HL Deb 22 July 1987 vol 488 cc1456-70

7.48 p.m.

Viscount Mersey rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that all local authorities are complying with current civil protection regulations and guidelines.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I should like to concentrate on the nuclear aspect. Other noble Lords will I hope deal with the modern all-risks approach which has brought civil defence under the umbrella of what is now called civil protection. Successive governments have improved civil defence since what one might call its nadir in 1968, when the old Civil Defence Corps was reduced to little more than a hollow shell, which was somewhat euphemistically described then as being armed care and maintenance.

I fear that we are still but scratching the surface of the problem. There are still 180 nuclear-free zones in this country, two-thirds of us live in one, and nowhere in the country do civil defence provisions begin to match those of Switzerland, Sweden, China or Russia.

Civil Defence is about saving lives. Good defence can save lives by an order of magnitude. To give a very extreme example, the 70,000 deaths at Hiroshima could have been reduced to 7,000 if the citizens had been in the air raid shelters provided. When the bomb burst they were strolling around the streets shopping and not taking cover because there was no proper air-raid warning. More recently, in Bhopal, 10,000 people died because the warning siren was switched off after only one minute because, and I quote the authorities, to continue sounding it might alarm the people". These are the sort of mistakes that are made in a crisis. Civil protection and defence exists to minimise those mistakes and it is an extraordinarily cheap way of so doing since most of the members of the Civil Defence Institute are unpaid volunteers.

So far as nuclear-free zones are concerned, there are historical precedents. In the 1939 to 1945 war the village of Shere declared itself a bomb-free zone and refused to install an air-raid-warning siren. The Cambridge scientists anti-war group decided the Government's then ARP plans to be ineffective and a deception to people because, as they put it, "the bomber will always get through". In the event, 51,000 civilians were killed by German bombs between 1939 to 1945. That comparatively small figure was due, in no small measure, to the valiant efforts of our civil defenders.

There have been many theories about the effect on this country of a nuclear holocaust, some better informed than others. I was interested to read the Gerald Drewitt thesis of 1980 on feeding the population after an attack. The attack that he envisages is the worst conceivable: 200 megatonnes in this country. It assumes, for instance, that four 5-megatonne bombs drop on London; that is a total of 20 megatonnes. London's population being 8.5 million, casualties would be around 3 million, thus leaving 5 million survivors. Nationwide—I stress that this is the worst possible case—there would be between 25 million and 40 million survivors.

Drewitt also assumes that the attack would take place at the worst possible time of year—that is, early June. Our crops would be young and vulnerable. Tests have shown that gamma radiation would stunt their growth and wreck the August harvest. However, even then it would just be possible for the government to provide the minimum of two kilocalories per person per day, provided that they were sufficiently organised so to do. The alternative, as my noble friend well knows, would be anarchy, vandalism, looting and the collapse of the system, leading to millions of additional and quite unnecessary deaths.

To those who ask, "What's the point of feeding the people when they'll probably all die of radiation induced cancer anyway?", I would say that that particular question is invalid. No decent man would turn his back on the starving child, buried in rubble, and say "I am sorry, my friend, I will not feed you; I won't dress your wounds because you might die of cancer in five years' time". Surely, it would be against human nature to behave in that way? I urge government to increase effort and expenditure on civil defence and remind my noble friend that our noble friend, Lord Glenarthur, told the Institute of Civil Defence a year ago: I would not pretend for one moment that everything in the Civil Defence garden is rosy. There is an enormous amount still to be done. But a great deal has been done and I do believe that we are getting there". Government have been criticised for paper planning rather than active programmes. We have now the civil defence regulations of 1983, and we have the 1986 Civil Protection in Peacetime Act, so ably steered through this House by my noble friend Lord Renton. But the most important thing that we have now is the Home Office circular dated 30th October 1986, to run through to October 1989, called A Planned Programme for Implementation. This has been sent to chief executives of all county, district and London borough councils. It requires them by October 1987 to provide basic information on the objectives of all plans and the organisation required to achieve them; by 1st April 1988 to collect and distribute information on the result of attack; by 1st October 1988 to provide details on accommodation, prevention of disease, disposal of human remains, and feeding; by 1st April 1989 to provide rescue, repair and clearance of property; and by 1st October 1989, to provide shelters and other essential services.

