HL Deb 11 December 1984 vol 458 cc124-6

2.54 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the Home Office and local authorities will be participating at national or local level in Exercise Brave Defender 1985.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

No, my Lords. This exercise is a military home defence exercise to test the plans for the protection of vital installations in conventional war, and civil defence plans will not be tested.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for his Answer, may I suggest to him that it is most unsatisfactory? Does he not agree that the full involvement of local authorities with regard to their civil defence duties is essential in order to make home defence effective across the board?

Lord Elton

My Lords, we do not think that it would be appropriate so to do until civil defence preparations are more advanced than they now are.

Lord Renton

My Lords, bearing in mind even what my noble friend has said, is it not elementary that in any attempt to defend this country the local authorities would be involved? May I therefore suggest that at least the emergency planning officers, or perhaps the chief executives of local authorities, be invited to attend the exercise, if only as observers?

Lord Elton

My Lords, my noble friend's suggestion will be borne in mind, but I should say that as regards the strictly civil defence element, we think that it is necessary to be further advanced in planning. Answers to the civil defence questionnaire which was recently sent to local authorities have come in, and a preliminary analysis shows that considerable and extensive effort is being made on the part of most county councils, the vast majority of which provide at least some form of contingency planning. We hope to make the results of the analysis available before Christmas.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, in view of the very low morale in local government generally and in many local authorities, can the noble Lord envisage the sort of reply that he might get?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord thinks that I am a pessimist, but I am an optimist. I believe that the local authorities have here an overriding duty to the public whom they serve which they would not shirk.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will my noble friend possibly explain what happens when the local authorities declare themselves nuclear-free zones? When that happens presumably nothing happens as regards civil defence. Is that the position?

Lord Elton

No, my Lords; duties have been put on local authorities, and the extent to which they are honouring the obligations put on them is being revealed in the questionnaire to which I referred earlier. My noble friend, of course, will be aware that no hostile force would be interested in whether an area had declared itself nuclear-free.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, in view of my noble friend's welcome remarks about the responses he has had to the questionnaire, can he assure me that in a future year, after the next one, he and the Home Office will encourage any exercise planners to include civil defence as a matter of routine from 1986 onwards?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think that that would be going a little far, but we already encourage exercises at local and regional level. Where an opportunity to involve a military aspect arises, I shall make sure that my right honourable friend has my noble friend's suggestion in mind.

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