§ Order for Second Reading read9.41 am
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is the second time within the comparatively short period that I have been a Member of this place that I have had the extreme good fortune of drawing among the top names in the private Member's Bill ballot. Some seven years ago, almost immediatedly upon arrival, I found myself in the happy position of introducing a Bill. The House will probably recall that it contained the proposition that public houses should be allowed to remain open on the basis of flexible hours and should be allowed to have family rooms. I failed to win the support of the House then, but I have good reason to believe that the Government are likely to promote a similar measure in the not-too-distant future. I hope that, better late than never, such a measure will be placed on the statute book.
More relevantly, I trust that it will not be eight years before the Bill is enacted. I am quite confident that my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench are in fuller support of this measure than they were seven years ago of my previous Bill.
It is a simple Bill which is aimed at extending the provisions of civil defence, which were initially ruled by the Civil Defence Act 1948, so that the civil defence organisation and its personnel may be used for peacetime emergencies as well as those of wartime. Three years after the second world war those who were then in authority did not think beyond the military measures which were needed to defend our country against such disasters. Having, happily, enjoyed many years of peace, it is now time to turn our attention less to wartime measures and more to peacetime needs while never forgetting the possibility that we may once again be embroiled in war, however much we all wish to avoid that fate.
The Bill is designed to encourage, but not to enforce, the use of civil defence personnel in the fighting of peacetime disasters. I shall explain the background to the Bill, but before doing so I should like to thank those who have helped me in its preparation. I thank especially my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office and his officials, who have been extremely helpful in drafting the Bill and in my consultations with them in determining precisely how I should go about putting the Bill before the House. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who suggested that I should take up the Bill. His invaluable help has supported me throughout its preparation and I welcome his presence in the Chamber today.
I thank Mr. Tony Hibbert and the National Council for Civil Defence, whose parliamentary representative I was proud to be about six years ago and whose work in the preparation and encouragement of civil defence has been extremely necessary. It has been the bulwark on which civil defence has advanced over the past few years. Last, but by no means least, I thank Mr. Eric Alley, whose civil defence work at Easingwold in advising the Home Office and assisting me with the Bill has been invaluable.
588 The background to the Bill arises from the Civil Defence Act 1948, in which a civil defence corps was set up to provide a disaster mechanism whereby the civilian population could be helped in the event of Britain being attacked by another power. Sadly, that organisation was disbanded in 1968 when a Government of a different persuasion from the present Administration felt that there was no longer a military or wartime need for such an organisation. I hope that the Opposition now see the importance and value of such an organisation for dealing with peacetime disasters. The skeleton force which remained after the civil defence corps was disbanded was still in existence, but only just, in 1979. Government expenditure at that date was about £20 million in support of the civil defence organisation.
In 1980, a Conservative sub-committee was set up under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), who is now the Minister for Trade. Its remit was to examine civil defence needs. I was happy to serve as a member of the committee. It considered the needs of the civil defence organisation and what should be done to promote it in terms of wartime preparations only. It reported to Viscount Whitelaw, who was the then Home Secretary. I am glad to say that many of the committee's recommendations have been implemented by the Government and that over the past few years there has been a steady improvement in the back-up facilities of civil defence in the training at Easingwold and in the numbers of those who are involved in the organisation.
The real breakthrough did not come until 1983, when the Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) Regulations set out clear duties for local authorities in the setting up of civil defence organisations in their own areas. Many of the provisions within the regulations are relevant to the peacetime operation of civil defence functions and I hope to illustrate that.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
My hon. Friend will be aware of all the dicussions that took place before the regulations were made. It is unfortunate that many local authorities are still evading their responsibilities under them. I welcome my hon. Friend's Bill, but I fear that by its nature it may not be able to force recalcitrant local authorities to carry out their duties. Does my hon. Friend think that his Bill might engender the attitude that civil defence is not about wartime planning alone? Does he believe that it will lead to a realisation that civil defence involves planning generally and that there is no reason why political authorities, even of persuasions different from ours as Conservative Members, should oppose it?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I acknowledge my hon. Friend's great expertise in civil defence matters and the great amount of work that he has put into them. I accept that the Bill's provisions will not force local authorities to undertake the peacetime use of their civil defence organisations. I regret that in some ways, but I feel that my objective is better won by persuasion than by force. I hope that we shall encourage individuals to volunteer and local authorities to fulfil more willingly their duties under the 1983 regulations and set up civil defence organisations that will be effective even in those zones that have been so misguidedly described as nuclear-free. 589 As I have said, the breakthrough came in 1983 with the civil defence regulations and the Government's undertaking to adopt an all-hazards approach to civil defence. That breakthrough has been embraced by the Bill. It was decided that the civil defence organisation should become a larger body and one capable of dealing with emergencies that arise out of wartime or peacetime disasters, as well as encouraging local authorities to prepare for any emergencies and to ensure that the co-operation of their local emergency services, local authority services and volunteers is such that there is a readiness and ability at any time to respond to emergencies.
The obvious question is whether and to what extent the 1983 regulations are relevant to peacetime disasters. Some of them are clearly not, because they are designed to deal with war. One example is the provision for the preparation of shelters. However, seven of the 12 regulations in schedule 2 are relevant. I shall deal with them in detail.
Paragraph 5 states:plans should be made for providing a service for the rescue of people in damaged buildings. Such plans should draw together the resources of fire brigades, works and engineering directorates, voluntary organisations, civil defence volunteers and private sector civil engineering firms.I can think of no more concise definition of the way in which a local authority should prepare itself for the type of emergency which might happen at any time in any place.
Paragraph 6 states:plans should be made for the billeting and temporary accommodation and maintenance of people made homeless by attack."—and by any other disaster.
Paragraph 7 states:plans should be made for the prevention of disease and of the spread of disease, particularly for emergency sanitation and removal and disposal of refuse likely to case a hazard to public health.In the event of flooding or other such disaster that type of service will be necessary to deal with the aftermath.
Paragraph 9 states:plans should be made for the distribution, conservation and control of food and the provision of emergency feeding services for those … who are without food or the means of preparing it.Paragraph 10 states:plans should be made for work services for the urgent repair, replacement, demolition or clearance of land, buildings or roads. Local authorities have their own engineering works services, but their plans will need to include arrangements to use other appropriate resources outside their normal peacetime control and the regional arrangements.Paragraph 11 states:plans should be made for the provision and maintenance of services essential to the life of the community other than those mentioned in the preceding paragraphs.Paragraph 12 states:plans should be made for the participation in civil defence of voluntary organisations".
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
We are anxious for my hon. Friend's useful Bill to be put on the statute book as soon as possible. He has given a list of so many possibilities using a wartime network of facilities which could be used in peacetime. Perhaps in Committee we can add a schedule illustrating the type of incidents for which such facilities might be used.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. We could certainly examine that possibility in Committee. However, such a schedule might 590 be more exclusive than helpful because it might then be possible to say that because an incident is not listed in the schedule the facilities cannot be used. I shall examine the suggestion closely in Committee.
The 1983 regulations impose a statutory duty upon local authorities to train and organise. That duty is contained in regulation 4(1)(f). The specific duties spelt out in detail are that local authorities should undertake the recruitment, organisation, training and exercising of civil defence volunteers to provide vital humanitarian and support services within the community in time of war. Under my Bill, that duty will remain. The Bill does not impose a duty on local authorities to use those services in peacetime, but it removes the prohibition in the 1948 Act under which local authorities cannot use those services in peacetime. It will enable local authorities to use such services normally if they wish.
It is a sad fact that only 9,000 volunteers are serving in the civil defence reserves. About 2,000 of those are in Devon, so only 7,000 cover the country outside that county. That is clearly inadequate to deal with the many emergencies that might arise in peacetime, let alone with what might happen to our civilian population should we have the misfortune to come under attack.
In addition to the 9,000 volunteers, 1,200 scientific advisers give their knowledge voluntarily to local authorities and try to assist with some of the difficult scientific questions with which they have to grapple in the complications of defence.
I have not mentioned the WRVS and the St. John ambulance brigade which have an extremely important part to play in peacetime and wartime emergencies. They already exist and are outside the Bill's scope.
If the Bill is passed, one of the primary advantages will be to encourage people to volunteer for the civil defence reserves. We all hope that there will not be another war. I am glad that the threat of such a war seems remote to most people, although on my wireless yesterday as I drove to the House I heard a programme in which it was said that the young people of Britain are more concerned than adults about the danger of a European war. We are attempting to safeguard their future and they are most likely to volunteer for such a service.
I hope that we can encourage the recruitment and training of young people 5,0 that their skills can be used not only if there is a war but on a regular basis in peacetime emergencies which affect their local communities. I hope that we shall be able to convert the 9,000 to more than 100,000. We need that number if we are to cover the ground so that the service can be of help throughout the land.
I shall deal in detail with the circumstances in which a civil defence organisation can be useful in peacetime. I shall attempt to illustrate that need with what has been happening here and abroad.
The Government are aware of the possibility of such an organisation being needed and they believe that it would be useful. My noble Friend Lord Elton took up the matter in a debate instigated by Lord Renton, who pressed for precisely this type of legislation. Lord Elton said:The expertise, the emergency planning teams and the industrial emergency services officers, the emergency plans for such things as emergency feeding and housing and other forms of care, the county and district emergency centres with their widespread communications links, the well-established liaison arrangements with the police, fire and ambulance service, and the involvement of volunteers already trained to act in grave 591 emergencies, ought also to be available in time of peace, and we remain absolutely committed to legislation." — [Official Report, House of Lords, 6 February 1985; Vol. 459, c. 1091-2.]
The type of emergency of which Lord Elton was thinking and of which I am thinking today can arise out of two causes—natural disaster or man-made disaster. We tend to be a little complacent about natural disasters because we are mercifully spared the appalling horrors of volcano, flood, hurricane and tornado. Sometimes we underplay the danger that we face.
During harsh winters we suffer severely from blizzards, floods and gales. Between the Humber and Thames estuaries about 250,000 people are at risk from flooding. It is now 33 years since the last great disaster on the east coast. At that time the damage was great and several lives were lost. I shall add a little more detail to that at the end of my speech.
More recently, in 1978, floods and gales in the west country caused widespread damage. The Devon volunteer service was called out, as it frequently is on a local basis, to deal with that emergency. The service it gave was acknowledged by all to be invaluable in helping to avert the full horrors of the crisis which might otherwise have occurred.
My grandmother lived in Dorset until, sadly, she died two or three years ago. In 1978 she lived in a bungalow on top of a hill which was covered in snow. She was unable to get in or out of her bungalow for over a week. She was over 90 at the time, but mercifully she was well prepared for such emergencies, having lived there for a long time and being a sensible lady. However, some old people are not capable of making provision to ride out such weather hazards. If we have no volunteer service, no prepared organisation with adequate personnel to travel round and ensure that elderly people in their homes are properly protected and fed and warm, then we shall lose many lives quite unnecessarily.
The use of the Devon volunteer service in cases like that, and because they are entirely voluntary, can be justified but there is no statutory backing for a local authority using the service in that way and there is a danger that should such use cost public money, somebody who, for whatever reason, decided to obstruct the use of voluntary help at such times, could take out an injunction and would have a good chance of preventing the use of such voluntary help. Clearly, that would be in the interests of no one and I am sure that the use of such services meets with the whole-hearted opprobrium of hon. Members in all parts of the House. But the danger of someone preventing the use of help in that way is real and we must recognise it and deal with it.
In 1976 hurricanes caused extensive damage in Sheffield and Glasgow. That proves that we are not wholly immune from natural disasters, and when we face them the volunteer services have a great role to play. More relevant are the man-made disasters that happen as a result of human or mechanical failing. This is an immensely complicated and every day more dangerous world in which we are creating things largely for the benefit of mankind but also sometimes, unfortunately, to our detriment. Perhaps I could give some examples. There have been many disasters abroad where volunteer help of this kind was essential.
