HL Deb 02 July 1981 vol 422 cc285-7
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satified with the progress towards civil defence since the appointment of a co-ordinator at the end of last year and the more recent Home Office memoranda on the subject.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, considerable progress has been made since the announcement on the home defence review by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on 7th August 1980. The effort is continuing and much remains to be done. Air Marshal Sir Leslie Mayor was appointed as the coordinator of civil defence voluntary effort, an aspect of our planning to which Her Majesty's Government attach the highest importance. He is making good progress with his review of what is required and will be issuing further guidance to local authorities in the near future.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord the Minister for that reply? May I ask him two questions: What steps are the Government taking to counter the misleading statements being issued by the CND and kindred organisations working against home defence? Secondly, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that local authorities fulfil their home defence obligations? For example, where they have decided not to continue with home defence planning or where, more money having been made available by the Home Office, cuts are being imposed by other departments.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, regarding the first point that the noble Lord put to me about those who do not believe in the need for civil defence, the Government have taken practical steps. We have made increased finance available. In publishing the booklet Protect and Survive, we have made the general public more aware of what they can do to help themselves. We are setting in hand the modernisation of the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation, an acceleration of the construction of decentralised headquarters and the expansion of training facilities at the Home Defence College. All those things and many more we are doing as matters of practical steps. On the matter of encouraging and keeping in close touch with local authorities, another circular was sent out to local authorities on 20th March this year.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we are grateful for his language but not for the action of the Government? If he were able to say how many local authorities have plans in their possession and that these plans can be readily implemented, that would remove the apprehensions which exist among the general public. Is he aware that there is no evidence that the public are grateful for what has been done?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord says in expressing his concern about these matters. But one of the most practical things that the Government could do at a time of severe economic cutback was to make available some more money. This is precisely what we have done. Supported by 75 per cent. grant, we have made it clear that the national civil defence expenditure will be increased by about 60 per cent. to £45 million annually by 1983–84.

Lord Renton

My Lords, owing to the important part which volunteers could play and are keen to play in our civil defence arrangements, and owing to the undertaking given about this matter by my noble friend's predecessor in looking after civil defence, Mr. Leon Brittan, as long ago as last autumn, could my noble friend say when we are likely to get the Statement affecting volunteers? Will the matter then be the subject of a Statement in both Houses of Parliament?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I cannot give the exact date when the circular, to which I referred in my original reply, on the important activities of volunteers, will come out. I hope the very fact that the appointment of Air Marshal Sir Leslie Mayor has been made will indicate to my noble friend who is so closely involved in this work that the Air Marshal will not, as indeed he never has in the past, let the grass grow under his feet.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the Minister this question: Is not scientific opinion increasingly coming to the conclusion that there is no civil defence against nuclear war? Has the noble Lord noted the background paper published this week by the British Medical Association to their inquiry saying that even deep shelters will not protect people from nuclear war? Would it not be much better to concentrate on getting world agreement to end nuclear arms?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, there is a distinction, of course, between protection against nuclear blast and protection against nuclear fall-out. The important efforts which are being made at the present time, both locally and nationally, are particularly geared towards trying to improve our protection against nuclear fallout.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we would all welcome world agreement to remove our apprehensions of the danger of another war? But the difficulty of obtaining world agreement is even more of an obstacle than the provision of civil defence.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am not going to improve on what the noble Lord has just said.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether I am misreading public newspapers since I have been away? I understood—have the Government heard about it?—that the President of the United States has kindly reserved 120,000 beds for Europeans who may be radioactive if we had a nuclear war. Is there any truth in that report?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am not aware of any truth in that particular statement.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, may I deny that any statements made by CND are false? May I also ask whether it is the case that there is no effective defence against nuclear war, and either we get rid of the bomb or the bomb will get rid of us?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the defence against nuclear war is to be prepared abroad and to be ready and alert at home.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, could the noble Lord say more about the functions of the co-ordinator? Although the appointment is a very good one, could he say how much authority the co-ordinator has? What precisely does he do? Is he much more than an adviser?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, perhaps I may refer the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, to the circular which was sent out on 20th March, 1981, a copy of which is in the Library numbered ES1/1981. May I add that the important aspect in civil defence is that we do not have a form of inspection. What seemed important above all else was therefore to have a good system of co-ordination. The obvious appointment seemed to be the man who had until a few months ago been at the head of the Home Defence College at Easingwold, near York. That is why the appointment of Air Marshal Sir Leslie Mayor was made.

Back to