HL Deb 01 November 1983 vol 444 cc523-49

9.58 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin): rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 12th July be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Elton I beg to move, That the Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) Regulations 1983 be approved. With the leave of the House I propose to speak together to all four sets of regulations that are laid before the House.

I should also say at the outset that the regulations have been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and that the committee made no comment on them. As was evident when the regulations were approved in another place last week, civil defence attracts considerable controversy. Much of it is misguided and I shall seek to demonstrate why this is so.

Three years have passed since the Home Secretary made his important civil defence statement to Parliament following the Home Defence Review which he had conducted with the Secretary of State for Scotland. He made plain then, and it has since been declared on many occasions, that the Government do not consider war in Europe with the Warsaw Pact countries as at all probable, let alone inevitable or imminent. We remain confident that our determined diplomatic efforts with our allies to reach accord with the Soviet Union on multilateral disarmament—efforts we shall maintain no matter what frustrations or difficulties we encounter—together with our continued membership of NATO, and our participation in its policy of deterrence at all levels, are the best insurance against war in Europe. Peace in Europe has been secured by these measures for nearly 40 years. Of course, it is not possible to prove that it is through deterrence that peace has been maintained. It is only the failure of deterrence that would provide conclusive proof, but common sense suggests that this has been the case.

I accept that peace cannot be guaranteed absolutely. Nobody can be certain, no matter what policies this or any other Government were to adopt, that the United Kingdom would never again be attacked. Also we cannot tell what form such an attack might take. Current strategic thinking suggests that if war were to break out it would start with a period of conventional hostilities of uncertain duration which might or might not escalate to nuclear conflict. However, although the risk is slight we must recognise that while nuclear weapons exist there must always be a chance, however small, that they will be used against us. There is even a risk that as a consequence of war between other nations in which we were not involved fall out from nuclear explosions could fall on a neutral Britain.

While nuclear conflict is the most horrific catastrophe we can imagine, your Lordships will appreciate that conventional war is not the soft option that is sometimes suggested. It is also too easily forgotten that in World War II some 50 million people died and that conventional weapons have gone on killing people ever since 1945 without respite. Furthermore, with marked technical improvements, conventional capability is far greater and much more sophisticated now. Nevertheless the horrors of nuclear war are incapable of exaggeration. There is no doubt that in any widespread attack on this country millions of people would die. Those who survived would face appalling suffering; but even from the heaviest attack that can reasonably be envisaged—and that would be only one of a number of possible scenarios—it is certain there would be millions of survivors, too. It is also certain that their number would be significantly increased according to the degree of preparation of civil defence measures which had been taken in advance.

That is the context in which the Government's policy on civil defence should be seen. It is a cynical and mean distortion of the truth to suggest that the prime purpose of civil defence is to make the idea of nuclear war acceptable. Even less are we planning to tight a nuclear war. To reasonable men these notions are absurd but they are put about by those who seek political gain by exploiting this fear. Civil defence is no more than an insurance policy against the risk of both conventional and nuclear war. No one would suggest that there should not be contingency planning against peacetime disasters, whether natural or man-made. By the same token there should be contingency planning to protect our population against the gravest disaster we can imagine. Humanity demands that in any disaster there should be some plans to relieve the suffering of survivors, to maintain their survival and to provide them with some prospect of re-establishing their lives. This is what civil defence exists to provide. This is its simple humanitarian justification.

No Government since the war have dared to risk neglecting this prudent duty; and nor does any civilised Government anywhere do so. Having recognised the inadequacies in our own arrangements following the home defence review, this Government are determined to repair our weaknesses. Unfortunately, however, we have been experiencing for some time a determined and sustained campaign to denigrate civil defence, its present organisation and its objectives. The nature of the campaign will be familiar to your Lordships. It has drawn in many honest and caring citizens who are very concerned about peace. That is a concern which is shared by Her Majesty's Government, although we differ from the campaigners over the best way to maintain it. If the campaign were successful in its aim it would mean that if war came to this country there would exist neither plans nor organisations available to help the civil population or to mitigate its suffering. We are determined not to allow this to happen. We are determined that the British people will not be denied the basic measures that even neutral countries that do not ally with anyone and do not expect to be involved directly in war provide for their own people. Do our opponents accuse Switzerland and Sweden, each with their highly developed state of civil defence, of warmongering?

There can be no question that local authorities have a central role to play in our national civil defence. They have a duty to their people to be prepared against emergencies. Whatever the emergency, they have a responsibility to save lives and minimise suffering. They are best able to take account of local needs and conditions and undertake the measures necessary, in partnership with central Government, to protect their populations. Unfortunately, local performance has varied widely in its response to the current regulations. Some councils are hard working and enthusiastic; others are lukewarm and indifferent. Some have gone so far as to say that they will do no more than their bare statutory duty which is to make paper plans. Several have refused to take part in exercises concerned with attacks on the United Kingdom. This is why the national exercise "Hard Rock" which was planned for last year had to be postponed.

The difficulty lies in the current regulations whereby local authorities can, if they so choose, do no more than pay lip service to civil defence without being in breach of their statutory duty which at present is simply the duty to make plans. There is nothing in the present regulations about keeping the plans up to date, nothing about designating war headquarters so that we can equip them with proper communications. Any reasonable construction of the duty to make proper plans would embrace such matters. But there is no express reference to them in the present instruments.

Since the home defence review we had hoped that encouragement, persuasion, advice and financial assistance would lead to councils attending to these things. We have tried very hard to use these methods to gain the improvements that we are seeking but some authorities are clearly determined to neglect their responsibilities. Accordingly, we have no alternative but to conclude that it is necessary to introduce new and strengthened civil defence regulations which will ensure a uniform level of civil defence preparedness throughout the country. The drafts before your Lordships today are designed to achieve that objective.

May I say at this point that the drafting of these new regulations has been accompanied by full consultation with the local authority associations and the GLC. While we are not prepared to be diverted from our objectives, I must say that their advice proved most helpful in finalising the draft of the regulations that we are considering today. The Government are of course prepared to discuss any matter further with any authority that experiences real difficulty over the implementation of the regulations provided that the authority has an earnest desire to find a satisfactory solution. We shall be issuing further guidance shortly on their implementation. I do not pretend that, as a consequence of the consultation, all the local authority associations are satisfied with the regulations or even that they all agree generally with what we intend. We are confident however that when the new regulations are implemented, they will recognise that they strike an appropriate and sensible balance.

The new General Local Authority Functions Regulations replace the existing Civil Defence (Planning) Regulations 1974 and the parallel Scottish regulations made in 1975 with strengthened provisions of wider scope. They require local authorities not only to make contingency plans but also to review them and to keep them up to date. There are three new activities for which plans are to be prepared: plans for using buildings as civil defence shelters for the public; plans for a rescue service; and plans for the participation of voluntary organisations and volunteers.

The regulations impose a duty on local authorities to provide premises suitable for use as emergency centres, properly equipped with communications and other necessary equipment. They impose a duty to train and exercise their own staff and to organise, train and exercise civil defence volunteers. This will include, as well as local training and exercising, participation in training and exercising organised on a regional or national basis.

As regards the participation of local authority staff in civil defence, I must emphasise that the Government have never contemplated any form of conscription of all staff in civil defence activities. During the consultation phase, the local authority associations told us that a measure in the initial draft of the regulations placing such an obligation on all local authority staff as part of their normal duties was unacceptable. We accepted their advice and this provision has been omitted from the present draft regulations.

