came crashing about his head, has remained in abeyance for some few years past.

The reason why I remind the noble Lord and the House of that statement is that it emphasised, and was intended to emphasise in perhaps a rather dramatic way, the importance which the Government at that time, not long ago, attached to the Civil Defence Corps. These are his own words, added in his own fair hand, to the script which I have here with me now: Together we have ensured the future of Civil Defence: that is the important thing. My Lords, that was nine months ago. I ask the noble Lord what has happened during that interesting period to make it less important—and I now use the language of his immediate superior—that: The Government must take reasonable steps to safeguard its people in peace and war, and this we intend to do. Anything else would be an abdication of responsibility. At one time I hoped, as the noble Lord knows, that it might be possible to save something out of this wreck. I hoped that it might at least be possible to save the Civil Defence Corps, or some substantial part of it, without bounty, with the minimum of training or exercising, so that each local authority could at least have at its disposal a reserve, manned with its own officers and corps volunteers. And I hoped that, in order to maintain at least some degree of viable and co-ordinated planning, there would be, on paper—I do not mean more than that—actual nominations right down the line, for the whole of the control system, and that each local authority on whom lie legal obligations in regard to civil defence would be allowed to retain at least one senior emergency officer.

I had hoped, as I say, that these things would be possible. But I am not going to elaborate on that aspect because it seems all too obvious that the Government have intended to face Parliament, and the people, with a fait accompli without the possibility of discussion. On the Order Paper of this House for tomorrow there are the very Orders confirming the disbandment of the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service. Those Orders were put down before your Lordships' views upon the matter could possibly have been heard, still less considered. This is yet another example of this form of government by contempt to which we are getting so accustomed nowadays. There was not a word of consultation, before the Government policy was announced, with the local authorities concerned, with the Civil Defence Corps, or with any of those engaged in the work of Civil Defence. I ask the noble Lord to say if this information is wrong. There have been various consultations since, explaining to the local authorities how little money they are going to have; but not a word about whether these arrangements would be at all possible.

Also there was not a word of thanks to the volunteers whose services, I venture to think, were so important, not only in regard to our defences but from the social point of view. At the Staff College on the Friday after the announcement had been made in Parliament orders were received to cancel a course for 120 people who were to arrive on the following Sunday, and all the directing staff were told that they had to leave by the end of March. Again there was not a word of thanks. At Fallowfield and the other Civil Defence schools the unestablished staff of instructors—who were quite numerous—were sacked. Some of them have been offered derisory appointments as temporary clerical assistants elsewhere. At Easingwold, the one school which has been retained, the secretary has been downgraded. Any private employer who dealt with his staff in that way would rightly be condemned.

Many other noble Lords wish to speak and so I will say nothing about the useful services—indeed, many people thought them vital services—which the Auxiliary Fire Service and the Civil Defence Corps render in time of peace. The Auxiliary Fire Service has probably saved far more than its costs in assisting the regular brigades in time of peace. I say nothing about the arrangements at the Polaris bases, at Dounreay and the other atomic stations, where the Civil Defence Corps are closely involved in what should be done in the event of any unhappy accident occurring there. Perhaps the noble Lord will deal with those matters, for they are of great importance during times of peace. But the real importance of this matter, of course, is that the people are to be left defenceless in time of war.

My Lords, I may have spoken with a little bitterness—I do not know. I have certainly spoken with some disillusionment about this devious and incompetent Government for which so many of us had great hopes only a few years ago. But what they are doing now, as it seems to me, is cynically leaving the civil population of this country helpless if attack should come. Only nine weeks or so ago—perhaps a little more than that, but after the devaluation, after the "great leap forward" as the Lord President of the Council described it—the noble Lord said this: Whatever happens to us as individuals, we are planning to ensure the survival of many millions of men, women and children who, but for us, would die."— He was talking to the Civil Defence Corps, and in a splendid phrase he said: We are planning the survival of Britain". What are the Government planning now? What, except an abdication of the responsibilities which only a few months ago the Home Secretary said no responsible Government in this country could ever abdicate?

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this debate, and in particular the invitation of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, to give a full explanation of the Government's decision about the level of our Civil Defence activities in present circumstances. In the course of my speech I shall endeavour not only to do that but to answer particularly the points made by the noble Earl, and some of those which have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross.

I would only say, in the first instance, that an example of the responsible nature of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, was when he invited me to challenge him on the fact that he could tell me cuts which could be made in Government expenditure one-hundredfold times as great as the present one. We are considering to-day a cut of £20 million in Government expenditure on Civil Defence. One hundredfold times that figure would be £2,000 million. I can only say if that is so, the noble Lord departed from Government service far too soon. I think that is the level and the mark of the validity of many of the things the noble Lord said, and I reject at once the suggestion which was implicit in the speech of the noble Lord that the Government's decision deprives the country of all Civil Defence. We have decided to reduce Civil Defence expenditure, not to abandon civil defence. The noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, asks whether we have consulted the authorities to see if Civil Defence can be safely disbanded. We have not disbanded it. We are proposing at the end of this month to disband the Civil Defence Corps of some 75,000 volunteers and the A.F.S. of some 14,000 volunteers. They are going. All else remains, as I shall endeavour to explain.

The noble Lord also said that Britain alone is dismantling its civil defence. He would have been telling the truth if he had said that Britain alone in the countries of Europe has a volunteer Civil Defence. It is true that we are disbanding our volunteers, but we shall then be in the same position as our European partners in NATO, because they have no volunteer civil defence corps. The noble Lord may shake his head as much as he likes; I am stating the facts. Not this year, but next year and in subsequent years when the full reductions have been made, we shall still be spending more per head of population on Civil Defence in this country than some of the main European countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, said that he was prejudiced against being totally unprotected. So am I, and I am prejudiced with regard to Civil Defence and Civil Defence workers. The Civil Defence Corps and its members know that they need no thanks from me, because every time I have met them over the last 42 months I have thanked them for their services, their services without parallel. It is a special kind of service you need, a special kind of people in Civil Defence, because they are continuously prepared to meet the need which all of us hope will never arise, and you need a special kind of people for that. My special interest and prejudice is not just of 40 months' duration as a Minister, but of more than 30 years' duration as a person.

I have said many times, and it is true, that Civil Defence could do much to mitigate the effects of a nuclear attack on this country; that it could save a great many lives, millions of lives, that would otherwise be lost, and that it would help to ensure the subsequent survival of the nation. I have also said that until we can say that all danger of nuclear attack has disappeared it is the duty of every Government to make Civil Defence preparations. I do not retract one word of those statements. So I can accept anything the noble Lord quotes with equanimity, because those statements were true then and, so far as I am concerned, they are true now. I have also said, and this the noble Lord did not read out, that in spending money on Civil Defence the Government are paying an insurance premium, and that the size of the premium must be related to the risk involved and to the capacity of the nation to pay. I now want to explain, in response to the noble Earl's invitation, what we are getting for the reduced premium and how far it covers the risk involved.

As to the risk of a nuclear attack on these Islands, the signs are encouraging. We believe—and this is the view of not only the British Government but also the NATO allies—that the risk or nuclear war has diminished. It is difficult to conceive of any rational Government resorting to the use of these terrible weapons, knowing the fearful risks to its own people from the reprisals which would follow. Moreover, there is real evidence from recent experience in the Middle East—we read a different lesson from that; it was not a nuclear war which started suddenly in the Middle East—and in Vietnam that the Soviet Union and the United States are determined to avoid a con- frontation in a war situation, and so long as the United States is committed to the defence of Europe in NATO there is good reason to suppose that there will be no direct conflict in that theatre either. The NATO alliance relies on its ability to devastate the Soviet bloc with nuclear weapons, even after it has been attacked, to deter the Soviet Government from attacking NATO countries.

That said, I reaffirm that the risk of nuclear war cannot be entirely excluded until general disarmament has become a reality. Here, again, there are encouraging signs. The 1963 Treaty banning tests of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water was a first step in that direction. More recently the tabling of a complete treaty text by the co-Chairmen of the 18-Nation Disarmament Committee in Geneva in January marked a further and very significant step forward in the progress towards a non-proliferation agreement on nuclear weapons. This joint action by the two major nuclear Powers gives real hope for the future, and we all pray that the conclusion of a non-proliferation Treaty will lead to effective nuclear arms control and later to general disarmament.

But I must acknowledge frankly that even then we cannot, as the noble Earl said, completely exclude the danger of accident or miscalculation. What I say is that the danger has lessened enough to permit us, at a time of extreme financial stringency, to look more closely than ever before at the size of our insurance premium, and that is what the Government have done in deciding to place home defence on a care and maintenance basis, because they believe that the risk of a nuclear war does not in our present circumstances justify home defence expenditure on the scale of recent years.

On the previously existing basis the annual expenditure on Civil Defence would have amounted in a year or two to about £27 million. The effect of our decision will be to reduce this by 1969–70 and later years to between £7 million and £8 million. That is the £20 million reduction I quoted just now. We can do a very great deal with this £7 million or £8 million. It will enable us to preserve the essential elements of our existing preparations, the control system, early warning and essential planning, so that greater activity can be resumed if that should become necessary. Physical assets with an operational value are being preserved, and training will be continued at the level necessary to preserve existing knowledge and techniques.

No one appreciates more than I do the great services rendered by the members of the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service, and no one regrets more than I the necessity to disband them. I know how grievous is the disappointment to volunteers in all parts of the country. I suppose I must have received about 200 letters written to M.P.s on behalf of units in their own areas, so I am fully aware of this disappointment, which I share with them. But I am bound to say that if we are to make substantial economies—which noble Lords opposite are constantly and rightly pressing for—it can be done in this field only through the disbandment of the volunteer services.

The most expensive part of any war preparations is the maintenance of forces in being even where, as in these services, the time and effort of volunteers is freely given. A standing body, even of part-time volunteers, must necessarily cost a considerable sum of money. For example, training is very costly and it cannot be "once for all"; there must be a constant influx of new members, refresher courses and so on. I am not saying that such expense may not be clearly justified if there is a pressing danger requiring first call on our resources. But this is not at present the case. We came to the conclusion that the economies announced in December, 1966, were the largest we could make consistently with keeping alive the volunteer bodies. And it would not have been possible further to reduce their size and capability without prejudicing their existence as viable forces. The decision, therefore, was between continuing them at that level of expenditure or the decision we have taken.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him, but as a matter of clarification may I ask him whether, when he uses the pronoun "we", he is speaking for the Government or for the Home Office?


I was speaking for the Government, and I understood that in this House when a Minister, referring to Government policy, uses the prefix "we" he does not mean anything regal about it, either; he means Her Majesty's Government. The point was that the maintenance of these voluntary forces in a constant state of readiness was a premium that the Government decided they could no longer afford. These volunteers have been in being not only in recent years. It is not only now that we owe them a great debt, but through more than a quarter of a century.

We know, too, that the reduction in Civil Defence will lead to drastic reduction in the major element of cost, one that causes me great concern, the numbers of local authority staff employed full-time on Civil Defence duties, a fine body of people, of whom there are about 2,400 engaged in this country. I am glad to know that local authorities are being as helpful as they possibly can be about offering alternative employment to as many of these Civil Defence employees as they can reasonably absorb. To safeguard the financial position of those who lose their jobs, we have made compensation arrangements on the Crombie scale, similar to the relatively generous ones made for staff displaced as a result of the reorganisation of local government.

I was particularly grieved to hear what I regarded as the grossly inaccurate statement made without evidence this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, about what we are doing in our Civil Defence establishments which are to be closed. I have taken the greatest possible care with regard to staff who are redundant in their jobs. I know of none who, as the noble Lord says, is being "chucked on the scrapheap". I have sent establishment officers down to every one of our centres and up to Taymouth Castle, and I know of none who is being treated in this way. Ten days ago I was even down at Easingwold, which is only over the wall from Fallowfield, and was then told that there were about five others. I met Colonel Batchelor, the chairman—perhaps the noble Lord would let me finish what I am saying. I feel most deeply in regard to all the staff concerned in these matters. I have taken the greatest care about them, and I asked the question, "Are there any left?" The answer was, "Well, we have some four or five whom we should like to employ here."—that was at the centre I was then Opening—" but they are waiting to see about the position in regard to their own jobs." Now I will give way.


My Lords, of course Easingwold is one place that is to remain. I suggest to the noble Lord that he should inform himself a little better about what is going on in the other Civil Defence schools.




I was quoting from a letter I received only yesterday from an official high up in these schools. I am not going to name him, obviously.


Why not?


For obvious reasons.


One letter!


One letter from an official very well known to the noble Lord, a considerable authority in matters of Civil Defence, who said that the unestablished officers—I use the word "unestablished" because, of course, you cannot sack the established officers—were given notice at the Civil Defence schools that they were to leave by the end of March, some of them being offered, I said, derisory appointments as temporary clerical assistants.


My Lords, I have given the facts as I know them. So far as the establishment at Easingwold is concerned, of course, that is being continued. I was talking of Fallowfield at that time where, of course, the commandant will become commandant of Easingwold to replace the present commandant who is retiring upon reaching retirement age. With regard to these general arrangements for compensation, it is intended that they shall apply retrospectively to any persons who become redundant after the Prime Minister's Statement of January 16, provided that the redundancy can be said to be attributable to these measures.

As regards the Auxiliary Fire Service, there are some 250 full-time officers employed on organisation and training, but we expect that every one will be absorbed into the regular brigades. Some noble Lords and a number of members of the A.F.S. have disputed the statement I made recently in reply to a Question, that the A.F.S. had no peace-time firefighting responsibilities. I should like therefore to set out the facts in greater detail. Fire authorities are empowered by the regulations to enrol members of the Auxiliary Fire Service solely for the purposes of Civil Defence, and the service of auxiliaries in peace time is expressly limited to "such duties as are desirable for training", which confirms what I said.

Before the regulations were made, consultation took place with representatives of the local authorities and the Fire Brigades' Union, as a result of which strict conditions were laid down by the Home Office about the circumstances in which auxiliaries might volunteer for training by performing stand-by duties and by accompanying regular firemen to peace-time fires. The main condition was that no auxiliaries should be employed in substitution for a regular fireman to provide fire cover in peace time. Peace-time fire cover is the responsibility of regular fire brigades, and fire authorities have a duty under the Fire Service Acts to provide an adequate and properly equipped brigade to meet efficiently all normal requirements. I know, of course, that volunteers within the A.F.S. can volunteer for stand-by duties, and some 2,500 out of the 14,000 A.F.S. have done so, and sometimes go out to fires. But such training activities are additional to the work of the regular brigade which they in no way replace.

I should like to add my small tribute to the work of the men of the A.F.S. and the enthusiasm they displayed in taking part in these activities and the help which they have also given. But it would be wrong for anyone to suggest that the disbandment of the Auxiliary Fire Service will reduce the ability of the regular fire service to meet the demands made upon it. Although the disbandment of the Civil Defence Corps and the A.F.S. will reduce the Civil Defence responsibilities of local authorities, they still have important responsibilities. Our intention is that local authorities should continue Civil Defence planning at the level needed to enable more active preparations to be resumed. We are now discussing with the Associations how this should best be done within the small amount of money that will be available. In addition, local authorities will maintain existing operational control buildings and their communications. This concerns a question which the noble Lord asked me. The whole of the existing operational control buildings and their communications from sub-regional Government level downwards will be maintained, because these are absolutely essential to the core, as it were, of the vital system of Civil Defence control at various levels of government, including the plans for regional government, a system which is being retained on a care and maintenance basis.

The Home Office and other Government Departments will continue to provide local authorities with support and guidance. It is untrue to suggest that the Home Office control over Civil Defence is being completely abolished and destroyed. Of course, the numbers of personnel engaged on this work at the Home Office have not been reduced, but they will be reduced as there is less work to do. But there is no intention whatever of abandoning this zone. It is obvious if we are spending £7 million or £8 million a year that there could not be any abandonment of central responsibility and administrative responsibility.


May I, for clarification, ask the noble Lord whether the Civil Defence organisation at Horse-ferry Road is to be maintained?


My Lords, I mean that a Civil Defence Department will be maintained. At present, as the noble Lord may be aware, there is a Civil Defence Division. I cannot say what the size of the administrative unit will eventually be, but there will be a continuing and separate unit of the Home Office in charge of Civil Defence.

I have mentioned training facilities at Easingwold, in Yorkshire. It is here that senior staff of local authorities will be able to discuss Civil Defence planning with officers of central departments and essential services and industries. Also, selected members of the staff of local authorities will receive background and refresher training to maintain a knowledge of specialist Civil Defence skills, techniques and procedures, including the use of radiac instruments, control duties and communications practice and procedures. This is going on. In addition—and I attach great importance to this— we hope to maintain in local authority employ a nucleus of scientific officers who can be kept up to date by periodical attendance at short refresher training courses. In this and in other ways we shall preserve an absolutely essential foundation on which the reactivation of scientific teams could be built up.

The continuing responsibilities of the local authorities will include making and maintaining plans to keep their own administrative machine working in war. Such plans will have to provide for the setting up at the appropriate time of an emergency committee of the authority, and for arranging machinery for executive action in circumstances in which normal local authority procedures would not be practicable. The senior officers of authorities will have to make plans to carry on in war the essential services which are the responsibility of the local authorities in peace, and also some services for which there is no peace-time counterpart, such as the setting up of emergency feeding centres and the general care of homeless people.

The burden of local authority responsibility in war would be considerable, but so are the size and range of the resources of local authorities. The Civil Defence Corps formed but a small part of the resources of skilled staff to be found in their various departments. A great fund of expertise still resides in various local authority departments to discharge Civil Defence responsibilities, and it will be for local authorities to make plans in peace time to ensure that there is knowledge within their organisation of the problems that might face them and to see that their resources are fully used to the best advantage in war. Such planning is not easy, since there are so many imponderables, but what we are asking is that local authorities should continue to develop them, in consultation with Government Departments and essential industries and services, without spending money on actual physical preparations, which run up the costs. Local authority expenditure on the maintenance of the volunteer forces and the costs of the supporting administration has run at about £8 million a year, some three-quarters of which was met by the Exchequer. Under our proposals this total will be reduced in two years' time to about £1 million a year.

Even after the disbandment of the volunteer services, the country will still have considerable physical and human assets for use in the event of war. I ask your Lordships to realise that we are talking about 89,000 people—marvellous, valuably trained volunteers—who are being disbanded. The rest are there. What I am now drawing attention to is the rest, not only in terms of physical assets but in terms of human assets as well. The police, for example, will continue to have special responsibilities in emergencies, both in peace and in war, and will maintain planning and training to cope with them. The regular fire service will continue emergency planning, and there will still be central training at the Fire Service Training College at Moreton-in-Marsh. This will be given to selected officers of fire brigades in order to keep alive the doctrines which have been developed for the organisation and deployment of the emergency fire services in war. There are adequate stocks of emergency fire service equipment, and they will be retained in store for future use if necessary. There are also extensive continuing plans by Government Departments and essential industries and services—for example, for broadcasting, water and food supply, ports and shipping.

The noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, said that in present circumstances if there were an emergency people would not know. I am sure that he is aware of the present plans in existing circumstances for informing people by television, by radio and by all other means. These plans, of course, will continue intact. So far as that warning is concerned, there is no change at all. The noble Lord will also be aware of the very valid reasons why we do not give warnings of this kind now. We shall be preserving completely the Warning and Monitoring Organisation, which includes the Royal Observer Corps, which is also being retained. I was asked about the extent to which this Corps would be reduced. In regard to the number of Royal Observer Corps personnel, as distinct from establishment, the reduction will be some 34 per cent. But we are certain that, with the reconstruction and reorganisation that we have made, there will be a full warning system to the public of an imminent attack with nuclear weapons and, subsequently, warning from 24,000 warning points through- out the country of the presence of radioactive fall-out. That is to say, there will be the same number of warning points and still the same period of time, which, as noble Lords will be aware, was less than a minute. The system will also be able to provide more detailed information about where bombs have dropped and about fall-out to a number of operational services both civil and military.

The main capital cost of this organisation has already been met—buildings, equipment and communications are virtually complete—and it can quickly be brought to operational readiness. It requires a substantial degree of technical skill, the preservation of which is more complex than in most other fields. That is why it is being retained. In the Government's view, it would be an unacceptable risk to dismantle this organisation. These resources which I have mentioned as being retained and continued add up to a formidable total. They could be activated quickly and ensure that we could raise the level of Civil Defence preparations rapidly if necessary.

The noble Earl this afternoon spoke of the factors which would mean a lengthening in the process of reactivation. If the emergency came fifteen or twenty years from now, obviously one would not be able to reassemble the same personnel, but the reactivation period would also depend on the acuteness of the emergency and on the decision of the Government of the time. We have many volunteers who are continuing to serve. I am glad to say that the W.R.V.S., which is now predominantly concerned with peace-time activities, will retain its home defence functions and will be continuing with emergency welfare training, which is relevant to peace time as to war, and with their valuable one-in-five scheme. In a war emergency the whole resources of W.R.V.S. would be available for civil defence.

It is natural that most of the comment has been about the Civil Defence Corps and the A.F.S., but I should perhaps remind noble Lords that over the years Government Departments, and essential industries and services, have been developing plans and physical preparations to improve their capacity to operate under war conditions, and these plans are closely linked with the Civil Defence control structure, which is being maintained. These have at all times been an important element in the control structure. For example, plans and preparations have been made for broadcasting, for water and food supply, fuel and power, inland transport and ports and shipping. These plans will be kept up to date, and existing physical assets maintained. But I am not yet in a position to say what effect the Government's decision will have on Civil Defence in industrial establishments—most of which, incidentally, are Government establishments or nationalised industries. These matters are being considered and we hope to be able to make a statement before long.

Over the years we have built up substantial stocks of equipment. Much of this was specially designed for Civil Defence purposes—radiac, radio sets, special vehicles and so on; and these items will be preserved. Other equipment, such as ordinary vans and vehicles, used by the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service, which could easily be purchased from normal production or requisitioned if needed, will be taken into use by other services or disposed of, because it is no good keeping ordinary vehicles in stock and just storing them. If there is no use for them it is best to sell them. But if they are specialised vehicles they are being retained, as we are retaining bulk stocks of food, oil and medical supplies.

Since the Prime Minister's statement on January 16, I have received many letters suggesting that some means should be found to continue the volunteer forces without official support or financial help. Both individually and collectively in local units members of the Civil Defence Corps and the A.F.S. have offered to serve without bounty or other direct payment. I have been very glad to see the spirit shown in these representations, and I should have been glad to lend official encouragement, but in the light of our decision that public expenditure on the Corps should be terminated there are obvious and, indeed, insuperable difficulties about offering Government support or encouragement to the various schemes that have been suggested. It is the costs of administration and the expenditure on premises and equipment, rather than direct payments, which account for the major part of the cost.

There have been suggestions that members might continue to meet socially and, perhaps, do a limited amount of training. We do not want to discourage these efforts, but training could be very costly indeed and that would defeat the original objective. The noble Earl suggested some kind of national rescue service. Of course, the Government have considered, and are indeed considering, matters of that kind, but if he meant a national service added all over the country to existing services, both professional and volunteer, which are available to deal with peace-time emergencies and which deal with them very well indeed, then I am afraid that could be just as costly as the present system which is being disbanded. But these ideas are being very carefully considered.

With regard to the volunteers in the Civil Defence Corps and the A.F.S. who are so anxious to give their services—and I am anxious that they should be able to give them—I would mention the other existing organisations where many of them would be extremely welcome—the British Red Cross, the St. John Ambulance Brigade, the W.R.V.S. and the Special Constabulary—and where they would be doing work very similar to that which they have been doing in the Corps, or analogous to it.

With regard to special peace-time disasters, it is certainly true that the Civil Defence Corps and the A.F.S. have readily come forward when they have occurred, and the country has good reason to be grateful for their help. But there is no real evidence to suggest that the existing regular services and the peace-time volunteer bodies are inadequate to deal with disasters when they occur. However, as I said, we are continuously examining this problem.

One point which I want to make clear is with regard to the storage of Civil Defence equipment. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, will be interested in this as it has special reference to Devon. There are occasions when Civil Defence equipment has been of great use in rescue operations, such as in floods. There was recently an incident with a bridge in Devon, when Civil Defence rescue equipment was very useful indeed. What we want with this equipment is to make it readily and easily available all over the country when required. Our main plan, therefore, is to place it in the forty or more Home Office depôts which we have spread over the country, so that no single depôt will be so very far away from a particular incident.

We are endeavouring to create a special procedure through the police, so that in an emergency—I am now visualising a peace-time emergency—this equipment can be available without red tape, if it will help. Burt, exceptionally, if local authorities want to purchase Government-owned equipment to retain for peace-time emergency use, then provided it is not specialised equipment which we must retain for Civil Defence we shall be glad to consider letting them have it.

The Government regret that it has been necessary to take what I regard as the painful course of accepting a lower state of readiness in our Civil Defence preparations, but I hope that this decision will not be misunderstood. We have not abdicated our responsibilities. We have retained the essentials. We are preserving existing assets—equipment, control premises and communications; and both central and local government, and essential industries and services, will continue with planning. Our object will be to identify those items on which we must move quickly if an emergency seems likely to arise, and to ensure a coherent approach to the job by all the authorities and interests concerned.

It is very far from being the Government's view that Civil Defence as a whole is useless, or that the particular activities we have suspended were without value. It is rather a question of the level at which we can maintain our activities at the present time, bearing in mind both the financial situation and the risk of war involving an attack upon our territory. The Government believe that in all the circumstances we have struck the right balance for the present situation.


My Lords, before the noble Lord finishes his speech, would he help me? I should like to know what would happen in my own county, where I think we shall be left with one man, or possibly three, in the whole county, in the event of an accidental nuclear attack—which is always a possibility.


My Lords, I should really find it impossible to deal with questions about a single county. I shall be very glad to look into the matter and to write to the noble Viscount. He spoke of one man or possibly three, but I imagine he can only mean Civil Defence officers. I should have thought it just was not possible, even in Scotland, for there to be any county which did not still have, through its local authority, a very sizeable number of persons with Civil Defence duties.


My Lords, may I ask a question about the redundancy payment which was mentioned? Will this come out of Government funds or out of monies which will be allocated to counties?


My Lords, the local authorities are likely to want 100 per cent. from Exchequer funds. But it will come as to 75 per cent. from Exchequer funds and 25 per cent. from local authority funds, if present plans go through. Since this question has been asked, I would mention that the pension rights of redundant Civil Defence officers are preserved. If they do not obtain other employment they will receive, as it were, interim pensions until they have reached normal pension age. These will be according to their age and length of service, and in the case of a man of 55 with 30 years' service will amount to £1,000 a year until he gets his normal pension. They are not being thrown completely out into the cold.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will correct me if I am wrong, but I understood him to say that the Government were keeping Civil Defence but were disbanding 89,000 volunteers, 75,000 of them in Civil Defence and 14,000 in the A.F.S. I am not one who has ever taken any public part in political life, and I am not proposing. I hope, to make a political speech this afternoon, but I think I voice the opinion of many men in the street when I say that we have a fear that a terrible mistake has been made and that, on a cloudy and dark day, this mistake might prove to be irreparable. Because what we are considering are these appalling conditions of fear and panic, and the only hope of reducing fear and panic in a situation which we find hard to imagine is the existence of a large number of trained people who know what to do themselves and who can tell other people quite clearly what to do. That is why I think this mistake may prove to be a very serious one.

My Lords, I should like to declare my own particular interest in this matter, because I have worked in this field now for a number of years. When the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, was Home Secretary, he called together a committee, and he asked me to serve on it. The purpose of that committee was to consider the role of the clergy in war; and that meant the part that the clergy of all denominations in the country might play in the terrible conditions of which we are thinking to-day. What could they do to help people spiritually, and also to assist in the keeping up of morale? This committee, so far as the Churches were concerned, represented all denominations, and the Jews were also members of it. We met a number of times at the Home Office under the chairmanship of one of the senior members of the Home Office staff. After our meetings, we produced a report which was subsequently printed at the end of 1964.

But then the Government changed, and the new Government decided not to issue that report. Naturally, from the personal point of view, I was sorry about that decision, because we had put an awful lot of work into the matter and I think we had tried to say something which was worth while. But I have no particular complaint because, after all, the Government had a perfect right, which I do not dispute for a moment, not to publish that report if they felt it was not desirable to do so. Nevertheless, this has meant that over the years I have been in very close touch with the Civil Defence organisation in one way or another; and, as a matter of fact, I was to have been one of the speakers at the Civil Defence conference this summer at Scarborough—which conference, of course, has now been called off.

Going back to those days on the committee, when we were considering the possibility of nuclear attack and what could be done in those awful circumstances, the whole basis of the committee's work was that Civil Defence was worth while. Nobody suggested that the destruction would be such that there would be, as it were, a clean sweep of the whole population. We were assured that the basis of our work was that there would be many survivors, and that what we needed was a number of people who, by their expert knowledge, could really be of help in those circumstances. While it was accepted that the destruction would be awful, it was not accepted that there would be no one left to help. This, of course, is where the trained Civil Defence worker came into the picture, and we were told again and again that the trained Civil Defence volunteer was the person who was vital in this sector.

My Lords, speaking as one who has, as I say, worked a good deal in this sector, I am bound to say with what regret I see that to a very large extent the volunteer element has now gone. I entirely accept, of course, what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said, that the Government are keeping a Civil Defence structure. But the loss of these volunteers, I think, may be disastrous. The step is such a serious one to take that I cannot believe that the Government's decision is based on purely financial considerations. I noticed that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said that he thought, taking it by and large, that it must be for that reason. I cannot believe that the Government, in order to save this amount of money, would sweep this away unless they had other very good reasons for thinking it was now safe to do so. We have heard the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, say that the Government feel that the risk of nuclear attack on this country is less than it was; and we have also heard it said, or have read it in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debates in another place, that apparently it is thought that there would be a longer period of warning. Of course, I have no inside knowledge of international affairs at all: I merely read my newspaper day by day. I can only say that I hope and pray that the Government are right in saying that the risk of war is less. Now when we come to the matter of the length of time for which we might have warning of Possible disaster, I take it—and I think it has been said this afternoon—this means that the Civil Defence volunteers could then be reactivated and that the organisation could become fully operational in that way. I would suggest, frankly, that this policy is not "on".

When the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, spoke of 30 years ago, I cast my mind back to those days. That was just before Munich. I found myself then vicar of a church in Southampton, and Southampton, of course, was a town which realised that if there was a war it would probably "catch it," as eventually it did. In those days before Munich I was in close touch with what was known then as the A.R.P. I personally went round a number of streets in my parish and took the gasmasks to the people, and helped them to fit them on. I remember doing that in house after house for days on end.

I remember that morale was not very good. To start with, the gasmasks did not look particularly attractive, and I was fitting them on to women and children, a number of whom were afraid about what might be going to happen very shortly. That was just for gas. When you think of the fear that could be conjured up by an announcement by the Government that the international situation was such that it was now being considered wise to reactivate the Civil Defence Corps, I would suggest, my Lords, that the morale of the country in many ways would drop like a stone and that fear would walk the streets. I think that this policy frankly is not "on". It is not practical; and I think that that must be recognised.

Reference has already been made to the work which the Civil Defence Corps are doing in time of peace. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said just now that there was no evidence that even if this volunteer work stopped the other organisations could not adequately cope with the various disasters that might occur. That is fair enough; they may be able to do so. All I know, as a result of a number of inquiries I have made and of personal experience, too, is that the Civil Defence workers have been of invaluable assistance time and time again, and I think they would have been greatly missed if they had not been there. My diocese covers practically the entire county of Staffordshire and the northern half of Shropshire, and I have therefore been in touch with the Civil Defence organisers for both counties. They have told me about the number of incidents at which members of the Corps have helped. It has all along been said by the Government that these activities in regard to disasters were a valuable part of the training of members of the Civil Defence Corps.


My Lords, would the right reverend Prelate say when this has always been said, by which Government and by which Minister? I cannot recall any such statement.


My Lords, I quite accept what the noble Lord has said. It may not have been this particular Government. All I can say is that I understand from some of the Civil Defence organisers themselves that this was regarded as a practical part of the training of Civil Defence workers. I think we should accept it as a very valuable and practical activity.

In regard to my own diocese, I went not long ago to the scene of the Hixon rail disaster, shortly after it occurred, as that was in my diocese. Whom did I meet there, among others? I met voluntary workers of all kinds, assisting the police; but the Civil Defence people were there. Let me give an illustration of the incidents at which they have helped recently. They have helped people whose houses were flooded by rising rivers; recently they have assisted considerably in regard to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease; they have helped the elderly, as in the case of a 'flu epidemic a few years ago; they have assisted at fires; they have assisted when there has been damage as a result of storm and tempest; they have given help at road accidents and in the collapse of buildings. Those are just illustrations of what I mean. I suggest that we are going to miss their help because these people know their stuff. They are trained and have been most valuable. I am bound to say, too, as we are talking about volunteers, that they have found it very hard to understand how the disbandment of volunteers is going to save the nation all that money.

My Lords, I turn now to the role of the clergy in these matters; because, I would repeat, they have been called on in the past to consider most carefully what we can do. As we know, sometimes the Church can be written off as not being particularly relevant to the modern situation. But when you come to consider the matter, you find that in almost any locality the person who will be known by the greatest number of people is probably the parson, because he lives among his people in the community in which he works and is there all the time. I believe that this man, if used properly, could be of the greatest assistance in these terrible circumstances which we are considering. Very definitely that was the case in the A.R.P. days of the last war. I entirely accept that the situation that we are dealing with to-day is something quite different; but I say that when you have great danger it is the familiar person, the one who is known, who will be of the greatest help because people, through their knowledge of him, trust him.

As a result of the work of the committee which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, called together, and to which I have referred, we arranged in diocese after diocese that the clergy should go for a short course of training in Civil Defence. The intention was not that they should themselves be Civil Defence workers in the Corps but that they should be trained in order to do their own work properly and really be of help in these circumstances. The Civil Defence organisers welcomed this idea and we have had some splendid gatherings. All I can say is that I am bitterly sorry that all this is coming to an end. In my speech I have tried to show how the man in the street reacts to this decision. I am afraid of it; I think that a risk is being run. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said that many of these volunteers might find suitable work in organisations such as the Special Constabulary. They may, my Lords; but they have received a considerable blow to their morale; it will take them time to adjust themselves, and I think that a great deal of the desire to serve the community is being lost.

I have mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, several times in my speech. I should not like to end without saying, if I may do so without presumption (and I hope that he will take it in the spirit in which I say it) that I felt sorry for him this afternoon. I know how hard he has worked for Civil Defence, and with what sincerity. I know that we are grateful to him for what he has done. That is why I felt that he was in a difficult position this afternoon. I hope that he will not take my words amiss.

I want to end by saying that if there is any new organisation of this kind called into being I greatly hope that, as was done in the past, the clergy will he asked to play their part in it. I honestly believe that we can be of real help; for if ever there is humanitarian work this is it. I have no time whatever for those people who say we ought not to indulge in Civil Defence because that might be a provocation to people who might be our enemies. I have no time for that argument, and I notice that it has not been used by the Government this afternoon. It is a humanitarian work. But, above all, so far as the Church is concerned—and this I thought as I listened to Prayers this afternoon when we prayed for the peace and tranquillity of the Realm—what we have to do is really to lead the nation constantly in prayer to Almighty God that the appalling disasters we have been contemplating in our debate this afternoon may, by His Grace, never happen.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to make my maiden speech, I do so not as a member of the Civil Defence organisation but as one who, in past years, has seen how hard these men and women who join the Civil Defence have worked to build it up to what it is to-day. Not one of us really ever wants to discuss or to know anything about a nuclear bomb or a nuclear guided missile, or to know how it goes off or why it does so—or anything about it. Nevertheless, the situation now is that they are available as instruments of war, and since the last war we have had to re-form the Civil Defence to make quite certain that after one of these bombs had exploded or after one of these instruments were let loose on mankind, there would be somebody in the background to help those who survived. There are to-day more and more countries who have these wretched instruments of war. I do not believe for a moment that Russia will ever use one; but I fear that in a few years' time some smaller country—or even China—might be tempted to use such a weapon.

In these last few years Civil Defence has got right down to the basic facts of survival and rescue. It is on these two words, survival and rescue, that they have worked. With these watchwords in view, they have tried so to organise the various departments in the county councils that if one of these weapons were used the engineers, the architects, the medical profession and so on, would have an organised part to play. That was the first line of attack for the Civil Defence in order to get support. For a long time they did not get very far, but gradually over the past few years people have begun to come forward from the county councils to produce an agenda for studying the role of their departments in a nuclear war. This was only part of the organisation. There were also the water boards, the electricity undertakings, food and transport—all these different parts of ordinary life—to be organised on paper. The necessity for such organisation has taken a long time to sink into the ordinary person's mind. I think it is a great tragedy that the Civil Defence is to be abandoned by the Government at this moment when they have done so much in building up their own departments, training and organising, and administering and bringing in departments in ordinary life. I think this is a great tragedy.

My Lords, Civil Defence, having been organised by people in different county council departments and by people in the rural areas, is now finished. The work of those people who were brought together is finished. If you tried to reform Civil Defence, I do not believe that those people would ever come forward to help again. They seem to be demoralised by the thought that, having got the departments going, all of a sudden, by the stroke of a pen, the end came, and they were told, "You are finished."

