HL Deb 27 November 1973 vol 347 cc108-15

8.2 p.m.

LORD STRATHCONA AND MOUNT ROYAL rose to move, That the Draft Civil Defence (Planning) Regulations 1973, laid before the House on November 13, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have two other sets of regulations to submit for your approval to-day, and I hope that it will meet with your Lordships' approval if I speak to all three sets of regulations now, leaving the Motions on the remaining two sets to be taken formally at the end of the debate.

These Planning Regulations are being made under the Civil Defence Act 1948, as are the two other sets as well. In particular they are being made under Section 2 of the Act, which enables Ministers to prescribe the functions which local authorities should have for civil defence purposes. As those of your Lordships who have served in this House for some time may recall, there are a number of regulations which at the present time prescribe the functions of local authorities for civil defence purposes. Those existing regulations have placed a variety of planning responsibilities mainly on the councils of counties, county boroughs, London boroughs, the City of London, and the five scheduled county districts of Cambridge, Peterborough, Chesterfield, Scunthorpe and Swindon. To a lesser extent the numerous remaining county district councils in England and Wales also have certain functions for civil defence purposes.

Perhaps I should at this point make clear those areas which are not covered by the regulations. First, Scotland is excluded, and may I add, in passing, that my right honourable friend with responsibility for affairs North of the Border will be considering, in the context of Scottish local government reorganisation, what changes are necessary in the Scottish regulations in time for the operative date of that reorganisation. Nor are we concerned to-day with regulations which prescribe functions for fire authorities, police authorities, or the authorities responsible for the due functioning of public utilities, such as power and transport.

Your Lordships may be wondering why it has become necessary to introduce new regulations in place of those which have been made over the years since 1949. There are three main factors which have led to this need. First, Her Majesty's Government announced in 1972, after consultation with the local authority associations, that the Greater London Council and the new county councils in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas were the appropriate authorities for the effective co-ordination and preparation in peace time of local war emergency plans. The second factor which would anyway have necessitated a change was the creation under the Local Government Act 1972 of a completely new structure of local government. The final reason was that over the years some of the functions which had been prescribed for local authorities in the past were no longer appropriate. An example of this last factor is that the appropriate health authority established under the recent National Health Service Reorganisation Act on April 1 next is now regarded as the proper authority for preparing plans for casualty services and training in, for instance, first aid. The Government also believe that the new planning regulations in their simplified and consolidated form should assist the new local authorities to comprehend more readily their statutory responsibilities. As always in matters of this nature, there have been the fullest consultations with the local authority associations on the contents of these regulations.

May I now turn your Lordships' attention to some of the more important provisions of the planning regulations. Regulation 3 revokes some 10 existing regulations set out in the Schedule. It also amends the London Government Act 1963 to allow the transfer of certain functions from the boroughs to the Greater London Council. This is an enabling power. Regulation 4 is perhaps the most important of these regulations, and sets out the planning functions of the county councils and the Greater London Council. The functions listed in paragraph (a) cover the main services essential to the life of the community which it will fall to local authorities to endeavour to maintain during and after a hostile attack on this country. In this context it is perhaps appropriate to view these services set out in sub-paragraphs (i) to (ix) as a whole. These are all related to the continued survival of those who have escaped the effects of an initial attack. If your Lordships have any questions on the specific functions I will do my best to deal with them on any questions which may be raised.

May I now draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph (b) of Regulation 4, which enables Ministers to request local authorities to bring their plans to a state of readiness and subsequently to implement them. Some requests in the form of a guidance circular have already been made; for example, to appoint emergency planning teams to carry out essential training and to select suitable war-time headquarters. Otherwise, local authorities are expected at the moment to concern themselves with the preparation of plans.

The Government recognise that the task which is imposed on the G.L.C. and the new county councils could not be carried out without the full co-operation of respectively the London boroughs, in the case of the G.L.C., and the new county districts; that is, the next tier of local authorities. The Government also recognise the special problems of the metropolitan areas, where the metropolitan district councils are responsible for the provision of a much wider range of essential services than is the case in the non-metropolitan districts. Nevertheless, the Government are convinced that even in Greater London and the new metropolitan counties it is essential to look beyond the individual borough or the new metropolitan district for the discharge of the all-important task of planning and co-ordinating plans. Regulation 5 therefore deals with the relationship between the G.L.C. and the London boroughs, on the one hand, and, on the other, between the new counties and the constituent county districts. The regulation requires the G.L.C. and the county councils to make their plans in consultation with the boroughs and the districts affected by them. It also requires the boroughs and the districts to provide for civil defence purposes information and assistance to the G.L.C. and to the counties. We hope that this formulation of the relationship will be conducive to the preparation of improved plans for essential war-time services over the country as a whole.

I should now like to deal with the reserve power of Regulation 6, which requires local authorities to comply with Ministerial directions. I should stress, I think, that successive Governments have rightly regarded provisions of this kind as provisions of last resort, to be used only where the national interest is clearly threatened and where the normal procedures of advice and guidance have not resulted in the necessary local action to protect the interests of the local community.

If I may now turn briefly to the second set of Regulations; that is, the Civil Defence (Grant) (Amendment) Regulations 1973, amending the principal regulations of 1953. Its main purpose is to end the existing anomaly whereby some local authority recurrent expenditure was reimbursable in full, whereas the bulk of such expenditure was reimbursable at the standard rate of 75 per cent. I might at this point reassure your Lordships that the civil defence arrangements for the new counties, taken overall, will involve significantly larger grants from the central Government than in recent years.