But it will be apparent that to be able to perform their functions under the regulations, local authorities will need to have specialists with a knowledge of the problems likely to be encountered in war, whether conventional or nuclear, or any other kind of major disaster, and with some training in how to tackle them. That is why the regulations stipulate that suitable staff must be selected for this role. It will be primarily for the local authorities themselves to determine the numbers and categories of staff they will need to enable them to discharge their statutory obligations.

I should like to make a special mention of volunteers. The Government attach high importance to the role they can play in civil defence. It is up to the local authorities to harness and use this resource according to local needs; but we shall provide them with further guidance on how they should go about it.

Recognising the difficulties which we have encountered over the current regulations, some might ask how we are going to ensure that the new regulations are effective. Regulation 6 of the Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) Regulations requires a council to exercise any of its functions in compliance with any direction of the Secretary of State. This is not a new measure. The power to make a direction of this sort derives directly from the Civil Defence Act 1948 and the existing regulations include an identical provision. The power has never been used before and we hope that, in discharging their functions under the new regulations, the local authorities will respond to guidance and advice from central Government, without the need for formal directions.

We have a variety of further powers under the Civil Defence Act, and in Scotland under the Local Government Act, which we can use if an authority fails to comply with the requirements prescribed in the new regulations. If we have to use these powers to ensure appropriate local preparedness, we shall do so. I am sure however that no responsible local authority will, on reflection, deliberately refuse to discharge statutory duties laid upon it by Parliament.

I should now like to say just a few words about the Civil Defence (Grant) Regulations which I referred to at the outset. These are being amended so that approved local authority expenditure on the training of staff, on exercises, on volunteers' expenses, on communications and directly related equipment will henceforth be completely reimbursed by central Government through civil defence grant.

In order to give even further encouragement to local authorities to meet their statutory obligations in civil defence, I am pleased to be able to report a further concession. During the recent debate on the regulations in another place the Minister of State for the Home Office announced that no local authority will incur any grant hold-back as a result of additional expenditure incurred in 1983–84 under the new regulations. In Scotland the system of grant distribution is different, but similar arrangements will he made. I am sure that this further concession will be widely welcomed. These, then, are the new regulations which the Government deem to be necessary to bring the civil defence preparations of local authorities throughout this country to a modest but uniformly acceptable level.

In conclusion, as I have already said, I am confident that once the law is changed local authorities will comply with the new requirements imposed on them by Parliament. It is a matter for great regret that difficulties raised by a minority of local authorities should have reached such damaging proportions, but it would be unforgivable for a Government believing in the vital importance of civil defence to acquiesce in this. We owe it to the country to ensure that there exists that degree of preparation that is required by the present low risk of war. Neither we nor our local government partners can ignore this task or abandon this most basic of responsibilities without forfeiting the claim to the respect of our people. With your Lordships' support this evening we are determined to fulfil that obligation. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 12th July be approved.—(Lord Gray of Contin.)

10.20 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, no; he is the Minister of State for Scotland.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I had assumed that I had read something in the papers that I obviously have not read, and I apologise. The promotion is obviously not yet there. I am sure that the House will be deeply grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for his introduction of these regulations. It is undoubtedly a pity that the House has listened to that explanation at a late hour and after an important debate, and one could have wished that other arrangements had been made to debate such an important subject.

The Minister said that some were making political capital out of the debates on these regulations. I promise him that my noble friends and I have no intention of making political capital. What we shall do—and I hope that we shall do it consistently—is to express with all honesty and frankness our views upon the regulations as we see them. The regulations provide in general terms for a civil defence programme to he carried out by the local authorities of the United Kingdom, and those regulations have been introduced upon the basis that they will cover civil defence eventualities, whether the war be of a conventional or of a nuclear kind. Let me make it quite clear from the outset that my noble friends and I are completely in favour of civil defence, where civil defence is practical, where the people can be taken into our confidence and where those who are given the duty of administering it know that they are doing something real, something practical and something honest.

Therefore, if these regulations have been introduced upon the basis of doing our best to meet the exigencies of conventional war (if Heaven forfend it happened!) the Government would have the full co-operation of the Opposition on that matter. They might have some improvements to suggest, but in general principle and without any doubt we would agree. If the Government had said, "We are bringing in legislation in order to widen the narrow powers under the Civil Defence Act and to cover civil emergencies, and that, too, will be covered by regulations dealing with civil defence", the Government would have found that in principle the Opposition would have been most happy to agree, and, again, to make such suggestions as they could to improve the regulations.

What the Opposition cannot stomach is that in the light of evidence that has been given by completely independent doctors, scientists and nurses, and contrary to some of the Home Office experts, who have not debated these matters with their opposite numbers, the people of this country, and indeed the people of the world, should be misled into thinking that it is possible, if there is a nuclear strike—even a single strike—that anything will result other than complete and absolute devastation and destruction of our civilization, and survivorship will mean for the few who do survive the most miserable agony of existence, if that is the proper definition to give it.

That is important, and it is important for this reason. Like my right honourable friend Mr. Hattersley, who spoke when these regulations came before another place, I happen to be a multilateralist. It is of no consequence in this debate. This debate will not be anything to do with unilateral disarmament, or a multilateral belief; but many who happen to follow the multilateral line have taken the view that in order to negotiate for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons the nuclear power must be maintained by those who have it in order that they can so negotiate, because possibly for the first time in the world's history those who rule the destinies of nations, and certainly those who represent the great powers, know that with the existence of nuclear weapons on the other side a war cannot be won, and if you cannot win a war then as a rule you do not start a war.

If the nations of the world realise, and if the peoples of the world realise, that not only in a nuclear war can there be no victory but there can be no survival except for the very few who may even suffer more than those who have been killed, the whole argument about the retention of nuclear weapons falls to the ground. We are not going to be part, as the Opposition, of pretending to the British people that regulations have come into existence, with duties cast upon local authorities, under which provision will in fact be made to deal in any practical form with a nuclear holocaust.

My Lords, there are three points that I want to make, and then at this hour I shall leave these regulations, knowing perfectly well that as another place have voted upon them it will be the custom in this House not to divide against the regulations, but at least the Opposition's view in this place will have been made perfectly clear. The first point that I want to make is almost a repetition of what I have said, but it is put into another form. The first point is that it would have been so much better, in our view, if the Government had tackled this matter on the basis not of pretending about the possibilities of these regulations but of telling the truth about them.

The point became so abundantly clear and so tragically apparent when the Minister said, as he did in these opening remarks, that the regulations provided for the provision of buildings for the safety of the public. It beggars the imagination to think that the Minister, a responsible Minister, could come before this House and talk about the programme in these regulations providing safety in buildings for the public if there were a nuclear war. I invite the Minister who will be replying to talk in rather more detail of the provision of these buildings for public safety. The Minister's words will be read by the public. They will be seen and, with great respect, for me without further explanation—and even I suspect with it—they are most misleading.

My second point is that if the Government are sincere—I trust that they are—in saying that what they must do in duty to the public is to provide some sort of scientific and practical defence for the public, or for those who may survive a nuclear war, I would have expected them to say—it would have been a sad expenditure of money in these difficult times—that some extraordinarily large budget, possibly forming a substantial percentage of the cost of Trident, would be expended by the Government over a period of years to see that with the best scientific and technical advice being gleaned from all over the world with this terribly expensive programme something could be done. The budget is £60 million to cover the whole of the country. If anybody in his wildest imagination thinks that this is really a programme which deserves the introductory speech of the Minister when introducing these regulations, that person must have an extraordinary idea of what can be done to defeat the main impact of a nuclear war, or even protect some residuary survivors of it.