I warn my noble friend that these provide excellent material for Starred Questions and that we shall be asking them in October, next April, the following October, and also in April and October of 1989. Can I also warn him that the nuclear-free-zone local authorities have perfected the art of creative compliance, as it is known, and they may well implement the October 1987 regulations by using a model letter, a copy of which I have here.

This is the sort of letter the Home Office will receive. Dear Mr. Whalley. My authority wishes to emphasise that the attached list of objectives and initial information on the question of organisation is, as stated, provisional and that the authority will wish to amend this in the light of information obtained from our planning assumption study, and other work undertaken by our Emergency Planning Team. In addition, it is assumed that revision of the objectives on the question of organisation will also require to be undertaken in the light of advice offered by the relevant districts under the consultative arrangements we are putting in hand, particularly having regard to the fact that as a Fire and Civil Defence Authority, our resources for any implementation of any plans are so limited, consequent upon the abolition of the Metropolitan Counties". That letter has been written for all nuclear-free-zone authorities by the national steering committee in Manchester. I have only read about 100th of it and it is, I suspect, deliberately long and confusing. The whole letter, my Lords, must be some 20 pages-worth—all of it in the same confusing prose as the extract I have just given. It does not really have any substance. Any specific objectives are qualified with the prefix "to attempt" and the suffix "where possible". For instance, to attempt to collect information on nuclear attack the objectives of this plan will be to evaluate information received where possible". The letter is just a filibuster. It is nothing but a waste of paper and a waste of ratepayers' money.

Can I now remind my noble friend of what the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, said two years ago: We are determined that local authorities shall carry out their statutory obligations. What could be more senseless than declaring oneself a nuclear free zone and then, come the crunch, finding oneself 30 miles downwind of a nuclear burst and resultant fall out. We have made it clear that while we intend to proceed by reason and persuasion we shall hold in reserve the use of formal directions and default powers available to us. Should it prove necessary we will not hesitate to use those powers". Nevertheless, the Government have hesitated because they have never used those powers. There are still 180 nuclear-free zones two years after my noble friend, Lord Glenarthur, made that pledge. Surely my noble friend, Lord Arran, would agree with me at least that "he who hesitates is lost".

8 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Viscount for introducing this important subject this evening. I suppose that we all in principle accept the case he makes that we need an effective civil protection organisation in this country. Yet I was a little surprised at the manner in which the noble Viscount set out to persuade the recalcitrant local authorities of the error of their ways. He argued that in a nuclear war, there will always be a fringe area. There will always be people on the margin who can and must be helped. There is logic in that argument. Yet of course it is also possible to imagine a nuclear exchange so great that really it made civil protection and civil defence useless. This was a mistake the Government made many years ago. It recommended its civil defence proposals to the country in terms of protection of the population in the case of nuclear war. That was a mistake. It appeared so much as though the Government had thought that a nuclear war was winnable and that it could be coped with. It even appeared as though the Government were putting forward their civil defence proposals as a kind of excuse and defence for their obsession with nuclear weapons, which is a feature of their defence policy.

My Lords, what happened? What happened is what one would expect. Having made the case for civil defence in controversial political terms, of course the Government opened the way for crackpots in all kinds of local authorities to reply in an equally unbalanced political manner. That is how we have arrived at the deplorable situation which the noble Viscount outlined. That is precisely because civil defence was presented to the public in the terms which the noble Viscount used and which the Government were using some years ago. It was thesis and antithesis, to use a phrase which some of the members of the local authorities mentioned will easily understand.

What have the Government learnt since those years? I remember very many years ago complaining very strongly to Sir Patrick Mayhew, who was then in charge of the presentation of the case for civil defence. It was bogged down in the concept of whether protection was possible against nuclear war and that civil defence was something quite broader, far more important and far more likely to be useful than protection against nuclear war. Whether or not it was because of my representations, the Government in fact changed their mind. Now they are presenting civil defence, or civil protection as it really is, as something non-political, humanitarian and applying to the whole range of emergencies which can threaten the citizen. That is right.