592 At Seveso, dioxin escaped from a chemical plant and vast numbers of people were severely injured. At Bhopal when methylisocyanate escaped, 2,500 people died and 200,000 were injured. We all hope that no such disaster could possibly happen here, but we have plants where equally dangerous chemicals—indeed that very chemical — are stored, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that, through error, or as a result of mechanical failure, we might suffer a disaster on that scale. If we did, I am quite sure we are not remotely in a position to deal with it properly.
At Flixborough in 1974, 12,000 people were put at risk following an explosion at a factory. Some 1,800 houses were damaged and 5,000 people had to be evacuated. That placed our system under enormous stress. I say with confidence that if the proposals in this Bill had been available and had been acted upon locally, a great deal of hardship and suffering could have been avoided. I ask the House to imagine the greater disaster that occurred in Mississauga in Canada a few years ago when as a result of a rail crash there was a similar chemical leakage. A vast gas cloud hung over a local town and 218,000 people had to be evacuated within 24 hours or they would have been at risk of their lives. That could happen here, and if it does, how will we deal with it? I fear that the answer at the moment is that we do not have any kind of service capable or prepared to deal with such emergencies.
§ Sir John Farr
I am following my hon. Friend's speech with great interest. What he is telling the House is disturbing, because it seems that we are not at all prepared to deal with an emergency of the type he has illustrated. Is the House right in assuming that his research has shown that if we were to get an aggravated discharge at Sellafield we would not be able to cope with it?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am quite certain that my hon. Friend is correct. We have no adequate preparation to deal with a massive escape of radioactivity and that is one of the things that most frightens our people. I will not pretend that the setting up of the volunteer type of organisation that I am proposing, or that by encouraging the use of our civil defence services, we shall be able to solve such a problem at a stroke. Any major leak of radioactivity would be beyond the scope of my proposals. However, we ought to be much better prepared to deal with such disasters than we are at present.
Perhaps I could return from the megadisasters of that type to the ones that we have experienced. At the Humber estuary in 1983 there was massive oil pollution, and the volunteer services there were used. The civil defence headquarters and emergency communications system was used to great effect in helping to get rid of the oil pollution and to limit the amount of damage. I should stress that at that time the emergency services were on call and used for 15 days.
One of the most useful ways in which the civil defence organisation can be used to public benefit during such emergencies is to remote from the ordinary local authority administration the sudden burden of dealing with such disasters, because such disasters can take a long time to deal with. As I have said, it took 15 days to deal with that one and at Flixborough it took three months to clear up after the disaster. During the whole of such time the headquarters and communication network of the civil 593 defence can step in and take over so that the local authority can continue the difficult and full time task of ordinary administration in its area.
I do not need to remind the House of the appalling tragedy at Aberfan in 1966 when 144 people, of whom 116 were children, were killed. At that time the civil defence organisation was used to assist, but the administration of the assistance was poor. An effective volunteer service and its effective administration at that time could have done a lot to alleviate the appalling suffering in the aftermath of that disaster. More locally still in terms of going down the scale of disasters from nuclear to the less serious disasters, train crashes happen frequently. We have not yet had aircraft crashes, but by the law of probability one is bound to occur some day in some built-up area. Such disasters call for the kind of emergency services that I hope this Bill will serve to promote.
I cannot put better the need for such services or their value than what was said by the then Lord Mayor of London when he spoke after the 1953 floods. At that time a civil defence corps had been set up under the 1948 Act, and that corps was effective. In 1953 the Lord Mayor said:The emergency proved the value of having thousands of trained workers capable of dealing with the many human and physical problems that have to be solved and dealt with in a disaster of any kind. Britain has never lacked volunteer workers in any emergency that may arise, and splendid work is carried out by all, but organisation and training more than double their effectiveness. The exacting work carried out by civil defence in that great disaster tested methods on control, rescue and welfare to the utmost, and has shown they are sound.That was so in 1953, but it is definitely not so today. I trust that in supporting this Bill the House will enable us to move back to a position where we have a nationwide emergency service for the protection of our people.
§ 10.9 am
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) on his speech and on the sensible Bill that he has introduced. I welcome it, and I was grateful for the opportunity to add my name to the list of sponsors, which is an all-party one.
Emergency planning for peace and wartime disasters has many common ingredients, so the Bill's all-hazards approach must be commended. Homelessness resulting from flood or fire is every bit as tragic as homelessness caused by high explosive attacks, and both must tackled promptly and efficiently. I deliberately avoid using the comparison of nuclear attack, because it is too horrific to contemplate. I speak as one who visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the winter of 1945–46.
As the hon. Member for Upminster asked bluntly, are we adequately prepared for a serious accident at one of our nuclear power stations? I believe that we are probably more prepared than he gave us credit for, because the armed services, the fire brigade and the ambulance services have some training in this regard. However, we must pay more attention to the matter. We must also consider a hydroelectric dam burst or a chemical explosion such as that at Flixborough. Examples from other countries must make us look to our laurels. There were two huge examples of that, the most recent one in Italy.
Despite the magnificent standards of service provided by the fire brigade, police and ambulance service, there is a need for trained civil protection volunteers in each community and the provision of effective community emergency plans. Therefore, we should all welcome the 594 all-hazards approach of the Bill, which was earlier advocated in the "Civil Defence Briefing Guide", 'which I recommended to hon. Members if they have not already read it. It has been updated by a leafet entitled "Civil Protection: The Way Ahead". As the original guide said:Effective civil defence can be created only if it has the support of the general public. This requires a major effort in public relations.I am sure that that is right.
The rationale should be presented as the need to plan for the protection and recovery of all individuals from the effects of all hazards in peace or in war. The case for civil protection is valid, even without reference to the nuclear deterrent. It is important for local authorities, especially county councils, to identify all areas that could be affected by a major peacetime disaster and for the Government to ensure that local authorities are adequately resourced for that purpose.
I speak in the debate before the Minister, but I understand that the Government are allowing the 75 per cent. grant that goes to local authorities to be used for dual purposes in peace or wartime defence. However, I should be happier if the Home Office met the full cost of local staffing. That plea comes from the chief executive of the Isle of Wight county council, Mr. John Horsnell, who may be well known as the chairman of the SOLACE committee of the local authorities and an expert on civil defence. It would help my county council, which I led until recently, especially at budget time. When cuts are the order of the day, this becomes a controversial issue. But if the cost of staffing could be met fully, that argument could be nicely avoided.
For my sins, I am a rapporteur to the Council of Europe. I am conducting an inquiry with the Conservative Member of the European Parliament for York, Mr. McMillan Scott, on disasters affecting our heritage. He has a special interest because of the terrible fire in York Minster. There have been some terrible fires affecting buildings of considerable historic interest in recent years, including one in Luxembourg and two at Trinity college, Dublin. At the beginning of December, we held a hearing in Brussels.
We hope that the inquiry will produce reports back to the Council of Europe and the European Parliament in which we can work out a common code of guidance, not just for the European Community, but for the 21 states of the Council of Europe. We are looking a long way ahead, but we heard evidence from experts not just on fires, which are the main disasters in Britain, but on earthquakes and volcano eruptions, which are especially centred in Italy. It is a move in the right direction. If we can put our house in order and obtain a common approach in Europe, civil defence will fall into line. It should be part of the common code of guidance.
The hon. Member for Upminster has said all that should be said on this issue, and no doubt other hon. Members will contribute to the debate. I congratulate him on introducing the Bill and I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) on his efforts in this area. I would not have been in the House today, speaking as I have, were it not for his persuasion. I wish the Bill a speedy passage on to the statute book.
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) and those who have supported him on promoting the Bill, 595 which I hope will have a speedy passage through the House and will be implemented by local authorities at the earliest opportunity.
As my hon. Friend said, civil defence stems from the united efforts of many organisations during the second world war, including the wardens, the auxiliary fire services, the Home Guard, the WRVS, the Red Cross, the St. John Ambulance service, and, of course, the police. After the war, individuals joined the civil defence service and worked towards keeping that organisation on the top line. That was confirmed by the 1948 Act and administered thereafter by county councils. I was the civil defence commissioner for south-west Scotland, so I saw the outstanding work of the civil defence service in training and preparation and the first-class operational headquarters for my area. There were regular visits to Taymouth castle, the Scottish civil defence training college, and members of the civil defence force were highly trained and well qualified to do the work.
Civil defence worked well during the 1950s and 1960s and was available, as my hon. Friend said, for action in civil emergencies. We had close co-operation with other local authorities. South-west Scotland co-operated closely with what used to be Cumberland county council. I have no doubt that, had there been a disaster, the force would have been efficient and effective. As my hon. Friend said, one never knows how horrific a disaster can be. Sadly, my constituency had the worst train disaster in the United Kingdom—at Gretna Green during the first world war—when more than 400 soldiers were killed on their way to the front. Had there been an effective civil defence service at the time, I am sure that some lives would have been saved. Many of those poor soldiers were burned in the wooden carriages. Had an effective fire service been near at hand, many lives could have been saved.
My hon. Friend was right to highlight the possibility, although we wish never to see it, of a major air disaster or, indeed, a major fire, flood or other natural disaster. We all agree to an extent that the value of civil defence has been reduced slightly by the increasing importance of the public protection services—the fire brigade, ambulance service and police — which are highly efficient. The Health Service also provides first-class protection.
We need to highlight the advantage of having a very large number of highly trained volunteers who are prepared to give their time and to take over responsibility at the shortest possible notice. That is crucially important after any kind of accident, even if it is only a car accident. Somebody needs to be on the spot to take responsibility —whether it be a member of the public or somebody who has been trained in civil defence—so that all of the rescue services can be brought into action as quickly as possible.
Civil defence is vital throughout the country. It is astonishing that some local authorities want to declare nuclear-free zones and to ban civil defence from their territory. They are behaving irresponsibly towards their electors. The nuclear bomb is another matter. Like the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), I, too, went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. I accept that civil defence could do very little to mitigate that kind of disaster. However, it might be able to mitigate the effects 596 of such a disaster on the fringes of the affected area. Civil defence help after a disaster of that kind would be of great value.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the horror of Hiroshima was due to the enormous fire that raged through the city and that its enormity was largely because the houses were made of wood? Therefore, the effect of the fire after the dropping of the nuclear bomb was quite different from the effect of a fire if a nuclear bomb were to be dropped on a city that was constructed of more robust material.
§ Sir Hector Monro
That is true, When I visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki I found that there were acres and acres of complete devastation, with occasionally a concrete building still standing above the wreckage. Fire was the serious result of high-explosive bombardment in other cities that I visited in Japan—for example, in Tokyo and Yokohama — apart from the nuclear bombardment.
I believe firmly in the nuclear deterrent. It means that we shall never have to face the horrors of a nuclear war. We must bear that in mind when considering civil defence. Civil defence will be of primary value when dealing with civil catastrophes. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster highlighted the civil catastrophes at Bhopal, Seveso and Mexico City. I would add the disaster last year at Bradford City football ground. No more could have been done, in the time available, to save more lives. We were impressed by the effectiveness of the public protection service. It was able to come very speedily to the aid of those who were involved in that frightful fire.
One must also commend the large number of people who give voluntary service to our nation. They are members of the Territorial Army, other reserve forces, the Red Cross, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service and many other important voluntary services that do such wonderful work in this country. There are many enthusiastic people who gladly give up their time to learn about civil defence and play their part in preparing for any catastrophe, however, unlikely that might be.
The Bill is important. I hope it will persuade those local authorities who have decided to opt out of civil defence to reverse their decision and to provide the civil defence services that are so urgently required. The Bill ought to be given a speedy passage. I hope that the Government will be as generous as they can in providing financial help to local authorities for this purpose. Therefore I commend to the House my hon. Friend's Bill.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) on introducing his Bill. I am happy to be associated with it as a sponsor. I wish to pay tribute to the work of the old civil defence corps, which has long since been disbanded. It provided a most valuable service both during and after the war. It ensured that the idea of civil defence was retained in the mind of the public. This was necessary because at that time there was a great fear that war could break out again. That kind of service is typified in many of our voluntary organisations. It is based upon hard work and dedication. Service is given without any financial return or without any thought of financial return. 597 There is also a willingness to undertake sometimes dangerous work without thought for the individual's own safety.