My third and last point is that the Minister referred to the burden that was being put upon local authorities. He dealt with some recalcitrant authorities. He talked about the mandatory nature of these regulations, and although he dealt with it briefly—and in some way by inference only—there is the power under these regulations that if local authorities default on their obligations a commissioner can, on behalf of the Government, enforce the regulations and carry them out. I do not understand this policy and nor do my noble friends. The Minister knows perfectly well that regardless of their political colour none of the local authority associations has blessed these regulations or congratulated the Government on them. But if there are so many authorities who carry on their civil defence duties and are likely to continue to do so, with enthusiasm, and others with far less than enthusiasm, may I ask this. What is a responsible Government doing leaving this to local authorities with a possibility of pushing in commissioners all over the place, with everything done in a haphazard way, possibly one local authority duplicating the work that is being done by a neighbouring authority, with no arrangements made for intercommunication, interconsultations, in order to see that the civil defence work is coalesced; one local authority area being well served by civil defence and the next local authority not so served?

If this is a serious attempt by the Government to do something which all of us recognise is so difficult, why did not the Government have the courage to take the burden upon their own shoulders, to organise regional authorities who will carry this out? The Government are very fond of regional authorities. We are going to hear in future debates, I have no doubt, of what is going to happen to some powers vested in authorities that are going to be destroyed. They are going to be regional authorities. The fire brigade in London, I understand, may go over to a regional authority. Is it not wise, then, to have regional authorities dealing with civil defence? Is it not wise to have this nationally controlled so that money is properly spent and properly planned activities take place throughout the country?

I could continue; but with those three points I hope that the Opposition—who, when they were in power, legislated for civil defence, carried out civil defence activities, and did so with honesty and with sincerity—have, with a full consciousness of their public duty, made clear why it is that they cannot support what they regard (and I am sorry to have to say it) as an endeavour to dupe the public and, indeed, the nations of the world, into thinking that anything—certainly not a £60–million budget—can deal with the catastrophe that each one of us prays will never happen.

10.33 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I know that my noble friends would wish me to add our voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in expressing our extreme disappointment that the Government have found it necessary to debate this important question at this extremely late hour. It seems to us that once again the Government are showing a faintheartedness, a lack of determination, in this field of civil defence. However, although I shall have some criticism to make of the Government's position, at least I could understand what the noble Lord the Minister of State for Scotland was saying. I understood the policy on civil defence of the Government. With the greatest respect, when I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I was completely at a loss to understand the policy of the Opposition in this regard.

To begin with, we are told that civil defence was wrongly directed and was, indeed, wholly excessive; that is to say, the whole concept of civil defence, even the idea of protecting the public against a single nuclear strike. It is not true, if there was a single nuclear strike such as we had in the horror of Hiroshima, that civil defence would be incapable of relieving human suffering. On the contrary, if there had been effective civil defence at Hiroshima probably thousands of lives would have been saved and much human suffering would have been avoided. There is no question about it. Yet the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, says that there should not have been civil defence at Hiroshima. There is no logic in that at all—no logic whatever. Yet as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, warmed to his theme he was slowly spending more and more money. He was giving a greater direction from the centre, and before the end I felt that if he were to go on further we would have a wholly comprehensive and vastly expensive building of shelters all over the country. That, I know, is not the policy of the Labour Opposition in this country.

At least I understood the Government, but the Government have made a mess of this, too. Of course, it is true that we are all up against this paradox, which we all have to acknowledge frankly. On the one hand, in this field it is impossible to do nothing, but at the same time it is impossible to do anything like enough. This is the basic paradox we face. The Government now present their case much better than they did two or three years ago. Then they were claiming that civil defence was a possible protection against nuclear war. They were overlooking the fact that in nuclear war civil defence is not only very much less effective than in conventional war or in civil emergencies, but of course the likelihood of needing it is much less because of the much smaller likelihood of nuclear war.

Therefore, their presentation seemed to us to be political, to be related to their defence strategy, and to be provocative. Indeed, the policy did provoke an equally feather-brained reaction from unilateralists and from CND. I think, therefore, that the shift in ground in the Government's presentation and their recognition that civil defence is more effective and worthwhile in conventional war, and also that conventional war is less unlikely than nuclear war, is a helpful move forward and reflects the basic criticisms made from these Benches against the Government's civil defence presentation of policy when we last debated this subject in the House.

Incidentally, if I may say so, the CND document which we have all been sent sets out the policy of CND, and that opposes civil defence for conventional war. It states: The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament fully supports the principle of an effective, adequately-funded network designed to cope with natural disasters, fire and industrial accident. However, these sorts of preparations are entirely separate from civil defence preparations, which are concerned only with the effect of a hostile attack". I think it is profoundly significant that CND should oppose civil defence for conventional war, because if it does that it shows what humbug are its arguments against nuclear war, because the same arguments do not apply in the case of conventional war. Both the Government and their unilateralist opponents presented their arguments extremely badly, and I am glad to see some improvement on the Government side tonight.

But of course there are some very serious deficiencies in the Government's policy. An important criticism I would make is that there is no guidance to local authorities. That guidance should have been put out long ago, and put out in simple and clear terms as to the assumptions the Government make, what duties they expect the local authorities to fulfil, and so on. I know that is coming, but surely it would have been much better if it had come in advance of the regulations rather than afterwards?

Then there are no kind of monitoring arrangements in these regulations. The Government discovered, I suppose as a result of the debacle over the Hard Rock nuclear defence exercise, that in fact the local authorities in many parts were doing absolutely nothing. They had to wait for this catastrophe before they discovered what they should have known already, had there been proper communications with local authorities and had there been any form of monitoring of local authorities' activities. For this, again, there is no provision whatever, and it is a weakness in the Government's plans.

Then, again, it is obviously a stop-gap policy, partly because we have the proposed changes in the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, when everything will have to be recast; partly because, at long last, the Government are proposing legislation which will bring civil contingencies into the sphere of civil defence. This should have been done long ago, and, again, when it is done recasting will be needed. The whole timing, the whole strategy over the years of the Government's civil defence policy, has been seriously at fault.

May I ask a specific question about the financing of these centres? May I refer the Minister of State to the draft civil defence regulations? Paragraph 4(1)(b) states: to establish, equip and maintain, in premises at each of the places specified", and so on. May I ask for a specific assurance from the Government that they will not require local authorities to undertake heavy expenditure under this paragraph, on the basis of specially constructed centres? It is not made clear in the regulations. Plainly, these words could be interpreted as imposing a duty on local authorities at considerable expense. I would appreciate a very clear statement from the Government that this is not what they intend.

I feel that at this late hour it is not appropriate to go more widely into the Government's defence policy, though if we had had an earlier debate it would have been helpful to do so. I wish to say that we on this side regard the Government's presentation as improved, and their basic strategy has improved, but we have serious reservations about the wholeheartedness and about the comprehensive way in which they should be, and are not, approaching the problem of civil defence.

10.43 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I shall be as brief as I can. Having spent a lot of the last four years in trying to persuade the Government to take action like this, I feel that I have a few remarks to make. But, first, may I say to my noble friend the Minister how much I welcome both the regulations and, indeed, the way in which he presented them, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has said, the way in which the Government are presenting their case has improved greatly over the past four years or so.