I have the greatest respect for the noble Viscount. We know well the kind of people that these local authorities are and how difficult they are to handle. No one knows that better than the Opposition Front Bench in this House and the Leader of the Labour Party. They are the experts and know even more about those councils than do the noble Viscount and I. If one is going to handle them, the worst way to go about it is to say that the whole purpose is to protect the citizen in the case of nuclear war. It is untrue. If one is going to bring the nuclear factor into it, it is not nuclear bombs, but Chernobyl which is the answer to such local authorities.

The Russians had civil defence around Chernobyl but it worked badly and failed. Chernobyl showed the enormous value of civil defence in nuclear terms. None of the members of these local authorities can deny that Chernobyl showed the need for civil defence even on the nuclear front and far more than all the emergencies for which they are now geared.

I agree with the noble Viscount that we need an answer from the Minister. We need to know how many local authorities are co-operating, how many are refusing to, and what the Government are doing. I hope the noble Lord will take this opportunity also of telling us what lessons have been learnt from the Chernobyl disaster and, even more important, whether those lessons have been applied. What has changed in government policy and action as a result of Chernobyl? That is relevant and will interest the House. I can assure the Minister that to the extent to which the Government concentrate on the broad purpose of civil defence, and the extent to which they give it the resources that it needs, they will continue to have the backing of my noble friends and myself.

8.4 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful that the Question has been posed tonight by my noble friend Lord Mersey because I want to address the relationship between central and local government that has been much touched upon in the debate so far.

The Government cannot be satisfied that all local authorities are complying with the current civil protection regulations and guidelines, because they are not doing so. And of those that are not complying, most—if not all—have determined politically to thwart all efforts of the Government to establish a national network of emergency planning through the offices of local authorities. Too many council chambers—and I know them well—are turned into mini-Westminsters, discussing anything from nuclear-free zones, defence policies, South Africa and a host of other subjects which have little relevance to local government. It is interesting to me that it is often the same councillors and very often the same local authorities that are involved in discussing many of these issues.

Protection of the people must remain a concern of national government. It is however appropriate that the operational implementation of policy for protection should be a responsibility of local authorities. So often when it comes to emergency disasters it is an area of autonomy very much at local level which often needs to be brought into play.

The Government have been extremely tolerant of those local authorities which have found every way possible to delay, frustrate, circumvent and often to overtly oppose the preparation of emergency plans. The authority which I represent—Cambridgeshire County Council—has always taken its responsibilities on this issue very seriously. It was one of the very first authorities—probably the first authority—to pioneer the all-hazards approach to emergency planning, taking the view that an emergency is an emergency is an emergency.

We were delighted when my noble friend Lord Glenarthur came to Cambridgeshire and, in the presence of my noble friend Lord Renton, endorsed that policy as one that the Government would support and from then on would advocate. It really does not matter to those interested in emergency planning whether the emergency is a collision of aircraft, a chemical explosion, floods, fire, nuclear reactor emergency, or of course any kind of war-time emergency. The fact is that a community well prepared and with systems and strategies that can be triggered when necessary will do much to minimise the risk to its people and its property.

It is not only the Londons, the Manchesters and the Liverpools which are the recalcitrant authorities. In Cambridgeshire, however progressive we may be and however positive in our approach to emergency planning, nevertheless within our borders we have two nuclear-free zones showing all the signs of deliberate prevarication.

Nuclear-free zones are a concept without any substance, and of course without any practical meaning. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned that Chernobyl had changed all that; and it has. I had hoped that Chernobyl would make it rather easier for those authorities who are genuinely concerned and share the concern of many of our people about nuclear weapons and all that they entail and who would like to be rid of them. Would not we all!

Chernobyl has proved that a nuclear-free zone as a concept is a nonsense and that planning is ever more essential. All of those authorities should now be coming in from the cold and getting involved positively in effective emergency planning. However, those local authorities which have determined a nuclear-free zone policy and are not prepared to have effective emergency planning are guilty not only of opposing the law of the land but also of seriously neglecting the proper protection of their own people in their own areas.