I hope that the Bill will have a safe passage through the House. It will have important effects. It will help the public to become aware of the importance of becoming civil defence volunteers. More people are desperately needed to take an interest in the subject. Although certain local authorities have adopted a negative attitude and have not organised themselves properly for civil defence, others have done so extremely well. I am very happy to be able to tell the House that the North Yorkshire county council has well advanced plans for the implementation of a local voluntary civil defence service. They should be viewed by other local authorities in the context of what would be involved if there were a civil disaster in their area, or if the threat of war should arise. This country takes matters of this kind very seriously and it is well organised to deal with disasters. When there is a disaster we have the means at our disposal to deal with it. That is why the Bill is important. It means that local authorities will be able to draw upon the full resources that are available to them to deal with an emergency.
I do not wish to tempt misfortune by adding additional disasters to the list of disasters that have already been so well described. It is possible to go down a path of endless horrors and to cite what has happened in other countries. For example, the hurricane that swept along the east coast of the United States posed a major problem. Over a million people were evacuated from New York because it was anticipated that the hurricane would strike the city. Fortunately, we do not experience hurricanes of that severity, but occasionally there is a great flood or another weather catastrophe that imposes an enormous strain on both individuals and the services upon which they rely. That is where volunteers will be helpful.
At this time of the year, with its "cold wave", it is rather pleasant to think of the 1976 heat wave. There was a serious fire threat in addition to the threat posed by the shortage of water. The water boards handled the problem well by putting in standpipes. Organisations arranged to deliver buckets of water to old people's houses and flats. Such an emergency could arise again and local authorities would be able to act more easily with the assistance of civil defence volunteers.
A noxious substance could infiltrate into the water supplies and people would have to be advised not to drink the water. You may recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, only a short time ago, this problem occurred in the Palace of Westminster when a secretary drank water that had been contaminated by cleaning fluid. She was unwell for a period, but I am glad to say that she was not incapacitated too long. If that incident in the Palace of Westminster were blown up on a wider scale — with chemicals from factories seeping into the water supplies—it would be necessary to mobilise all the volunteers at our disposal to advise people on the action to take.
A number of people are rightly worried that, one day, there might be a rabies scare in Britain. It has been said that the Channel tunnel link could result in infected rats or dogs coming through the tunnel and starting a rabies epidemic. That is going too far. The Government are keen to ensure that every measure is taken to prevent that, and I am confident that that will be done. However, if there were a rabies outbreak, it would be helpful if local authorities could mobilise civil defence authorities to warn 598 people what they should look out for and to work in the areas where the outbreak has occurred to ensure that any carrier of the disease that could be identified was immediately destroyed.
I shall not delay the House with further examples of the emergencies that could arise because they have been well put already. The House understands that there is a need for volunteers to be utilised to assist during these civil emergencies.
Training will be important. It is incumbent on local authorities to extend the scope of training to include the actions that volunteers will have to take if they are brought in to deal with a civil emergency. I hope that the Government will dig into the public purse to find the funds necessary to assist in this training to ensure that it is conducted adequately, comprehensively and nationally. These disasters can occur anywhere in the United Kingdom.
I very much hope that the Bill will be passed and that we can ensure that as many people as possible are involved in assisting those who could be affected should any awful disaster occur.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
I should like to join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) on introducing such s sensible Bill. He is an experienced hand in enjoying success in the ballot for private Member's Bills. He has obviously learnt that one has a greater chance of success if a Bill is not too long. This is a short Bill, but it contains what is needed. Although I have recommended my hon. Friend to add a schedule in Committee, I hasten to say that I would withdraw that suggestion if it were to delay the legislation's progress.
I intervened during the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster to ask him whether our civil defence services in their present state could cope with an aggravated discharge from the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria. My hon. Friend said that he felt that the existing civil defence network was not adequate to deal with that eventuality. That is worrying. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said that we shall never suffer a direct nuclear attack by another country if we remain armed with our own nuclear deterrent—I fully share that view—but there is always the chance that an accident will occur in peacetime involving dangerous nuclear material, such as that reprocessed at Sellafield. For a long time, a large public inquiry has been taking place into the new PWR nuclear generating station at Sizewell. Like most hon. Members, I recognise that Britain has to have a large nuclear generating capacity. We probably lag behind our European competitors. I think that, with a big nuclear capacity, we would be far less likely to suffer aggravated pollution of the atmosphere, the effects of acid rain and all the other problems.
The Sizewell plant was to change the character of British nuclear generation. Instead of generating electricity by a well-proven Magnox or AGR nuclear generator, which have been safe and effective, Sizewell has been engaged in an entirely new venture, switching over to PWR —the type of reactor that is used around the world because of its relative cheapness. That reactor does not have the same safety record that Magnox and the AGR enjoy. 599 We must always be prepared in peacetime for civil emergencies of any type. In referring to the manner in which we generate electricity by nuclear means, I was seeking to point out that a change in policy from AGR and Magnox to PWR could bring added dangers. Many other unforeseen emergencies could arise in peacetime. After all, if we could foresee those emergencies, they would not be emergencies. We cannot foresee what natural or manmade disasters will befall us in peacetime.
I suggest that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who is such a beaver for work, should consider introducing another civil defence Bill. The present civil defence legislation dates back to 1948. The Civil Defence Act 1948 was concerned merely with getting people into shelters. More emphasis should be placed on the fact that the Bill, and any new civil defence legislation that my hon. Friend the Minister introduces, are designed to prepare not only for the unlikely emergency of a nuclear attack but for the far more likely peacetime emergencies. That legislation would perform a useful role on the statute book. The Bill would be widely supported on both sides of the House and it is common sense that it should be introduced today.
I should like to examine the Bill in more detail. Provisions for civil defence in this country were included in the Conservative party election manifesto in 1983. As my hon. Friend the Member for Upminister said, in that manifesto, the Government intended to amend the Civil Defence Act 1948to enable civil defence funds to be used in safeguarding against peacetime emergencies as well as against hostile attacks".We have to a certain extent modernised the role of civil defence by introducing new orders. However, the Civil Defence Act 1948 is out of date and I believe, in tandem with my right hon. Friend the Member for Upminister, that now is the time to introduce a new Act of Parliament.
My hon. Friend referred to some of the climatic hazards and extremes of weather which have occurred in Britain over a short period. An examination of the climatic extremes during the 11-year period to which he referred, from 1968 to 1978 inclusive, reveals a great many incidents. For instance, between 1968 and 1978, many deaths were caused by gales or floods, some of which my hon. Friend referred to, and there were a number of gales and sea floods. The highest number of people killed in any one incident was 28 in central and eastern England in 1976, when 3,800 buildings were damaged. On 13 January 1978, some 26 people were killed on the east coast of Lincolnshire and in Kent, and there were 22 deaths in 1968 in the west of Scotland and Glasgow.
A projection of these statistics over an 11-year period gives an idea of the pattern of incidents which the country has suffered between 1968 and 1978. The country is not actually prone to attack; rather it is exposed to hazards from the environment and its extremes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster referred to the east coast floods which took place ten or 15 years before the 11-year period I have just been talking about. Many parts of the east coast were levelled and the spring tides came into Lincolnshire and parts of the Fen country. I remember that incident, as I was sent to the east coast to try to retrieve what remained of some property belonging to the company I worked for. I took a gang of men and we tried to find what had been left of four hotels 600 which the company owned. The hotels had entirely disappeared from sight,, they had been razed to the ground and all we could trace in each case were the cellars, which were filled with sand but still contained intact bottles of whisky. However, there was no trace left of the hotels or of many houses in the towns affected in Lincolnshire; there were just sand dunes where buildings had been.
That pattern of floods in the 1950s again occurred without warning and with extreme ferocity. If one examines with a magnifying glass a much smaller pattern of hazard events during the winter of 1977–78 caused by climatic conditions, one finds that between the beginning of 1977 and the middle of 1978 there were a number of blizzards in which many people were killed. There was a severe blizzard on 29 January 1978 in north-east Scotland where four people were killed and on 13 January 1978 there were gales and floods on the Lincolnshire coast which resulted in the deaths of 26 people. Again, there was a pattern all over the country of natural climatic hazards.
Having discussed the possibility of nuclear accident and severe hazards of extremes weather, it may be considered farcical to mention the hazards that can be experienced on Britain's motorways. Nevertheless, if one had been in, or witnessed either on television or at first hand, the effects of a multiple pile-up on some sections of the motorway system which are prone to such occurrences, one would not dismiss such incidents lightly. There have been frequent occasions when the motorway services have been over-stretched.
Our motorway emergency services do and have done a splendid job. However, as more and more sections of motorway are improved or opened, as in the case of the M25 orbital motorway around London, the hazards of major motorway pile-ups involving many vehicles are likely to increase. The effects of yesterday's accidents may be trivial, but due to the extra speed and the larger volume of traffic, the effects of accidents tomorrow may be more severe.
I hope that the Bill will not ignore the effects on the civil population of major motorway pile-ups. There have been many major pile-ups which have had tragic results and some have involved up to 100 vehicles. I cannot foresee those accidents becoming less numerous or of less concern to the nation. If the Bill can recognise, without it being enlarged or lengthened too much, the particular concern of hon. Members with motorways in their constituencies, I am sure that the House would be grateful to the hon. Member for Upminster for introducing the Bill.
If one were to take a magnifying glass and examine the pattern of road behaviour over a two-year period and in particular look at the fog-prone areas, one would find that the number of motorway accidents is considerable. Over a two-year period in those areas, no fewer than 14 different major accidents occurred. Of those accidents, two involved 50 vehicles and both occurred around Christmas time. Another two accidents occurred at the same spot at Crawley, one involving 100 vehicles and the other 208 vehicles. There was another large accident, again on the Ml, that involved 48 vehicles, again at Christmas. In the two-year period on the MI, there were five major accidents and over the motorway network as a whole, there was a continual pattern of accidents which caused so much distress, financial loss and bereavement that the House cannot ignore them.
There is another hazard to which the Bill could relate. My hon. Friend might mention it in Committee. There are 601 many plants and factories all over Britain making lethal substances. The number is growing. The number of vehicles which transport such substances is growing. I am not thinking of vehicles which carry active nuclear material; I am thinking of vehicles carrying toxic and unpleasant chemicals.
One does not need to have a vivid imagination to realise what could happen if a large vehicle carrying an unpleasant and toxic liquid were to have an accident which caused serious damage to the vehicle and resulted in the load catching fire or leaking in the middle of a city. Most such vehicles skirt city centres. We must rely largely on the honour of the driver and the company to do that and not to take a short cut through a city late at night. Drivers of such toxic loads, for whom I have the greatest admiration, do not take such short cuts. Where they can, they go round a city, but late at night there must be a temptation to cut corners and go through city centres.
An accident could occur. Is there any way in which the Bill could cope with the hazards which might arise when dangerous and explosive items are carried by commercial vehicles around or through our city centres?
I shall not go into the detail of the sites of such plants; suffice it to say that no fewer than 28 major plants are listed in England and Wales alone which produce or handle exceptionally toxic and dangerous substances. My hon. Friend should take them into account.
The Bill should also relate to major railway accidents. There has been a pattern of such accidents and emergencies, some involving many deaths. Between 1965 and 1984, there was a chain of train accidents involving five or more passenger deaths. With some of those accidents, the House has said that it was remarkable that more people did not lose their lives.
There was the crash at Moorgate when 42 people died. Many experts thought that it was remarkable, and only due to the fantastic work of the professional emergency services, that the death toll was not much higher. Will my hon. Friend look at the record of train accidents to see whether there is some way in which the Bill can help?