There are other things I should have liked to mention, but I am not allowed to be controversial in a maiden speech. I gather there is to be a minimum requirement for starting Civil Defence now. It may be organised by one, two or three people. But where will the county councils stand regarding equipment which has to go back to Government depôts? Who will organise this? Will it be a Government man in a Government Department? I understand that the equipment, or most of it, is to be sold. How much of it is to be sold? Is it just the trailers and lorries or does it include uniforms, spades and all that sort of thing? It would be no use selling some of the equipment and not the rest.

My Lords, I should like to think that this was the last in a line of wretched debates which we have had recently. We have debated the Royal Air Force, aircraft carriers, the Regular Army and the Territorial Army. Now we are debating Civil Defence. There was a time when we could say that we went to the conference table fully armed and with a measure of security behind us. But it appears to me that we have now become a little more "naked". Even worse than that, with Civil Defence gone, the public will look more like skinned rabbits than anything else.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, to me falls the pleasant duty of thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Long, for the speech which he has just made. I wonder whether, like other noble Lords—and certainly like noble Ladies—he felt any apprehension before he made his speech. I know that the noble Viscount is proficient at gliding and I wonder whether the test of a first glide compares with the test of a first speech in your Lordships' House. I know that the noble Viscount could not have achieved his first glide better than he achieved his first speech. I hope that from his point of view, as well as ours, we shall have the opportunity of hearing him again, and we shall enjoy that as much as we have enjoyed hearing him to-day. I should like to extend to the noble Viscount my congratulations and good wishes and to say that if he feels anything like I felt after making my maiden speech, he must be longing to go out and have a good drink.

My Lords, because of the variety of the subjects which have been touched on by various noble Lords, and because we want to keep this debate as brief as we can, my contribution will be based entirely on the voluntary service angle of this problem. As a very long term member of Civil Defence, I should like to start by paying tribute to all those who have done such splendid work for Civil Defence. The number of men and women concerned is not very large in proportion to the population of the country—it is just over 1 per cent. or 1½ per cent—but their contribution has been magnificent and tremendous. They have, as I know well, served quietly and without glamour. They have made a very varied and valuable contribution to the life of the nation. Their example, as noble Lords have indicated in their speeches, has been an extremely and a specially valuable one.

I think that a specific tribute should be paid to those who have carried responsibility at local and at regional levels; those who have laboured tirelessly to establish a method of training—and that training has been second to none. A tribute is due to those who have handled the Staff College and the schools with imagination and great success, and especially to the Civil Defence officers at local authority level. A tribute should also be paid to the specialist instructors. These have been of great variety and they had difficulties to meet when originally concentrating on what should be taught; what the content of their teaching should be; and in comparing the technical and the practical, the theoretical and the long-term vision.

Less obvious, my Lords, but equally important are the administrative staff, and a tribute should be paid to them. The boredom of the background work has been tremendous, and one of the biggest tributes should go to the indefatigable local organisers. Naturally, from my point of view and from the vantage point which I have held for many years, I feel that I should like my own prime tribute to go to the ever-ready and devoted volunteer; those who gave of their time and skill, and sacrificed Saturdays and Sundays to undertake boring, routine jobs—everybody likes doing the nice jobs, but it is the boring things which are such a nuisance—and submitted to various forms of training, many of which were not always to their taste but had to be undertaken in order to qualify themselves for one thing only. I think, my Lords, that this has been lost sight of occasionally in our deliberations. They qualified themselves to serve the locality, of course, in respect of nuclear attack but also to serve it in other ways. This, fundamentally, must be the thing to which we must hold, this readiness to serve the nation; and the example of this service must not be lost. All of us are agreed on that. I beg the volunteers, men and women, to continue to give of their service not counting the cost for the strengthening of their own community.

There can be no question at all that cuts, whenever they come, are dreadfully distressing. There is no one who would contradict that. The axe is the cruellest of weapons and it is easy for us all to look for countless implications in regard to how it is used and upon whom it falls. But because we are a great nation, and because we intend to remain a great nation, we have to convince the rest of the world that to-day, as a body and as individuals, we are prepared to accept the difficulties, and that every one of us has to play a part, whatever may be cur own private and very painful feelings.

My Lords, I speak as the oldest of all of you in this House in respect to Civil Defence, and one of the oldest in the whole of Great Britain in the service of Civil Defence. I worked in Civil Defence when it was called A.R.P. before the last world war. It changed from A.R.P. to Civil Defence soon after the war started. Since then many people have forgotten what the initials A.R.P. stood for. That is a very long stretch of years, and naturally I am deeply saddened and profoundly moved by the turn of events. But I understand some of the difficulties which all of is will have to meet.

Among all those who have devoted so much to Civil Defence for so Ion; there must be a great number who originally joined Civil Defence, not became they chose it but because of a sense of duty to serve the community. Throughout all these years volunteers have joined Civil Defence for that reason, not just as a choice, and they will be the men and women who will remain always of inestimable value to the community. They have given their services not for a political or other reason but because they believe that the country needed them; and they will be prepared to serve the community in future.

Obviously the men will find new openings, first and very obviously in the Special Constabulary. There is day-to-day work to do in it, and this always keeps volunteers much more interested in what they are doing. The men also can find an opening in the work of St. John Ambulance Brigade, and anybody who has watched those men on duty know well the value of their services. They can also join the British Red Cross Society and, if it be not out of order and in spite of the fact that I am a woman, I promise a very real welcome to both male and female—and perhaps, being a woman, a greater welcome to the male—in the W.R.V.S., where we carry through to-day a much greater responsibility for emergency work at local authority level than has ever been carried by one body before.

I do not know how many of your Lordships have taken the trouble to train in Civil Defence. Of necessity, because I am so deeply immersed in the subject, I have known those who take a deep interest, but the proportion is low, not merely in your Lordships' House but throughout the whole country. Because the few are doing the job, the many have relied on them. I believe that in future this is the thing we have to examine. If we are going to serve the nation we must undertake, each one of us, to play our own part, in the whole.

For in an emergency, let us make no mistake that what will be required in days to come will be the preparedness of the whole nation, not of only a small proportion, so that if there be a tragedy that tragedy can be met by each individual person playing his or her part, not on a paid or "press-gang" basis but as a voluntary part of the whole, in the same way as members in a family would act together to meet a trouble. But we should be able to do that much better if we had prepared ourselves for it.

The Service to which I belong will redouble its energies in emergency welfare training, not only for our own numbers—and the number is very large—but for all those who wish to be trained, whether they join the Service or not, so that there will be readiness among the people because they have informed themselves through such training. I am absolutely sure that the St. John Ambulance Brigade and the British Red Cross will be doing the same thing in their specialised fields. Those fields are of paramount importance to the nation. And in every case this work will be done quietly on a simple, workaday, useful and practical basis at local level. Those volunteers who can no longer give their time and energy to Civil Defence can join any of these voluntary bodies to help in any sort of disaster.

In discussing this question, whether here or elsewhere, we accept that the strength of this country has been the contribution of the volunteer as an individual within the framework of the whole, and one of the most valuable attributes, not only of the character of the individual but of the character of the nation, has been the involvement of the nation as a whole in this type of service. I believe, as do countless others, that the great things of this land will never be achieved by the genius of the few, but are always accomplished by the faithfulness of the many.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Long most heartily on his admirable maiden speech. I remember many years ago being annoyed at being defeated in a valuable declamation competition by his first cousin, his father's predecessor, and a friend of mine who was killed in the war. Obviously the ability in declamation and public speaking runs in the family. I hope that we shall hear my noble friend frequently, and we are very glad to welcome him to-day. Secondly, I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, because I shall have to leave before the end of the debate. In the fifteen years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, during which I have spoken on many occasions, I have never had to do this before, but I have a longstanding engagement, and I am sorry that I shall have to leave about six o'clock.

I cannot claim the long experience in Civil Defence of some noble Lords, particularly of the noble Baroness who has just spoken, but for three years I was chairman of a Civil Defence region. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, who was the head of a Civil Defence region and I can speak as one who was a little lower down in the scale. I have also attended the Staff College as a student, and have even lectured at Easingwold on Civil Defence. I took over my appointment when military, Territorial Army and Civil Defence boundaries were so arranged that they coincided exactly; and a very tidy and efficient organisation came out of it. I am very sad that so much of this is now to be lost. As we have heard, many of the thousands of men in the Civil Defence organisation are there and carry on this work as part of their own jobs; and I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that they are to be retained. Of course, the police force and fire service are there. But where we are doubtful is whether, if such a ghastly tragedy should occur, they would be able to cope properly or expand in time to deal with the problem. It seems sad that the volunteers, who were paid very little, if anything at all, have to be disbanded purely because of the cost of their training.

The local authorities come into the matter more than ever, and I should like to ask the noble Lord (I apologise for not giving him notice) a question. I would revert to the speech I made in our Civil Defence debate on March 22, when I discussed the Ministry of Education circular in which it was stated that in the planning stage it would be necessary to earmark educational premises that would be needed for specified Civil Defence purposes and that under the Civil Defence Emergency Feeding Regulations emergency feeding authorities, county councils and county boroughs are required to prepare plans for the emergency feeding of the civil population. I should be grateful if in winding up the noble Lord could let us know what effect these new cuts will have on this plan which was started up not very long ago. As I say, I have not given him notice of this question, but perhaps he will kindly let me know the answer, because the point is rather interesting.

When the disbandment of the A.V.R. III was announced a number of officers in Civil Defence appointments told me they felt that the backbone of the organisation was broken, and they thought that that was perhaps why the Government were forced to put the organisation on something that was not much better than a care-and-maintenance basis. I should like to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, said. I, too, simply fail to see how the organisation can work under the new set-up, because previously the command and control was run by the regional headquarters. Nearly all the full-time staff on the exercises were Territorial soldiers, and the transport was produced by the Territorial Army. So, although the monitoring system may be continuing, and the Observer Corps, you will lose this tremendously important centre of the organisation; and then you come down to the devoted volunteers, the clergy and others who are still there on the ground.

I am very worried as to whether it will be possible to build up an organisation of this sort. Do not let us forget, however, that a great deal has been done, that the most expensive part of the national network has been completed, with the local centres, communications and special equipment. I sincerely hope that this will not be thrown away, and that the items of equipment will be maintained in good condition. I hope that volunteers will be invited to come forward to learn Civil Defence duties and to keep a shadow organisation alive. Only a comparatively small number of energetic and intelligent people are required, such as those who already do so much unpaid work in local affairs throughout the country. But many of those who have been connected with A.R.P. and Civil Defence are getting elderly, and we need younger people to take their places. I should like to endorse again, as I did in the last debate, what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield said about the assistance that can be given by the clergy.

In addition, a vast amount of planning has been done, as I know personally. Complete schemes are in existence in every region and sub-region, and these must be kept up to date. Surely that is not a difficult or expensive job. I believe that in the past the W.R.V.S. were given £900,000 a year from the Government for the Civil Defence side of their work. Can the Minister, when he winds up, say whether this sum will still be available, and, if so, how it will be used in future?

It is terribly depressing to all of us who have worked hard to produce a really efficient national organisation to see it cut to ribbons. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, I know that there is a great deal of apprehension among the Civil Defence officers who will now be redundant. I hope that the Government will be very generous. I thought I understood the Minister to say that no one would be redundant, but I know that local authorities have not enough money to keep the whole of the existing senior staffs available. Although possibly generous pensions can be given to people who have served for thirty years, there are very few in the organisation who have served as long as that. Also, a great many took on the jobs thinking that they had a reasonable career in front of them, whereas if they had known that their jobs would fold up under them they would not have gone into it at all, because now they are too old to get anything else. One wonders whether they will be able to survive on a gratuity or a pension for perhaps ten years' work. We shall watch carefully what emerges, but I am afraid that personally I am very doubtful about the outcome.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, after all that has been said in the debate so far there is no need for me to cover a wide range of subjects, and I propose to confine my remarks entirely to the problems of the local authorities consequent on the disbandment of the Civil Defence Corps. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said that this decision was a great disappointment. That, of course, is the understatement of the year. In actual fact, I am afraid there is a good deal of indignation and dismay; and I suggest to your Lordships that it is not felt without good reason.

When we had this reorganisation about a year ago, as a result of the 1966 Review, it was a bitter blow. I think that some noble Lords who have spoken to-day have not realised that ever since then we have had no rescue section, no welfare section and no first-aid section. So we were reduced to very small proportions. A reasoned argument was produced, and as the matter had been studied for what we considered to be an inordinate time we accepted, by and large, that this was a sad but necessary evil. But it was represented to us, as has been said to-day, as the minimum viable standard of Civil Defence; and nothing I have heard to-day convinces me that the minimum viable standard is any lower now than it was then.

I deduce from that, as some other noble Lords have done, that the present cuts are purely financial. We all fully realise the urgency of financial cuts, but surely we are not going to be bankrupt for ever. If the reason for these cuts is financial, as I maintain it is, then that is a short-term problem. I think that we are entitled to ask the Government to ensure that such cuts as are made to meet that short-term problem are not such as to compromise our ability to recover and reactivate the service to a somewhat higher level as and when the opportunity may arise or as circumstances may require.

I should have thought the implication of that from the very start was that the Civil Defence Corps should have been put into suspended animation, if that was necessary, but should not have been disbanded. It seems an absolutely pointless decision to disband it, and when the Government themselves admit that reactivation is at the back of their minds as a possibility in the future. I was very surprised to hear the noble Lord. Lord Stonham, suggest that the responsibilities of local authorities for Civil Defence would in this way be greatly reduced. This is a very doubtful argument. I think, to explain it, I should say what in my opinion has been the way in which this local government Civil Defence has worked.

I know that it is impossible to generalise about local authorities, but there is a general average of how this works. In the local authority the officials and elected members of the civil defence committee normally exercise the local authority's responsibilities on their behalf. But under them, on their own staff, they have had the full-time Civil Defence officers who have also provided their link with the volunteers. I think that in most cases a very sensible and economical local arrangement has been reached between the official side and the volunteers as to who does what. By and large, the local authority, quite naturally, controls and authorises expenditure, provides buildings, equipment and staff, and does its best to meet the reasonable requests of the Civil Defence Corps for assistance, usually through the civil defence officer. In addition, many authorities give most valuable personal encouragement to the volunteers.

One thing the local authority does not do, in my experience; it does not exercise any initiative in these matters. The initiative for training, for planning, for operations, comes from the Corps, or from the civil defence officer, and it receives the backing of the local authority civil defence committee—and very good many of these committees are. So it will be perceived that by diminishing the Civil Defence Corps, which means also diminishing the number of civil defence officers, you are going to lose your initiative, unless some active steps are taken to find it somewhere else. So far from this being a relief to local authorities, I believe that, if this new set-up is to be credible at all, the responsibilities of local government officials, and all the elected members on the civil defence committee will have to be very much greater than they have been in the past. I have known many departments in authorities where not a single official has ever been trained in Civil Defence. I knew at one time of a civil defence committee of which not one single member has ever attended a course, even when one was arranged for them. So I do not want your Lordships to suppose that the loss of the Civil Defence Corps is just a marginal loss—certainly at local authority level it is not.

Moreover, there were always some functions which the local authority staffs attempted to fulfil, but which they do not now attempt to fulfil. One has already been mentioned—the scientific intelligence. I am delighted to hear that provision is to be made to maintain some staff, at least, of trained scientists, as these people can measure and predict the course of fall-out in an emergency, without which all the efforts of the local authorities, and indeed of the central authorities, too, might only lead to vast and unimaginable casualties.

There is one other function, which has been mentioned to-day, and that is communications and control. It is easy to talk glibly about communications and control. I should like to say what, in my understanding, they actually comprise. These establishments, which have been kept on a care-and-maintenance basis, are on the whole the rather higher level of controls, and a year ago Lord Stonham told us that after twenty years of Civil Defence preparations, there were one-third of these in existence in England and Wales; and two-thirds in Scotland. Your Lordships can draw your own conclusions from that statement. I do not know whether it presents a true picture. If not, I hope that the noble Lord will say so. But that is what he told us. The others, presumably, would have to be improvised. But it means they have not got, for instance, private telephone wires, tele-printer circuits, if they need them. Then there are the control posts, what used to be called wardens' posts. After the last reorganisation, I do not think it was ever contemplated that it would be possible for local authority staffs to man those. What is supposed to happen to them? They do not exist, they are only earmarked in peace time for use in war.

I should not like your Lordships to go away with the idea that a ready-made complete system of Civil Defence control exists, because in my experience it does not. There is still a great deal of work to do. On the other hand, you will remember that in the last change, a year ago, it was proposed that the higher controls which do exist should in future be manned by local government staffs. That is an excellent idea, but I saw very little sign of its being adequately implemented. There appeared to be no intention whatever of giving these people sufficient training. If anybody thinks that the running of these controls consists of seconding half a dozen typists from the town clerk's office, all I can say is that he "has another think coming."

These controls are complete control operations rooms, signal offices, information rooms, exactly as many of your Lordships will have been familiar with, either in the Services or in Home Defence. They require not only trained staff but they require the staff to be regularly exercised, and if any noble Lord has had to operate a wireless net with inexperienced operators he will know how useless it is—you might as well not be there. The idea of training local government staffs has, of course, never got off the ground, and it will not now do so. But there are in existence fully trained staffs of volunteers for these controls, and they are going to be spent. I cannot see the point of that at all.

My third point is this: no scheme will be of any use, or credible in any way, unless it provides some system whereby it can be expanded if there is a sudden crisis. I do not care whether it is a six months, six weeks or six days crisis; when you are dealing with local authorities covering the whole length and breadth of the United Kingdom, and you have to have expansion in every one of those authorities, I can see absolutely no way of doing so except by calling for volunteers, and it is useless to call for volunteers if you have nowhere to train them. Where are we to find anyone to train them? There is no sign of provision for this in the organisation, and not a single person who would be a trained Civil Defence instructor. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, did not say whether any Civil Defence officers are to be kept at all. I have heard rumours that one is to be kept here and there, either on a part-time basis, or a shared basis, between authorities, but even so there will be nobody there to train new recruits coming in, unless the existing trained members of the Civil Defence Corps are kept in existence in some form or other. They will become a wasting asset. The suggestion I would put forward is that even supposing the Corps is disbanded to-morrow, the Government ought to give very serious consideration to a scheme whereby, perhaps in two years' time when the long slog the Chancellor has promised us is over, it will be possible to reactivate to some extent the proposals which were made to us a year ago by pulling back any of the highly-trained Civil Defence volunteers we can get, and using them to build up, perhaps on a small scale, some new volunteer element, whatever you may call it, to perform the functions for the local authorities which I have already described. If that is to be done successfully, I think something must be said to the volunteers either now or very soon to indicate that such a plan is under consideration and will be worth waiting for.