There are two kinds of worlds that we all know about. There is the one that we would all like to live in—the nuclear-free and disaster-free world—but there is another world that we all inhabit, and that is the real world. We cannot disinvent nuclear weapons or nuclear power. Therefore, we have to live with them and we must do all in our power to offer as much protection as is practicable to the people who may one day need it.

So many of these councils which get involved in this kind of nonsense are also guilty in one or two other areas. Certainly they are guilty of the misuse of time and the misuse of money. I think it was Professor Reagan who made a study of the amount of money spent by local authorities on this issue. At the last estimate it was about £10 million and rising.

There is an irony too in the concerted effort of nuclear-free zone authorities, as mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey; they who are the first to oppose any kind of central diktat, respond to a central diktat by writing the very same letter to Government on the matter of ineffective production of emergency planning.

National government must set the parameters within which we have to work in local authorities. Emergency planning of course requires—I emphasise "requires"—co-operation between local and national government, fire and police authorities and the professional and voluntary sectors. I can think of no area in the land where the relationship between the voluntary sector and the professional sector is more positive, constructive and effective.

Local authorities indulging in—and I understand this is the modern jargon—creative compliance offer their people nothing positive; rather, they increase the element of risk because, without sound planning and emergency procedures, the consequences for the people in those areas are potentially serious. Political self-indulgence and the deliberate thwarting of government policy that has been arrived at democratically should not be tolerated. Protection of the people is too important an issue.

In reply to the question posed by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, I hope that the Government's response will be that they are not satisfied and that they will use all their power to require those recalcitrant authorities to come into line, for they have been getting away with it for far too long. The legislation is in place, and I support the call to Government to take a much tougher line with dissident local authorities.

8.12 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, it is a pleasure for me to follow my noble friend Lady Blatch, not only because she was a constituent of mine and I have witnessed her rise in local government, culminating in her becoming leader of Cambridgeshire county council—and a very effective one—but also because of the way in which she got going with her maiden speech and has followed it up so soon on a subject in which she is well versed. I was not able to congratulate her at the time as I was not speaking in the debate. In her work on Cambridgeshire-County Council she played a leading and effective part in helping the county council to do what it is required to do splendidly in terms of civil defence and civil protection. I have reason to know as I have the honour to be president of Cambridgeshire Emergency Volunteers.

I thank my noble friend Lord Mersey for initiating the debate. It is important and timely. I am also thrilled—if that is not too strong a word—by the interest that he has taken in civil defence. Not enough people take a leading part in it in either House. I wish to congratulate him on becoming president of SESO (the Society of Emergency Service Officers).

I was interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. I was reminded that time was when civil defence, whenever it was discussed, was befuddled by two assumptions of the CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: first, that the only nuclear hazard was from nuclear weapons; and, secondly, that the only wartime emergency that anyone had to contemplate was a nuclear holocaust against which there was said to be no defence.

Since Chernobyl it should have become clear to even the most indoctrinated politicians that we must be ready to protect our people in peacetime from fall-out caused by another nuclear power station accident of the Chernobyl type. Although it is unlikely to arise in this country, scores of different kinds of nuclear power stations not only in Russia but on the Continent might produce another Chernobyl. It is a sad thought, but it could happen.

Let me stress that local authorities, civil defence authorities and civil protection authorities are required by law enacted by Parliament to be ready to help and protect their people in the event of any serious emergency in peace or war. Peacetime emergencies nowadays can include industrial accidents on a vast scale, such as occurred at Flixborough in Lincolnshire some years ago or at Bhopal in India, which I happened to visit earlier this year. They also include the danger of radioactive fall-out from an explosion at a nuclear station.