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
My hon. Friend is correct. I agree with what he said about the dangers of transporting toxic waste by road. Does he recognise that a rail accident can cause similar problems? In my constituency, four weeks ago, there was a derailment when a train carrying several tankers of petroleum spirit discharged about 40,000 gallons of petroleum spirit at a village in the middle of my constituency. If it were not for the emergency services, there could well have been a terrible disaster. My hon. Friend is correct to highlight that matter.
§ Sir John Farr
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. I am glad to hear that he, like me, has profound admiration for our emergency services and the splendid work that they do. They cope, but they could be overwhelmed by the size of an event.
The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that our civil defence network is on its toes and could help out at a large incident if the professional services were overwhelmed. Civil defence could provide a valuable network to fall back on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster referred to the civil defence orders. They are relatively new. The House may be interested to know why it was necessary to 602 introduce them. Under the Civil Defence Act 1948, local authorities were required to exercise the obligations laid upon them in the 11 clauses of that Act. Unfortunately, in 1982 and 1983 many local authorities, for one reason or another, were not discharging their duties. One misguided reason was that some local authorities thought that the Act and the orders related only to wartime measures. The Bill is geared to peacetime emergencies and catastrophes.
New civil defence orders were introduced in 1983, because in 1982 many local authorities had refused to take part in a Government exercise called Hard Rock. The exercise was abandoned. Some local authorities did not fulfil their obligation to make plans to cope with a civil defence emergency. Four sets of regulations introduced in 1983 increased local authorities' civil defence responsibilities and, in some cases, improved civil defence grants. County councils and the GLC had a duty to review plans for the continuation of a number of essential services, in war, to arrange civil defence training, to participate in training and to provide emergency centres for civil defence direction. All local authorities affected by the Civil Defence Act 1948 must comply with any direction given to them by the Government.
Some local authorities were especially unco-operative before 1983 and to a certain extent after 1983. These authorities have not gone along with Government plans to put civil defence on a modern and effective footing. The Government have increased grants from 75 per cent. to 100 per cent. for civil defence communications, equipment, training and exercises, and the payments to staffs and volunteers. Despite that, there has been a reluctance on the part of some local authorities to adopt Government plans.
The Government were careful when changing the grant regulations. The previous requirement on local authority staffs to participate actively in civil defence was dropped. Local authorities are no longer required to make plans for organising the evacuation of the population — that is done by central Government.
Those local authorities which have been reluctant to cooperate with the Government have been so because they did not agree with civil defence against a nuclear attack. They thought—I think wrongly—that there is no such thing as personal civil defence against a nuclear attack. Such local authorities felt. and some still feel, that their total measure of civil defence is to erect a notice at their city limits which states that it is a nuclear-free zone. I hope my hon. Friend's Bill makes progress on to the statute book and that it is made clear that the Bill intends to cope with unexpected catastrophes which may occur in peacetime. If my hon. Friend can put as much emphasis as possible on this feature, the Bill can and should make great progress.
I should like to refer to the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985—on the Committee on which I had the good fortune to sit for a few months. We had long debates on part I of the Act. Sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 relate to emergency orders and the contamination of food. Section 1 gave the Minister power to make emergency orders when a chemical or industrial accident had occurred which could pollute foodstuffs and other materials. We had long debates on how section 1 would be activated in the event of an industrial accident when large stocks of food were thought to be contaminated. We also had considerable co-operation and discussion — which is relevant to my hon. Friend's Bill — with the local 603 authorities on how their own teams of civil defence workers would help to operate part I of the Act when emergency orders have been made.
I wish my hon. Friend's Bill every success, and I am sure it will reach the statute book at an early date.
§ 11.4 am
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upminister (Sir N. Bonsor) not only on doing well in the ballot yet again—many of us will envy him—but also on being so kind as to agree to put forward this measure on civil defence. I am also grateful to him for his kind remarks.
As the House is aware, I have spent much of the past three and a quarter years trying to obtain all-party consensus on this important matter. I hope that we are now approaching that happy position. The fact that my hon. Friend's Bill enjoys support from all parts of the House suggests that we are moving in that direction. I would like to pay tribute to Mr. Tony Hibbert and the Trebah Trust for their enormous work, largely at their own expense, in promoting civil defence. The trust has received no commercial or any other backing and is not even a registered charity. Those who have contributed in this area have done a great service to the whole community. We do not appreciate how many people provide support and assistance for many different causes without thought to themselves but at cost to themselves. Such people spend large amounts of their own money attempting to alert us to what we are inclined to take for granted.
It is helpful to mention the all-party support that was achieved a year ago in another place. If one reads the extremely good debate that took place there on 6 February 1985 one notices the valuable speeches in support of civil defence made by Lord Renton, Lord Graham and Lord Mayhew. I consider civil defence as civil protection, because that is precisely what it is.
The speeches of hon. Members this morning have been thoughtful and helpful. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has adopted, right from the start, a sensible approach to civil protection. I should not be too surprised at that as he is a fellow chartered surveyor. I fully support his request for 100 per cent. funding from the Home Office. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, will not be surprised by my support for this form of funding, since I have long supported it. Other national services such as the Territorial Army receives 100 per cent. funding. We must consider such funding not only for the additional duties involved in civil protection but across the whole spectrum of services. Civil protection merits 100 per cent. support and there is no reason why it cannot be arranged through the rate support grant without additional cost to the Exchequer. The public has a right to this protection.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight also mentioned that he had visited, like my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), Hiroshima and Nagasaki immediately after 1945. That must have been a terrible experience for both hon. Members. Such experience helps the House to appreciate these situations much more clearly. Both hon. Members have made valuable contributions to the debate this morning.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) has published a book on civil defence and it formed part 604 of my introduction to the subject. We therefore respect his contributions to the debate, and on previous occasions, because of his depth of knowledge.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) rightly highlighted other aspects of civil defence relating to the problems on our motorways, and roads through our towns and villages. The type of materials now being transported raises considerable cause for concern. Not long ago there was a terrible accident in France involving a petrol tanker and a holiday camp site. Although we tend to close our eyes to the possibility of such tragedies, they occur, and in those cases the emergency services come into their own.
We are fortunate in the extremely professional way in which our fire and ambulance services operate and the dedicated work of the men and women who work in them. We tend to rely on them. An enormous emergency, such as there would be if an oil refinery were affected, has a rippling effect. When I visited an oil refinery on the south coast some years ago I was told that such an emergency would affect the fire services up to and including Luton as they would provide back-up for the various fire services which would move in to deal with the emergency on the south coast. That shows that we call on a wide network to deal with that type of emergency, and in those circumstances we must look towards volunteers who are able and willing to provide the extra help that is so important.
Bhopal has already been mentioned, where 2,000 people died and 100,000 were taken ill. That was terrible. Even in the best of circles, and despite the most sophisticated technology, there was a terrible accident in the United States. That shows that one cannot be too careful, and that things go wrong unexpectedly. We must always allow for that. The consequences of such an emergency can be devastating.
What could or might have happened at Sellafield has also been mentioned today, and the position on Three Mile Island some years ago is particularly relevant to that. I would not wish to turn the clock back and do away with some of the few advantages of nuclear energy in providing atomic power, but we must be prepared to deal with any emergency that may arise from it.
A terrible accident took place at Mississauga, where 218,000 people had to be evacuated at short notice, as my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster mentioned in his comprehensive speech. He mentioned that the after-effects of the Flixborough disaster continued for three months. Such matters are brought to our notice, and the general public expect politicians to consider them because that is our job, and to make adequate provision for their safety and protection. That is exactly what the Bill seeks to achieve.
In 1983, the Humber estuary was contaminated by oil pollution. It took 15 days to deal with the oil spillage, during which the emergency communication network was used to co-ordinate activity from the county emergency centre in Hull. Many civil defence volunteers were involved in monitoring beaches, and volunteers from Raynet, a voluntary amateur radio group, provided communications at beach level. The group provided extremely valuable assistance on that occasion. That shows what use can and should be made of civil emergency volunteers.
In December 1985 Leeds suffered from the loss of its water supply. There was a fracture of a major water main 605 which was carrying water from a reservoir near Leeds to a local treatment plant and 250,000 consumers were deprived of water. The Army provided water tankers to carry water to supply points around the affected parts of the city. The west Yorkshire county planning officer was alerted and arranged for Raynet volunteers to accompany each tanker to enable close central control of the distribution of water. The operation continued for more than three days and involved 53 Raynet volunteers. That was yet another case when the civil protection system was used to the advantage of the community at large.
Those various examples show clearly how the House acknowledges the existence of a demand for the Bill. I, together with many others, wish it a speedy passage to the statute book, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing the matter to the notice of the House.
§ Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) on introducing a Bill which is practical in its purpose and visionary in its foresight. I fear that over the years civil defence has had a somewhat tarnished image. It is a lacklustre subject in the eyes of many people, and many of the authorities responsible have approached it in a less than professional way.
The Bill is a milestone of a change in that image. The title, Civil Protection in Peacetime Bill, shows that civil defence is not a response to a wartime threat so much as an all-hazards approach to problems and disasters which arise and affect the whole civil population. The Bill goes a long way towards burnishing the past lacklustre image of civil defence.
It is a worthy, noble and visionary cause, because civil protection is a humanitarian response to disasters and problems affecting the civil population. It exists to save life and limb, to reduce suffering, and to give help and succour in major disasters, not merely those which arise through warfare. The Bill helps to re-establish public confidence, support and credibility in civil defence in peacetime.
It is extraordinary that some local authorities and public figures—largely on the Left—have derided civil defence in the past. Neutral countries, such as Switzerland and Sweden, take it seriously. The shelters required by law, and the provision which individual families must make in their homes, suggest a responsible approach by the authorities and a responsible response from the citizens. The civil population recognises its responsibility, directed by the Government who protect its freedom and neutrality and provide proper defence.
In approaching the subject in a new way, we must recognise that while the primary responsibility for civil protection is placed on local authorities, it is not solely their responsibility. Public authorities, Government Departments, emergency services, and, indeed, industry, are also responsible. All those elements must co-ordinate their response to the problems. threats and hazards which surround us.
We learn from answers to parliamentary questions that the Ministry of Defence has recognised the problems that could arise from the nuclear electronic-magnetic pulse—NEMP. However, there is little recognition in the public service at large, for example in the Health Service and industry, of what the disastrous effects of NEMP could be.
606 We have seen from the approach of many local authorities and individuals that civil defence is seen to be in conflict with the disarmament movement, or, to put it more precisely, the disarmament movement has found a target in civil defence in the past. We must try to disabuse people who think that there is a natural conflict. Civil defence is complementary to disarmament just as much as it is for those who believe in armament to protect ourselves against nuclear attack.
Therefore, we need an all-party all-element approach —a co-ordinated approach to the problem. Those local authorities who display nuclear-free zone signs are being contemptuous, and that is no way to respond to the real hazards which exist. That is simply a way of showing utter and complete contempt for the real needs of those that the authorities are there to serve. I hope that the Bill will do a great deal towards re-establishing in the public mind the need to follow through those thoughts to their logical end, to combat those who seek to ridicule any form of civil defence or protection.
Perhaps one of the greatest schemes which has been initiated in recent years for the safety of London is the Thames barrier, yet those authorities in London which support the Thames barrier find that they cannot bring themselves to give any support for the civilian population in their area in other forms of all-hazards protection.
The Bill goes a great way towards changing attitudes. It will establish a new approach which should be recognised by all parties and all authorities, of whatever political persuasion. I am delighted to be one of the Bill's sponsors. I wish it a speedy course through the House and a speedy arrival upon the statute book. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Michael Knowles (Nottingham, East)
I join in congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) on bringing forward the Bill, especially because it permits rather than instructs local authorities. There can be a tendency, especially in private Members' Bills, to load something else on to local authorities as a statutory duty. That does not help relations between Parliament and local government, or relations between local Members of Parliament and local government.