I must confess that, with his almost outstanding ability to expose subjects to us, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was obviously in difficulties, because his note sounded very dull and did not come through to me with the normal clarity of his statements. It is quite understandable that the Opposition do not have clear views on this point, but the fact of the matter is that it is extremely difficult to argue two cases at once, back to front, and that is what I feel they are perhaps trying to do.

These regulations at last call upon local authorities to take positive action in making civil defence preparations, and I trust that all local authorities will respond. Perhaps they will not hurriedly respond in some cases, because they have become so misled, poor things. But I hope very much that the Government do not have to use the reserve powers that my noble friend the Minister told us about.

The next point I should particularly like to make, in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said in his closing remarks, is that it is absolutely right that the responsibility for civil defence should be a local one, because it is in the local areas that these steps will be put into effect. We welcome the fact that there is encouragement for volunteers to provide what one might call the heavy back-up to the civil defence requirements, and that must be a local affair. The expense of planning and organising training is relatively small. I do not believe that anybody who knows about it would question that statement.

The second order which is before us provides for most of the expense to be borne by central Government. There are many experienced people in all locations who are willing voluntarily to provide the manpower that is required. The saving made in winding up civil defence in the 1960s was so small that it is a tragedy that there has been over a decade of discontinuity in the maintenance of a proper civil defence force. It will take time to build it up again to the standards which it had reached in the 1950s.

It is also a tragedy that the linking of civil defence more or less exclusively to nuclear war has misled many people. That linkage I would not entirely attribute to people who it pays to say that kind of thing. Over the years the Government have, until recently, been a little too dedicated to the nuclear aspect. The facts are that as the years have gone by the Soviets have increased their conventional forces to such staggeringly high and unnecessary levels that the wartime use of civil defence is increasingly likely, if it is to come about at all, to be in what is known as conventional war, although the conventional war of today is not so easily comparable with the conventional war of 40 years ago. However, in that role we have ample experience of the effectiveness of civil defence in World War 2. It is strange and rather a shame that people forget that, even when they have had the experience of it.

I shall not pursue the various subjects which, had there been a proper occasion for this debate, I should have liked to pursue. I, too, believe it to be a tragedy that the Government did not give us a proper opportunity for debate. For a long period this was to be the main business of today; then there was a happy period when one looked at the programme and saw that we were taking precedence over Grenada; then it was swapped round. And here we are, in the middle of the night. The Government might at least apologise for having made this change and perhaps offer to do better next time.

To sum up, we need civil defence in peace and war to keep life going as effectively as possible locally after any major disaster. It must be as capable as it can be of dealing with any level of hostile attack. That means various levels of conventional attack and various levels of nuclear attack; and the more exaggerated the level, the more destructive the level, the less likely it is ever to occur. I am sure that is true. Therefore what civil defence is mainly concerned about is the lower order of attack and the civil emergency which might occur—and which, happily, it deals with. The more capable that civil defence is the less likelihood there is of any sort of attack.

Although it does not have a vast effect on the deliberations of the great chancelleries of the world, it is one way of showing that we, at any rate, will do what we can to provide some sort of assistance to our fellow citizens, if they are ever in a disastrous situation, whatever that may be created by. That, surely, is a responsibility that central Government must have, and a responsibility that local government, in their own areas, must also have. It is disgraceful that there has been so much misleading propaganda, which seems to have been hooked on to by the noble Lords opposite, that the whole pattern of what civil defence is all about has been misunderstood throughout some parts of the country for so long.

10.50 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, both the noble Lord the Minister and his opposite number in another place last week pointed out that even Sweden and Switzerland—neutral nations without nuclear weapons—have thought seriously about civil defence. However, those nations—which seem far less likely to suffer nuclear attacks than ourselves—seem to take their civil defence a good deal more seriously than we do.

Switzerland, for instance, now has deep shelters for something like 90 per cent. of its population, and these shelters include hospital facilities. It seems odd for the noble Lord the Minister and other noble Lords opposite to say that the risk of nuclear war is very low in this country when in other countries which have a lesser risk much greater precautions are taken to protect against their apparently very low risk.

To provide shelters such as they have in Switzerland in this country would cost some £3,000 per head—an enormous and almost impossible sum. But to implement the present regulations the Government reckon to put aside, as my noble friend Lord Mishcon has said, £60 million per annum—approximately £1 per head per annum. At the same time, we are spending approximately £200 per head per annum on defence. Approximately half of 1 per cent. of the defence budget will thus be allocated to civil defence, to protect the lives of the people of this country in case of a war. I leave noble Lords to ponder whether this is an appropriate division of resources.

As a doctor, I think it is my duty to describe some of the contents of the BMA's recent report on the medical effects of nuclear war. This has been widely commented upon in the press and alluded to by my noble friend. The BMA is not usually regarded, as all noble Lords will agree, as an arm of the Kremlin—and at no point does this report criticise the Government's defence policy.

Its sources of information—many from official United States documents—are clearly described, and its findings have not been seriously questioned by any body of authority. Several speakers in the debate in another place quoted the paragraph on page 124 of the report, which reads: The explosion of a single nuclear bomb of the size used at Hiroshima over a major city in the United Kingdom is likely to produce so many cases of trauma and burns requiring hospital treatment that the remaining medical services in the United Kingdom would he completely overwhelmed". The facts and reasoning behind this view do, I think, need to be amplified—but I promise to be as brief as possible because of the late hour.

It is, of course, impossible to predict the exact scale of a nuclear attack, but it is possible to estimate the number and types of casualties which might occur for each given size of explosion; partly on theoretical grounds and partly on the experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Death and injury will occur from very powerful blast effects, from extreme heat, and from ionising radiation. If one takes a really small atomic bomb explosion of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki size—that is, 12 to 20 kilotonnes—falling on a city or large town, about 100,000 people will be killed immediately and there will be at least 15,000 very seriously injured or burnt surviviors in and around a totally devastated area about one mile wide. As every noble Lord knows, bombs 50 to 100 times more powerful than that are already targeted on this country.

To get some idea of this event (a Hiroshima-sized event), as the report describes in detail, it is worth thinking about the fact that at present, in peace time, a civil disaster resulting in 30 or 40 severely injured or burnt people is considered very serious. What is more, it severely tests the accident and emergency facilities in any district. In such a civil disaster several teams of surgeons have assistants with blood and fluid replacement facilities which are needed, with x-ray and laboratory back-up. In fact many doctors are aware of the inadequacy of present arrangements for severe civil disasters in this country. But imagine a district in which 300 or 400 equally severe disasters occurred simultaneously.

Most of the doctors residing in the district would be killed; the local hospitals would be destroyed; other nearby hospitals would also probably be badly damaged and in no state to receive a large influx of very severely injured or burned people. This leaves out of account the immediate effects of ionising radiation and the possible later effects of fall-out which would eventually kill many more people slowly, often by making them more susceptible to infections which would be more likely to break out due to disrupted water and sewerage systems. The likelihood of all these injured people being transported to hospitals in unaffected districts is not very high and in any case most of the severely injured people would need immediate treatment to survive. This highly disturbing picture only represents a fraction of what is thought to be the most likely scale of nuclear attack on this country of up to 200 megatons, in other words, 1,000 times the power of the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bomb.

