HL Deb 12 December 1984 vol 458 cc271-2

2.43 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 they will consider issuing guidance to civil defence community leaders about law and order in wartime.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords. volunteers have an important role in civil defence. but we intend that law and order should remain the responsibility of the Government and the police. Detailed guidance has been issued to local authorities since 1972 covering all aspects of local authority civil defence functions. Revised information will be published next year.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that these questions of law and order are of great concern to the civil defence community workers, but that their requests for information from chief constables meet with varied response? Do I take it from what my noble friend said in her closing remarks that there will be consistent guidance from chief constables in future as a result of guidance from the Home Office?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, we are considering with the police how information can usefully be made available to civil defence volunteers about police wartime duties and the maintenance of law and order. However, as I have said, these are essentially matters for the police.

Lord Renton

My Lords, while accepting the view expressed by my noble friend that law and order should be the responsibility of central Government and of the police, can she tell us whether the consolidated directions and guidance being given to local authorities will contain references to this matter of co-operating with the police?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the consolidated circular on emergency planning already contains guidance on the wartime duties of the police.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, can my noble friend be clearer than in her first reply? She spoke about the police but we have already the chief executive of the county council who is, apparently, the chief in some counties. Then we have the senior soldier overlaying the chief executive; and we may also have the chief constable, too. All three cannot be the leader. Who is to be the leader?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords. I thought I had made it clear in my original Answer that the question of law and order is primarily the responsibility of the Government and the police. With regard to consolidated guidance to local authorities, I think I have already dealt with that, too.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, when my noble friend circulates the new instructions to local authorities will she point out that their responsibilities also include disaster relief? Will she remind them that in Bhopal 2,500 people have died and many others have suffered and that civil defence and disaster relief go together? Those who put their heads in the sand and pretend there is no need for civil defence should be reminded of those facts in future circumstances.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, my noble friend is, in fact, not correct. The Civil Defence Act is confined to measures against enemy attack, but we acknowledge that the planning staff of local authorities would undertake the co-ordination of plans for handling peacetime emergencies, and we intend to amend the Act to enable civil defence resources to be used for this purpose. In point of fact. a Bill is ready for a Private Member to take up. Perhaps my noble friend would care to do so.

Lord Murton of Lindisfarne

My Lords, may I suggest to my noble friend that it would be a good thing if it was not a Private Member's Bill and it was the Government which took action in this very important matter?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the Home Office business of the Government is such that, while the Government entirely support and would welcome any such Bill, there is no time in the planning of legislation for it to be a Government Bill this year.