I do not want to keep the House too long, but it may be that I am the only Member, or one of the few Members of the House, who is still a voluntary Civil Defence worker—at least for the next three or four days. So I hope your Lordships will not take it amiss if I say a word or two about the Corps. Some very sensible things have been said about it already by various speakers, but I should like to say something about it also. I am not technically a member of the Corps, so I am not really congratulating myself. But it would have been my job, in the event of a nuclear attack, to deploy these people in support of their local authorities. Therefore, I think your Lordships will realise that I have not been able to afford to look at them through rose-tinted spectacles. I have been in that position now for some six years, and I can only say that I have the greatest confidence that that Corps would have given an extremely good account of itself. if I ask myself, "Why?", it is quite difficult to say.

The Corps is made up of a very good cross-section of the people of this country. It comprises people of all ages, from 17 to 70, and of both sexes; I should think it contains people from every known occupation and social class, and every one of them is doing a job for which his or her natural background specially suits him. As has been said already, some of them are not particularly glamorous jobs. The fact of the matter is that these conditions have produced a degree of enthusiasm, I could almost say dedication, which is both very heartening and very surprising. I think your Lordships will agree that spontaneous enthusiasm of this sort is a very infectious thing, and I have no doubt that in the dreadful conditions which we are contemplating—and one should remember that these conditions might well make the civil conditions in Vietnam look like a Sunday school picnic—the effect on the morale of the public of these people, whom they know, doing their very ordinary job without much fuss or trouble, dressed in a uniform they could recognise, would have been tremendous; and without public morale, my Lords, the chances of our survival as a nation would really be very poor indeed.

Therefore I cannot conceal the fact that I think this decision to disband the Corps is both unsound and unnecessary. I think it is not too late to think of some way of overcoming some of the worst effects of it. I urge Her Majesty's Government to do two things: to make sure, first, that their arrangements for peace-time planning, of which I may say I have very grave suspicions, are in fact realistic and will be done by somebody who knows his job and whose first priority is to do it; and, secondly, that the organisation that is set up would be capable of expansion within a reasonable time.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, I must first of all apologise to both Front Benches because I am afraid that I have to go to Central Hall, Westminster, to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of votes for women. After all, I should not be here if the people concerned had not done the job 50 years ago. I should like, if I may, to draw your Lordships' attention to a personal experience of mine. However, before I do that, may I say that in looking back thirty years I have had the privilege and pleasure of serving under both the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, and the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, and during seven years of that time I was heavily involved in Civil Defence on the South Coast.

I should like to give your Lordships from personal experience an illustration, which I think is better at this stage than a speech about details, of the dangers I feel we are laying up for ourselves in the future in passing this Bill. I was asked in 1962 to undertake a Commonwealth tour of lectures in India, Pakistan and Ceylon. I arrived in Delhi on the day of the cease-fire of the war which had been provoked by China. I do not think that ever since Independence Day had we been so popular in India as we were at that moment, because we had so rapidly come to her aid in her time of need, and never, I fear, have we been so unpopular as we are at the present moment.

On my arrival at the High Commission I found a message from the present Prime Minister, who was then Minister of Information and Broadcasting, asking me to scrap my hardworked five lectures which I had prepared, and to spend my time lecturing and broadcasting on Civil Defence. Fortunately, in my very young days I was a Girl Guide. Your Lordships know that our motto is, "Be Prepared", and I had a shrewd idea that something of this sort might happen, and therefore, although my own experience of Civil Defence was obviously very much out of date, I had taken some of the most modern leaflets out with me. It did not take me long to realise how totally unprepared Delhi was for any form of air attack. It was wholly unprotected, open to the sky, densely populated, and with no expertise whatever as to how to deal with a possible disaster. A few trenches had been dug in the sandy ground, which were rapidly being blown away or used as latrines. The population were desperately anxious to know what to do, and there was nobody with any experience to tell them. For all they knew, the war might start again and escalate and disaster descend from a very clear blue sky.

The obvious thing was to get an expert out immediately from our Civil Defence headquarters, and I had some conference with the newly appointed Controller for Delhi, an excellent man with great difficulties in front of him, and I attended some lectures with him. To illustrate his sort of problem, I remember that at a lecture he had explained how to put out a fire with a sack half filled with sand, when a voice came from the back of the room and said, "Where do I find the sack? Where do I find the sand? And who is going to lift it?" My friend the Controller turned to me and said, "You see the type of difficulties I am up against". I have talked of this Delhi position because I think it brings home—at least, it brings home to me—the dangers we are laying up for ourselves in the future in passing this Bill.

At present there are in Britain generations who have been through two wars or at any rate one, and together with the present Civil Defence set-up we have a great store of experience and knowledge in this country to fall back on if a sudden disaster should overtake us. But my generation is passing away; our children are getting very much older. They went through the last war, but our grandchildren know nothing of war or Civil Defence at all. Are we sure, therefore, in passing this Bill, that it is right to leave this younger generation to face the future in a state of total ignorance, such ignorance as I found in Delhi? I feel that in doing this we are betraying a trust.

I know that the Bill says that there will be "care and maintenance", but from investigations which I have made in the county with which I am familiar I find that in 1979 the allowance from the Government for this purpose will be £2,500, which, of course, I suppose might be enough to rent a store and pay for the mileage to inspect it. I know also that the Home Office have agreed that the county councils should have a small nucleus of fully trained staff among their officers, and suitable equipment—all, I suppose, on £2,500 a year. But supposing that at the outbreak of a disaster all these officials at central office, County Hall, were killed in one swoop. Where should we be then?

I feel strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, that what is needed, as well as a concentrated number of expert officials, is a widespread knowledge of simple, necessary precautions throughout the population in the towns and village by village. It is more likely that, with any luck, some of the villages will survive than the towns, and it is surely possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Younger, has just said, that something can be saved from the present situation.

I will make one simple suggestion which has not been made to date: that instruction should be given in the top classes of schools and in the universities, and encouragement given to the young people there to join the St. John Ambulance Brigade, the Red Cross, the Special Police Constabulary, the W.R.V.S., and so on. I am quite certain that there is so much good will and knowledge in the country that Her Majesty's Government should look at this position again. Even if we put equipment in cold storage, could we not find some means of allowing this voluntary good will to carry on in a simple way, as I think people are perfectly willing to do, so that at least we may ensure that our grandchildren do not face the situation which I found in Delhi, and that by these steps we may try to secure the survival of a small fraction of the civilisation of this country if it happens to have to face the ultimate disaster.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I feel a great sense of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe for initiating this debate, which I believe is of more importance than perhaps some noble Lords have realised. My noble friend made this evident in his own speech, on which I will not further comment, but I will comment briefly on the excellent maiden speech of my noble kinsman, Lord Long. His was a valuable contribution to our debate. The third bouquet I have to hand out is somewhat upside down. It is to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, because I wish to take up straight away a point which he made in his speech and which was that when we have abandoned—or, if he does not like that word, "run down"—our system of Civil Defence, we shall then be in the same position as other European countries because we are the only country in Europe which has a voluntary system of Civil Defence. The premise is true; the conclusion is, to say the least of it, doubtful. The difference between this country and other European countries is that we have a voluntary system whereas other countries have an integrated system which is not subject to running down but is part of the normal forces of the country. That is the position on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and therefore their Civil Defence services remain in force. Indeed, this was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, in his speech.

Various noble Lords have spoken, and will speak, by virtue of the authority of a connection with one or other part of Civil Defence, and they will be listened to with respect. I have no such authority. I have never been, and am not, connected with Civil Defence in any way. Therefore, what I have to say—and the reason why I mention this will be obvious—is not prejudiced in the smallest degree by any kind of bias. I speak solely as one of the millions of "defended"—or "undefended", as the case may be.

With regard to the question of the disbandment of the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service I wish to make one point, which has been made before, but it has not been emphasised. In fact, the point was made by my noble kinsman, Lord Long, just now. This is a volunteer force, and when volunteers are sent away after years of devoted work for which they neither receive nor desire any reward at all, and are told that they are not wanted, they have a tendency not to come back. It is quite idle for anyone to suppose that once a force of this kind is dispersed it will be there in being, scattered throughout the country but ready to come up at the next call of the bugle or penny whistle when the Government may choose to call. Ministers make a great mistake if they deceive themselves into thinking that fair words of tribute put out at the time of saying "Goodbye" cut any ice at all, because they do not.

Nor does this sort of thing, said by the Home Secretary: There is nothing stopping the offer of voluntary services either in this field or in others". In the next column the Minister says that offers in this field, though they may be made, cannot be accepted, which rather spoils the effect. However, he goes on to say: if volunteers wish to offer their services, there are such invaluable institutions as the Red Cross; I have mentioned already the W.R.V.S.; there is St. John Ambulance Brigade."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 29/2/68; col. 1803.] That is doubtless true, just as it is true that when the football season ends the cricket season begins; which is all right for such footballers as happen to be keen on cricket but is not much good for those who are not. In passing, I think that what we really need is a national emergency corps, with T. & A.V.R. III incorporated in it as its para-military wing; but that is another question.

I now turn to the question of county staffs. The Civil Defence Act 1948 is not to be repealed, which is an important point, and this means that the statutory obligations of county councils remain obligations for the care of the homeless and injured, feeding the population, the maintenance of the control system and the training and planning required for all these things. But Civil Defence staffs are to be cut. By how much can they be cut? I have no great field of knowledge of this subject, but in my own county of West Sussex, for which I have some information given to me, the Civil Defence Officer considers that the absolute basic minimum with which he would be able to operate at all would be two Civil Defence officers and a shorthand typist. He calculates that the minimum cost on which any kind of system could be run would be about £7,500 a year. That is the basic minimum, both in personnel and in money, without which it is not considered that the county council could undertake to carry out its statutory responsibilities.

As noble Lords have heard, the Home Office has offered to contribute about £2,500 a year, which is a third of the absolute minimum estimated, and is just under one-fiftieth of the corresponding contribution for the year 1967–68. So it appears that the Home Office is refusing to give the county enough money to carry out its statutory obligations. That suggests to me two questions: first, is the Home Office proposing to make cuts in its own budget by shifting the burden on to local authorities; and, secondly, if not, why and how do the Government become entitled to withhold the money necessary for the implementing of an Act of Parliament? This may be an ignorant question but it is not a polemical one.


My Lords, may I just answer the noble Earl on that point? We are to consider four Civil Defence Regulations to-morrow which will have an effect on the present responsibility of local authorities in respect of Civil Defence and which I think will provide the answer to the noble Earl's question. The other point I would make is that when I mentioned £1 million of continuing expenditure from 1969–70 onwards, that was Exchequer expenditure, and any rate-borne expenditure is of course related to that.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I accept his words and leave it at that. I should like to return to the question of the disbandment of the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service, and the first point I make is that it has not happened yet. The statement made by the Home Secretary in another place on the 29th of last month was—this is a familiar enough quotation by now: The intention is to disband the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service on the 31st March.". That is next Monday. But even that statement given by the Home Secretary is not complete. To complete it it should have these additional words: If both Houses of Parliament so approve". So noble Lords will be pleased, I hope, to bear in mind—and I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for helping me to plug this home—that tomorrow is the day, and I beg noble Lords to keep that in mind during the rest of my remarks and the rest of this debate, because I think it has vital relevance to the debate.

Now I ask how and on what justification the Government have arrived at their policies for Civil Defence. There is apparently no deception about this. They are cutting Civil Defence in order to save money. However, there is a good deal more to it than that. No one will gainsay that the safety of the people is the responsibility of the Government, but whether or not the running down of the means of discharging that responsibility is justified depends on three factors; the magnitude of the risk to be faced, if any; the amount of warning that may be expected of the approach of war; and the capacity for reconstituting the defence in face of the threat. Those have to be considered both separately and in conjunction with one another.

It is accepted that the risk of general war in Europe, which is taken to mean nuclear war within a matter of weeks, has greatly receded, and I believe it has, but nobody says that the danger has disappeared; indeed, the whole of NATO strategy is based firmly on the belief that it has not. It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and others to talk about encouraging signs, but one does not abandon one's defences simply on the strength of encouraging signs. It is hardly enough. Nor does anyone know for certain what such a risk, if it came, might entail; that is to say, in terms of catastrophic events within the United Kingdom itself.

It might be a thermo-nuclear saturation attack which would be the end for us; we should not bother about it any more. Or it might be one or two lesser strikes, causing great devastation but demanding the whole of the emergency services the country could provide. Or it might conceivably be a single rocket, falling who knows where, either as the result of a mistake, an accident, or even conceivably the egregious folly of some madman in a submarine. In short, the magnitude of the calamity that might befall is beyond calculation, but is in any case vastly too great to be ignored. This truth is reflected in the Government's wise decision to keep in being the Royal Observer Corps; though it must be remarked that observers are useless if there is nobody for them to report to and nobody to act on their reports.

That brings us to the second of the three factors, the amount of warning that might be expected of the approach of war. This is a matter of strategic and political appreciation, and the Government's conclusion is that international tensions have by now relaxed to a point from which they will take a long, or at any rate a longer, time to deteriorate again into a likelihood of war—in other words, long warning. As the Home Secretary himself has put it: Cuba blew up very quickly. It is now possible to form a judgment that future crises are likely to be longer in developing than that was".—[col. 1800.] That may well be true, though, heaven knows!, it is not saying much.

But what I will not accept as true is the idea that such a judgment is totally reliable. To argue that we shall probably get long or longer warning of the approach of war is one thing; to take that probability as justification for dismantling most of our defences is quite another. Except in one circumstance: we should be justified in dismantling if we could be certain that, be the warning long or short, we should still be able to reconstitute the defences in time to meet the threat before the warning time ran out. It was in order to test the Government's feeling on this particular point that I put down my Starred Question this afternoon, which elicited the replies from the noble Lord which your Lordships heard. It was described by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe as a careful reply, and indeed it was, I am bound to say—I have no wish to be anything but fair to the noble Lord in this. I think it amounted to the fact that he really did not know, and that was the answer I expected. Nor am I being the least unfair to the noble Lord, because that is in fact what the Home Secretary said on February 29 in another place: nobody does know. It is all very well to say it will depend on the acuteness of the danger and the swiftness with which we react, and things of that kind. That is hardly the point. What we want to know is how long it will take.

The Government do not know. The Government apparently have not even asked the Civil Defence officers. That is the task of the Home Office. I cannot go round asking all the Civil Defence officers and I am afraid I have asked only two. So far as I can make out, there is likely to be nobody in a position of authority on that level who is prepared to say that once the Civil Defence Corps and A.F.S. have run down, which the Government say will take a year to complete, it will be possible to revive them to a state of war in less than another year—some say six months; but six months depends on the idea that they will not have been completely run down. With complete run down in a year from now they need another year to revive them. How many noble Lords, inside or outside the Government, are prepared to stand up and say now that in March, 1969, we shall be able to say with certainty that there will be no war before March, 1970? Is it possible? No, my Lords, it is not.

I submit that the conclusion is inescapable. I will state it in the form of a question, and I should like to put it to the Government in these words. If you do not know that the time needed to reconstitute Civil Defence to a state of readiness for war will be shorter than the warning you will receive of the approach of war, then on what facts did you base the politico-strategic appreciation you have put forward in support of your intention to disband the Civil Defence services? I shall be very much interested to hear if anyone can give me a sensible answer to that question. It is my contention that these cuts forming part of the Government's post devaluation policy were proposed by them with little or no assessment of the risks involved.

This brings me to the part of the story I find horrifying; I chose the word deliberately and I repeat it—horrifying. Noble Lords may remember, perhaps, that I interrupted, I hope not rudely, the noble Lord when he was speaking to ask him whether he was speaking for the Government or the Home Office, and I think he thought it was a rather stupid or perhaps impertinent question. I had a particular reason, because, as I will reveal to those of your Lordships who have not yet discovered it, whereas the noble Lord was saying that "we", meaning the Government, had come to the conclusion that Civil Defence had to be cut down for certain financial reasons, the Home Secretary himself has announced in another place that in fact the Government came to no such decision at all; it was come to by the Home Office. This is a matter of some importance.

Persons whose common sense is greater than their fund of political knowledge might suppose that a Government, when faced with a need to reduce expenditure on all fronts, will proceed in an orderly, rational way; that is to say, will arrange all its expenditures in various fields in order of priorities and make its reductions in accordance with the priorities right across the board, to use the more or less meaningless cliché of the moment. Thus it might consider, for example, how the nationalisation of transport stood in relation to the school-leaving age and apply the axe according to how it thought the priorities stood between the two. I, too, once thought that that, being the sensible and efficient approach, would be the one employed by Governments. It was with a shock of disillusion I came to realise how naive I had been. But perhaps there might still be some noble Lords who do not know that Governments do not work in that way; they do not consider Government expenditure as a whole, they consider it Department by Department, Ministry by Ministry, and each Minister is called upon to make what contribution he thinks his Department can best afford.

So it was in this case. The Home Secretary was required to make a "contribution" or, in his own words, a "forced levy". He had to cut something. So what could he afford to cut? He decided that he could not afford to cut down on the police, on security in prisons, on the children's services, on immigration officers, on Home Office staff or on various Home Office services. So down came the chopper on Civil Defence. There, my Lords, is the answer to the suggestion that Civil Defence has been cut because the Government decided that they could not afford it. No such thing, I am sorry to say.

I am not making this up, I assure your Lordships. I take it from Mr. Callaghan's own speech in the Civil Defence debate in another place on February 29, and you will find it in columns 1793 to 1795 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. In reading that Report I was encouraged to learn that there must be at least one honourable gentleman as politically naive as myself, for he asked the Home Secretary whether he could not have tried to persuade his colleagues to make economies at the expense of the Transport Bill and the Transport Holdings Bill. Here is the answer that he received—I quote from col. 1794: I am referring to the contribution that I was asked to make to this general misery to which we were all subjected "— that is not bad for the former Chancellor of the Exchequer!— and I had to consider this within my own responsibility.…One cannot get support in Cabinet if one says to the Cabinet, 'I will not do anything, but what about him or her?' One has to look at one's own field, and that was what I had to do. I had to look at what contribution I could make. I ask you to note the words: One cannot get support in Cabinet… Could there well be a more gross indictment of the attitude of Cabinet Ministers towards the people who appointed them to power? Is it any wonder that the whole process of government has come to be regarded with derision and cynicism if not with actual contempt?

I do not hurl these strictures in the teeth of the Labour Government alone; it is part of the whole basis of government in general—and my authority for saying that is to be found in the speech by the right honourable and learned Member for St. Marylebone in the same debate. But I do not believe that any Government has ever before carried the system to the point of making the defences of the nation into a sacrifice to be exacted from one Cabinet Minister by all the others.