The Bill, and the movement towards civil protection, will only work with public support. People must believe that it is necessary and want to do it and not have to be instructed. That is the case that we must make.
There is a great difference between a single peacetime disaster on which all resources can be concentrated for the necessary time, with aid summoned in from neighbouring counties and towns, and a general attack in war, when, at the very least, the scope for mutual support would be much reduced. One must recognise that difference.
Some years ago, when I was leader of the London borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, civil defence and civil protection became an issue again. We looked. and as leader I looked, at what was on the books. The answer was very little. We had to start practically from scratch. We did not get much help from the Home Office.
The starting point was civil defence, and the worst scenario is nuclear war. Like everybody else in politics, I had read bits and pieces, but it was much more difficult to nail down the dangers that would have to be faced if certain weapons were detonated at various distances from 607 the town. We could get no information whatever out of the Government. Luckily, London has a large United States embassy and library and the staff there were tremendously helpful. A London borough had to get from the American embassy information on which to base its civil defence plans. If that seems slightly absurd now, it seemed slightly absurd then. I do not know whether the information is not available on grounds of secrecy but it is difficult to make plans without knowing what must be dealt with.
We held various exercises in civil defence and civil protection. It might be a comment on the relationship between senior officers in local government and elected members that the main aim of the controller seemed to be to dispatch elected members, preferably into a heavily irradiated zone, to get them out of the exercise at a fairly early stage, making his life easier.
In wartime, the controller has draconian powers. For civil protection the situation is different. Training is important. Unless people have been in the situation, they do not know the mental problems that might arise. There is the shock and mental strain of seeing familiar surroundings devastated, and it is only training and discipline that can overcome that. Without that, people will be shocked into submission.
One of the exercises that we carried out was to discover the location of heavy equipment and emergency supplies in the borough that might be needed at short notice. Telephone networks might be out of commission for various reasons and people would need to know where to go to get hold of tents, and heavy civil equipment such as bulldozers, quickly. We talked to various companies which had such equipment so that we were ready to go. The same thing was true for food stocks.
One of the scenarios that, as a London borough, we had to think of was the flooding of London because the barrier had not been erected. I think that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) was also involved in local government in London at that time. Kingston-upon-Thames might not have been heavily flooded, but the water and sewerage systems would have been out of commission. We would have had to act as a reception point for people comimg from the flooded parts of London. Those people had to be put into schools and under canvas. Chemicals would be needed to produce sufficient clean water. We needed to know where to get sandbags from in an emergency and we needed to know where to get food stocks to feed the people.
If London had ever flooded, it would have been a nightmare. It was estimated that within 24 hours we could have had as many casualties as the whole of the United Kingdom in the six years of the second world war. That was the scale of the disaster. Thank heavens the barrier is now there, because I am not convinced that if there had been a disaster London would have coped.
Another disaster that might have to be dealt with would be that of a jumbo jet coming down, perhaps on a high street on a Saturday afternoon. We know that in wartime the controller takes charge locally. In peacetime it is not at all clear what would happen. We do not know who would be in charge in any given situation. There is usually co-operation, but we cannot depend on that.
During the war, one of the most bitter arguments took place in Coventry between the civil authorities, in the shape of the mayor and council, and the army. When 608 Coventry was devastated, the army wanted to impose martial law immediately. One can say that the army usually wants to impose martial law to deal with such a situation. It led to bitter relations there and that was often true elsewhere. After 40 years, there tends to be a romantic haze and people gloss over some of the real difficulties that showed up in such emergencies. Those would be there, be they civil or wartime emergencies. If no forward planning or structure is laid down before the problems are reached, it is almost impossible to cope with them in the middle of an emergency because it is then too late.
There is another nightmare, touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir John Farr), which came to light only by accident. Luckily, one of the members of the council understood what all the signs on the back of heavy lorries meant when they are carrying dangerous substances. He saw two lorries that had collided on the edge of the town. They had only grazed each other. However, being a chemist, he rapidly worked out what would have happened if the chemicals had mixed: we would have had a massive poisonous gas problem. The polite title nowadays is "noxious fumes", but ultimately it comes down to poison gas. Imagine such a problem on a heavy shopping day—and it could happen. We have to think such problems through. The difficulty is that we do not like to think of our familiar surroundings devastated. However, if we do not prepare beforehand, when the problem hits it is too late and we face total confusion. We have to work through the worst scenario from beginning to end, however unpleasant some of the choices might be, and that comes down to training and being prepared.
Other hon. Members have pointed out that other countries are much better prepared than we are. Switzerland, Sweden and the Soviet Union can all be cited. They have organisations, not only for civil defence in wartime but which can also double up for peacetime emergencies and they prove themselves to be more than worth while. I believe that we should copy that example. If we do not, sooner or later there will be an incident in this country and the system will not be able to cope because we have not done the contingency planning. If that happens, the people and the media will ask why we were not prepared. It will be the politicians who will have to answer that question, and there will be no excuses. That means that we have to argue that resources which people would rather see spent on immediate things, have to be paid out on an insurance premium that we hope we will never have to use. However, if we do have to use it, we will need it desperately.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
I would like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) on his customary and regular good fortune in the ballot. This is a worthwhile piece of legislation, which I think will commend itself to both sides of the House.
I have particular reasons for wanting to see the Bill on the statute book. Some of my hon. Friends have already referred to disasters which have occurred in the past where legislation of this kind, had it been on the statute book, would have assisted in dealing with the emergency. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), referred to Flixborough. Before the boundaries were changed for the parliamentary constituencies before the 609 last general election, I had the privilege of representing the village of Flixborough. Although the disaster at Flixborough occurred in 1975, some four years before I came to the House, the issue of safety was very much in the minds of all the electors in the old parliamentary constituency of Brigg and Scunthorpe. During the 1979 election campaign, many people asked me what sort of provision I would commend to the House if I were elected. I undertook that if I were ever lucky in a private Members' ballot I would contemplate the sort of legislation which my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster has brought before us today.
The disaster at Flixborough had a devastating effect on my old constituency. That effect still lingers in the fears of people to this day. One has only to go to that village and look at the old houses and brick buildings which were built in the early part of this century. Every roof of those houses is brand new. Although they have been on now for 10 years, one can see the sharpness of the tiles on the roof. One has only to look around the village to realise that all the roofs of the houses were blown off. Not only was there loss of life at the plant, but on that fateful Saturday afternoon in June 1975 hut, there was devastation and a complete community was wrecked by fear. I know that Mr. John Ellis, who was the Member for that constituency at the time, would be the first, and I would be the second, to pay tribute to the emergency services which did a tremendous job when the disaster overtook Flixborough and the area around Scunthorpe. If the Bill had been on the statute book then, I think that it might have been possible to have an even speedier reaction to that disaster.
The disaster will for ever be in the mind of everybody in south Humberside. It made a terrible impression on the local community, as far as the town of Scunthorpe some six or seven miles away. Windows were blown out of many of the shops in Scunthorpe and one needed to have some provision to deal with the consequences of the disaster even though those consequences were felt several miles away. We tend to forget that, when a disaster occurs, it is not only at the site of the disaster that we need to ensure that arrangements are in hand, but we must see that there are facilities to deal with whatever problems one might not know about some miles away.
People looking at that thick, black mushroom cloud over Flixborough thought that that was the only place where the problem was. They did not know that houses in surrounding villages had had their roofs blown off, or that people in Scunthorpe were suffering from cuts as a result of broken glass. I think that that is where a Bill of this kind, if enacted, can have a tremendous impact on minimising some of the worst aspects of such disasters.
Sadly, my constituency is situated in a part of the country where much hazardous industrial activity is carried out. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South also mentioned the disaster in 1983 when the oil tanker Sivand discharged a complete cargo of crude oil into the river Humber and into the Humber estuary around my constituency and the oil washed on to the beach at Cleethorpes. Cleethorpes is the prize town in my constituency. It is a tourist town visited by many people, from Scunthorpe, Doncaster, and Sheffield. If that beach is ever damaged in any way, it will make tourism redundant in Cleethorpes. People from Scunthorpe and the surrounding area take a long time to come back to the beach at Cleethorpes, even when it has been cleaned.
610 My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South rightly drew attention to the excellent co-ordination within county hall on the north bank of the Humber when the disaster was being dealt with. Its results extended beyond the immediate vicinity of Immingham and Cleethorpes, for oil entered the mouth of the Humber, which is tidal as far as the rivers Ouse and Trent. If any oil enters the Humber at the estuary on the tide, it will be washed up as far as the junction of the three great rivers, the Ouse, the Trent and the Humber. Unfortunately, oil damaged wildlife all along the Humber. If the Bill had been on the statute book when the disaster occurred in 1983, the emergency services would have been helped tremendously in carrying out their work.
I am making no complaint about the work of the emergency services, either at Flixborough or when the Sivand disaster occurred, but I am sure that they would be the first to accept any additional provision that might be available from local authorities as part of their civil defence and civil protection arrangements. Local authorities have facilities and statutory duties are set out in the Civil Defence Act 1948 that require local authorities to be prepared in the event of war. However, given the hazardous industries that are located in Britain, and especially in my constituency, it is becoming increasingly likely that we shall have to contend with home-produced disasters rather than a nuclear war. I suspect that more of my constituents will lose their lives through the disasters and accidents that are liable to occur in the sort of industries that are located in my constituency than through war.
I intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough, (Sir J. Fan) when he was talking about the transportation of hazardous commodities. I drew his attention to the derailment at Barnetby in my constituency four or five weeks ago. Barnetby is a major railway junction in Humberside and it is the station that I use when I make my journeys to the House. Accordingly, I know the station very well. Three major railway lines meet at Barnetby and as the lines are used for a considerable amount of freight activity, there is potential for disaster.
The entire village of Barnetby had to be evacuated when a large train of oil tankers was derailed at 6.30 am. We do not yet know the reason for the derailment. Two of the tankers discharged 40,000 gallons of petroleum spirit. The spirit was being carried from one of the two oil refineries along the bank of the Humber in my constituency. I hope that the House is getting the flavour of the huge amount of hazardous industry which is going on in the area and will understand why those in it will look with pleasure and gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster if his Bill has a safe passage through both House of Parliament.
As I have said, 40,000 gallons of petroleum spirit were discharged at Barnetby. If there had been a spark from a match at that moment, there would have been a most ghastly disaster. Once again, the emergency services carried out a marvellous job. There was a task for the local authority to perform as someone had to be responsible for the orderly evacuation of the village. Some people were unable to return to their homes for several days. A week passed from the moment of the derailment before the fire brigade was able to take away the last tender. A danger confronted the village for a long period. The petrol had seeped into the ground and difficulty was experienced in 611 removing it. Much time and energy was expended in so doing. Much of the spirit was recovered but much was left, and accordingly there was great concern.
Glanford borough council did a marvellous job, along with all the other authorities, but I am sure that it would be the first to say that if it had had the legislative protection that the Bill would provide it would have been able to evacuate Barnetby even more quickly.
Yet another problem will confront my constituents if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has his way. I should add that he will not. I am led to believe that on Tuesday next week, after much dilly-dallying my right hon. Friend will announce the four sites that NIREX, the Nuclear Industry Radioactive Executive, has sent to the Department of the Environment, which it has been sitting on since 8 January. I am prepared to bet my shirt on one of the sites being the South Killingholme area in my constituency. We shall be confronted with the prospect of having a nuclear waste dump in the area.
I have news for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I have told my constituents that there will be no nuclear waste disposed of anywhere in my constituency so long as I am their Member of Parliament. My right hon. Friend will have to work out what I mean by that. I have declared my commitment and I intend to carry it out. If in a few years' time, after a public inquiry, a Secretary of State should dare to sign an order allowing a nuclear waste dump to be constructed in my constituency, certain consequences will follow. I advise the House and my constituency to watch this space.