In these circumstances, it can be seen that the proper running of any health service would be totally disrupted and any care that could be given would be restricted to the simplest possible symptomatic relief of pain and suffering. Many of the severely injured would die because of the total disruption of local services and the gross overloading of all those that remained. It might be suggested by some noble Lords that doctors should not concern themselves with matters of political controversy but should carry on with making the best of a bad job and be ready to help when the situation arises.

I think any doctor would be ready to give whatever assistance he could should such a dreadful emergency arise, though in the Home Defence circular (HDC/77/1) it suggests that staff vital to the long-term recovery of the country (I think that includes doctors) should not be wasted by allowing them to enter areas of high radioactivity and no staff should leave shelter until authorised to do so. I am afraid that many doctors would probably be tempted to break cover too soon in order to give help.

But as well as offering help to sick and injured people it is also part of medical ethic to try to prevent disease and injury whenever possible. That is why over 4,000 doctors and other health care professionals have joined together in the Medical Campaign against Nuclear Weapons and the Medical Association for the Prevention of War to bring the sort of factors I have described to the attention of the public and those in positions of responsibility so as to make them fully aware of the enormous risks involved in any defence policy which relies on the threat of nuclear weapons. We must ask those responsible for defence policy constantly to ask themselves whether the policy they are pursuing is the one most likely to preserve our way of life while avoiding nuclear conflict.

I am not the first speaker in the House today who is very uneasy about the decision to allow the Americans to deploy cruise missiles in this country especially after last week's events in Grenada which we heard about earlier. The millions of people who demonstrated throughout Europe in these past two weeks must also not be ignored.

Returning to the regulations, I hope I have made it clear why they are grossly inadequate to cope with the results of a nuclear war. More particularly, I consider that they are misleading and even dishonest. Many people may sincerely believe that the plans and training which local authorities are required to undertake are adequate to alleviate the consequences of a nuclear war, and they may therefore feel that a defence policy based on the potential use of nuclear weapons is a reasonable one. Many of us profoundly disagree with this view and feel that our Government could work harder, and must work harder, towards a steady reduction, rather than an escalation, in nuclear weaponry. How this is to be done obviously belongs to another debate. Meanwhile, although these regulations cannot be rejected we strongly feel that they are inadequate and misleading.

11 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, in my parish church last Sunday, when we were praying on the question of cruise missiles, the parish priest made a slip of the tongue and talked about the immediate "delivery" of missiles in this country. He quickly realised, as did the congregation, the unfortunate ambivalence of that word and corrected it to "import"; but there was a great deal of truth involved in the slip. The import of so-called defensive nuclear weapons may well later on involve the delivery of another country's offensive weapons in an offensive category.

It is this that overshadows what we are discussing tonight. I do not think that the orders are tremendously important in themselves. If they were, I should have much to say about them because, in common with the previous speaker, I find them extremely inadequate in all sorts of ways. They are basically inadequate because they betray the logical dilemma at the heart of the Government's defence policy which spills over into their civil defence policy.

I make this point because it is important to show why these orders are so revealing. It is because the nonsense they make is sufficient to pour doubt on the whole concept of deterrence. If the theory of deterrence works there will, of course, he no part for civil defence to play. There will be no European or world war, and other emergency problems can be dealt with in other ways; perhaps by modification of civil defence, but not on the kind of level that we are debating tonight. But fewer and fewer people believe that if one operates the doctrine of deterrence one can have a war that stays conventional.

We have it on the authority of the Leader of this House in a previous incarnation that the Russians certainly do not believe that one can stay on the level of a conventional war. The deterrence either works, in which case there is no war, or it does not, in which case the enemy at some stage, probably as soon as possible, takes out one's offensive weapons. So long as there are nuclear delivery systems on our soil we can expect to be attacked by nuclear weapons on the wholly possible case of deterrence not deterring. Our present defence posture, therefore, means that there is no case for the establishment of civil defence capabilities for conventional war since the only thing which seems quite clear is that there is not going to be a conventional war.

What, then, if we admit to the possibility of nuclear war? It seems that there is really only one course open to the Government. If they pursue a defence policy which brings with it the possibility of nuclear attack they must set up a civil defence scheme which will protect the civil population from it. They must construct, as has already been said, deep shelters for the whole population and not just for a handful of police, civil servants and politicians. They must make provision for uncontaminated water, food supplies, medical assistance and disposal of waste of all kinds on the same scale for the whole population.

This would involve expenditure, as has also been pointed out, about the level of all other defence expenditure. A proportion of Trident was mentioned. I think it would be much higher. It might or might not be worth it, but at least it would be intellectually honest. The trouble is that because it would be intellectually honest it is probably not a practical proposition. Confronted with the logical corollaries of the basic policy of deterrence probably too high a proportion of the population would revolt against the basic defence policy.

It is highly pertinent to what we have been saying tonight that the two countries which have been quoted as having really first-rate civil defence systems are Sweden and Switzerland, which are both neutral countries and without nuclear arms. They can both therefore face up to this terrible ambivalence. None of the countries which have nuclear arms has dared to face up to the problems of civil defence on that scale.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, what about the Soviet Union? It has a vast civil defence capability and it has nuclear weapons.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, sufficient for 90 per cent. of the population? Nonsense! It may have better civil defence potential than we have, but that would not be difficult.

As a result, our Govenment are driven back on a policy of deception: possibly a nuclear war will not kill everybody; in any case let us pretend that it will not have too great an effect; let us be seen to make conventional civil defence postures. It will not do, and more and more people, including local authorities, are beginning to realise that it will not do. The Government have two policies open to them. They must either come to the conclusion that any defence which involves the presence of nuclear arms on our soil is unacceptable, and thus choose a totally different course of action, as have Sweden and Switzerland; or, pursuing our present defence policy, they should abandon these half-hearted attempts and either abandon the idea of civil defence altogether or adopt it whole-heartedly and be honest about it. I think here that my noble friend Lord Mayhew was a little unfair to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, on his exposition of the case, if I may say so. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was not producing two policies which contradicted each other but two alternatives each of which was possible but neither of which was the policy which the Government were producing.

There is a fatal moral ambiguity at the heart of the deterrent policy. It relies on our convincing potential opponents that in certain circumstances we would perform an essentially immoral act—the launching of nuclear weapons as retribution. In theory one might be able to persuade them that one had the intention without in fact having it, and one might in theory refrain from retribution when the time came. In practice when the time came it would be too late to hold back.

If we import cruise missiles, and perhaps we have other nuclear weapons, we are opting for a scenario where there is a rational and finite chance of our receiving the sharp end of somebody else's missiles; in which case, since it is the prime duty of the Government to protect the population of the country—and here is where I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Mayhew—they must either abandon the pretence that civil defence can work and change their defence policy or they must go ahead with a really whole-hearted civil defence organisation. It is not enough to say in the revealing words of Mr. Howard of the Home Office: Neither the perceived risk nor the economic circumstances of the country would justify such an expenditure". If the Government undertake the risk they must provide the expenditure.

We have already heard about—and I shall not at this late hour go into them—the various further efforts which the Government should undertake if they were to pursue whole-hearted civil defence. We all know what they are and that they are not met by these regulations. The Government have no such intentions. They saunter on, unwilling to make a real choice, putting forward paper watchdogs like this scheme, anxious that—to quote the words of Mr. Howard again— by raising the profile of civil defence we might damage public confidence in the Government's own certainty in the efficiency of our defence policy". He can say that again. These regulations expose the harsh reality of our military defence policy, right or wrong, and the pitiful sham of our civil defence policy that has certainly been wrong in the recent past, and is wrong now with its supposed new tough look which is no tough look at all.