When those whom we have entrusted with the conduct of our affairs behave in this internecine way, we may be excused, I think, for a tendency to wonder whose side they are on, apart from being each on his own side. All politics are a battle, but when you get to the Cabinet it is jungle warfare. That is not an original remark, so I cannot claim it. It was made to me quite recently by one who has been through the whole political mill, Cabinet and all, and emerged more greatly respected and with higher honours than most. But it is worth repeating: All politics are a battle, but when you get to the Cabinet it's jungle warfare. Do your Lordships really think that the forced abrogation of the Home Secretary's responsibility towards the nation is compensated for in some way by the fact that the Minister of Transport has "contributed" some reduction in the roads programme? Or do you think, as I do, that it is dangerously, even wickedly, irresponsible to let one Ministry dismantle our defences against disaster while another more than offsets the saving made by squandering millions of our money on buying buses that are already running?

As my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said a few days ago, the Government are gambling on no war. They are gambling money against lives, and both the money and the lives are ours. But remember again, they have not done it yet. They have announced that they mean to do it, and they have already begun the running down of Civil Defence without bothering to ask for the approval of Parliament. They have not waited for that. But the fact is, as your Lordships know from the Order Paper, that the question of whether the Civil Defence services and the Auxiliary Fire Service are to be disbanded or not, is for your Lordships to decide. The matter will be decided here, in this Chamber, and in the Division Lobby to-morrow afternoon, when we are asked to approve these revocation orders. What will you say, my Lords? Will you approve or disapprove? If there be any noble Lord who remains in doubt beyond the end of this debate, I would beg that he address himself most earnestly to the question of making up his mind, for the time of decision is less than a day and a night away.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, I have one small specific point only to make, and I shall be relatively brief. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe, to whom I, like the rest of your Lordships, am most grateful for giving us this opportunity to debate Civil Defence, has expressed with his usual clarity and conviction the views of those of us on this side of the House as to the damaging effects of the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards Civil Defence and the dangers of disbanding the Civil Defence Corps. That case has been amplified by a great many of your Lordships with considerable experience, and I could not possibly add to it.

The particular reason why I wish to speak is that I am proud to be the Prior of the Order of St. John in Wales, and the St. John Ambulance Brigade have worked closely with the Civil Defence Corps over a great many years. In fact, as your Lordships will recall, at the recent review of Civil Defence responsibilities about a year ago, the whole of the first aid side of Civil Defence was entrusted to the Red Cross and St. John organisations.

Not only have we closely worked with Civil Defence on planning for emergencies in the event of hostilities, but as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield said, in his well-informed speech, the Civil Defence Corps has played an outstanding role in many civil disasters. He mentioned one or two in regard to Staffordshire. May I just mention one in Wales which your Lordships will remember well?—the disaster at Aberfan. The Civil Defence heavy rescue squads did an immense job of work in that disaster, and the St. John Ambulance Brigade were there, as indeed were a great many other statutory and voluntary bodies. But in particular, obviously, a disaster of this sort called upon the expert knowledge of the Civil Defence Corps. It is possible to argue that nuclear war is a relatively remote possibility, but unfortunately peace-time disasters occur with horrifying frequency, and we shall certainly miss the existence of the Civil Defence Corps on these occasions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Swan-borough, spoke of the sense of duty to the community shown by these volunteers and the importance of preserving it. I do not wish to blow the St. John trumpet too loud, nor to wave the banner of Wales too vigorously, but I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that I think the St. John Ambulance Brigade in Wales have shown a useful initiative in offering to absorb whole units of Civil Defence volunteers should the Government go ahead with their policy, as seems likely. Various Civil Defence units have expressed a desire to continue in being on a voluntary basis and, provided they are willing to train in first aid, they can be taken into the St. John Ambulance Brigade, which will offer them a uniformed and disciplined organisation in which they can continue to give invaluable service. From what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said about these and similar arrangements, I take it that this kind of effort would have the approval of Her Majesty's Government.

The main reason for my intervention in this debate is to tell your Lordships that another organisation, one that is of considerable importance to this country, is very desperately affected by these economy cuts—I refer to the National Hospital Service Reserve. This Reserve is part of Civil Defence and is threatened with extinction as part of the Civil Defence organisation. Even more than the Civil Defence Corps as a whole, the National Hospital Service Reserve has proved invaluable in time of peace. Again and again at times of crisis, when there have been staff shortages at hospitals, or epidemics, or disasters, the N.H.S.R. has come to the rescue of the Hospital Service. In a recent 'flu epidemic in Cardiff, the nursing service was decimated and the hospitals called on their N.H.S.R. members to fill the gap. Yet unless something is done, this invaluable service will disappear.

In all, there are 60,800 members of the N.H.S.R.—4,500 of them qualified nurses, and 56,300 nursing auxiliaries. We have been talking in terms of 89,000 volunteers in the Civil Defence Corps and Auxiliary Fire Service. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the members of the National Hospital Service Reserve comprise two-thirds of the figure of Civil Defence volunteers. About 25 per cent. of them are at present working in hospitals, training or gaining experience, and they are therefore very much a part of the present manpower of the hospitals. I wonder how the hospitals will fare without them.

Of this total force of volunteers, over 40 per cent. have been recruited through the voluntary societies, the Red Cross and the Order of St. John. In fact in Wales the figure is even higher—just under 50 per cent. These members from the voluntary societies are, of course, volunteers. They are not paid for their work. They receive out-of-pocket expenses; the uniform is supplied to them, and they are reimbursed for their travel expenses. But they give their services free. How invaluable it is to the Hospital Service to have this volunteer reserve for so little expenditure!

It seems that while the Government have decided to abolish the Civil Defence Corps, and with it the National Hospital Service Reserve, the Ministry of Health are most concerned about the future. The Ministry issued a statement on March 20 this year in which they anticipated that hospital authorities may wish to retain the National Hospital Service Reserve to provide help in peace-time emergencies. To quote one sentence from the circular: Hospital Management Committees will therefore be invited to organise the Reserve on a local basis according to their own needs"— and these are the important words— and from within their existing financial resources, since additional funds will not be available. My Lords, how are the hospital management committees expected to find these funds? I know of no hospital management committee with funds to spare. When this Reserve is acknowledged to be useful and required, it is ridiculous to throw the financial burden on to the local hospital management committees who are already on stringent budgets for revenue expenditure. The Government are speaking with two voices. With one voice they say that there will be no more money for the N.H.S.R., and with another voice the Ministry of Health say that this Reserve is of the greatest value and that hospital management committees should endeavour to continue with it. But it is a derogation of responsibility for the Government to say that the Reserve should continue, yet not be prepared to find the money.

I would ask the Government, and the noble Lord who is to reply, what are the figures involved in the National Hospital Service Reserve. We have been speaking in this debate about a saving of £20 million over the whole of Civil Defence. What part of that whole saving is made up by the cuts in the N.H.S.R.? In view of the need for this reserve, is it really a worthwhile economy? Will the Government please give us a complete picture of their view of the future of the N.H.S.R.? They owe it to the many dedicated members who have given such wonderful service to the nation in the past.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to take part in a debate which has been started by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. Although he is probably unaware of it, this is the second time that I have followed him into action. On the previous occasion he descended into Greece from the air, as commander of a force whose name suggests aquatic sports, the Special Boat Service, to have a crack at the Germans. It was a curious affair in which the R.A.F. Regiment went in a landing craft and the Navy arrived in a jeep and the Long Range Desert Group put barbed wire along the perimeter of a landing strip. It is pleasant to be engaged with the noble Earl again.

I should like, in his absence, to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Long, on his maiden speech. It suggested to me an idea which I shall propound a little later in my speech. It is also a pleasure and honour for me to speak in a debate in which the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, has taken part. I will take up his offer of criticising him for prejudice, but before I do so I should like to say that from my lowly point of view he is a public figure, far away from "the madding crowd", outstanding for his impartiality and sense of justice. When I hear him speak I always say to myself, "I wish I could speak as well as that man". However, to-day may I say, with all respect, that I thought he was a little hard on the Government in this debate, which is a conflict between two sides, when he jibed at them for general economic incompetence. Perhaps he would agree with me that the economic situation is deep-rooted. I remember writing an article when Mr. Thorneycroft, as he then was, resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer. I wrote the article in support of Lord Thorneycroft, for which an editor paid me a sum of £25, which I do not usually get for my articles. I think that since the noble Lord's elevation he has explained the situation and attributed some blame and some share of responsibility for the economic malaise to his own Party as well as to the Labour Party. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, will not devastate me, but perhaps he will agree.


I do indeed.


A great deal of the debate has centred on the Civil Defence Corps. I myself retired from that body in 1958. I am here to speak about civil defence, quite apart from the Civil Defence Corps as such. I would start, as did the noble Earl, with a comparison with 1938 when I was secretary to a number of War Office Committees. They were concerned with mobilisation, defending ports abroad, and the air defence of Great Britain. Our period was divided between pre-Munich and post-Munich. Before the Munich crisis nothing was attainable. We slaved and toiled in vain. The Treasury said, "No". Deputations came protesting against our intention to nut an antiaircraft gun near them. I remember one local authority said that it would break their windows and reduce rateable values. A hospital board said that it would disturb the patients. A group of allotment holders said that it would diminish the nation's food supply if we took their cabbage patches, which of course it would. That was the spirit. When Munich came there was a change overnight. Everything came our way and everybody wanted our guns. Even the Navy came along and said, "What is your programme regarding the defence of Plymouth?". Our programme was, in fact, nil. We had no programme. The Navy were the first do-it-yourself people. We never thought they would come to us. However, that was the difference.

The remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Long, about the danger of other Powers and nuclear proliferation, reminded me that it seems that the Soviet Union and the United States are moving towards some kind of pact, perhaps having in view China with 1,000 million people in the year 2,000, and the possibility that in order to gain world power she might accept 300 million casualties. But I cannot help reminding myself, also, that what started Munich was a certain madness, with a detonating factor in subjugated Germans. The Germans are a powerful, dangerous, military people. I think they are very delightful people as well, but that is one of their characteristics. There is now in the subjugated portions of Eastern Europe to-day a spirit of getting rid of the chains, and if that were to spread with great intensity to East Germany I am not sure that there would not be the same kind of madness. The Germans have nothing to lose but their lives, so let them be united. I am not sure that the Soviet Union would accept that, and I am not sure that in certain circumstances the United States would not be virtually compelled to come in on the side of unity. I can see an extremely dangerous situation blowing up within a matter of months or weeks.

As in 1938, active defence missiles are still directed against the bases of the other side. In 1938 we knew that those missiles would reach this country but we also knew, or thought we knew, that they were incapable of effecting the subjugation of this country without the physical invasion of troops. To-day, in 1968, we know that missiles can reach between the Soviet Union and the United States, and that a decision is more than likely to come in a thermo-nuclear war without any invasion. We know that the strike may be against peoples and property, as well as against missile bases. I think it is correct to say—and I have been studying the American scientists, because there seems to be a shortage of books on the subject written in this country—that there would no longer be mobilisation of labour and war production, and people would be hostages and so would property. The war effort of the industrial population would be quite irrelevant, because the war would be over before they could produce a further stick.

The civil defence mission, as I see it—and I do not mean the Civil Defence Corps, I mean the task of civil defence—does not necessarily mean having civilians in the corps. There could be military. The mission is the defence of our people against missiles which the active defences cannot possibly stop. We know they cannot stop them. In order to know what we are in for, I think we should look at the scale of the attack. It is depressing to look at some of the scientific papers produced in America, where it is stated as a fact that the two super-Powers have missiles aimed at this moment against the missile bases of the other; that in all probability every town exceeding 100,000 is covered by other missiles capable of destroying it or effecting major destruction; and that this destruction can be now inflicted by one country upon the other—that is, the Soviet Union on the United States, as well as the other way round—and upon us, regardless of the final outcome, regardless of civil defence, and no matter who strikes first.

It seems that in dealing with this problem quite a number of people have been bemused by the word "Armageddon". The Daily Telegraph weekend magazine of March 15 had an article which was quite interesting, and which had the title "Countdown to Armageddon". It does not seem, however, that total destruction is within the capacity of man. Total annihilation by human beings is remote, as also is the ability to provide contamination which cannot be decontaminated. That has not been done yet. Even supposing, if the Soviet Union engaged in a war with the United States and ourselves as three nuclear Powers, that the result was 300 million dead, as it could be if we accept the scientific estimates, that is not Armageddon. It is 10 per cent. of the world's population. It would make a mere dent in the population explosion. The world would go on. Asians now barred by the various Commonwealth Immigration Acts would follow up on the decontamination of Strontium 90 and fill the spaces. They would not envy the dead. They might not even regret them. The loss of those two great white Powers would be an irrelevancy in history—a 10 per cent. incident, and that is all.

It has been said how vulnerable we are, but nothing has been said to explain how we are vulnerable. It seems to me that one should make a brief study of the vital statistics. In population we are 52 million against 184 million in the United States, or, I should say, on the same side, and there are 209 million in the Soviet Union. On the question of ability to manœuvre—elbow room—if our capacity is measured as one, it is 30 in the United States and 100 in the Soviet Union. On the time factor, it would seem that a destruction of, say, 25 cities in all three countries could take place simultaneously, no side being able to stop it, in a space of between 4 to 80 minutes so far as this country is concerned, and 16 to, say, 320 minutes in the case of the United States and the Soviet Union. We are terribly vulnerable by comparison. One city alone, London, with its conurbation, houses about 10 per cent. of our population. By comparison, Washington houses a mere one-third of 1 per cent. of the United States, Moscow 2½ per cent. of the population of Russia. Whether it is 25 cities, 9 or 1, all of them, I feel sure, could be destroyed in a matter of minutes from now. We are in a very unfavourable position. It would seem that we might have a choice one day to be either, on the old maxim, "Red or dead".

But suppose that if we have no Civil Defence 50 per cent. of our structures would be destroyed and 50 per cent. of our people, but that if we have a substantial measure of Civil Defence it will be 10 per cent. of our people destroyed and 50 per cent. of our structures, as before. I think Civil Defence has no capacity to reduce physical destruction of buildings. Suppose we are in this position. Are we not exposed to tremendous blackmail? Suppose they decide to swap cities—1, 9 or 25—or they decide, alternatively, to put down dirty bombs at ground level, with fall-out spreading all over the country, entirely unprotected. It seems to me that so long as we go about armed with nuclear weapons we cannot fairly expose our people without any shield in the matter of Civil Defence. I have no competence to decide whether the existing Civil Defence Corps is the best or not. I have for 12 years thought it was entirely inadequate. I feel that we are moving towards the possibility of leading our people into a war with no possibility whatever of victory but with either the certainty of vast damage or of being made the subject of blackmail without any adequate protection to ensure the only possible thing that really makes any difference in the end—the survival of people.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to thank the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, for bringing this subject to your Lordships' notice to-day; and I think that the results of the debate should amply repay him for what he has done. I believe the decision to abandon or greatly reduce the Civil Defence Service could be said to be largely a political and not an economic one. I say this because I believe that the savings which may be made by this action are so relatively insignificant compared with the total savings the Government have been discussing that it could be said that some of these cuts have been made to appease certain pacifist elements in the Labour Party. It is therefore not so easy to argue this case as logically as one should. There is also very much confusion, I think, as to how much money is likely to be saved. It depends on what is meant by Civil Defence. The best estimate that I have been able to obtain is that perhaps £6 million or £8 million might be saved. If this sum is regarded as an insurance premium, which is what it is, it must be a very cheap form of insurance indeed.

However, I do not want to talk to-day about the economic aspects or about the political, the strategic or the nuclear aspects. Those aspects of the subject have been very well and properly covered by those more competent to deal with them than myself. I should like to confine my remarks to two totally different aspects, which are as follows. First, the point which has concerned me greatly is the manner in which these cuts were announced. The Civil Defence Corps have been trained on the basis that they would receive 72 hours' warning of any disaster. They did not, in their own case, get even four minutes' warning. They awoke to see in the newspaper that their jobs, if they were officials, or, if they were volunteers, their spare-time services, were to disappear. In my own part of the world we are sensitive, although we are well used to redundancies and unemployment, and I think I can safely leave to your Lordships' imagination what these people thought when they heard the news. I do not think they were particularly grateful that the Government should sugar the pill by wrapping it up with a theory that suddenly it had been discovered that six months' notice was going to be received before anything happened.

Far worse, perhaps, even than the discourteous and unnecessarily brutal way in which it was done I believe was the continued uncertainty created in the Civil Defence Corps itself and in those responsible for it. All that we really know is that Civil Defence as we know it or have known it stops on Sunday night. What will remain after that is still largely unknown in detail. It is difficult to know what precisely will happen to some of the equipment, the premises, and so on, and what exactly "care and maintenance" means. I do not think that those responsible for administering these services have had nearly enough detailed instructions as to the Government's precise intentions. We can only hope that they may soon arrive.

We have heard to-day from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that the figure of £1 million will be available for the future of the Civil Defence services, but I under- stand that a quarter of this £1 million is likely to be reserved for compensation to those officers of the service who have lost their jobs. I am also led to believe that a further £150,000 is being retained by the Government for expenditure on behalf of other Government Departments. We do not know what this means, but to my mind it shows that even the figure of £1 million is not in itself true. It would appear that not more than £500,000 will be available for the future of this service. I believe that about £30,000 is going to be left for the whole of the North of England in the future, which is totally inadequate for any service at all.

I should like to refer mainly, if I may, to the local authority aspect of Civil Defence. I would emphasise that I speak personally, that these are my own personal views. The county council of which I have the honour at the moment to be chairman has over many years built up an extremely active, very efficient and very worth while Civil Defence department, housed in modern and spacious headquarters, with over 900 volunteers available. We now have to face the task of dismantling most of this service and we do so with the greatest regret. What concerns me really is that the Home Secretary said in another place on February 29: I must emphasise that … local authorities will have continuing civil defence responsibilities …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, col. 1805; 29/2/68.] That looks to me very much like another attempt to put the cost of running Civil Defence on to the local authorities—a tendency we have noticed frequently lately, to pass the baby and the bill together to the local authorities. No doubt local authorities will also have to bear the blame should there be no Civil Defence if and when the balloon goes up. The Government have made it quite clear that it is their intention to abolish their responsibilities. It is no good saying that we are dismantling or disbanding things, or what we are not doing. The fact of the matter is that if this takes place the Government will have completely abolished the Civil Defence services, and local authorities will have to take them on.