The final set of regulations amends the Civil Defence (General) Regulations 1949. All these amendments, are of a minor or consequential nature, and they revoke Regulations 1, 2, 3, 6 and 8 of the 1949 regulations. Most of these revocations arise from the new provisions in the Local Government Act 1972. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Civil Defence (Planning) Regulations 1973, laid before the House on November 13, be approved. —(Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)

8.13 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great many years since I was actively engaged in civil defence. It was in the early days of the war; and I think I can say that we spent many long weary nights. But at that time I had no thought that in this year I should be standing at this Dispatch Box listening to the noble Lord opposite explaining what these Regulations involved. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, that I appreciate very much the very full explanation that he has given of these Regulations, particularly that dealing with planning. He mentioned that there had been very full consultation with local authority associations, and I want to say right away that I am given to understand by those who are professionally involved that there is considerable concern with regard to Regulation 4(a)(x); that is to say, the interpretation, which seems to be quite explicit, that local authorities are called upon only to prepare plans. Regulation 4 says: It shall be the function of every county council and the Greater London Council, for the purposes of civil defence— (a) to make plans for"— and then I read sub-paragraph (x)— training an appropriate number of members of their own staff, and of the staff of district councils, London borough councils or the Common Council of the City of London whose services are made available for the purpose by the council concerned, for the purpose of carrying out the plans made under the foregoing provisions of this Regulation. My Lords, paragraph 4(b), to which the noble Lord made reference, states: … at the request of the designated Minister— (ii) to carry out such plans as aforesaid". The point I want to make is that it would be regarded as being much more satisfactory if the designated Minister would call for the carrying out of such plans now. Indeed, there is a very strong feeling that unless the Minister asks local authorities to do that there will be some difficulty on their part in substantiating ES1/72, paragraph 24 of which, I think, places a responsibility on local authorities to train staff. At no point, my Lords, do these regulations seem to place on local authorities a responsibility for actual training as of now.

During the course of the consultations, to which the noble Lord referred, I gather it was apparent that there was a lack of co-ordination between the Home Office and other central Government Departments, with the exception of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Again, the impression is very strong that there appears to be a lack of policy decisions within a number of central Government Departments, which precludes the Home Office progressing plans and issuing guidance to local authorities. It will be appreciated that central Government policy and directions are valid only when all central Government Departments with civil defence responsibilities have reached agreement, and this deficiency seems to be pretty obvious at the present time. I understand that the Department of Health and Social Security have stated that it is their intention not to progress their emergency plans until 1974. My Lords, those who take this business of civil defence seriously have expressed to me some considerable anxiety, and if one thinks back a few weeks one can begin to understand why. When American troops were placed on the alert there were even Members of your Lordships' House who thought that we were facing a very immediate emergency and who expressed their anxiety. In the past there has been a good deal of criticism—and I think that at least some of it is valid—levelled at central Government for the lack of a clearly defined policy in respect of civil defence emergency plans. If the proposed regulations are applied with the adjustment that I have suggested, made by local authorities, I think this criticism will be removed.

There remains one doubt, however, which is not explained in the regulations and which concerns the progressing of emergency plans. Responsibilities are clearly vested with the counties, as the noble Lord said, in close collaboration with districts as regards training by local authorities. But no mention is made of central Government staff who initially will man sub-regional controls and, at a later stage, staff the regions. It is appreciated that the regulations are directed towards local authorities, but information should be given as to what degree of training has been undertaken by the central Government staff to whom I have referred. Only by mounting exercises can the local authorities' plans be tested. These plans will be effectively tested only if exercises are mounted and directed by the sub-regions. A critical analysis of such exercises should take place, and any deficiencies found could and should be eradicated. A sub-regional exercise of approximately eight hours' duration once a year, in close co-ordination with the United Kingdom warning and monitoring organisation, would be of inestimable value. It is the responsibility of local authorities to co-ordinate their emergency plans with industry and the public services. During past years the lack of a definite central Government policy has, I am informed, prevented such organisations from taking an active interest and assisting the local authorities in progressing their emergency plans other than those of a peacetime nature. A statement calling on industry and the public service to respond to approaches made by local authorities would be most welcome.

With regard to the other Orders to which the noble Lord has made reference, I have no comment to make. We shall not oppose the Orders, but it would be appreciated outside the House, and particularly by those involved in the Civil Defence Service, if the noble Lord could reply to the points that I have endeavoured to raise, and I hope that I have made clear the anxiety that exists so far as these people are concerned.

8.22 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord has raised a number of more or less technical points. I shall try to deal with one or two of them. To some of the others, I think it may be necessary to call the attention of my right honourable friend to what the noble Lord has said and to answer him in writing. I will make one point. In general, all the regulations are based on the proposition that there is a period of political warning before it is necessary to take drastic action; and some of the training aspects which are envisaged here are comparatively short and of specialised duration. Regulation 4(a)(x) does not derogate from the necessary power, available in Section III of the Local Government Act 1972, to train staff, and grants are now available at the level of about £1,000 a year for the county councils.

On the question of guidance to local authorities, a flow of guidance is being provided to the local authorities in consultation with Government Departments such as the Department of Health and Social Service and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. On the question of exercises, this is something to which I cannot give the noble Lord an answer now, but I will try to provide an answer for him in writing. I think I must give a similar answer to his suggestion that there is a lack of co-ordination between the Home Office and other Departments. I hope we shall be able to satisfy him on these questions when we go into them fully. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with that for the time being.

On Question, Motion agreed to.