§ 3.20 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM rose to move, That the Draft Civil Defence Corps (Revocation) Regulations 1968 laid before the House on February 29 be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope it will meet with your Lordships' approval, and the convenience of the House, if, in moving the Civil Defence Corps (Revocation) Regulations 1968, I deal at the same time with the three other sets of Regulations on the Order Paper. I shall be pleased, of course, to do my best to answer any questions you may address to me on any or all of the Orders.
§ We had a very full debate yesterday on the Government's decision to disband the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service, when I explained in some detail the reasons for the Government's action and the effect this had on our Civil Defence preparations. During the debate at least one noble Lord alleged that the Government had some sinister purpose in presenting these Orders after the Civil Defence debate and that the procedure allowed insufficient time for adequate consideration. I reject both suggestions. They are being taken to-day instead of earlier in the week merely because I wished to avoid detracting from the free- 1126 ranging debate which we had on the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, yesterday. This was discussed through the usual channels and welcomed as a sensible and helpful suggestion. Yesterday we dealt with the principle and effects of the Government's decision. To-day I ask your Lordships to deal with the Statutory Orders implementing the necessary changes arising from that decision. As for the suggestion that these Orders have been, as it were, "sprung" on your Lordships, I would remind you that they were laid before the House on February 29 so that your Lordships have had four complete weeks in which to consider them.
§ My Lords, the purpose of the Orders now before you is to relieve local authorities of their present statutory obligation to maintain the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service. This is the only way to ensure that the savings, which the Government have decided are necessary, can be achieved. The Civil Defence Corps was established in 1949 primarily to assist local authorities to perform the Civil Defence functions placed upon them by Regulations made under Civil Defence Act 1948. The Corps is a national body, established by a Warrant signed by the Secretary of State, but it is administered locally. Under the Civil Defence Corps Regulations 1949 it is the duty of county, county borough and London borough councils, and certain other specified authorities, to organise divisions of the Corps. There are 178 such divisions in England and Wales. The active strength of the Corps in Great Britain as a whole was 58,700 in September, 1967, a figure substantially lets than the 75,000 I mentioned yesterday which was in effect the establishment figure. In addition, there were 10,900 fully trained members on reserve. Noble Lords will have noticed the special mention of Scunthorpe in the Order. That is because Scunthorpe did not become a Corps authority until 1951, when, at its own request, it was added to authorities listed in the Schedule to the 1949 Regulations, and now Civil Defence (Scunthorpe) Regulations 1951 need to be separately included in the revoking Regulations.
§ The Civil Defence (Fire Services) Regulations amend the existing Regulations, made in 1949, which placed an obligation upon fire authorities to employ 1127 persons for the purposes of civil defence and, in particular, to enrol auxiliary firemen, additional to the normal establishment of their fire brigades. The new Regulations remove this obligation from fire authorities but will enable them to employ additional persons for civil defence purposes when authorised to do so by the Secretary of State. This last provision is necessary because there are now employed under the existing Regulations a number of regular fire service officers, and although most of them have been employed on helping to recruit, train and organise the auxiliaries, some of them have been working on planning for a war emergency. Since planning is to continue, there will be a need to retain the services of some of these officers for this purpose, and the Regulations accordingly make provision for the Secretary of State to authorise their continued employment. It is not the intention of my right honourable friend to authorise the employment of auxiliaries after March 31, and fire authorities will be required to cease to employ those who are now auxiliary members of their brigades on that date.
§ The two similar Orders for Scotland now before your Lordships have the same effect of relieving local authorities in Scotland of the statutory obligations in respect to the Civil Defence Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service. With this brief explanation of the purpose of these Orders, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Draft Civil Defence Corps (Revocation) Regulations 1968 laid before the House on February 29 be approved.—(Lord Stonham.)
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, after the speech which I delivered in the hearing of the noble Lord Stonham, towards the end of our debate last night, he will not be surprised to hear that we find these Orders objectionable. Indeed, this is, in the minds of many of us, the greatest disaster in the Government's Civil Defence policy, that they are throwing aside the volunteers. The effect of these Orders is to deprive the local authorities of their power to maintain the Civil Defence Corps. I think that a very large number of your Lordships, and not only noble Lords on this side of the House, will thoroughly agree 1128 with my noble friend Lord Ridley who said yesterday:…once you have lost the volunteers who have so loyally supported many previous Governments for years … you can never build up the force again. I believe that to have thrown this volunteer spirit out of the window may well be one of the greatest sins which future generations will lay at the door of this Government.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27/3/68, col. 1081.]The Civil Defence Corps is to come to an end, according to this Order, on Sunday. My prophecy is that it will never, as my noble friend said, be possible to regain the volunteers and to build up a similar volunteer force again. From all quarters of your Lordships' House the strongest views were expressed to the Government yesterday on their policy, and they must have noticed with concern as well as with regret that there was not a single Member of your Lordships' House, even from their own Back Benches, who was willing to get up and defend and support the Government Front Bench in these matters. The question therefore arises, what your Lordships' House should do.