I am proud to say that we have not yet had a major nuclear accident in this country, but we must not assume that it could never occur. Central and local government have a duty to be ready to prepare for the worst and to protect our people if the worst should happen. It does not cost much. The Government already pay 75 per cent. of the overall cost. If we are ready to deal with fall-out in peacetime, very little extra effort is needed to protect people from fall-out in wartime. I remind noble Lords opposite that, thanks to the firm stand taken by successive governments since the war in keeping the nuclear deterrent going, if we are involved in a war it is less likely to be a nuclear war than one fought with conventional weapons. There have been over 30 wars since 1945 in the world and we have been involved in some of them, but not one nuclear weapon has been used.

In preparing to protect our people in the event of peacetime and wartime emergencies, I think that there are four essentials. They are, first, a professionally efficient but fairly small number of public officers and specialists, scientific officers; secondly, a large number of volunteers such as we have in Cambridgeshire and, indeed, in Devon and several other counties; thirdly, enough of the right equipment (especially communications equipment) and instruments for detecting fall-out; and fourthly, and not least, purpose-built and well protected operating centres. The Government pay the cost of most of it. It is extraordinary how obstinate some people are—and I use a moderate word. My noble friend has already described the extraordinary attitude of those who have nuclear-free zones, but I should like to add some stronger words. Only blind prejudice, irresponsibility or both can make people so wilfully callous as to continue to fail to perform the duties imposed upon them by Parliament for the protection of the public. I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Arran has to say on these matters.

8.20 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, saw me smile when he said that we on these Benches were the authorities in regard to the lunatic politics of certain local authorities. I hope that he will equally smile when I say that he really ought not to make remarks about lunatic politics at the moment until his own lunatic politics and those of another party have been completed and then I have no doubt that we shall all enjoy a very good universal smile.

The matter which is being debated in this House is the result of the Motion very kindly put down by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey. It has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Renton—who immediately preceded me—that he thought it was very timely that this Motion should be put down. The noble Viscount expressed some apprehension about the behaviour of certain local authorities. I am a little bemused by this, because just before the general election and before Parliament was dissolved on 7th May in another place, Mr. Hunter asked the Secretary of State for the Home Office, if all the local authorities required to do so under the planned programme for implementation have submitted their plans compiled under the Civil Defence Regulations 1938; and if he will make a statement". Mr. Hogg on 7th May by way of Written Answer in another place—and he was the responsible Minister at the Home Office—replied as follows: The PPI"— as the noble Lords will realise that is the vernacular for planned programme for implementation— is a rolling three-year programme setting out a series of monitoring targets for all the requirements of the 1983 regulations. The first target date in respect of plans is 1st October this year. All the initial PPI meetings with individual county authorities have been completed satisfactorily". That was the Government's Answer on 7th May 1987. I am quoting from col. 516 of the Hansard of the other place on 7th May.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is expressing amazement—and so one ought if one heard the debate that has just taken place. It does not seem to me so very timely, first, because we have not reached 1st October. I should have thought it was more sensible to see the replies and the plans of local authorities rather than quote draft letters which may or may not be sent and which may or may not deserve the description of the noble Viscount. However, that is not my main contribution to the debate this evening.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that part of his speech which he says is not his main contribution—it will be interesting to hear the rest—I wonder whether he will bear in mind that we are now at 22nd July. We are about to enter August and then September and the 1st October follows immediately. It is abundantly plain from the evidence already given by my noble friends, and from evidence which I have at my disposal here, that the nuclear-free zone authorities—and we know their attitudes—have embarked upon a long-term stalling exercise which appears to have the deliberate intention of not being ready by 1st October. I can assure the noble Lord that that is so. I can provide him with the evidence. I do not want to take time in the middle of his speech repeating it all. But does he support them in that attitude?

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has made a second address to the House, but I do not quarrel with that. The Minister responsible in regard to civil defence on 7th May of this year—a matter of only a couple of months ago—said with all the responsibility and consideration that go into a Written Answer that meetings have taken place in regard to the implementation of the programme: All the initial PPI meetings with individual county authorities have been completed satisfactorily". [Official Report, Commons. 7/5/87. col. 516.] The noble Lord, Lord Renton, expressed surprise both facially and I think by some vocal announcement to the House when I read that out. I am not surprised that he is surprised but I am surprised that the noble Viscount thinks that he has to raise this matter before the House today in view of that reply. As I said, that is not my main contribution to this debate.

