HL Deb 21 July 1982 vol 433 cc849-50

3 p.m.

Lord Renton

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 will name the counties in England and Wales in which Air Marshal Sir Leslie Mavor has co-ordinated voluntary effort in support of Civil Defence and what has been the result of such co-ordination; and whether they will give similar information with regard to the activities of Mr. F. G. Armstrong in Scotland.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, Sir Leslie Mavor has been in close touch with all county councils in England and Wales to encourage their effective use of volunteers. He has provided guidance, information on the work of voluntary organisations and agencies, and personal briefing. Sir Leslie Mavor receives regular progress reports from each county authority. The achievement by individual county councils has varied, but in general there has been significant progress in this important field.

The position in Scotland is similar. Mr. F. G. Armstrong has visited all regional councils and discussed the use of volunteers in civil defence with their emergency planning staffs.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for that reply and to acknowledge the efforts made by the Air Marshal and by Mr. Armstrong, and the response which a good many local authorities have given to their approaches. But is it not about time that all local authorities prepared to deal with any emergencies that may arise in peace and war and to make full use of the many volunteers who are willing to help them in their humanitarian task?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should confirm that no county council has declined to carry out its minimum statutory duties—those are the duties as prescribed by planning regulations made under the Civil Defence Act 1948. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has said recently that he is considering urgently whether there is a need to amend those regulations. But I accept the point of my noble friend that we would wish that all county councils would do as much as the best are doing.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that authoritative and expert opinion has been moving rapidly in recent years, and even in recent months, towards the conclusion that there can be no effective civil defence against nuclear war, and is not the cancellation of the Government's Hard Rock exercise a recognition of this fact?

Baroness Young

No, my Lords. No one can predict what might happen, but we believe that in a war there would be many millions of survivors. There would certainly be more survivors if both Government and individuals took sensible precautions.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend whether it is right that civil defence is not merely for the purpose of nuclear war, but for other purposes such as the massive flooding of an area and so on, where civil defence workers can do a great deal of valuable and helpful work?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. It would, of course, be used in a conventional war should there be such an occurrence as well as in civil emergencies.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, has the noble Baroness noted that the British Medical Association has set up an inquiry into the effectiveness of civil defence in view of the danger of nuclear war, and that its introductory paper by experts says that even in the deepest shelter people would be asphyxiated to death? In view of those facts, would it not be better if concentration was placed upon urging the super powers to end not only nuclear war but chemical warfare and all weapons of mass destruction?

Baroness Young

No, my Lords. The first part of the noble Lord's question in no way invalidates what I have already said about the need to take sensible precautions. Of course, the Government are committed, along with all other Western nations, to try to get multilateral disarmament.