I should dearly like to advise my noble friends to vote against this Order, but I must think out and express to your Lordships' House what the effect of doing so would be. So far as I can judge—and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will tell me if I am wrong—the effect would be to leave the local authorities with a duty to maintain the Civil Defence Corps. At the same time, there would be no money with which to do so because—
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, is the noble Lord assuming that this would be the position if these Orders were not carried?
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
Yes, my Lords. If these Orders were rejected, if I were to advise my noble friends to vote against and reject this principal Order—because I think the debate could well take place on this principal Order—the effect, so far as I can see it, would be to leave the local authorities carrying an obligation to maintain a Civil Defence Corps but with no money with which to carry that out. I think that your Lordships on both sides of the House accept that we are in no position to provide money or to vote money which is withheld by another place. We should therefore be putting the local authorities in 1129 a position of some embarrassment. They have already been put in a position of great embarrassment by the Government. They have been told by the Government that they are to have no more than £1 million a year to carry out such Civil Defence duties as remain to them, and out of that £1 million in the first year—and I think this is a most unfair proposal on the part of the Government—they are to find a quarter of a million for redundancy payments to those whom they are no longer being allowed to employ.
The principal plea of a number of us in the debate yesterday was that the Government should make more money available to local authorities, because, as we know, all local authorities who are concerned in this matter, regardless of their political control, are at one in representing to the Government that they cannot make a success even of the limited duties that are left to them unless they are empowered to employ rather more persons on Civil Defence planning and other duties than would be possible for them with the very restricted amount of money which the Government are prepared to let them spend.
If I thought that it would be effective, if I thought that we should be able to restore the Civil Defence volunteer force to its old position before the Government made their disastrous announcement on January 16, I would advise my noble friends to vote against these Orders. But I fear that to reject these Orders would not have that effect. I fear that it would only add to the embarrassment of the local authorities, who have already too little money assigned to them to carry out the duties which the Government are leaving to them. We should be unable to vote them any more money and unable to authorise them to spend any more money, and it would impose an additional duty on them.
In those circumstances, much as I hate and despise the policy which these Orders reflect, and keenly as noble Lords in all quarters of the House showed yesterday their disapproval of the Government's policy, I think that my advice to my noble friends must be not to oppose these Regulations to-day, because I do not think that that would be effective. What is needed—I wish to repeat before I sit down—in this uncertain situation which 1130 the Government have created are two modifications of policy. First, the local authorities should be authorised to spend rather more on their own Civil Defence staffs so that they will have the men with whom they can implement the policies which the Government wish them to implement; and, secondly, the Government should make a small amount of money available so that those members of the Civil Defence Corps throughout the country who are dead keen to continue to keep together and train together, to ensure that they are still in a position to serve their country, will be able to do that.
They wish to do this entirely unpaid, but they are as well aware as I am that inevitably some slight expenditure would fall on the local authorities or on them-selves if this were to be done. It will be a tragedy if the desire of these volunteers to continue to perform unpaid Civil Defence service is frustrated because the Government are not willing to provide even a very small amount of money, as it were to lubricate the system, with the volunteers providing all the main fuel for it.
Those are the two main demands within the policy which the Government have insisted upon that were made from many quarters of the House yesterday. If the Government can help on this matter, then they will materially lessen the ill-feeling that has been caused by this announcement of policy. If we could achieve that, we certainly should have achieved something to-day. I find myself unwilling to refrain from voting against the Orders as such, but, in view of the explanation I have given why I think that to throw them out would only cause embarrassment to the local authorities and be ineffective in achieving our own purpose, I must stand by what I have said.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor speaks for all of us on these Benches, but, with your Lordships' indulgence, I should like to say something from one single Back Bench. I understand perfectly the arguments which my noble friend has put forward and which have been concurred in by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, as to the economic effect of declining to give approval to these Orders, but from this elevation, not 1131 having the wisdom of those who sit on the Front Bench, I find the situation almost incredible. Perhaps this innocence is mere ignorance.
It seemed to me that at the moment, until these Orders for revocation are approved, the law is that certain measures shall be kept in force—that is, the statutory obligations on the county councils remain to retain in being the Civil Defence Corps and the Fire Auxiliary Service. If the Orders are not approved, we shall find that these statutory regulations remain in force. That is the law. But the Government now tell us that they will not provide money to enable the law to be carried out. It is not clear to me how any Government is in a position to do anything of the kind. That seems to me to be placing Government above the law.
I do not wish to let this matter go through without making clear the strength of opinion among the Back Benchers on this side of the House. What is it exactly that we are doing? The debate is over and I have not the slightest intention of rehearsing what was said yesterday by myself and other noble Lords. I should like to speak through the mouths of others, and the mouths I wish to speak through, because they are well worth speaking through, and I have the owners' permission to do so, are those of my noble friends Lord Jellicoe and Lord Brooke of Cumnor. With your Lordships' permission, I will simply read seven quotations from the speeches of my two noble friends. I will do it without comment and at a reasonable speed and I will say the briefest of words at the end.