Any Government and any Opposition that does not take the protection of the public seriously and act with all reasonable precautions in order to bring civil defence up to a proper standard would deserve from me and from my colleagues on these Benches the adjective "irresponsible", and that applies to the matters that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, brings always so usefully to this House. They are matters of national emergency where he feels that civil defence training is of great use and civil defence personnel can be used. We cannot sit down with equanimity and say, "Our country is exempt from national disasters". They can happen. By the grace of God they are very few by virtue of many attributes that this country has.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred to the very logical reaction of many people to the initial discussion in regard to nuclear war when he said that it looked as though the Government of the day was saying to the people of this country. "Don't worry, a nuclear war is bound to leave certain survivors and certain things to do". And there were those who were a little incredulous with regard to those matters. The House will know that there were many medical and scientific authorities who threw their weight behind the argument that this was not realistic. However, I entirely agree: Chernobyl has changed all that. There could just as easily be—heaven forbid!—an accident here. I hope that we have taken greater precautions than the Russians took; but, nevertheless, it could happen here.

However, what the Government have failed to do—and I put this to the Minister of that time a couple of years ago and I have never had an answer to it—and what the Government ought to do by way of responsibility, is this. Looking at Chernobyl it was not a local area matter: it was a matter that not only spread over the Soviet Union but to countries far from the Soviet Union and even to our own shores.

The Government plan the protection of our people through local authorities. Let us take it for granted for one moment that some local authorities have acted irresponsibly in this matter. What do a government who accept the responsibility for the protection of our people do? Do they have debates like this? Do they read on drafts of local authorities who, it is said, are submitting plans in an ambiguous and useless fashion? Do they go on debating, writing letters, and protesting, as the noble Baroness in her eloquent speech suggested? No, my Lords. A government that really believe in their policy in regard to nuclear defence, as well as any other defence, say that this is not a local area matter. We learnt this from Chernobyl, if we did not know it before.

This is a national responsibility. We take responsibility for it nationally. In the same way as with the fire authority, regional authorities will deal with the matter. The Government will consult local authorities where local authorities co-operate. Where they do not want to co-operate the Government will try to consult, but if local authorities still do not co-operate they will act just the same because they believe in responsibility. Therefore these are arguments about local authorities, some of them irresponsible and some of them responsible, in relation to a great national matter of importance that has been discussed today and previously. We can go on arguing about some of the local authorities and what are described as their lunatic activities.

I throw the gauntlet down to the Government now. Let us assume that this is responsibly to be dealt with by the Government. Do they want to deal with it and not get off cheaply by subscribing only a certain amount towards the grant for civil defence purposes and by leaving it as a debating measure with certain local authorities which feel they have other priorities in this day and age—they may be right or they may be wrong? A government who sincerely believe in civil defence and the sort of things that ought to be done to protect our nation will bravely take the task upon their own shoulders, organise it regionally and consult those local authorities that are prepared to consult them.

8.31 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I should first like to tell my noble friend Lord Mersey how grateful I am to him for introducing this debate tonight in your Lordships' House. Equally I express my thanks to all other noble Lords, all of whom have made a very valuable contribution and who in doing so now enable me to update your Lordships on the Government's current situation concerning civil protection.

My noble friend has once more drawn to your Lordships' attention an important element in our civil defence planning and preparedness. His particular interest in the local authority aspects of this is clear from his contributions in your Lordships' House, and I am sure it is right to acknowledge the commitment and understanding which underpins his contributions. Indeed, as I am sure my noble friend will soon discover, the depth of his knowledge inevitably far exceeds mine as a newcomer to this subject. But I readily understand his main concern, and I hope I shall be able to respond to it.