I believe that local authorities will be willing to keep some form of Civil Defence going if only because there is one aspect of Civil Defence which is often overlooked and which has not really been touched on very much to-day, and that is its use, in which it has been very valuable, in civil disasters. I do not refer to the major events about which we have all read, such as the "Torrey Canyon" affair or Aberfan. These we know all about. I am referring to the much smaller, everyday happenings which go wrong. In my own county in the last four years the Civil Defence Corps have had to help with no fewer than 22 cases of floods, where people and property have had to be rescued on one river, the latest case no more than four days ago. In another river valley there have been serious floods with much damage to property, and on one occasion some 350 children and old persons were rescued by the Civil Defence Corps. We have also suffered the disasters of a train crash and a blizzard, during a search in which two shepherds lost their lives. These are acts of God, and they will go on, whatever this or any other Government do. We cannot in any case control them. In many cases the police may not be able to cope with these things on a large enough scale. They are magnificent in doing what they can, but it is more than possible that the help which they have freely asked for from the Civil Defence in the past will be something for which they will badly feel the need in the future. I am very concerned lest this service should be lost to us.

These series of national disasters, such as earthquakes and the Aberfan disaster, are, thank Heaven! very rare in this country; but they will occur in the future. I firmly believe that it is going to be the duty of a local authority to have some service which can be called out to help, because, as I say, the Government have completely abolished their responsibilities towards it. Financing this service is going to be no easier for local government than for central Government. We shall not find it easy to set up such an organisation and pay for it: but I think it would be a justifiable use of our resources. The situation is now worse with the decline in the Regular and Territorial Armies.

I believe, as has already been mentioned by the noble Earl in his speech at the beginning of the debate, that the time has now definitely come when we must make a real effort to amalgamate the Civil Defence Corps with the T. & A.V.R. III. They should be formed into one body which is able to cope with disasters such as I have mentioned, which may face us anywhere at any time. It is not only necessary to have a trained headquarters and sub-unit headquarters, which can be quite small and relatively inexpensive, it is also necessary to have available a large body of volunteers, at all levels and in all districts. The permanent headquarters will thus be able, with the help of the police or the local radio, or by whatever means may be necessary, to call out volunteers at short notice. These volunteers will need to be provided with minimal forms of transport and equipment.

I do not know what such a force would cost; but it seems reasonable to expect the ratepayers to contribute perhaps half the amount required. But what is more important than the cost, I believe, is that the Government should give such a scheme recognition and encouragement and every sort of official backing: because without this, the volunteers will not come forward. Furthermore, it is obvious that larger units than our existing local government units could well be combined to make this idea worthwhile. I have in mind, for example, the co-operation of the county borough with the surrounding county council. In this way the existing spirit of volunteering, which is so strong in this country and which has been so disastrously disregarded by the Government recently, could be preserved on the basis of having a really worthwhile task to do and not—as has been freely admitted—as in the past, an unrealistic task to train for.

I personally should like to see such a scheme organised on military lines. Whether the Territorial Army, the T. & A.V.R. III, should take over Civil Defence or vice versa is a matter on which I should not like to judge. I believe that it would be of value to use the existing body of Territorial soldiers and also the traditions of the various Territorial regiments which are now in such grave danger of extinction. The Auxiliary Fire Service, whose passing we all regret, could also be included in this new body.

It is true that the various voluntary societies such as the Red Cross, the St. John Ambulance Brigade and the W.R.V.S., which have done such great work in this country, can in many places undertake some of the tasks I have been talking about; but they do not exist everywhere. Again, the special constabulary can well be expected to help in some cases. These bodies are all extremely valuable and could play an essential part. But to my mind, what is more important is that they should be co-ordinated and directed by a properly run headquarters, which would see that they were in the right place at the right time. I believe that such a course would be welcomed by the volunteers themselves. They could easily be organised before the Civil Defence force and the T & A.V.R. III disappear. But once you have lost the volunteers who have so loyally supported many previous Governments for years—and who might even support this Government, if they felt they could trust it—you can never build up the force again. I believe that to have thrown this volunteer spirit out of the window may well be one of the greatest sins which future generations will lay at the door of this Government.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, when, a year ago, we discussed this subject, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, ended his excellent speech by complaining that mine was (I think his words were) the only "hostile speech." If my speech was hostile when mutilation was threatened, I cannot imagine what it is going to be now that murder is promised. If I may elaborate on the noble Lord's speech—and it has been referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe—it is interesting to note what he said. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said: While I am quite certain that the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, will not go away from this debate to-night with all his fears allayed, I am satisfied that, with the zeal the Devon authority have for Civil Defence, they will find that in a year or two from now the worst of their fears were groundless, that even some of their minor fears were groundless, and that they will be given the opportunity of creating and maintaining as good an organisation as they have ever had in the past."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22/3/67, col. 840.] My Lords, my main criticism of the Government is a general one. It is that, in addition to other things, they have devalued voluntary service which up to now has been the backbone of this country. I would generalise further by saying that to my mind this is the biggest crime of all. Let me declare my interest. Apart from a somewhat tenuous and indirect connection with local Civil Defence to which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has twice referred in this House, I happen to have the honour to be the Honorary Colonel of one of the T. & A.V.R. III regiments about to be abolished. I was chided by a noble friend and neighbour for not supporting the Government on the Statement which announced that my regiment was to be abolished; but I am sure that he will realise (as will all noble Lords who have served in a military organisation or in a para-military Civil Defence organisation) that that was more than flesh and blood could stand. It is on this point, the treatment of so many decent and patriotic human beings, that I am most irate.

On the subject of T. & A.V.R. III, I do not think we can do better than to quote the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who said in the debate to which I have referred earlier: In the maintenance of law and order the police will have … the invaluable assistance of the 23,000 men of the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve III."—[col. 790] They say where I come from, "Not if the present mob have their way!" In regard to this matter of law and order, I make no apology for repeating to your Lordships my experience in Los Angeles just after the racial riots there. I think this is an apposite subject to refer to for a moment. When I was photographing the smouldering ruins, my negro taxi-driver said, "I reckon you got something like this building up in your country". He added, "I hope you've got a good National Guard". As your Lordships know, the American National Guard is equivalent to our Territorial Army. I would also have added: a good auxiliary fire service; a good rescue service; a good W.V.S.; and all those other things which up to now we have considered to be Civil Defence. But the main thing to cope with those situations, I think, is to have the equivalent of a National Guard, the Territorial Army, to defend those services when they are doing their job. I do not really feel that the Government can put their hands on their hearts and say, "We are never going to be faced with race troubles in this country".

My Lords, I turn now to one of the main Civil Defence functions, or what they have been to date: that of trying to save as many lives as possible after a nuclear attack. I reject completely the pacifist line that we should all be wiped out, and therefore that we should "Eat, drink and be merry; for to-morrow you may die." The three basic and cardinal virtues on which I was brought up were Faith, Hope and Charity. It seems to me that if you are going to give up Civil Defence, you are "chucking away" Hope. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who said on March 22 last year: Under nuclear attack, Civil Defence means nothing less than the maintenance, at all levels, of the whole machinery of government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22/3/67, c. 786.] If you throw away that you throw away hope. And I applauded the noble Lord when he said that he gave place to nobody in his belief: that an efficient Civil Defence is a vital necessity …"—[Col. 783.] In the debate in another place great play was made of the improvement in international relations. I cannot agree. Surely history has shown that great conflicts have grown out of small incidents—be it a "Jenkins Ear" or the murder of a distant princeling. Surely, my Lords, with the Middle East on the boil, the greatest factor in the danger to our world to-day is that the Russian fleet is now in the Mediterranean; and now, of course, probably rushing into the Gulf to fill the vacuum which we are leaving. These are things which this country has been trying to prevent for hundreds of years. Therefore, I think that to say that the improvement in relations is such that we can afford to relax our guard is illogical. Even if the Russians honestly turned friendly—and Cuba showed that they would never miss what they considered an easy trick—there are two other countries in the world who are not members of a non-proliferation treaty and who do not seem to like us very much. They have nuclear weapons and rocketry.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, was so right when he said at the Annual Conference at Scarborough: It is incontestable that the greatest dividends in the saving of life and suffering would come from precautionary measures which could be taken in the short period of intense activity between the declaration of an emergency and the actual nuclear attack. No Civil Defence, no measures. At the same Conference, the noble Lord went even further. He said: It is a truism for those involved in Civil Defence that in the face of nuclear attack, co-operation between all Services, departments and authorities will be vital. But this truism can only be converted into practical reality by constant study, careful planning and effective training in peace time. Surely, that is the one thing you are now doing away with. The noble Lord went on to say: One of the principles we have applied to our future Home Defence preparations is that plans wherever possible should be based on peace-time service. This stems from the assumption that the period available for preparations might be very short. I cannot see anything wrong in that, except that the Government are not now carrying out what they suggest.

My Lords, it also seems that we are now the sole NATO country whose Government has cynically abandoned any attempt to provide for the protection of the civil population—




—on the arrogant assumption that another war is unlikely to affect this country. I have heard people state that this is not so. But the only truth is that we are abolishing voluntarily Civil Defence.

To conclude, I take up the point with which I began. My main hostility to the Government arises from their treatment of the volunteers. In Devon, many have served for 20 years; no fewer than 312 hold the medal awarded for over 15 years' service. Their answer to the Government's immediate order for disbandment of the national Civil Defence Corps has been to form themselves into the "Devon Emergency Volunteers", a body 800 strong. These are men loyal to the State. If the Government will no longer provide for them, they are prepared to "do it themselves" until such time as official recognition is restored. It would be history repeating itself for us, for in 1852 a local doctor in Exeter started the Volunteer movement, in spite of the politicians of the day; and that took another four years to get recognition. We are now praying that the county council will back us up on April 18.

My Lords, I was going to make one more quotation but I will not, because I am very sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. It has been referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Shawcross. To end, speaking from my experience I say that the volunteers are fed up with the crocodile tears of Ministers and they cynically disbelieve any of the soft-soaping tributes given to their past service—given generally with one hand while they are slapped in the face with a wet haddock by the other.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, this seems to me to have been quite the most one-sided debate that I have attended in your Lordships' House. I am given to the thought that the reason for it is that Her Majesty's Government have not a leg to stand on. I am rather surprised that none of their supporters has helped them even with a wooden leg; and so, unfortunately for those Ministers responsible, they have to take the full weight of criticism—and some of it has been pretty brutal. Many noble Lords have to-day declared an interest, and it is a fact that I am still a member of the Civil Defence Corps, though a very bad one, and recently I have been an absentee. But I am not going to declare an interest, my Lords, because I gather that one declares an interest if one receives money, and I have given quite enough time to Civil Defence without receiving a penny for it. I think I got an exercise book. I did not expect a penny, and so I do not think that I need declare my interest.

My excuse for addressing your Lordships is that for a number of years I took part, in a very junior capacity, in Civil Defence. I used to attend lectures at our local centre in South-West Scotland, in the County of Kirkcudbright. Our local centre was in the market town of Castle Douglas. I went along, with five or six other people who were being trained to be part of a headquarters section that was to be set up. In that part of the world we were somewhat behind-hand. I gather that in other parts, particularly in England, Civil Defence was much better organised.

At that time, which was about five years ago, we had no permanent headquarters in Castle Douglas, and we were permitted to use the town hall for lectures. All the gentlemen being trained for the headquarters section, including myself, were farmers. The nearest to Castle Douglas lived eight miles away and the furthest lived 25 miles away. It was fondly supposed that in the event of a nuclear attack we should present ourselves there in order to organise the people who were already in Castle Douglas. In my junior position I pointed out, with some diffidence, the disadvantages of this set-up and tried to suggest that the headquarters section should be formed from residents in Castle Douglas, and that farmers would be better employed as wardens, or in the field elsewhere. I was courteously told that it would all work out in the long run. Well, my Lords, it did not. I attended lectures for three years running, and the third year, when I turned up, we were getting the same lectures, starting from the beginning, as we had been having in the first year. As I had quite a lot to do, running a farm and coming to your Lordships' House, and other duties, I am ashamed to say that I gave up attending the lectures. I realise that I should not have done so; but I did.

There is no going back. That is evident because, inadequate as were our preparations then, they are now, I suppose, going to be almost non-existent. It is true that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said that there is still something in existence, but so far as nuclear war is concerned, unless we get about three years' warning preparations will be non-existent. However, as I have shown, a lack of proper concern for Civil Defence does not seem to me to be peculiar to this Government. The last Government, in my opinion, did not do enough about ensuring that it was efficient, adequate and, above all, operational. Had the Cuba crisis resulted in a nuclear war, whatever the state of preparedness may have been in other parts of the country, in my part of South-West Scotland there was very little organisation ready to cope with an emergency. There were the police, the T.A. and the W.R.V.S., and I am glad to note that we still have the police and the W.R.V.S.

It may be said that in an area such as that in which I live, a completely rural area, there is no need to worry about nuclear attack; that no sane Government is going to waste a nuclear bomb on an area of bogs, mountains and fields. It seems to me, however, that for that very reason areas such as Galloway are in a position to do something, and Civil Defence should have a high priority there. Galloway lies 70 miles south of Glasgow, and roughly 50 miles west of Carlisle—that is, two hours' driving from Glasgow, and one and half hours from Carlisle. There is a lot of talk about the evacuation of people from the big cities, but if they get three hours' warning they are going to evacuate themselves, without waiting for organised people to come round in buses and collect them by numbers from their houses.

It is possible that Galloway and other wild areas, like parts of Yorkshire and Argyll, would be flooded with refugees. What are we going to do with them when they get there? So far as I know, there are not, and never were, adequate preparations to receive, house and feed them. There are no fallout shelters in the whole area, so far as I know, and one of the dangers to which such areas are certainly exposed is fallout. I do not remember the exact figures for radiation half-life, and all we were taught, but I understand that if people can be kept under cover, in proper fallout shelters, for roughly seven days, they stand a chance. I do not put it much higher than that. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply can explain what is to be done with all these refugees who are likely to land up in the wilder parts and what preparations have been made for this.

Very few people who have worked in the Civil Defence expected or received any money for their services. Certainly there were expense and uniform allowances, but these amounted to very little. People certainly did not volunteer for the money; they volunteered because they considered it a high privilege to be allowed to serve their country. They were, and are, prepared to go to considerable trouble and sacrifice in order to serve the Queen and the British people. Her Majesty's Government do not want their services. This is what it seems like, and this is what the people feel. They feel that the Government are prepared to "dish out" O.B.Es to people who wreck the British policeman's Sunday, yet those who wish to give their services to the nation are told that they are not wanted. I know that this is not what the Government feel and mean (I wonder sometimes what they do mean), and I am sure that none of the Ministers in this House means this. But this is the impression that people are getting, and it is hard for them to avoid the conclusion that the Government are not interested in the survival of the British people.

Not long ago, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which, surprisingly, has not been mentioned to-day, made Civil Defence a particular object of spiteful attack and derision. The logic of their attitude was unclear, but so far as one can see these people are not guided by logic, unless it is a logic of a peculiarly sinister kind. Civil Defence workers were not going to launch the bombs, but were merely taking such practical steps as they could to protect the British people in the event of their being landed. C.N.D. supporters took exception to this perfectly proper desire to prevent as much death and suffering as could be prevented. They may well consider that their moment of triumph has now arrived. Should Polaris be abandoned, their cup of rejoicing will doubtless be full, for then Britain will be quite defenceless against her foes and totally dependent on the U.S.A., against which country the C.N.D. and kindred organisations are now launching a campaign of almost unpredecented abuse and vilification. Should the U.S.A., understandably, decide that they have enough to do to defend themselves and their own interests, where should we be then? Britain would be like a fat, overfed slug waiting for somebody to stamp on it.

There is a strong impression in the country that Her Majesty's Government are content to allow this to happen. As I have said, I cannot myself believe that they are, and I hope and pray that I am right. They have already changed their minds over Stansted, and I beg them to reconsider, before it is too late, their decision about Civil Defence. Stansted is important, but beside Civil Defence it is insignificant. Concern for the survival of the British people is the first duty of the British Government and of the British Parliament. If they fail in their duty, then the condemnation which will fall upon them will be justly merited.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, in the few words I wish to address to your Lordships to-night I should like to look at the financial side. Having served for nine years on the Suffolk County Council, I know a little about the problems. I am no longer on the council and I speak entirely for myself, but during the last few weeks I have talked with officials and tried to bring myself up to date for this debate, I very much deplore the cutting down of financial aid to local authorities to carry out duties on Civil Defence. In the year 1966–67, the County Council of West Suffolk spent £36,000 on its Civil Defence. Last year, in view of the financial position, they prepared estimates cut down to £31,000. Then there was the Prime Minister's announcement on January 16 that the whole Civil Defence was to be put on a care and maintenance basis and only planning staff was to be kept in operational centres. The County Council put in a revised estimate of £6,000, of which, as your Lordships will know, 75 per cent. is paid by the central Government. Since then they have been told that they can have only £2,000, plus £800 for the operational centre.

We have nearly completed a new wing to our county offices, and in that wing is the new operational centre. When there is only £2,800 to spend—in passing I should say that Suffolk is a small county of some 143,000 people and can afford only one planning officer and not a high level one at that—this allows hardly any money for keeping the staff trained, and will not allow any money at all for weekend operations. I cannot see the use of keeping a planning staff of one or two men unless we can test plans and have some training. I said to the County Clerk last week, and he consulted the Civil Defence officer, "What sort of money do you think you could do with to put on minimum training?" Because the volunteers are there and they want to go on. The whole Eastern Area is an efficient organisation. The reply was. "if we could have £6,000 or £7,000, we could keep things ticking over and do perhaps one or two exercises a year".

We have been told by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to-day that there will probably be £1 million for the local authorities to spend. Then the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, said that some of this would have to go for compensation for displaced staff and some would be kept by the central Government, so that the actual amount left to spend would be only half a million. That was confirmed by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, who was very worried about it. I think it is a tremendous mistake that the Government cannot produce more than £1 million to keep this wonderful voluntary spirit going. I agree very much with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield said to-day, that we are taking a great risk in this country in not providing at any rate the minimum service. If you are going to put it only on a care and maintenance basis, without any training at all—and the training may cost another £1 million or so—I think you are taking a grave risk.

Once the volunteers go, then it is extremely difficult to get them back again. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said that the specialist vehicles will be kept, and we are glad of that, because we have spent a good deal of money in the county on beautiful buildings for these vehicles. But once the ordinary vehicles have been sold, if there is an emergency it will be extremely difficult to get vehicles. I was in the Territorial Army before the war, and I well know that when we went out at the beginning of the war we were terribly short of vehicles; and a great many were requisitioned. I think it is a great mistake, if you are going to keep an organisation in being, to sell off its valuable equipment. The Fire Service equipment, also, is going to be abandoned. I had the honour to serve on the joint authority of the Suffolk Fire Authority for seven years, and I know a little about this. We built many new fire stations in the area, and attached to those fire stations were very good extensions for Home Office auxiliary fire engines. I hope that they will not all be sold off, because they have at times played an important part when there have been major fires and there have not been enough fire engines. They have had permission to use these machines and the personnel. And we gave the personnel very good training.