If nuclear waste were to be disposed of in any constituency, the waste would have to be transported to it. It would have to be taken to the dump from where it was being stored. As I have said, I shall make it my business to ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does not get his way and does not sign an order allowing a dump to be constructed in my constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough said that already enough toxic or hazardous materials are transported throughout the country on motorways. He drew our attention to motorway accidents. Can we begin to imagine what might happen if on the way to my constituency the train that is derailed is not carrying petroleum spirit but nuclear waste? Can one begin to imagine the horror—that I shall ensure will not occur—in south Humberside? What would have happened if that railway train travelling from the oil refinery to the midlands with petroleum spirit had been carrying nuclear waste for a nuclear power station?
There is no railway line into South Killingholme, so lorries would have to used for the final part of the journey. If railways are the better way of transporting such material, one can imagine that mid-week morning a few weeks ago when the train was derailed. If that train had contained nuclear waste bound for my constituency one can imagine the need for an immediate emergency service and the need for such a Bill.
I sincerely hope and pray that the constituencies threatened and blighted by the Secretary of State's announcement, which we await with horror and anxiety, will not have to rely on the Bill alone, because that would not be enough.
612 I am describing events which have happened and which, if the Secretary of State for the Environment has his way, might again happen in my constituency. That is why the Bill's Second Reading today is so timely. It will concentrate the minds of many people in my constituency who live in constant fear because of the disaster at Flixborough and in connection with the Sivand.
All my constituents will be interested in the Bill's progress. They will be interested to hear what the Minister of State says about the transportation of nuclear waste and how he thinks that the Bill will affect the scenario that I have painted.
The Bill is important. My constituents know what disaster means. They live in the shadow of fear. The two oil refineries in my constituency make a magnificent contribution to the economy. There is no need for the Secretary of State for the Environment or the Secretary of State for Energy to tell me about the need for energy or about the need for some constituencies to be responsible for manufacturing energy. My constituency produces a vast amount of the nation's energy. We are responsible for oil refining. My constituency on the Humber estuary and on the edge of the North sea is that part of the country where oil and gas come in.
We are already playing our part in creating the nation's energy. We are not prepared to have nuclear waste dumped on our doorstep. We are making our contribution to the nation's energy reserves and the people living in the shadow of the Conoco and Lindsey oil refineries accept the risks. They accept that a price has to be paid in an element of risk. They will be reassured by the Bill.
I am confident that the Health and Safety Executive, the Department of Employment and all those responsible for industries using hazardous materials make safety their highest priority. However, there must be eternal vigilance. We must be prepared in case something goes wrong. I hope that the Bill's provisions will be used only rarely.
No one wants disasters, but as we move into the new age of ever more complicated and dangerous substances in the chemical industry, we must be prepared. We must ensure that we consider the appropriate way to be prepared and responsible, should that need arise.
The buck must always stop with the politicians. We are ultimately responsible for the climate of safety and opinion in the country. The House has obligations towards hazardous industries.
I do not suggest that we close all the hazardous chemical industries or oil refineries. On many occasions I have championed the cause of those industries. I am delighted at the new investment in the Conoco oil refinery, as it constructs a catalytic cracker. A tremendous amount of employment is being generated as a result of that investment, but that catalytic cracker has safety implications. The Health and Safety Executive will want to ensure that the new investment is Al in terms of safety and we, when considering legislation, must ensure that we understand the problems and the disasters with which local authorities might have to deal.
I am not at all against the success and the flourishing development of the chemical industry or the petroleum industry, but with so many industries concentrated on the Humber bay of south Humberside, all along the edge of the northern boundary of my constituency, it is imperative that we recognise that people live in daily fear. A couple of weeks ago, I was at a public meeting in the village of East Halton, to do with the nuclear waste industry. People 613 there can look across from their houses to the oil refinery, and although that refinery has a tremendous safety record, I can understand people's fears.
I have highlighted why this Bill will be welcomed in my constituency, and I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster.
§ 12.1 pm
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
For the last two hours I have felt a little like the Lone Ranger and I am delighted to see that the US Cavalry has arrived to support me. I congratulate the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) on his success for the second time in the ballot for private Members' Bills. I wish him every success in continuing to prosecute the cause for which he introduced his first private Members' Bill.
The Bill he has before the House today and which he introduced so comprehensively and clearly, seeks to address the problem of the possibility of using civil defence or, as the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) would have us call it, civil protection facilities, for the purposes of combating peacetime emergencies. It will not come as any surprise to the House to hear that those of us on the Opposition Benches approach the Bill from a somewhat different perspective to that of many hon. Members who have spoken from the Government Benches.
Many of us, myself included, have the severest doubts about the value of civil defence or civil protection preparation for a nuclear war. We regard as a grotesque charade the possibility of providing any conceivable sort of remedy or protection for the citizenry in the event of a nuclear attack. That is the direction from which we approach the Bill. Although that perspective differs from the perspective of hon. Members on the Government side, we come to somewhat similar conclusions about the use to which civil defence facilities can be put in peacetime.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) spoke movingly about the sight of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the devastation of 1945. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Morro) also spoke about that spectacle. I have some doubts about his conclusion that civil defence might mitigate such a disaster, because I do not believe it can. That is the position of the Labour party on the use and usefulness of civil defence precautions in the event of nuclear attack.
In a sense it is worse to try to persuade our people that in the event of nuclear attack some sort of civil protection or civil defence is possible, because that tends to make the concept of nuclear war and fighting and surviving it more thinkable. The attitudes that breed that view are at times dangerous. That is the position from which we approach the Bill.
Many local authorities have suffered in this debate from side-swipes from Government Members, including the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), over their decision to become nuclear-free zones. I will not go into detail about the admirable reasons for any of those decisions. Those local authorities share our scepticism about the potential value, or lack of value, of civil defence preparations in the event of nuclear attack.
Having put that clearly on the record as the perspective from which we approach this Bill, I should say that does not mean we ought not to look seriously and thoroughly 614 at the way in which we presently respond to peacetime emergencies, and at the relative lack of preparation that we have brought to them.
We must welcome anything that tries to concentrate resources on the peacetime use of civil defence rather than on preparation for hypothetical wartime use. I think it was the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) who spoke about a humanitarian response to disaster. All of us in the House ought to be addressing ourselves to that. The Opposition welcomes the principle of the Bill. We welcome the use of civil protection and the defence powers for peacetime rather than for wartime preparation. We welcome anything that attempts to address emergencies when they occur in peacetime.
We have some questions to pose and some qualifications to make about parts of the Bill. Many citizens may well be surprised to learn that the resources available to local authorities for civil defence purposes cannot in strict legal terms be used to address peacetime emergencies. I understand that the Home Office tends to look somewhat benignly at local authorities that use some of their personnel and staff for planning for peacetime emergencies rather than for wartime emergencies. Strictly speaking, those authorities are breaking the law and as a legal rationalisation measure, if nothing else, this Bill is welcome.
It is interesting to note, as has been mentioned in this debate, that the measure was forecast in the Conservative party's election manifesto. I suspect that the hon. Member for Upminster has had considerable Home Office cooperation and support in drafting the Bill. For that reason we must look at it carefully as not simply the creation of the industry and ingenuity of the hon. Member, but also of the Home Office and probably Government Ministers as well. In that context, the Opposition will look at it carefully. The first question we must ask is what resources are we talking about and is there any plan on the part of the Government, if this Bill becomes law, to devote increased resources for the purposes the Bill seeks to address. There is no commitment to additional resources and no specific commitment in the Bill to provide such resources. Will local authorities yet again be asked to do more with less, or will the Government ensure that the proper resources, in the form of the civil defence grant, are made available to local authorities?
It is worth considering briefly the resources that are available to local authorities to cope with disasters and emergencies. All local authorities have powers under section 138 of the Local Government Act 1972, and its Scottish equivalent of 1973, to incur expenditure and make grants or loans to avert or ameliorate the effects of an emergency or disaster in their areas. However, the fire and civil defence authorities that will replace the metropolitan county councils and the GLC on 1 April are not entitled to any such funding or powers under section 138. An attempt was made to rectify that anomaly in the Local Government Act 1985, but it failed on the general policy ground advanced by the Government that the district councils and London boroughs had the power and that it was not needed by the strategic London authorities. It might be worth considering during the passage of this Bill whether the fire and civil defence authorities set up after abolition should be awarded that section 138 power to bring them into line with all other local authorities faced with new responsibilities and powers. 615 In addition to section 138 money, there are two sources of funding, the first of which are the CIMAH, or Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards Regulations. They allow for the charging of manufacturers where a public authority must step in to cope with disasters that occur as a result of the manufacturers' actions. The second source of funding is the civil defence grant, which needs prior ministerial approval, which can be waived. It is discretionary.
Those resources are put to different uses by the districts, boroughs, shire counties and Scottish regions. Few districts and boroughs have identifiable civil defence resources that could be used under clause 2(1), apart from their civil defence emergency centres and communication equipment. Those emergency centres, which are colloquially called bunkers are unlikely to be of practical value in a peacetime emergency or disaster, and their communications networks are generally linked to the county bunkers rather than the outside world. The shire counties and Scottish regions also have few physical civil defence resources that could be utilised under the terms of the Bill, but they have civil defence staff and a network of volunteers that could be put to some use. However, the civil defence staff are primarily there for planning purposes, so their main use would be under clause 2(2).
The value of volunteers would depend entirely on the quality of training and exercising that they receive and their availability in the circumstances of the emergency or disaster. In considering the resources that will be made available to the civil defence authorities if the Bill is passed, we must ask whether new resources will be made available and what new facilities or services will be provided that are not already provided by ad hoc arrangements between authorities. Will the Bill simply be a consolidating and legalising measure? We must also ask whether section 138 powers will be extended.
The wording of clause 2(2) links far too closely the civil defence plans for wartime and the peacetime plans that are made. That point was raised with the Home Office during a meeting with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities on 5 February. The AMA informed me that the Minister made it clear that, in the Home Office view:The civil defence resources made available for peacetime emergency use by the Bill could only be used for dual purposes: civil defence grant would be available for civil defence measures which could serve both purposes but not for projects solely for peacetime use.That worries me. Linking so closely the resources that are available for peacetime and for wartime use, and saying that they cannot be divorced and that local authorities cannot consider peacetime planning in isolation ignores the crucial differences between different types of emergency.
The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) spoke movingly of the way in which the Flixborough disaster affected his constituency. Other hon. Members spoke of disasters that had occurred or were likely to occur in their constituencies. The hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles) spoke of the possibility that water and sewerage protection in London might have gone out of operation had not the Thames flood barrier been constructed — one of the many achievements of the GLC. Recently, I spoke to a microbiologist from Surrey university, who went to Mexico City in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake there to advise the 616 Mexican authorities on their water supplies. He said that when he arrived about six or seven days after the first earthquake, the city authorities had already got into full working order a clean water supply for almost the entire city. He added ruefully that that would not have been possible at that speed had a similar disaster occurred in Britain. That should give us some pause for thought when we consider our preparedness for disasters.
Let us consider two potential disasters. The first is a limited wartime nuclear attack, although it seems obscene to use the word limited in that context. If a nuclear attack was made on Britain, the Government's entire civil defence strategy would be based on the principle of encouraging the population to stay put. The obvious reason for that is that a mass exodus would immediately cause utter chaos. That staying put policy would differ dramatically from the response of the same authorities if there were an accident in peacetime.
If a train carrying nuclear waste were to be involved in an accident in a tunnel with a train carrying a highly inflammable petroleum product and there were to be a derailment of the train carrying the highly inflammable petroleum—it is a chance in a million, but it is possible that such an accident could occur — the danger of nuclear contamination would be very considerable. Evidence to that effect was given only two or three months ago to the Select Committee on the Environment. The immediate response of the authorities to such an accident would have to be to evacuate the population living for miles around the area. The response to the two events would be completely different. In the one event the authorities would endeavour to ensure that the population stayed put. In the other event, the authorities would attempt to enforce the evacuation of the population from the area. It is an extreme example, but I use it to make the point that one has to plan for different types of emergency in different kinds of ways. Clause 2(2) links in a very sweeping fashion plans for peacetime with plans for wartime. That is not the right way to go about it.