11.10 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, if anyone had told me 24 hours ago when I raced to this debate by stepping on to the night sleeper at Ayr that I would not be speaking until this time of night, I can assure you that I would have stayed at home. It is a disgrace to the importance of the subject. Here is the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, speaking for the SDP and the only person present on behalf of this party—

Lord Mayhew

For the Liberals, My Lords.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Well, who was speaking for the SDP?

A noble Lord

There is no one here.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am sorry, My Lords, I thought that they would have been here. However, we have sufficient diversity within the Liberal Party. So far as I can see, the only comfort that the Government can take from the debate is that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, say that, presentationally, they are doing a lot better than had been achieved previously. I do not know whether they have paid any attention to a pamphlet called "Protect and Survive" because presentationally, it was not very well received. The Home Office itself accepted that it should never have been published in peacetime.

It was jeered at and ridiculed, as well it deserved, for suggesting that anyone getting under a table in the middle of the kitchen floor for 48 hours could survive a nuclear blast. All the parade of foods, nuts and raisins that they had to take with them amounted to so much nonsense. That was the presentation just a year ago. There has been a big change. That change was brought about by the review of civil defence initiated, I think, and certainly spoken to, in August 1980 by the present Lord Whitelaw when he was at the Home Office. He said some terrible things about what had happened in the previous 15 years—that may have included the time when the noble Lord. Lord Mayhew, was a member of a Government—in the neglect of civil defence.

In the light of what they say was done and what they are going to do, the Government then present these miserable regulations which only affect the local authorities. Civil defence is not just a matter for local authorities. It concerns other Government departments. It concerns the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, public boards, the electricity, gas and steel industries, and industry generally where nothing has been done, as the Home Office admit.

Lord Bishopston

It has been sold off.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, it is a wonder that the Government have not started to privatise civil defence. The presentational pretext is that this is purely and simply a matter of humanitarian business. That is the 1983 slogan to get people to swallow this. It does not compare very favourably with what the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, said in August when he described civil defence as an important element of our defence strategy". He added that, an expanded civil defence programme is both prudent and necessary to achieve an appropriate balance in our defence capability". [Official Report, Commons, 7/7/80; col. 790.] "An appropriate balance", my Lords? Some £16,000 million a year for defence, and that is rising; £60 million for civil defence for the whole country; and for local authorities, £13 million. In Glasgow just the other week we opened very proudly the Burrell Collection. Do your Lordships know what it will cost to maintain that, if Glasgow can find the money? It will cost over £1 million a year. What is being offered this year to local authorities? For the whole of Scotland for civil defence it is just over £l million. By Jove, if they pulled the wool over Lord Mayhew's eyes he is right to say that presentationally as far as he is concerned they have done a good job. These are the stark facts and figures.

I should like to make a very, very long speech and that would justify my journey from Scotland. I do not know who is going to get me home tonight. It is going to cost a Scotsman money, I am afraid.

The present Home Secretary said on 22nd February, 1980: Civil preparedness should be adequate if the credibility of the military deterrent strategy is to be maintained". There is nothing there about it being purely humanitarian. This is where we get caught up in the regulations.

I have a very bad habit of reading the things that we are supposed to be debating. The Minister of State will be finding out the ramifications and the scope of all the duties of a Minister of the Scottish Office. It is even worse when he is in the House of Lords as he will discover that he has to travel into England to carry out some duties there, too. However, he said that there were new functions in these regulations. Yes, there are new functions. There are more than new functions; there are new responsibilities which they must carry out. Mind you, my Lords, I like the language. They talk about "requesting" when they really mean "requiring".

Of course Regulation 6—the power to make regulations legally, I hope—in respect of their functions under the regulations is mandatory. That is the power of central Government which is not in the present regulations. They have to do all this on £1.2 million in Scotland this year. I suppose the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, will have worked it out that they have adequate sums of money in England to do this wonderful presentational job. He must be in advertising. But they have to do more than that, if I read the regulations aright. I do not think that this was made absolutely clear by the Minister of State.

It says in Regulation 4(g): at the request of the designated Minister"— and we know what "request" means—

  1. "(i) to take such preparatory steps as may be necessary to ensure that plans made under sub-paragraph (a) above can be carried out;
  2. (ii) to carry out any of those plans".
So it is not just a case where the emphasis previously was on drawing up plans, because they have a new power to set them in motion and to carry them out. I think the noble Lord. Lord Mottistone, said that it was right that the local authorities should do this type of thing; because they are the local people and they know.

Let us consider that idea in respect of housing. Who is telling them what to do about housing now? It is central Government. Who is telling them what to do about rates? It is central Government. They are laying down the law to the local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, says that in this case they are right. There is no freedom here. They are doing it this way because it is the only way that they can think of presentationally to kid the people that something new will be done, and all these steps will be taken.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said about the medical aspects of it. He referred to the BMA and to the Royal College of Nursing. I think the nurses actually spoke about misrepresentation, about misleading the people and about the effectiveness of the proposed plans. It is very serious, coming from bodies like that. The BMA said that one megaton bomb on a major city would destroy the capacity of the National Health Service to do anything at all. Indeed, they went further and said that it would destroy the morals and ethics of their profession.

I heard the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, say, "If only there had been civil defence at Hiroshima". I do not know whether he saw on television the other night the film of Nagasaki, which had been released for the first time. What makes him think that because someone wears a civil defence badge that person is immune from nuclear attack and he or she alone will be saved? Nothing could have saved that area.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, my point was that lives could have been saved had there been an effective civil defence organisation at Hiroshima. Of course, that would not apply in the blast area, but it would apply on the fringes. I think that is self-evident.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, for how long on the fringes? The point was made that as the result of exposure the people who went there some time later have been dying of leukaemia. This is a question that arises in relation to the ethics of doctors—as to whether or not they should go into areas where they know there are dangers of radiation.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, he is saying that people suffered because they went into the area afterwards. One of the purposes of civil defence is to prevent that kind of thing, to warn people and to monitor radiation. For the noble Lord to suggest that lives have not been lost because there was no civil defence seems to me to be quite irrational.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, it is not irrational at all in the circumstances of that film that was shown the other night, in relation both to the immediate and to the fringe-effect areas. I appreciate the complexity and of this and the conflict that there is in the Government's mind about it. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, is right about this: they either have to tell the people the truth about civil defence or the truth about the effect of nuclear missiles being dropped. If they do the one, they destroy the other.

Hard Rock has been mentioned, but I can assure noble Lords that, according to the Home Office's own expert on the matter, certain defence ministries were quite pleased that Hard Rock was abandoned because it would have proclaimed the inadequacies—it would not have been presentationally good—of present civil defence. If you are to take civil defence seriously to the extent that the Government declared in 1980, you have to spend a great deal more money on it and you have to make up your mind about whether or not you are covering conventional war and/or nuclear war, and the nature of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and others have rightly said that the Government should make up their mind and give guidance, and their planning assumptions, or their assumptions on which plans can he made by local authorities. It is not that there have been no assumptions, but there have been so many different assumptions that they change their mind about them.