I hope that the Government at this late hour—we have had no opportunity to debate it before—will have second thoughts and, if they are going to keep some form of voluntary service going, will allow local authorities a little more money. The local authorities are very concerned, and strong representations have been made to the C.C.A. about it. I hope that the Government will try at this late hour to give a little more money to keep the service on a little better footing than they are proposing at the moment.

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, when I was in the Army I learned, among other things, that within the framework of an appreciation one considered the factors affecting a problem and then made a decision. But over the last year or two it seems that we have had our decisions, and the factors have been left to suit those decisions, just as the settled policy of 1967 has been altered to suit the decisions. I was horrified to hear the view that the Civil Defence can be re-formed within a short period of time. I hope the Government do not really believe that, because once the volunteers have gone they will be lost. But even if they could be gathered together, they could not be trained quickly; and even if they could be trained quickly, it would more likely than not be impossible to re-form the Civil Defence, because it would constitute overt preparations which would be politically and diplomatically almost impossible.

I should like to say a word about the redundancy payment. The local authorities are suffering under reduced grants and increased costs, such as, for example, those involved by the Transport Bill. I feel that this is a case where the redundancy payment should be entirely met by the Government, and not by local authorities.

I should like to know details about the proposals for the use of the regular police and fire services for any emergency, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, suggested would happen. If there is an emergency, whether it is a civil catastrophe or a nuclear bomb, I cannot see that the police will be able to drop their existing jobs to go off and deal with it. They will be needed so much the more for their own jobs. I cannot see that this is a practical solution.

Then there is the question of the equipment. Some vehicles are to be sold, and the specialist vehicles are to be kept and used by local authority personnel for individual catastrophes. This seems to me nonsense, because they cannot be maintained properly, and they simply will not work. One might just as well sell them, rather than keep them until they fall to bits, which inevitably they will do unless they are properly looked after by permanent Civil Defence people. The same goes for the use of local authority personnel in a catastrophe. I think it is envisaged that they should be trained and used in certain catastrophes. The jobs of the local authorities will suffer if their staff are to be taken to deal with these happenings. I feel that the Government plans are totally unrealistic in this regard, and I have never been less convinced by an argument put over by the Government.

I want to say just a word in support of my noble friend Lord Ridley, who suggested that the Civil Defence should be amalgamated in one form or another with the Territorials. This is an excellent idea, but I hope that there will be consultation with the Civil Defence and the Territorials before it happens, rather than afterwards.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a tragic debate, a tragic day for the Government and a tragic day for the country by reason of a decision of this dying Government. But let us see how far we can agree on anything. I trust we can all agree that it has been a debate notable for some outstanding speeches, and particularly I should like to mention the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Long, who addressed us with knowledge, as well as with sincerity and fluency. I have no doubt that we shall enjoy many similar thoughtful contributions from him in future days.

I think, also, I shall find everybody at one with me when I pay tribute to the moving speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, in honour of voluntary public service by the British people locally and nationally. I particularly noted the remarks of my noble friend Lord Ridley, when he said that one of the most fatal things that the Government may have done in this whole unhappy business is to strike a vital blow at voluntary service. In her speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, went back to the last war, and indeed before that. The noble Baroness and I both know how vastly the practical content of Civil Defence has changed over the years since then. Yet I thought that she, and most particularly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield, penetrated to the heart of what we are debating to-day. Whatever form a future war may take, a Civil Defence organisation is imperative if we are to maintain the morale of the public under attack, and uphold their confidence.

If there is a next war—which we all pray there will not be—we must recognise that there will be no one to fulfil that responsibility, because of this Government's decision. The 90,000 volunteers are being stood down by the Government this weekend. The local authorities have been told by the Government that their 2,000 full-time Civil Defence staffs are to be dispersed as quickly as possible, which disposes of any possibility of quickly rebuilding Civil Defence. We must bear in mind always what the Government themselves said in their circular of January, 1967: If, against all probability, an attack were to be made there might be only a very short time for overt precautions and emergency plans must reflect this. The plans which the Government have now announced do not reflect that at all. They assume that there will be a long period of preparation, a long period at some point in which the Government will have to announce, as the right reverend Prelate pertinently pointed out, that Civil Defence is to be resuscitated, thereby creating the maximum of anxiety in the civilian population at the prospect of another war.

One of the reasons, I fancy, why not a single supporter of the Government on their own Benches has risen to defend their policy is that the Government's most recent announcement on policy can be repudiated at every point by quotations from their own previous statements about Civil Defence and its necessity. The speech of the noble Baroness took me back 27 years to the winter of 1940–41, when I had the honour of representing, in another place, the constituency of West Lewisham; one of those constantly afflicted by bombing in that winter. I witnessed the saving of life by the then Civil Defence workers; I witnessed the maintaining of morale; I visited rest centres the morning after a bad night's "blitz," where one met people who were obviously very shaken in nerve, but alive, those who knew what the Civil Defence people had done. Everybody knows that in a future war the situations and the processes of saving life and keeping up morale would be wholly different. The effective point for this debate is that in the view of this Government, no preparations apparently are to be made to perform that essential function at all. I say that because nobody believes that under the Government's present proposals an effective Civil Defence Corps could be reconstituted sufficiently quickly in an emergency.

Civil Defence has hitherto been thought of by successive Governments as essential to the structure of our military power. If we had no effective Civil Defence, it would be known to the world that we could not risk becoming involved in a major war because our whole population would die. So our protests and our military power could be disregarded with impunity by a potential aggressor. I should have thought that we had had too much experience in the past of the false ideas foreign countries sometimes obtain about this country's purpose, through getting the notion that we are not in earnest. An effective Civil Defence organisation could not prevent millions of casualties; that is agreed between us all. The best scientific advice, unless it has changed within the past few weeks, is that it would save the lives of millions who would otherwise die, after the nuclear exchanges were over. In other words, effective Civil Defence preparations are essential, both to make our deterrent power credible, and to save millions of lives from the holocaust, should it take place. Without effective nation-wide Civil Defence, nuclear war would be likely to mean that the British race in this island would be wiped out. I say that deliberately, and I believe that scientific advisers would bear it out. With effective Civil Defence, a sufficient part of the British race would survive to enable us gradually and painfully to build again. Most of the world overseas—whatever they might say—would lament it if the British race in Britain wholly ceased to exist. This Government—already so unpopular in the country—have decided to gamble with the future of the race.

I appreciate the difficulty of Home Office Ministers. At the demand of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they are now put in the position of defending here, and in another place, a policy which I am sure they abhor, a policy which they know to be unsound and wrong. There is much talk in the newspapers and elsewhere just now about defects in our Parliamentary structure and procedures. One change that I for my part would bring about is to make Treasury Ministers directly answerable to Parliament for policies which the Treasury has forced upon resisting departments. I say that, having been twice a Treasury Minister myself. I have also been Home Secretary, and I should have resigned that post rather than surrender the efficacy of Civil Defence at the demand of any Chancellor of the Exchequer. As it is, the Home Secretary and his Cabinet colleagues are taking the guilt upon themselves for imperilling the future of the British race; and every man who accepts the post of Home Secretary knows that he is becoming head of the Department which is held responsible at all levels for the safety of the public.

To-night, from a position of some loneliness, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is to reply. I say "some loneliness" because it cannot have escaped him that the Government have not had a single defender, except his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who has with great sincerity sought to make a case for a policy which must be utterly distasteful to him. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will please the House if he can now tell us that local authorities will be authorised by the Government to spend enough money to maintain a small Civil Defence staff, and to carry out adequate training for that small staff. They clearly cannot do that on the £1 million that has been allotted to them, reduced by £250,000 for redundancy payments. Indeed, it would not surprise me to hear that all the local authorities which individually and collectively have made representations to the Government since this policy was sprung on them on January 16, have made it clear that the Govern- ment's own ideas cannot possibly be carried into practical effect, unless the local authorities are authorised to maintain sufficient staffs.

The noble Lord will also please the House if he can say that the Government are going to support, at some small financial cost, the continuation of the voluntary spirit in some new and wholly unpaid organisation. Both those assurances are the assurances which, as a result of this debate, it is clear your Lordships desire to hear from the Government. Both of them would mean changes in Government policy. I grant the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that he may not be authorised, without consultation with his seniors, to announce those changes. I think your Lordships would forgive him if he said that he would go to senior Ministers and recommend that those changes should be made. Then we should be saving something from this wreck. But, otherwise, I am bound to tell the Government Front Bench that their policy is not credible to anybody but themselves.

If the noble Lord cannot help the House in this way, at least we shall look to him—because as a Minister he is in an international position—to tell us which other countries, exposed to the possibilities of nuclear war, have thought it safe to ravage the effectiveness of their Civil Defence workers as this Government are doing in Britain. We urge him to explain to us here in Parliament what sudden improvement, what marked easing of tension, the Government of which he is a member now perceive in the international situation—I shall be grateful to have his attention—to justify him in defending to Parliament a cut of 70 per cent. in Civil Defence expenditure, when only 12 months ago his Government were saying that Civil Defence had already been cut down to "the most economical basis". I am quoting from the Statement made by the Home Secretary, and repeated in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, on December 14, 1966: 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".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, col. 1673.] They defended the considerable cuts they were making then on the ground that they had carried out a systematic examination and had reduced the structure of Civil Defence to "the most economical basis." Presumably in their own minds those words, "the most economical basis", had some meaning. Yet here they now are reducing "the most economical basis" by another 70 per cent., which leaves it at nothing effective at all.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will have to bear in mind also that just 12 months ago, on March 22, 1967, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said: 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".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, col. 794.] That assessment is now being cut by 70 per cent. Later on in the same speech the noble Lord said: 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". [col. 797.] Now these very volunteers, on whom a year ago everything was said to depend, are having all Government aid withdrawn from them. I would remind the Government Front Bench that elsewhere in that same speech the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said: ….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". [col. 784.] Can the Government say with certainty that all danger of a nuclear attack has now disappeared? Of course they cannot. Then let it be known, let it be known to the country, that this is the Government that have decided to leave their people "helpless in the aftermath of such a disaster".

7.44 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by offering my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Long, on his maiden speech? I hope that we shall hear him often again. I understand from the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, that his sport is gliding. I hope he will follow the pattern of his sport and rise to great heights in your Lordships' House, although it will not be, if his speech to-night was a reliable guide, on the currents of hot air which are so necessary to his sport and which he may have noticed are not always absent from the Palace of Westminster.

There was one point the noble Viscount raised in his speech which I think he would want me to answer directly, if he is not already satisfied about it, and that was his question about the equipment of the Civil Defence organisation. I think it has been made clear, but I should like to make it clear again, that no essential piece of specialised Civil Defence equipment will be disposed of. The equipment that will be sold will be the non-specialised type—lorries, and so on. It might also be interesting to him to know that, so far as uniforms and personal equipment of Civil Defence and fire personnel are concerned, they will be given to the members concerned. There is, of course, no question of selling this equipment.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield made, I thought, a most moving and impressive contribution to this debate. It was not, of course, a speech that he could expect the Front Bench to be entirely pleased with, but I would assure him that our gratitude for the work he did on that Committee to which he referred was not diminished in any way by the fact that in the end it was decided not to publish the report. I can assure him that in our minds, if we should ever face the awful catastrophe of nuclear war—something which I, like him, hope will never happen—we see in that situation the immensely valuable part the clergy will play, a part that was reflected in the report produced by his Committee.

I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, would not be here for the winding up. He apologised for that earlier on. I realise that there are times when noble Lords cannot stay to the end of debates. However, perhaps in the light of the fact that he asked two specific questions I might answer them, simply for information and for the Record. He spoke first about the earmarking of educational premises for emergency feeding, and so on. The information I have for him on this point is that the earmarking of premises for war-time use generally will continue. If, as he indicated in an earlier debate, he has in mind the extent to which local authorities have earmarked schools, the answer is, as Lord Hughes said during that same debate, that we could find the answer to this statistical question only by circulating the local authorities for details. We did not feel that the statistical information was important enough to do that, so I have to ask the noble Lord to accept that that detailed information is not available.

So far as the financing of the W.R.V.S. is concerned (another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow), the W.R.V.S. will continue to receive their grant of about £900,000 a year towards their administrative expenses, subject to a small cut of £50,000. As their value for peace-time purposes is the main justification for maintaining them—although they would, of course, be valuable in war time as well—this cost will no longer be treated as home defence expenditure. The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, made one very interesting suggestion in the course of her speech, when she asked why we could not start simple courses at schools and universities and provide a safety valve—perhaps that is the wrong word: an outlet—for voluntary effort in this way. We will certainly look at this suggestion and see whether there is any future practical value in it.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, made one or two points about the National Hospital Service Reserve. I can only say that his facts are absolutely correct. The Service has been running at a cost of about £100,000 a year. It does not seem unreasonable to us, bearing in mind the peace-time value of this service, which we acknowledge, that hospital authorities now should bear from their ordinary allocation this comparatively small sum as a contribution to, a share in, helping to solve our present financial difficulties. And if the N.H.S.R. is to be kept for its peace-time value—and that is the main reason for keeping it—it seems to us reasonable that it should be financed on a peace-time basis.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to inter- vene? Could not the Government treat it rather in the same way as they are evidently going to treat the W.R.V.S., and carry the same expenditure, which is only £100,000 a year, on another Vote?


My Lords, I think that is, in effect, what is happening. This money comes from us all in one way or another, and in effect this is happening to the hospital service.

The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, who seems, if I understood his speech aright, to come from a rather unusually wet part of the country, made a number of remarks about the political rather than the economic nature of the Civil Defence reductions. This is a distinction that I am afraid I have always failed to appreciate fully. I failed even more when he went on to speak of abandoning Civil Defence to please the pacifist elements in the Labour Party. This leaves me absolutely baffled. If we wanted to go in for this mythical exercise of pleasing the pacifist elements in the Labour Party, I cannot imagine any less suitable way of doing it than by making big reductions in a peaceful and passive defence force. This kind of argument leaves me puzzled about the basis on which the noble Viscount has criticised the policy of the Government.

He went on to make a constructive suggestion about the amalgamation of the Civil Defence force and T. & A.V.R. III. I think the idea was that it should be used for peace-time disaster duties. In our view, there would be no point in doing this; indeed, it would be impracticable, because, as he knows, the T. & A.V.R. III was a military force which could not be put under the command of local authorities or chief fire officers, as the Civil Defence Corps was. Nor are its personnel suitable for the functions involved: they are not trained in welfare, rescue work, contact with the public, and so on. So I am afraid that this suggestion, interesting as it was, is not one that would have any practical value.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him again, what I should like to see happen is for the three or four voluntary bodies which exist to be combined into one worthwhile force. That was what I was suggesting.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount.

Perhaps I may now pass on to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. He gave us a short dissertation on the nature of a military appreciation. I was in the Army, too, and if the noble Lord believes that in the Army, in an appreciation, factors really come before conclusions, then he will believe anything. I was in two Staff Colleges, and it was my experience that nearly always in the Army the conclusions are reached first, and the factors are then written in to fit. But he has forgotten one important thing, which is that in an appreciation, even if it is done in the right way, even before the factors and the courses and the plan, there comes the aim; and it is the aim of this exercise with which the Government are concerned, and I hope to be able to show, in the course of the next few minutes, the kind of aim that we have had in mind in making these reductions.

Before doing that I should like to mention briefly two other speeches: that of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chud-leigh—who I think was rather unusually unkind, especially when he told us that our thanks and our crocodile tears were not wanted by the people who were unfortunately being deprived of their pastime, in some cases, and of their official appointments, in others. Up to now we have always been criticised—again I think unjustly—for not thanking people when we have had to make these reductions in the Civil Defence force and the Armed Forces. The noble Lords who criticise us cannot have it both ways: either they must concentrate their criticism on us for thanking these people, or must do so for not thanking them.

I should like to mention briefly the noble Lord who absented himself from the Civil Defence organisation and who now complains that it has disappeared in his absence. He spoke of refugees in wilder parts of the country, and made one or two glancing blows at subjects like the half-life of fissile material, and I cannot help feeling that he might profitably have stayed a little longer in the Civil Defence organisation.


My Lords, perhaps I may say that I would have stayed a little longer, but the organisation was so bad that I thought it was up to Her Majesty's Government to make it better. As a junior member of the organisation I Could do nothing.


My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord's point. It just seemed to me that it was not a good reason for criticising the Government for removing the Civil Defence organisation.

Generally speaking, some of this debate about the Government's Defence policy has been complicated by some curious arguments about the strategic context of the Civil Defence organisation. One strange argument was put forward in its most extreme form in a recent debate in another place, but was reflected once or twice to-day. It is that the whole argument for reducing Civil Defence expenditure is really a dark plot to persuade the Government to abandon their own nuclear weapons. The first step, it is said in this curious proposition, was to make Britain's civil defence useless. This, in the confused world of the people putting forward this argument, is based on the proposition that if Britain does not have a Civil Defence Force, the credibility of its own nuclear weapons is thereby weakened. This was a point which I thought was reflected in some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, in what I thought was, for him, an unusually bitter and intemperate speech. I am not quite sure whether he is getting the full gist of my remarks at the moment.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive my interrupting him, the practice of the House of course requires me to listen intently to everything the noble Lord says, but it does not insist on my watching him while he clutches at straws.


My Lords, it is 30–15, I think. But I seriously suggest that the noble Lord's speech was most bitter and intemperate for such an experienced advocate. However, I will go back to a consideration of the thinking, rather than to the presentation of it. Some of the things which have been said, here and elsewhere, are really an awful warning against the dangers of getting this sort of general debate about Civil Defence involved in complicated strategic analysis and arguments, especially when one does not always understand properly what they mean. To revert to the argument that the removal of the Civil Defence organisation damages the credibility of our own nuclear weapons, it is argued by the more sophisticated students of this kind of debate that elaborate Civil Defence precautions in themselves weaken the so-called credibility of the nuclear deterrent. That might lead its advocates to repeat the arguments raised in regard to inciting rival Powers to multiply their own weapons in order to saturate the defences which have been erected, and that the possible end of such an arms race is an attack, delivered with so little warning that most of the population would be caught outside their shelters anyway. It can be argued that the preparation of an elaborate Civil Defence organisation is more appropriate to a country which is prepared to launch a surprise nuclear attack itself than one seeking to deter a potential enemy from such an attack.