During the Committee stage, which I trust will be swift and enable the Bill to come back to the House in good time, I hope that a change will be made that will enable local civil defence authorities to use personnel and resources to make plans, but they ought not to be required to make the same plans as those that are made for use in wartime.
I reiterate my congratulations to the hon. Member for Upminster on introducing the Bill, to which I have pleasure, on behalf of the Opposition, in giving a cautious welcome. We hope that improvements will be made to it in Committee along the lines that I have suggested. Planning for peace is so much better than planning for war. I wish that the Prime Minister would accept that message a little more often.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)
In recent weeks it has become something of a habit for me to follow the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) in debate. I suspect that he has spoken on every amendment during the many sessions on the Public Order Bill, and I have responded to every amendment. That is therefore no novelty for me. However, I welcome the novelty that this Bill—piloted so very well to its Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor)—has provided a 617 platform for an exchange of views on these issues with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury in which our objectives coincide. I shall deal with a few of the important points that he raised before I turn to the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman was right to ask about resources. He suggested that this is a codification measure. It is not a measure that will release new resources. The resources that are available from the Home Office for civil defence purposes amount to about £80 million. The grants that are available to local authorities form a significant proportion of that sum—between £11 million and £13 million. The hon. Gentleman will also know that that sum has not been fully spent in recent years because certain local authorities have not made provision for a planned and effective use of civil defence resources.
Furthermore, the thrust of civil defence expenditure is related to the regulations that were published in 1983 and formally issued last year. The assessment of plans made under the regulations will, I hope, lead to a review of expenditure and also to a review of the commitment by local authorities in seeking to implement plans which meet the criteria that are laid down in the regulations.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the power that is contained in section 138. He knows that the powers of essentially multi-purpose authorities are very different from those that can be exercised by single purpose authorities. They are the main successor bodies. There is duality in the metropolitan areas where we are talking about fire and civil defence authorities. They are very different forms of local government structure from the elected local government structure to which he referred and which exercise section 138 powers. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point, that if there are to be effective plans for civil defence by the local fire and civil defence authorities through the implementation of the 1983 regulations we shall have to ensure that resources are available that will enable them effectively to be made.
The object of the Bill is to allow the resources that have been built up within local authorities over the years—resources that are based exclusively upon their civil defence requirements—to be used in addition, where appropriate, for peacetime purposes. It is not a contradiction, as the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury suggested, that this should be so. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster said that what would be available for both is an essential network of communication, trained personnel, volunteer systems and other common factors which in all emergencies, whatever those emergencies may be, would have a common purpose. That should allow the House to welcome the Bill, as has been done by all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster must indeed be congratulated. As has already been pointed out, he will have the enviable reputation of having had allocated to him more than one Bill in the history books of Parliament. He opened the debate with great care and showed great knowledge of the subject. He has a long association with the civil defence movement. He has introduced an important measure which will make it easier for the civil defence movement to find an acceptable role alongside the civil emergency planning role. It will be an all-hazards policy. That is very important.
We believe it to be a vital contribution. It will reassure the general public and it will enhance the use that emergency planning officers can make of the resources that are available to them. We must not forget that, 618 although the Civil Defence Act 1948 did not specify the role of county emergency planning officers, it was very much the catalyst around which this concept has been developed in recent years.
My colleagues referred in their varying and extremely cogent ways to civil emergencies. They must reflect on the fact that the county emergency planning system that has been set up was based largely on the catalytic consequences of the 1948 Act. The county emergency planning officers are effective, well organised and professional. A number of my colleagues drew attention to specific incidents in which the emergency planning officers, acting on behalf of the local authority, had contributed in a major way to the safety of the population.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who has now had to attend another function, rightly paid tribute to the professionalism of the county emergency planning officers. He asked whether the Government intended to review the level of grant which, in most cases, for civil defence purposes, is 75 per cent. of costs. We are reviewing the level of grant. I recognise that, in seeking to improve the capacity of the planning system to take on these additional responsibilities and in seeking, as we must, to improve public awareness of the importance of civil defence, it is right that we should review again the percentage grant obtainable from my Department.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) rightly emphasised the importance of volunteers. Within the civil defence movement a substantial number of persons have given their voluntary time, the most obvious example being the members of the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation. That uniquely effective organisation deals with planning and the potential hazard not only of nuclear attack but of conventional atack and similar disasters. This substantial body comprises over 10,000 highly trained people who provide a communications network.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) was concerned about training and training levels. One advantage of the present grant system is that it encourages recovery of training costs by local authorities. My hon. Friend was right to stress the importance of training.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr), in a weighty contribution, referred particularly to nuclear safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), in his evocative contribution on his constituency's problems, made that point also. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough, who referred to Sellafield, that important plans are available designed to deal with these problems in the nuclear industry.
I appreciate the concern that has been expressed about our ability to respond to a major leak of radioactive material. That would have serious consequences. Emergency arrangements and contingency plans have been prepared. There is close liaison between the county emergency planning team in Cumbria and the nuclear industry about the Sellafield site and the British Nuclear Fuels plc installation at Chapel Cross. The emergency planning officer is closely involved in preparing off-site plans for both installations and in monitoring. Regular exercises are held to implement those plans.
The emergency planning officer, representatives of the nuclear industry and the other interested bodies, including the local authority liaison committee, help to ensure that emergency planning is a high profile subject which is dealt 619 with by the sub-committee concerned. It draws on all the experience available on emergency plans to cope with an emergency on the site.
I should like to reassure the House that the matter has been well seized and that there is a structure for coordinated planned response if any difficulty or problem requires emergency treatment. I trust that the House will recognise that this is an important subject.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) referred to the question of reviewing the level of funding, increasing it from 75 per cent. to 100 per cent. I fully understand that point. He reminded the House of the recent uses of the emergency planning procedures, including the use of the Raynet system on Humberside during the oil pollution incident and the recent failure of the water main in Leeds. A number of my constituents had to go without piped water for three days. The emergency planning officer and his team were able to provide an important addition to the resources made available to deal with that problem. That is an effective use of the communications network which has been established for civil defence purposes. The idea that lies behind the Bill is that local authorities should now be clear that, if the Bill reaches the statute book, they are entitled in law as well as in fact to use their resources, which have been developed primarily for civil defence purposes, for peacetime purposes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) referred to the humanitarian approach and he is right to say that that lies behind the Government's attitude to civil defence. Although I know that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) would not accept this, we regard the humanitarian approach as fundamental to defence policy. The Government seek to protect the population from hazard from any direction. That is certainly the case for civil defence as it is for military preparations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles) referred to the reduction in the threat of nuclear conflict. The Government have pursued consistent and effective defence policies, against substantial opposition, and we now see the possibilities of nuclear war receding. That is all to the good.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East raised another point about the co-ordination of the response to emergencies. We are studying for a period in the north-west the co-ordination of all the emergency civil defence and allied authorities to see how well Government and local government can respond to a real threat of emergency. We should learn a lot in that way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes expressed his understandable anxiety about the disposal of nuclear waste and about whether that would affect his constituency. He also related, and I agree with his point, the importance of industrial hazards. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury also referred to the importance of the CIMAH regulations.
I recall being involved, in my time at the Department of the Environment, with the development of the CIMAH regulations. They stemmed from a European Community directive known as the Seveso directive arising from an assessment of the problems that occurred in Italy. A massive chemical problem occurred which was not simply confined to the town of Seveso and the unfortunate people 620 living there, but also, by virtue of its size and the extent of the chemical clouds, threatened to drift across national boundaries and endanger other member states. That brought forward the move for a co-ordinated response, which led ultimately to the Seveso directive and the publication in the United Kingdom of new regulations under the CIMAH provisions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes will probably know that emergency planning provisions are available if things go wrong, but the planning provisions now applied allow local planning authorities to be made aware of the location and volume of stored substances so that a record may be kept and inspection carried out under the Health and Safety Executive auspices. That ensures that substances are not stored in a haphazard way and that one chemical is not stored adjacent to another which, if accidentally mixed with it, could cause the kind of disaster which my hon. Friend forecast could have occurred if chemicals had mixed together in the railway accident he mentioned.
I hope my hon. Friend will appreciate that the Government have moved a long way in our provisions for the handling of both nuclear and industrial chemical noxious substances. The emergency services are now well trained in how to deal with these hazards. The fire services now have a substantial knowledge of how to handle a whole range of hazardous substances which might leak into the public domain. The old-fashioned simple solution of squirting water on everything is no longer the way to deal with fires—far from it. It is an extremely effective and hazardous process conducted by professionals who have undergone a long training programme in dealing with many chemical substances.
I have digressed from the shape and substance of the Bill. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster for doing that and for trespassing on his measure.
It is my hon. Friend's Bill. I should perhaps refer to him as "Up, Minister" because that is his function in relation to the House today. He will recall, and the House has been reminded of the fact, that our last manifesto included a commitment to legislate to enable civil defence resources to be used in a peacetime emergency. That is why I am glad that my hon. Friend has been able to deliver the commitment, which we all undertook, to bring it to the statute book, and it rests upon him to do so.
The differing views in the House and the country on the approach to civil defence are understood, but happily there is no disagreement—I welcome hearing that from the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury—about the Bill's major thrust, which is that, when disaster strikes, available and appropriate resources can legitimately be used to bring relief.
The improved and improving level of civil defence preparedness of local authorities across the country means that there are considerably more resources on the ground than has been the case in recent years. County authorities should have available to them trained and experienced emergency planning staff. Hon. Members have paid tribute to them. In addition, they should have emergency centres from which activity can be co-ordinated and communications equipment with links to the emergency services. How useful they have been in recent civil disasters. They should also have a motivated and informed team of volunteers within the community. There are 621 obvious applications for such resources in peacetime emergencies as well as the potential wartime uses for which they have primarily been developed.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was right when he said that it is the dual purpose—if I may put it that way—that lies behind this measure and the payment of grants for facilities which are being developed. There must be a duality of objectives.
The Government have been commending a broadly based, all-hazards approach to emergency planning. That approach recognises the common humanitarian aims of moulding responses to and plans for all emergencies in peace and war, whatever their cause.
The Government recognise also the practical applications in the use of resources. They also give valuable encouragement to an integrated approach to the planning process, with the skills acquired and lessons learned in discharging wartime planning responsibilities flowing through to inform peacetime emergency planning.
We hope that it will never be necessary to put into effect the contingency plans that are being developed for civil defence in wartime, but those plans are not just rarified paper exercises. Their starting point is a detailed knowledge, at a local level, of what is available, what are the problem areas and what can be done. There are considerable benefits to be had from carrying through that knowledge and experience in peacetime emergency planning. I have quoted the control of industrial major accident hazards as a good example of what is necessary for that purpose.
That kind of knowledge is perhaps one of the most valuable assets that can be applied to cope with peacetime disasters. However, new developments in the technology applied to civil defence will also be valuable. We are looking, for example, with local authorities at ways of building up local computer databases from which the kind of resources that might be needed to cope with any kind of emergency can be rapidly identified.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury quoted an example of two trains, one perhaps carrying nuclear material and the other chemicals and the problems that might arise if they were to collide in a tunnel. Such data might be made available to an emergency planning centre to enable it to respond quickly and correctly to the complex chemical problem or the risk to the local population. A database of that type would be a significant advantage in co-ordinating a response to what is clearly a peacetime disaster.