Although my noble friend's Question relates to civil protection, I believe that originally it referred to civil defence. He is, I think, clear about our terminology, but other noble Lords may not be. It may be helpful to consider this for a moment. Civil defence, as defined in the Civil Defence Act 1948, relates to measures taken against hostile attack on this country. Under that Act regulations are made from time to time prescribing duties and providing for financial support by way of grant aid. But for peacetime emergencies, with the exception of certain designated industrial sites which could represent a major accident hazard, there are no directly comparable statutory duties. Local authorities are able to spend money under the general power of Section 138 of the Local Government Act 1972 to take action to mitigate the effects in their area of an emergency or disaster.

"Civil protection" is a term in common use among our European neighbours. It recognises that there can be common aspects in planning for responding to emergencies however they might arise. This all-hazards approach, as it is called, is recognised by this Government, and indeed was given effect by the Civil Protection in Peacetime Act 1986, to whose passage the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made a major contribution. Against this background, I shall focus my remarks on the fact that Parliament has laid specific duties on local authorities in relation to planning for war emergencies, which I think is the point at the heart of my noble friend's interests.

It may help your Lordships if I set out briefly what those requirements are. Under the Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) Regulations 1983 all local authorities at county level (and this now includes fire and civil defence authorities in the former metropolitan counties) are required to make, keep under review and revise plans for a number of specified services; establish, equip and maintain emergency centres; arrange for training of staff; take part in training exercises; make arrangements in respect of volunteers; and when requested implement their plans.

We are concerned tonight principally with the first of these duties, since planning must be the prerequisite to other actions. The specific matters on which local authorities are required to make plans are set out in Schedule 2 to those 1983 regulations. I shall not weary your Lordships with the whole list. Suffice it to say that these particular requirements relate to all those ways in which local authorities would be expected to extend the operation of their services into a wartime situation: for example, providing shelter, rescuing trapped people, providing accommodation, emergency feeding, sanitary arrangements and clearance of damage will be but a few of the wartime requirements. Above all, there are requirements to co-ordinate action and to provide and distribute information to the public, who may be in panic.

Let me summarise the progress which has been made to implement the 1983 regulations. Your Lordships may be aware of a Statement made in another place on 22nd July 1986 by my honourable friend the Minister of State. Copies of this and the accompanying report are in the Library. This Statement indicated that a number of local authorities were making encouraging progress in meeting their civil defence responsibilities. The rate of progress had, however, been very varied and there was a great deal still be be done before there could be a satisfactory and balanced state of preparedness across the country, as my noble friend the Minister of State recently indicated in response to a Question from my noble friend Lord Mersey. In these circumstances the Government decided to introduce a planned programme for implemenation (PPI) of the 1983 regulations. The PPI set a rolling three-year programme to monitor progress, discuss budgets and agree objectives and set six-monthly target dates for assessing the plans required to be made by county level local authorities in accordance with Schedule 2 to the 1983 regulations.

Following consultation with the local authority associations details of the PPI were sent to local authorities on 30th October 1986 under cover of Home Office Circular, Emergency Service 1/86. As a result of further discussion with the local authority associations, extension of the guidance, including guidelines for the preparation of plans, was issued to local authorities on 20th March this year as Emergency Service 1/87.

Meetings were held at the turn of the year between the Home Office and each of the 54 county level local authorities. These meetings provided an opportunity to discuss a range of matters relating to emergency planning, and in particular to clarify mutual expectations. Although the meetings provided confirmation of the wide variations in the rate of progress, at the same time, however, they helped to obtain a commitment from all the authorities to respond to the PPI timetable and an acceptance of the need to give priority to making the plans required by the 1983 regulations. I have to tell your Lordships that despite the occasional sound of sabre rattling, no authority is specifically refusing to meet its statutory obligations.

The Government are not of course so naive as to believe that every local authority is now applying itself to civil defence planning with equal vigour and enthusiasm. It is the precise purpose of the PPI to allow us to see what progress is being made by individual authorities and to channel resources and guidance accordingly. I should make it quite clear that the Government expect to see value for money in relation to the very generous levels of grant which they pay. To this end, assessment of progress will be reflected in the determination of the level of grant payable in each case.

The meetings with individual authorities have also provided an opportunity to discuss budget estimates in some detail. Wherever possible estimates for 1987–88 were formally approved at that stage for the purpose of adancing grant. The budgets of 41 authorities have now been approved. The remainder are awaiting resolution of points of detail and no question of withholding grant currently arises.