There is the whole question of evacuation. A study was made as to whether they could evacuate 30 million people. They quickly came to the conclusion that it was just not on because all the services and resources would collapse. But they went further than that and had an alternative. They came to the conclusion that it could be done with, I think, 12 million people. However, there is no indication in these regulations as to what will be laid upon the local authorities. So it is, "stay put". But that has an implication in relation to casualties in respect of what the local authorities are given to cover in their planning, whether it is going to be nuclear warfare or conventional warfare, or both—and the plans conflict. What you do for nuclear warfare is not necessarily what you do for conventional warfare. I know it is not easy, but it is the Government who have proclaimed presentationally that they are going to make this great change, and are going to do things.

Of course, there is the question of shelters. There was a time when there was a shelters policy, but it is out now: bunkers for the bureaucrats and sheds for the civilian population! The shelters are to be any existing buildings. The suggestion has been made, I think in another place, that it would he the basements of municipal buildings. The fact of the matter is that I do not think the Government know. If they are going to just take over disused schools, there are going to be plenty of them.

Do you think that will satisfy the public in respect of the adequacy of civil defence? I do not know how they are going to get this one over presentationally. When I talked about bunkers for bureaucrats, that of course is the bright thing about civil defence according to the Home Office over the years. They have been doing things in relation to regional government and the perpetuation of government after a nuclear attack. That has been going on quite well, although they have had trouble there. They have not got the communications fixed up yet, and they are finding it very expensive because rents have been going up in respect of all these things.

You see the position that local authorities are put into. Local authorities know that their higher executives are already fitted in so far as these things are concerned. But what about the public for whom they are responsible? They have not got the guidance from central Government, and yet the local authorities are getting the blame for lack of progress in respect of civil defence. Well, I should like to see them going forward. It may have been far better if the civil defence structure that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, deplored having passed away in the 1960s had gone on as a Government structure, and the Government had had the responsibility of seeing through their own plans, or lack of plans.

They would have the responsibility in respect of paying for it, and we could have a clear debate, not about local authorities and bringing in all these things about CND, which have been very unfair in the context of civil defence. Many people in CND—and I am not in CND—would like to see better civil defence; but where do you go? Unless you go along the lines set out by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, of actual, proper provision, where do you stop, and how presentationally can you stop? If you do, then you must take the advice of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, in 1980 that the public have a right to know the facts. If the public knew the facts about civil defence as they are knowing the facts about the destructive abilities of ourselves and others in the nuclear field, they would indeed be alarmed.

I am sorry that the debate is taking place so late. There are quite a number of points I have down here for consideration.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I wonder if I may intervene?

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, I must make this point because I am going to sit down fairly soon. There is no suggestion about target dates, as to how long it would he before these plans are to be made. They are unavailable presentationally for the public. Bearing in mind that at one time the suggestion was that they should be brought into a state of readiness in (was it?) seven days, and, indeed, that personnel should be able to be dispersed to their posts in, I think it was 48 hours, I think we are entitled to ask what is in the Government's mind about not just their real plans but the target dates for effectively getting these things into operation. We are entitled to know if they have any idea about that. We are entitled to know about the finance. Local authorities are up against it in every sort of way in relation to finance yet the suggestion is that we should widen their functions, and in some cases provide 100 per cent. grant.

I think it should all be specific—100 per cent. grant. Indeed, I think at one time it was in relation to quite a number of the things done by local authorities. The rest is to be 75 per cent. grant. I do not think it is good enough, bearing in mind the trouble that local authorities have in regard to total expenditue, and the penalties that are to be imposed on them by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State for the Environment in England. I do not think that the Government have made out the case that these are satisfactory regulations. I wish they were, but I am afraid they are not.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, as he referred to me many times, I wonder whether I could ask him this question? He has made it quite clear, as his colleague the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made it clear, that we have no choice; either we must renounce nuclear weapons or we must build deep shelters. That is quite plain from both speeches. I ask him which alternative he would choose?

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords. I do not suggest that they are the only alternatives.

11.33 p.m.

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

My Lords, in a debate of which the importance has in no way been diminished by previous business, your Lordships have covered a great deal of ground. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon, Lord Mayhew, Lord Mottistone—and at that point I stopped writing the names down; but it is unfortunate that we should be debating these regulations at so late an hour. I assure the House that in normal circumstances the Government would not seek to bring on such important business after a long debate like that which we have just had. But the circumstances are not normal.

I must point out to the House that it was the clear wish of the House that a debate on the situation in Grenada should be arranged at short notice, and in those circumstances it was inevitable that other business would be disrupted. To have moved the debate on these regulations to any alternative date would have been even more disruptive of the House's programme of business.

I sympathise with noble Lords who have travelled far and waited long, but I should like to thank them, both for their perseverance and for their contributions to this debate. All of them, even those with which I can display the least sympathy, were very valuable and we are grateful for them.

Much has been said of great interest, and if some of it has been outside the Motion on the Order Paper I make no complaint of that. I hope, however, that your Lordships will agree that I should address myself to the matters strictly before the House and leave the wider issues to another occasion or another forum. In one sense, however, our debate was bound to range very wide indeed. It was proper that it should do so and it is proper that I should reply. The draft regulations now before us can only be properly evaluated, and the need for them can only be assessed, in their proper and contemporary context. They are an answer to a threat. They can only be properly judged together with that threat.

That, in turn, means forming a judgment at different levels. First there is the question, does the threat exist? And then there is the question, is this a proper response to it? Nobody, I think, would seriously suggest that the threat does not exist. It can be said that it ought not to exist. It can be said that it ought to be avoided. It can even (though this is to strain reason, I believe, to its limits) be suggested that it should be ignored. But current events and current debates alike make it indisputably clear that the possibility both of conventional war and of nuclear war is a grimly real possibility; and, of the two, that of nuclear war is incalculably the grimmer.

That being accepted, no sane people will wish to leave itself unprotected against the possible results and no responsible Government can neglect an inescapable duty to prepare for them. Some there are indeed who would have us cast all our nuclear weapons aside in the interests of both morality and peace, and to forswear any participation whatsoever in a nuclear war. That is a view to which they are entitled. It is also, I must add, a view which I believe to be as wholly and irremediably mistaken as that of the courtiers of King Canute. But that argument has no place in my speech, or indeed in this debate, because it is not relevant to the decisions we have to take this evening. I do not mean that it is irrelevant in the strict interpretation of the rules of debate or of this House. It is irrelevant on the strictly pragmatic grounds that the case for these regulations is not altered, even if the argument put forward by the unilateralists is accepted—God forbid!—entirely by default.

Even if our entire nation were to disarm itself completely and stand aghast but with folded arms as motionless spectators of a European war, not all the huffing and puffing, even of the CND, will change the direction of the wind and not even one stray missile has to land on our soil for a large part of the debris of a continental nuclear war to be dumped by an unfavourable wind across the whole breadth of this country. Therein lies the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon's question about the realism of offering shelters for the public in buildings. No building that I know of would resist the impact of a direct hit or perhaps even a near miss from a nuclear missile and I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, that we are not expecting to be protected at any hour or any level of Government from an explosion of that sort.