We are also examining the ways in which the special wartime communications system, allocated to local authorities, can be effectively used in the event of peacetime emergencies. Changes in our planning assumptions have meant that we have had to develop civil defence planning to cope with a shorter time scale than ever before: improving our ability to identify and mobilise resources quickly, if needed. As planning becomes more complex, we are having to concentrate more on improving liaison between all the local authorities and public services involved, across local authority boundaries. These developments should also have clear implications for local authorities' ability to co-ordinate a response among themselves to peace-time disasters. We have long recognised, in practice, that resources allocated to civil defence can be and have been effectively applied by local authorities to cope with peacetime emergencies. It is only right that we should give statutory recognition to that fact. 622 This is not to suggest for a moment that peacetime emergencies and disasters, such as major floods, severe blizzards, leakage of dangerous chemicals are in any way to be equated with the large-scale and devastating horrors of war. This is especially true of the ultimate horror of nuclear war. Let us look rather at the practical effects. If a person is made homeless, his or her need for temporary accommodation is exactly the same, and must be relieved in a similar way, whether his house has been badly damaged by floods, contaminated or blown apart. If a person is buried in rubble, the cause of his predicament is not the first thought on his mind: he wants to be dug out.
Our critics may say, at least in peacetime there is someone to do the digging and some temporary accommodation standing which can be brought into service. Even given the worst scenario, however—the most terrible attack upon this country—there would be millions of survivors and a range of resources available to help them. The whole essence of civil defence is to ensure that those resources that can help are marshalled and are put to the most efficient use possible, through plans and preparations made in peacetime. Civil defence is not in any case geared solely to all-out nuclear attack. We believe that, in the unlikely event of war, the most likely form of attack would be conventional bombing, which has, I think, the closest parallels with the sorts of incidents we are now considering.
The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster and supported and welcomed by all the major parties is designed to ensure that our insurance policy against war—the investment, both human and financial, in civil defence contingency planning — gives the community the best possible value. It will encourage the use of all available resources in any emergency, whatever its cause. It can make a positive contribution to the alleviation of the misery which disasters envitably bring. The Government are delighted to commend it to the House in the capable hands of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) has introduced the Bill. I have listened to the speech of the Minister of State, Home Office but I am certain that words will not bring about the protection that the Bill requires from the Government. Some positive actions have to be taken arising from the passage of such a Bill. I quote one sentence from the explanatory memorandum which states:It also enables any local authority making plans for civil defence purposes to take into account the possible occurrence of such an emergency or disaster and makes provision in their plans for the use of their civil defence resources in that event.I represent an area of Hackney which is one of the nuclear-free zones. Hackney borough council has protested against the transport of nuclear waste by train through that borough. Accidents may happen, and, indeed, do happen. If such an accident took place involving a train, the consequences for the people living near the event would be disastrous.
I attended the experiment when a train travelling at about 100 mph was crashed into a nuclear flask to see whether the flask would remain intact after impact. Although the testers said that they were certain that nothing untoward would happen, they used an empty flask. That showed that they had doubts. Afterwards, the 623 flask did not look healthy to me, and I do not accept that that experiment guarantees safety in the event of an accident between a train and a nuclear flask.
In 1954 I was a Coventry city councillor, and I saw the explosion of the H-bomb on television. Coventry was badly bombed in 1941, and the people there know what high explosive bombs from the air mean for a city. When we on Coventry city council saw the effects of the hydrogen bomb, we knew that we could not possibly defend our citizens against that weapon. We were not prepared to kid our people any longer that we had a nuclear umbrella to protect them during nuclear warfare. That was the honest approach for a local authority to take, and an honest statement. We withdrew from civil defence at that time.
I was one of three councillors who met the Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, and the brass hats of civil defence to discuss civil defence. We were worried about it because while we knew that we could not defend our people against a nuclear attack, we still had the responsibility to defend them in the event of a public catastrophe, such as often took place in the engineering industry in Coventry. We insisted that the real defence of our people was based on real actions. We said that we needed an improved fire service — that was essential during attacks in the war—a good ambulance service, adequate hospital facilities and trained personnel to deal with public disasters.
Such disasters occurred and continue to occur throughout the country, for example at Flixborough. There are major accidents on the roads, the railways and in the air, and the most recent disaster that comes to mind is Sellafield. I do not deny that the population needs adequate civil defence during peacetime, but I will not allow it to be used as an excuse to persuade people that we have the defences to protect them against a nuclear attack, because that is sheer nonsense.
I put a series of questions about civil defence to Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and the Government of the day 30 years ago. I am still waiting for those answers to questions put to the then Government about the real and adequate defence measures that would be necessary in the event of some kind of nuclear disaster. The last sentence of the Bill's explanatory and financial memorandum states:The Bill is not expected to have any significant financial implications and will have no effect on public service manpower.That is a disaster and it is wrong to make such a statement.
We need more expenditure on civil defence for the British people and more manpower. In support of that statement Britain's firemen lobbied the Government yesterday against the cuts in fire services. Fire stations are being closed down. Doctors and nurses have lobbied against cuts and closures in hospital services, which we must have in the event of a disaster so that people can receive the treatment required. Ambulance workers have also lobbied the Government against cuts in ambulance services.
It is not enough to acknowledge the need for real civil defence in peacetime to enable people to cope with public disasters. In supporting the Bill the Government must make sure that they provide what is needed to protect the 624 people, whether fire, ambulance or hospital services or trained personnel, and that will mean more expenditure on those services.
§ Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Billericay)
The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) began his speech by telling us that Hackney was a nuclear-free zone, as indeed is the Greater London council area. Basildon district council is also a nuclear-free zone. I note that the sidings of Liverpool street station come within the Hackney borough council area and I shall be careful in future always to make sure that I catch the fast train to my constituency so as to avoid having to stop in Brentwood, which is not a nuclear-free zone. No doubt all my constituents will follow that advice. If they have any sense they will catch the fast train anyway, but for rather different reasons from those advanced by the hon. Gentleman.
I speak briefly for two reasons. The first is warmly to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) on introducing the Bill. The Billericay constituency borders on the Upminster constituency. Therefore, as an Essex Member of Parliament I am delighted to be able to take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing a Bill that commits local authoritiesto use their civil defence resources in counteracting the effects of peacetime emergencies and disasters as well as the effects of wartime hostile attack",and furtherempowers a local authority to use any of their civil defence resources in taking action to deal with the effects of any emergency or disaster likely to be destructive or dangerous to life or property in their area".I am sure that the vast majority of my constituents would regard that as elementary common sense. My hon. Friend has an abundance of common sense and so it is right that he should be the Bill's promoter.
The second reason for my seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, was the robust speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) dealing with the potential dangers and difficulties in his constituency, particularly at Flixborough. During his speech my hon. Friend mentioned that he had two oil refineries in his constituency — Conoco and Lindsey. Therefore, I share with him two similarities. We were the first two graduates from York university to enter the House of Commons and we both have oil refineries in our constituency.
In my constituency I have Mobil Oil at Coryton and Shell at Shellhaven. Anyone who has that sort of industrial development or such hazardous industries in his constituency will greatly welcome the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster. In fact, listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes when he was dealing with the hazards and difficulties that can arise in a constituency and the usefulness of this Bill in the event of such problems, I found myself thinking, "There but for the grace of God go I and nearly every other hon. Member sitting in Parliament today", because there is always the possibility that something could go wrong.
Having said that I want to place on record that I believe that the oil refineries in my constituency are responsible and know the dangers and problems that can arise from their operations. I thank them for their openness and 625 frankness in always contacting me whenever they envisage a problem or when anything has gone wrong in a small way to alert me to the problem and the reasons for it.
The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster could be useful with a number of other difficulties that could affect my constituency. Thirty years ago my constituency was affected by flooding. In fact, the opening of the Mobil site was affected by flooding. My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the difficulties and problems of water and the usefulness of civil defence in dealing with such problems.
The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington mentioned nuclear waste. I too have a railway line running through my constituency, from Wickford to Billericay. Nuclear waste in flasks is carried on that railway line from Bradwell nuclear power station. Therefore, I am concerned that the transport of nuclear waste should be conducted safely. I have travelled on the train through my constituency to assure myself that all that can be done is done to ensure that the transport of those nuclear flasks is conducted in a safe and proper manner.
I thought that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington was rather carping about the CEGB experiment where it crashed a train into a nuclear flask. I thought that that was a remarkably good experiment. It reassured the vast majority of my constituents that those nuclear flasks were as safe as they could be. I have four railway stations in my constituency. It is conceivable that the terms of the Bill could be triggered into action by an incident at one of those stations.
I want to pay tribute to all of the emergency services that operate within my constituency. They do a remarkably good job and nothing in the Bill takes that away from them.
On Tuesday 4 February I had the great honour and privilege of visiting the fire service college at Moreton in the Marsh. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister of State will refer to the appropriate Minister in the Home Office how impressed I was with everything that I saw and heard concerning the training of our firemen at the college.
It is stupid that, for legislative reasons, everything possible cannot be done to prepare for ordeal with disaster. The Bill removes one of the legislative hurdles or blocks and I believe that it will reach the statute book. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster deserves great tribute for having pushed it there.
§ 1.5 pm
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate for the support and assistance that has been given to the Bill. It is especially pleasing to hear support from the Opposition Benches, particularly from the Opposition Front Bench. I was pleased to hear what the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) had to say. It is pleasant to be able to agree on a great deal of the contents of the Bill and on the need to improve, as far as we can, the peacetime services that are available in the event of disaster. I was pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman say that it is the duty of this Government, and of any other Administration which runs the country, to attempt to provide a humanitarian response to disaster of whatever type.
It would be impossible for us to agree on everything. We do not agree, for example, about the wartime provisions that it is necessary for the Government to take. 626 In the context of the Bill, I do not need to be drawn too far along that road. However, it is an issue that we should discuss at another time.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) have visited Hiroshima, which I have not. However, I shall never forget reading some years ago the horrifying eyewitness account of someone who survived the Hiroshima disaster. He was a boy of 10 years when it occurred. He described how he went swimming with his friends. He dived into the water and while he was beneath the surface he felt an almighty explosion. He described it as a sort of drum beat on the surface. When he surfaced, there was no town and no friends and he had no family. However, he survived. Many of those on the fringes of Hiroshima survived in the most appalling conditions that it is possible for us to imagine fellow human beings having to suffer.
In those circumstances, horrific as they are—God forbid that we ever have to suffer them in Britain—it is wrong for anyone to take the line that there can be no place for a civil defence and civil protection movement which is prepared for action. In fringe areas where people and buildings have not been utterly destroyed and where life remains, there will still be a place for an organisation to help and control. I shall not pursue that issue any further this afternoon.
My hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) and for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) spoke of the possibility of a non-war nuclear disaster as a result of leaks from our power stations. There are those who oppose having nuclear power stations in Britain on that ground, but I am not one of them. I believe that the safeguards are as good as we can hope for and that we must have the availability of nuclear fuels if we are to be able to compete with our European competitors, who have already moved well ahead in the nuclear power industry.
There is a danger to Britain whether we have nuclear power stations or not when our neighbours do. The clouds of radioactivity that would stem from any major nuclear leak from a power station, if it were to emanate in France or any other European country, would pose as great a risk to Britain as a leak that emanated from this country. It is important that that eventuality is taken into account when we consider the steps that must be taken in preparing for civil protection.
My hon. Friends the Members for Harborough and for Brigg and Cleethorpes spoke about train and lorry crashes and the possibility of a combination of both. That is already in the minds of those responsible for civil defence exercises. Railchem 84, an exercise with precisely that risk in mind, took place two years ago. That exercise involved the collision of a road tanker carrying a chemical with a British Rail passenger train at a level crossing in an imaginary village. Many local councils took part in the exercise and it was extremely useful. The Bill will encourage such exercises.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes mentioned his constituents' fears after the Flixborough leak. Their fear is understandable. It should be felt throughout the country because of the complexity of chemical plants and the way in which chemicals are stored. Their fear is fully justified. We have a duty to heed that fear. For those reasons I believe that the provision of peacetime civil protection is essential and I am delighted to put the Bill before the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.627
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).