Financial provision has been greatly enhanced by the Civil Defence (Grant) (Amendment) Regulations 1987 which have enabled all civil defence staff related costs to become eligible for 100 per cent. grant aid. The Government expect that this will provide further encouragement to local authorities to fulfil their statutory obligations.

The next important date in the PPI calendar will be 1st October by which time county level authorities will be required to submit further progress reports together with information on the objectives of each plan and the organisation necessary to achieve them. All local authorities will by now have received a letter advising them of the details of the information requested. When that information has been received and assessed, a further report will be made to the Secretary of State. and the Government will then be in a better position to judge the levels of compliance generally.

To summarise the position, therefore, I can tell your Lordships that all the indications at present are that every local authority intends to meet its statutory obligations, but as I have said the levels of enthusiasm with which those tasks are approached will vary considerably. Where resistance is encountered it will be the Government's intention to seek achievement of satisfactory results by discussion and persuasion rather than by bringing legal sanctions to bear. I know that my noble friend has strong views on what course the Government should take. I must however tell your Lordships that the Government regard the application of legal sanctions as very much a move of last resort. There has been a broadly encouraging response to the PPI and it is the Government's intention to meet that response as constructively as possible.

That is, in summary, where the Government now stand on the implementation of the 1983 regulations. Good progress has been made but there is a great deal to do. We shall continue with resolve and purpose and forge ahead stage by stage with the course charted out in July last year.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend but my point is terribly important. He has used the phrase, "county level civil defence authorities". Does that phrase include the joint fire and civil defence authorities?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I must confess straightaway that I am not absolutely certain. Perhaps my noble friend will allow me to write to him on that point.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, it may be that interruptions at this stage, and limited to this stage, will help the noble Earl. I wish to be entirely fair to him. He was not to know that I was going to make a suggestion which I made two years ago and it would be quite unfair to ask him to reply to it. I wonder whether he would kindly deal with the matter of regional authorities and government responsibility for what is national safety, not now but either by letter or by a Statement in the House at some future time. Obviously I shall leave him to choose his own method of dealing with it and I hope he feels that I have used with him the courtesy that he undoubtedly deserves.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for those remarks. Of course I shall answer those questions in writing. I most earnestly thank him for the courteous way he has put those questions this evening.

Perhaps I may turn briefly to a few individual points that have been raised. My noble friend Lord Mersey and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, were worried about nuclear-free zones. I am not aware of any authority saying that it will not meet its statutory obligations. We shall be looking for evidence that their functions are being carried out. We pay substantial sums and high levels of specific grant. We need to be sure that the money is being used properly and is directed as effectively as possible. My noble friend Lord Renton asked about the spending for 1987–88. The answer is approximately £105 million.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and my noble friend Lord Renton expressed considerable anxiety about the effects of Chernobyl. Noble Lords may be familiar with a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place on 30th June. My right honourable friend made it clear that the main framework of the new contingency plan to cater specifically for the consequences for the country of nuclear accidents outside the United Kingdom was complete. My right honourable friend went on to set out the main features of the new plan and to explain that it will be kept under review, will be exercised, and, where necessary, will be improved. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is quite right to stress the wide range of matters covered by the civil protection arrangements and Chernobyl has reinforced these in public consciousness.

We have had a most useful debate and I am once again grateful to my noble friend for providing an opportunity for discussing the subject of our emergency planning arrangements. I should like to leave your Lordships with a positive message. Some encouraging progress has been made in local authority civil defence planning. The planned programme now in operation will assist local authorities in knowing what is expected of them, and will help them in discharging the statutory duties which Parliament has placed on them. At the same time, the PPI is providing the Government with a means of ascertaining whether the necessary planning work is being carried out, and furthermore whether it is being done in a way which will give value for money. It is the Government's firm intent to ensure that these statutory responsibilities are carried out.

We believe that the best way forward in the present circumstances is by encouragement, guidance and assistance, and we look forward to working in close co-operation with the local authorities as they tackle these important tasks.