HL Deb 25 May 1982 vol 430 cc1072-4

2.53 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 what steps are being taken nationally and locally to train members of police forces, fire services and ambulance services in their responsibilities in the event of conventional or nuclear attacks upon the United Kingdom or in the event of radioactive fallout drifting over from the continent of Europe.

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

My Lords, at national level there is provision for the training of all three services referred to in my noble friend's Question at the Home Defence College. The Government have increased the capacity of the Home Defence College at Easingwold from 50 to 70 places, so providing fresh opportunities for such training. Training at local level is a matter for police authorities, local authorities, and the National Health Service.

Lord Renton

My Lords, may I thank my noble friend for that reply as far as it goes? Is he not aware that as a rule international crises occur unexpectedly and suddenly, and therefore is it not desirable that, as envisaged in Section 5 of the Civil Defence Act 1948, the Government should make arrangements for all members of police, fire and ambulance services to receive instruction, so that they would know what to do in these emergencies?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as to my noble friend's opening remarks, I think that we are all aware that international emergencies can arise suddenly and unexpectedly. As to his substantive supplementary question, I am aware of the provisions of the 1948 Act and indeed the Civil Defence (General) Regulations 1949, under which the requirement to which he referred exists. I can tell him that all local authorities are presently complying with their obligation under the Civil Defence Act 1948.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, will not the Government agree that the idea that a radioactive cloud could one day drift over the continent is conceivable only in the event of the total annihilation and vaporisation of either the United States or the Soviet Union, or both—in which case, of course, we should obviously in this country have been vaporised too? Therefore, would not the Government come to the conclusion that any precautions taken in this country against the effects of nuclear war are a total absurdity and the money should be devoted to other purposes?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I would not accept that the noble Lord's apocalyptic vision is the only interpretation of a possible international confrontation. Furthermore, the Civil Defence services are required to act in conventional emergencies, as well as in nuclear emergencies; my noble friend's Question was addressed to both.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, would not the urgency seem to be increased by the fact that the scientific press seems to be unanimous in the view that the Argentine will have nuclear weapons before the end of this year, or do we feel that the junta's humane restraint can be relied upon?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am not certain of exactly what the noble Lord was asking me. If he was asking me whether I view the escalation of the present conflict to a nuclear level as likely, I would say, God willing, I do not. If he was asking whether I rested that expectation upon the scientific press, the answer is that I do not do that, either.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, would it not be generally agreed that there now may well be a role for these services in the case of a conventional war? But would not many people agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn's interpretation of the probability of nuclear war, and would not the conclusion that one would draw from that be that it would be best for us to opt out of the consequences by getting rid of our own nuclear weapons?

Lord Elton

My Lords, it is entirely fanciful to suppose that by disarming ourselves we somehow protect ourselves from attack. I also think that it is fanciful to suppose that the only attack that can be envisaged will wipe everybody out at a blow. No scenario that I know of suggests that there will be no survivors, and I must say that if the noble Lord thinks that we should not prepare to succour those who do survive, then I simply could not agree with such a hard-hearted philosophy.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is it not possible that some irresponsible and bomb-happy dictator, in order to teach somebody else a lesson, could drop just one nuclear bomb, from which many other countries might suffer? Is not that a possibility which should not be ignored?

Lord Elton

My Lords, no possibility should be entirely ignored. I think that the best thing that I can say to reassure my noble friend is that it is intended to increase national Civil Defence expenditure by about 60 per cent., to £45 million annually by 1983–84, and local authority expenditure is, we hope, to be doubled.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, the noble Lord says that there might be a few survivors in some circumstances. Can he arrange that I shall be one of them?

Lord Elton

My Lords, even if my term of office were to last as long as the noble Lord's life—and I hope for his sake that it does not—I could not give such a guarantee.