My Lords, I put forward these rather esoteric arguments, not to endorse them or to defend them, but simply to indicate that once we are led into the strange half-world of academic strategic analysis about nuclear attack it is possible to prove almost anything that one wants to prove. Indeed, someone mentioned the preoccupation of the Soviet Union with Civil Defence. In answer to that I can quote from two extremely eminent Soviet experts, Marshal Malinovsky, who described Civil Defence shelters as graves and coffins prepared in advance for the civilian population, and Marshal Sokolovsky, who in his book on Soviet military strategy—in which, incidentally, it is notable that in the second edition references to Civil Defence have been removed from the first version of the book—has indicated that Civil Defence is valid only in a country which is big enough, has wide enough acres, to keep its Civil Defence organisations outside the main centres of population and to bring them in after a nuclear attack. I think noble Lords would agree, on Marshal Sokolovsky's argument alone, that that kind of Civil Defence organisation would hardly be appropriate to an Island like ours. I make these points to show that for every argument which is produced in this strange world of analysis another can be produced to refute it.


My Lords, I am sure Marshal Sokolovsky's views are very interesting, but what your Lordships would like to hear is the present Government's view. For many years it was the view of successive Governments, so far as I know, that an effective Civil Defence organisation in this country was necessary to make the nuclear deterrent credible. Is the professional advice the Government receives now, and their assessment of it, to the contrary?


My Lords, if the noble Lord will be patient, I will come in a very few minutes to the Government's view of these matters. I thought it fair and right that, having been attacked on the basis of some rather abstruse strategic analysis by other people, I should at least put forward some refuting argument.


My Lords, if the noble Lord wishes to pursue that line, is it not right to say that the criticisms of the two Soviet Marshals to which he referred were directed against the inadequacy of Civil Defence in the Western countries? Is it not also right that recently the Soviet military authorities have in fact altered their whole strategy about Civil Defence and are now attaching very much greater importance to it, involving—since the noble Lord mentioned the point—production of fallout shelters?


My Lords, so far as the second point is concerned, there is a change in Soviet policy about Civil Defence. The exact significance of it I would not presume to pronounce upon at the moment. I do not think we have enough evidence to say exactly what it is. So far as the question about Marshals Malinovsky and Sokolovsky are concerned, certainly Malinovsky was not complaining about inadequacy in Western Civil Defence.


Not complaining—threatening.


He was talking about the uselessness in the Soviet Union of having deep shelter programmes. However, I think it is too late to get involved in that kind of argument. I hope noble Lords will accept with me that this is not a problem designed to occupy the minds of the ever-growing army of amateur strategic analysts. It is a problem of the survival of human beings, and I agree with anyone who says that no Government has the right to be cavalier about this matter and no Government, indeed, can afford to let itself be distracted from this serious problem by half-baked strategic theorising. That is the point I have been trying to make.

Let us look for a moment, before I outline the policy of the Government, at the sort of thing that would happen if this country were the target of a nuclear attack. We have all heard the vivid metaphors and similar images about the comparative power of nuclear weapons—the great megaton game people like to play. We know, for example, that in the three-week artillery bombardment before the Somme offensive of 1915 the British expended .05 of a megaton of high explosive, a megaton being the equivalent of 1 million tons of T.N.T. In the whole of the Second World War the equivalent of six megatons were used, and those killed 43 million people. What we are talking about now, for example, is Russian striking power of something of the order of 10,000 megatons, and if you add the indirect effects of nuclear bombing it becomes almost impossible to assess the effect in a reasonable or intelligent way.

A recent so-called war game, a naval war game, demonstrated that eight of the modern Polaris submarines at battle stations could kill on their own 35 million Russians. The destructive capacity of a weapon of that kind, if you apply it to the circumstances of a small, highly populated community like ours, needs no prolonged analysis from me. On the other hand, it is right that I should draw the attention of noble Lords to a detailed study that has recently been made in the United Nations about this problem. The United Nations Secretary-General's Report, which was submitted to the General Assembly at the end of last year, outlined some of the effects of the use of nuclear weapons in war, and the study showed that the scale of physical destruction would be so great that there is no basis of experience which could serve to describe the sort of thing that would happen, the instantaneous transformation of vast living cities into seas of blazing rubble.

I will not go into the whole appalling picture that this Report paints; I should merely like to say that they said in one paragraph of this Report that the whole life of a great city of, say, 1 million inhabitants with an area of about 250 square kilometres would be completely disrupted by death, injury, destruction and fire following the ground burst explosion of one single megaton bomb, and the problems confronting the community would be immeasurably greater than anything experienced in the Second World War. I merely make these points. I do not accuse noble Lords opposite or anyone of putting this forward as a serious argument, but I hope no one will suggest, with the experience or lessons of the Second World War, that Civil Defence or any other kind of defence in the Second World War is remotely relevant to the problems we should face if subjected to nuclear attack.

We could, I suppose, prepare against that kind of contingency. We could prepare against nuclear attack. We could prepare against all-out nuclear attack. It has been said that in the case of the United States, for example, it would take ten years for civilisation to return to normal after an all-out nuclear attack. If we wanted to prepare fully against that kind of possibility we should have to alter our whole manner of life; let there be no doubt about that. Of course it would be theoretically possible, at enormous expense, to disappear underground completely, live like troglodytes for the rest of time in the hope that an enemy's missiles could not seek us out there. No one, presumably, would suggest that.

This is not to say that we should therefore throw up our hands and say that the whole problem is too awful and difficult and we must stop thinking about it. That is not the way. It is not to say that any responsible Government can contemplate policies based on the argument that a nuclear attack, especially a surprise one, would be so destructive that there is no point in trying to do anything about it. That is not what we are doing. What we must do, and are doing, is once again to apply the basic principle of assessing our priorities in an intelligent and rational way. We must ask ourselves how much of our resources are to be applied to reducing the possibility of attack, reducing it by political and military means, and how much should we apply to limiting the damage if these military and political measures should fail. We must, in doing this, assess the constantly changing nature of the military threat against us.

But this is of defence we are talking—deterrence and defence—and we must put the whole of this matter of defence and deterrence into an even wider context, and decide how much of our limited national resources we can apply to them without damaging the whole quality of life of our people. It has been said before in your Lordships' House, and it will bear saying again, that while the Government are, of course, responsible, and must be, for the security and safety of these Islands and the people in them, it is no good assuring that safety and security at the cost of constantly lowered standards of education, health and living standards in general. These are matters of priorities always, and that is the Government's job.

Some interest has been expressed about the effect of the decision that we have taken on our readiness to meet a nuclear attack and on what that state of readiness should be. Neither I nor the Government want to evade these questions, which I fully admit are crucial to any decision on the level of defence preparation. I fully accept, also, that because of the intangible nature of many of the factors, there can be no absolute certainty as to the answers. No one can be absolutely convinced of anything in this sphere. That is a dilemma which all Governments must continually face.

We recognise, quite frankly, that in consequence of these economies we shall lose something. Obviously this must be so; a price always has to be paid. Part of this price, which we do not attempt to conceal, is that we shall be less ready to face a nuclear attack at short notice, if one should come, than we were before. There is no attempt to slide out of that. What we had to decide was whether this was, in the circumstances, an acceptable risk. To answer this, we must first consider what we have lost and what we have kept. In order to do that, we have first to look at the nature of the threat that faces us. For some years, we have planned on having the country on a war footing in a matter of a few days. If we are to cover all requirements the only way of accomplishing this is to have a large number of people continuously trained and exercised. The disappearance of this is what noble Lords have complained about to-night. This costs a great deal of money.

But there are good reasons to believe, in spite of the points that have been made by noble Lords opposite, that we do not now need to think on such a short time-scale. There has been a gradual, but undeniable, improvement in international relations over the past few years. Of course the Government do not rule out the possibility of a future deterioration in these relations, but they do not believe that such a deterioration would happen overnight, or even over a few days. Of course it might be said, indeed it has been said, that even so we should not take any risks at all. But whatever we do we take risks. Indeed, it may be argued, and will be argued, that by devoting money to defence measures at all at a time of financial stringency, we also take risks. This is the balance of priority. It is the duty of Governments to balance these dangers, and this is what we are trying to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, made much of this question of the length of warning. I would remind him that it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to rationalise a measure that has been taken for some other reason. Far from it. This question of the length of warning is a concept that has been formulated, together with us, by the Governments of NATO as a whole, by NATO Ministers, and perhaps a quotation that the noble Lord will recognise makes this clear. The NATO Ministers approved last December the recognition: That we should receive timely, possibly prolonged warning of any change in the political situation that might make war in Europe more likely. Admittedly, it is speculative whether voluntary organisations could be raised to their present strength in the time which would be available in this warning period; but it is reasonable to suppose, I think, that a good deal could be done in Civil Defence generally.

I am not arguing here that the international situation has suddenly improved, that there has been some great spectacular improvement. But the difference between the position even last year, in 1967, and now is not a spectacular change in the international situation, it is a change in our ability to make resources available for all the things that we should like to make resources available for. But in spite of that, there has been a gradual improvement in the international situation. If noble Lords think back to Cuba or, before that, to the Berlin crisis of 1961, I think they will agree that the change has been considerable and substantial, even radical. Admittedly, as my noble friend Lord Stonham has said, the danger of war has not completely disappeared; but in this, as in all other aspects of life—I make this point again, because it is the motif of what I have to say—risks may have to be taken, and it is the business of Government to balance those risks and those dangers.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, asked me to comment on his implication that we are the only country cutting Civil Defence expenditure in this way. He used, I thought, some rather highly coloured phrases when he said that we were "abandoning the population to the dangers of nuclear attack." I do not think that is true as I shall point out in a moment. But I should simply like to say. on the question of other countries, since they have been brought up—I would not have mentioned them otherwise—that the Government of Canada has recently made a 40 per cent. reduction in its Civil Defence budget; and when we talk of NATO countries in Europe, let us take just one country, one of the most powerful countries in Europe, the Republic of France, which spends now per head of its population less on Civil Defence than we shall be spending in 1969–70 after all our cuts have been made. So if noble Lords are going to bring other countries into play in this argument, I would ask them to accept that there are countries that spend less on Civil Defence than we do, and countries that are at this time, and for the same reasons as we, making considerable cuts in their Civil Defence budgets.

May I spend just a few seconds on the question of the state of readiness that we are in fact keeping in this country. It has been suggested openly to-day in your Lordships' House that by disbanding the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service we are abandoning Civil Defence. As I have just said, a number of highly coloured phrases have been used to describe this alleged process. But it is not a process at all. It is far from the truth. Valuable though these two organisations were, they were only a part of Civil Defence, in the sense in which the term is ordinarily and accurately used. By "Civil Defence" we mean defence measures by civilian organisations or, to put it another way, measures to enable the whole civilian organisation of the country to prepare for attack, fir the appalling stresses of nuclear attack, if it should come.

Most countries—I think I must emphasise this point, in the light of some of the things that have been said to-day—including many of our NATO allies have no voluntary services at all in their Civil Defence organisations. But no one has suggested that they have no Civil Defence measures. Indeed, the opposite argument has just been presented. In fact, our casualty prevention measures are not much reduced because, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke will certainly know, as well as anybody, these depend partly on advice to the public and partly on warning. We are retaining our previous means to give advice to the public on what to do, by radio and television broadcasts; and, as has already been said, we are keeping the warning and monitoring organisation; so we are in a position to give warning and advice, although it must be admitted again that we are making some economies even here.

Secondly, we are keeping the war preparations of the regular peace-time services. The police and the fire service are retaining their war plans. We are keeping extensive stockpiles of supplies and equipment. We are preserving in local authorities a basic knowledge, admittedly, among a few officers, of the facts about nuclear warfare to enable them to help the survivors of the initial attack, should it ever come.

I believe that the point on scientific help and knowledge has already been adequately made, and I will not take up your Lordships' time on that point. I think I should spend a little time on an important point that was brought up by the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, the question of the control system, about which he was severely critical. Among the more important physical aspects which are to be preserved are the buildings already completed or in the course of erection for the control system, and the existing system of special communications. This, of course, as he said—he made a big point on this—is incomplete, and we do not think that the present financial situation justifies us in incurring the capital expenditure which would be needed to complete it. This we admit. But even so it should not be underestimated. By far the greater part of the sub-regional control—threequarters in fact—are operational, as are one third of the county and county borough controls and sub-controls. Other local authorities would be able to improvise some form of control should the need arise. The disbandment of the Civil Defence Corps does not affect the manning of sub-regional controls, since the staff for these will in any case be drawn from the permanent staff of the police, the fire service, public utilities and Government Departments.

The noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, made a point about the links between local authorities and the public. I will be perfectly frank with the noble Lord and with the House and say that I believe that the loss of this link between the local authority headquarters and the general public previously provided by the Civil Defence Corps is the main sacrifice which we have had to make in making these reductions in expenditure. I do not attempt to hide that fact from Lord Shawcross or from your Lordships' House.


My Lords, did the noble Lord say that the Regional Controllers would be retained?


The Regional Controllers? Yes.

I will now come to the question of the continuation of the voluntary services in another form. This was another point which has cropped up again and again in speeches in your Lordships' House this afternoon. We have had many suggestions that former members of the Civil Defence Corps or the Auxiliary Fire Service might keep some voluntary activity after the Corps and the A.F.S. have been disbanded. I want to say straight away that the Government are grateful for the sense of public spirit which has inspired these proposals. If this is a purely voluntary activity, not making any demands on the Exchequer, we should not want in any way to impede this, but, indeed, would encourage it. But it is fair to say that one is bound to see serious difficulties in their undertaking any training of a practical kind. Training requires special equipment and special resources, and this, in turn, must run up expenses. Although I do not want to spend too much time on one particular point, I should like to make the general point about the question of voluntary service. The point is that voluntary service cannot be carried on for nothing. However public-spirited people may be when they volunteer their services, if they are going to be trained in anything useful, the training and the provision of equipment all cost money. I am afraid, as I have said before, and shall no doubt say again, that we have not the money to do all the things we should like to do.

I have detained your Lordships' House far too long. Sometimes emotions tend to run high when one is discussing voluntary service. Of course, the primary responsibility of Government is to ensure the security and survival of this country and its people. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, quoted me as saying that the world is a dangerous and frightening place—incidentally, I see that he is quoted in the evening newspapers as having said that himself. I willingly make him a present of that graphic phrase! Indeed, the world is a dangerous and frightening place—so dangerous that we must ask ourselves whether the sort of security thinking, defence thinking, Civil Defence thinking, which was valid in the days before Los Alamos and Hiroshima is any longer valid. I wish to make one final quotation from the United Nations document to which I referred earlier.


My Lords, I am reluctant to interrupt, but nobody in the whole course of this debate has argued that the pre-1945 Civil Defence thinking has relevance to the situation to-day. What we want to understand from the Government is how it is that what they described as a scientific assessment of the lowest possible economic basis for Civil Defence carried out by them between 1965 and 1967 has apparently now become entirely invalid.


My Lords, I am being interrupted a great deal, but I will take the noble Lord up on that point. While nobody has argued that 1945 thinking is relevant to modern problems, I am making the point, which may be highly subjective but about which I am convinced, that many things which have been said in your Lordships' House this afternoon betray a 1945 type of thinking. As for what has happened since 1967, I believe that I have made the point with the greatest frankness. What has changed is our ability to pay for everything we should like to have. This is one of the simple facts of life, and one of the reasons why we have had to make some choices of priorities which are as displeasing to us as to noble Lords opposite.

I should, however, like to make this quotation from this United Nations pamphlet. It asks the question how can security best be assured in the light of the threat of nuclear attack. It says in answer to this question a number of things, but, incidentally, it does not (I make no great point of this) mention Civil Defence anywhere. What it says is this: The solution of the problem of ensuring security cannot be found in an increase of the number of States possessing nuclear weapons or indeed in the retention of nuclear weapons by the Powers currently possessing them. An agreement to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons as recommended by the United Nations would therefore be a powerful step in the right direction, as would also an agreement on the reduction of existing nuclear arsenals. Security for all countries of the world must be sought through the elimination of all stockpiles of nuclear weapons and the banning of their use by way of general and complete disarmament. This is not as irrelevant, my Lords, as it may at first sound. The fact that matters is that in a nuclear world the only real security for any of us lies not in nuclear deterrents, not in military defence, and not in Civil Defence. It lies eventually and ultimately in disarmament. It is to this aim that the Government are fully committed.

In the meantime we must, of course, be responsible for the safety of our people in this dangerous and unstable world; but we must also be responsible for the quality of their lives in general. We must decide how much of our effort is devoted to reducing the likelihood of an attack upon us and how much we should devote to limiting the damage if we should be attacked. These are two of the priorities which we have to face. The whole panoply of defence must be considered in a much wider context. If we did all that we want to do, if we were to try to produce a perfect defence for these islands, a perfect military defence and a perfect civil defence, I expect that we could do it, but it would cost so great a proportion of our national resources that there would be virtually nothing left for anything else. We have had to decide on our priorities.

We believe that our decision to reduce expenditure on Civil Defence is the right one. We regret that it has been necessary. We do not pretend for one moment that nothing of value has been lost. But whatever reductions a Government make in public expenditure, somebody is going to be hurt—that is in the nature of things. Seen from the point of view of those who have been closely engaged in Civil Defence work, cuts in Civil Defence loom large and hurt most. For others, cuts in education loom larger. For some it is the Health Service; for others the Territorial Army, the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. And everyone who is hurt, thank God!, can make his voice heard in this country. But I believe that if we take this matter, as it should be taken, in the widest context, there will be general agreement that although, as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, implies in his Motion for Papers, we have had to suffer the loss of a valuable service, a service which we should have preferred to keep, there will be general agreement that, given our economic position, the changes in the international situation, the nature of the military threat to the Islands and the other urgent calls on our limited resources, the Government's decision on Civil Defence is the right one.

In conclusion, I should like to remonstrate again with the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, who in the course of his pungent speech said that any fool can make cuts across the board. If I can adopt the noble Lord's own idiom, I would say that any fool can indulge in purely destructive criticism. "It requires", he went on, "wisdom and responsible government to assess what are the vital needs of the nation, and then to put them in the correct order of priorities". That, my Lords, is what we are doing.

8.29 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and for the constructive criticisms which I think one and all have made of the Government's policies. Also, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Long on his maiden speech. There is little for me to say now, save to lament the Government's decisions and to hope that many people—more, perhaps, than normally read our Hansard—will read the severe and stinging indictments which we have heard this afternoon of the gambles, the deliberate risks (if I may once again borrow a phrase from the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont) which the Government have taken in this sphere, and not least the speech of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor.

I would still urge noble Lords opposite to take back to their Departments at least the proposal that sufficient funds should be made available to local authorities to enable them to maintain a minimum of professional Civil Defence staffs. I would also urge them to recommend that some new form of unpaid voluntary service, which would obviously make some small demand upon the Exchequer, should be considered, even though I must confess that I found Lord Chalfont's first reactions to these proposals severely discouraging. Given the run of this debate, I am almost tempted to insist upon my Motion to see what happens. However, I shall resist the temptation, and accordingly I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.