If noble Lords opposite think I am trying to persuade either them or the British people otherwise than that such protection is unattainable, they are mistaken. But the deadly dust is another matter. Buildings can provide a shield against radiation, if properly used. They can even provide some protection against both flash and blast of distant explosions. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, has properly pointed out that the product of any number, let alone any large number, of nuclear weapons would be horrendous. So it would be! But he must realise that it would be the people on the periphery (as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, pointed out) who would, as he puts it, die slowly; and they would die slowly in the greatest number if the precautions which he regards as pointless had not been taken. Nothing, either medical or non-medical, can be adequate; but to propose that there should be nothing at all—that is a council of despair for which the moral responsibility would be appalling. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, may be prepared to hear it. The Government are not. If, in making that provision, we make our deterrent more credible and war thereby less likely, I see no inconsistency or incongruity in that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, I think inferred when he quoted my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary speaking some 12 months ago.

There can be no question but that the expenditure of both thought and money on how to deal with this sort of threat must be a proper concern of the Government of the day; and by "Government" I mean not only the national Government but local government, too. None or us has the right to refuse to extend to the people for whom we are responsible such protection as forethought and prudent provision can provide. You can argue that provision from fall-out from a continental war and even provision from the impact of the odd missile that has gone astray and missed its proper target stops a good deal short of what is here provided for. That, indeed, is true.

But while I can promise your Lordships that this Government will exert themselves to the uttermost to prevent an outbreak of nuclear war and noble Lords in all parts of the House can be assured that if such a war did break out they would do everything they could to see that we did not receive a nuclear attack as a result, by any and every conceivable means none of us can have any certainty as to how events will unroll in the future. By the time we can, it may well be too late to take the steps which would then become apparent to be necessary. We cannot guarantee that there will not be an attack and it is not within the bounds of possibility for any Government to be able to give such an absolute guarantee. I do not think therefore that what is proposed in these draft regulations goes by one hair's breadth beyond what is demanded of us by common prudence and justified by simple morality. You cannot, in any case, by insurance provide against only two rooms of your house being burned down without the risk of destitution. Similarly, you cannot by legislation provide against only a limited or conventional attack on this country without risking annihilation. To provide against less than the worst possibility would be to demonstrate not. I regret, a noble rejection of war but a culpable neglect of the safety of the people whose interest Parliament exists to serve. So the question is not "Do we want these regulations?" but "Do we want them in this form?"

To that my noble friend has given your Lordships a detailed answer. But if I can just take up this point: if the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, feels that any provision against war of any sort—and I hope I have not misunderstood him—may be seen as an attempt to convince people that a nuclear war is winnable, then I have to say that that has never been our intention. We have never made the attempt, and the noble Lord himself has demonstrated conclusively that such an attempt could only be bound to fail against such as him and the listening nation if we did attempt it.

As an alternative, he suggested that we should be spending a great deal more than £60 million. We are actually spending, as it happens, £70 million. Provision, in our view, should be commensurate with the level of threat. It is at the present—thank the Lord!-low; and I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, or the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that it would be sensible to have every precaution completely planned or even completely in position. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, asked me specifically about the money available to Scotland in 1983–84. The figure I have is £2.3 million—not, as I think he had it, £1.2 million—

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, for local authorities. It is local authorities we are dealing with.

Lord Elton

Yes, my Lords, that is the case. Central to my noble friend's speech was the marked reluctance of some local authorities to recognise their moral responsibility to do more that what under the existing regulations is a minimal and insufficient amount to provide against the eventually of a war—possibly a nuclear war—in the future. We sought to proceed by persuasion. We failed. We therefore come to Parliament for legislation in its place. Our principal need is for a requirement that a local authority, having once made plans for coping with war conditions, shall keep them up to date and that they shall hold exercises to test them and to render them familiar to those of their staffs who are prepared to take part. I stress that it is a voluntary concept: there is no form of conscription in it. Authorities will be required to run exercises, but individuals will not be forced to take part.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew—and I am much obliged to him for a good deal of the support he gave us from his Bench when he spoke—felt that more detailed plans and provision should be actually in the regulations themselves. While I welcome his enthusiasm to get on with the job, our view—like that of my noble friend Lord Mottistone—is that the job can be done best and most effectively and economically at local authority level, with knowledge of local conditions, local people and, above all, local resources.

We reject, as I think would he, the preferred second best option of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, of a regional director. In view of the resources and services controlled by local authorities, they would have to do the planning even if we were to take control. The Government have put out over 30 circulars since 1972, I must remind the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, so there is a great deal of detail in the field already. It is still valid; it is in fact being consolidated for reissue in 1984.

The noble Lord, Lord Mischon, pointed out the dangers of an inconsistent level. I think I have dealt with that point already. If I gabble a bit, I hope your Lordships will bear with me because I know that you are all anxious to go to bed, and you have made that quite clear. On the question of buildings, I have already explained why buildings are necessary. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for a specific undertaking about what we would require. It is intended only that local authorities identify existing premises which, at relatively modest cost, can be adapted, protected and equipped to enable authorities' wartime civil defence functions to be carried out. Many local authorities have already provided such centres, and we know from this experience that the order of magnitude of expenditure is in terms of thousands of pounds, not of hundreds of thousands, for each project. I hope that is the reassurance which the noble Lord was in search of.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, raised a number of matters germane to the medical profession and I would just add to what I have already said that in its report on the medical effects of nuclear war the British Medical Association Board of Science based its conclusions largely on an assumed major strategic nuclear attack. This, as I have sought to make plain, is only one of a number of courses which a future war might take. The BMA preferred the evidence of witnesses who relied upon American casualty predictions to that by Home Office scientists. As part of our regular research programme, our own casualty prediction models are at present being revised, but we do not accept that the American models are directly applicable to the United Kingdom.

The Government welcome the subsequent decision of the BMA annual representative meeting to cooperate in planning to improve our medical preparedness and the offer of the association to assist in the development of local health service plans. My right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, responsible for civil defence, recently met representatives of the BMA, including Sir John Stallworthy, the chairman of its Board of Science at the time of the report, to discuss how we might go forward in improving our medical preparedness. During that discussion, he had the opportunity to refer to the Home Office's letter of 8th April to its regional scientific advisers, which had been taken as an attack upon the personal and professional integrity of the members of the BMA's working party. He was able to assure the BMA and Sir John that no such attack was intended and they were happy to accept his assurances. But on the question of the survivors, what I said originally is sufficient: that there will be survivors and we cannot in all honesty neglect that fact and fail to prepare for them.

Those who claim that civil defence is a confidence trick—and I return very briefly indeed to the burden of my original theme—and that nothing worthwhile can be done to protect our people in time of war are themselves in a false position. For a start, it simply will not do to make no provision whatever for conventional war. As to the interlinking of the defence against an attack and provision to attack in kind, I think all of your Lordships in the House at the moment are old enough to recall our experience with gas in the last world war. There was gas in Germany, there was gas here. We had gas masks as part of our civil defence and gas was never used. I hope that I refer to a fruitful paradigm.

Radiation from the fall-out plume of a nuclear explosion does not fall everywhere in equal amounts. It is not everywhere lethal. No matter what scenario you write, there will be people—many people; our people—who could be saved if we take the trouble to do it. What comfort would it be to them to know that we had refrained from doing so only for the most elevated motives expressed in a most elegant debating chamber? None, my Lords.

What we therefore propose is, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, practical. The people are not excluded from our confidence. The steps that we propose are real. It is not necessary to believe that a nuclear war can be won in order to provide for the onslaught either of a war that is not won or indeed for a conventional war, whatever its outcome. What we are doing is therefore honest. Let us not then gamble with the lives of future generations. Let us take these small, prudent steps which are set out in these instruments.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Back to