I begin with my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, who said:I would claim that in the event of, and in the aftermath of, the almost unthinkable, a nuclear attack upon these islands, our very survival as a nation, the ability of our society, desolated and diminished though it might be, to pull itself up from the bottomless pit of nuclear horror and to recreate in these islands a society in some recognised civilised form would in the last resort turn upon the prior existence of some structure of decentralised emergency administration, practised in peacetime, adequately manned, reasonably, not lavishly, equipped and ready to be activated at the drop of a hat. I do not wish to minimise by one iota the horror which would follow a nuclear attack."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27/3/63, col. 1005.]1132 Secondly, my noble friend said:… should nuclear war, the unthinkable, come upon us, I believe that this new semi-policy means that the balance for this country would be tilted against a survival of our society in any recognisable form."—[col. 1011.]I turn to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, who said:Whatever form a future war may take, a Civil Defence organisation is imperative if we are to maintain the morale of the public under attack, and uphold their confidence.If there is a next war—which we all pray there will not be—we must recognise that there will be no one to fulfil that responsibility, because of this Government's decision."—[col. 1093.]Fourthly, my noble friend said:Civil Defence has hitherto been thought of by successive Governments as essential to the structure of our military power. If we had no effective Civil Defence, it would he known to the world that we could not risk becoming involved in a major war because our whole population would die. So our protests and our military power could be disregarded with impunity by a potential aggressor."—[col. 1094.]Fifthly:An effective Civil Defence organisation could not prevent millions of casualties; that is agreed between us all. The best scientific advice, unless it has changed within the past few weeks, is that it would save the lives of millions who would otherwise die, after the nuclear exchanges were over. In other words, effective Civil Defence preparations are essential, both to make our deterrent power credible, and to save millions of lives from the holocaust, should it take place. Without effective, nationwide Civil Defence, nuclear war would be likely to mean that the British race in this island would be wiped out."—[col. 1094.]The remaining two are rather shorter. Sixthly:As it is, the Home Secretary and his Cabinet colleagues are taking the guilt upon themselves for imperilling the future of the British race …"—[col. 1095.]Seventhly:Can the Government say with certainty that all danger of a nuclear attack has now disappeared? Of course they cannot. Then let it be known to the country, that this is the Government that have decided to leave their people helpless in the aftermath of such a disaster."—[col. 1097.]The economic arguments that we have heard from my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor regarding burdens to be put upon the county councils and their ability to carry them out may persuade your Lordships that, none the less, we ought to allow this to happen. But I beg your Lordships to be in no doubt what it is that you are allowing to happen. If 1133 you believe, as I do, that my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor was speaking the truth when he made the last remark I quoted just now, then it is we who are allowing this to happen. Whatever may happen, I wish that nobody should be under any illusion about this. I repeat once more the noble Lord's words:Then let it be known, let it be known to the country, that this is the Government"—and we shall be allowing the Government to do it—that have decided to leave their people 'helpless in the aftermath of such a disaster' ".Noble Lords will vote as their wisdom and their conscience dictates.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, I am sorry that I was unable to be present yesterday for the debate. However, I should like to say a word or two in support of these Orders on behalf of certain Back-Benchers here, and to say that, in our view, they do not go far enough. I think this is a sensible move on the part of the Government; but it is a limited move. Personally, I should like to see the whole sham and facade of Civil Defence wiped out completely. It seems to me that this is like trying to clear up after an earthquake with a feather duster. That has nothing to do with the quotation read out just now by the noble Earl who has just spoken, about having some kind of emergency administration ready in the event of a disaster. I believe that this is essential. But I think, too, that to have these volunteers going through these routines has been a complete waste of time and a misguided use of their enthusiasm and energy.
I think, in short, that Civil Defence as we have looked upon it so far is "bunk", and what one ought to do is to say to these volunteers that there are many other, more positive, things they can do. I do not think there will be any shortage of them in the event of an emergency. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor; I think they will come forward again. In my view, it would be better for the country if we could direct the undoubted energy and enthusiasm of these people into some of the social work that is urgently necessary. I do not believe that the Government are leaving the country defenceless, because, in my view, the best Civil Defence lies in a non-hostile and wise 1134 foreign policy; and if that fails, then no Civil Defence can help.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I should like to controvert the rather narrow-minded views of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, because I feel that this country has been built up, to a large extent, by voluntary effort on the part of many people over the years. I think that to do away with the voluntary forces, with the T. & A.V.R. III (this is not included in these Orders, but it is also being abolished) the Civil Defence and the Fire Service is a most foolish action. We all hope that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, is right, and that, so far as this country is concerned, there will not be a nuclear war. But we have only his word for it. Let us assume, however, that he is right, and that no one is ever going to attack these shores. I believe that we may well find ourselves in nuclear trouble by accident. Already on two occasions American bombers have crashed and nuclear bombs have, not exploded, but have, been dropped, one into the sea and the other just off the land. In both cases it cost an enormous amount of money to deal with them. There has been radioactive emission from them. If they had—which is quite possible—fallen in built-up areas, goodness knows what damage this would have caused; and at that time we should have needed these volunteer forces. It is quite certain that the regular firemen and the police would be quite incapable of dealing with a matter of that kind on their own.
The Government's defence of this proposal is on the grounds of economy—and there is no one who wishes them better than I do in economic measures in trying to cut down the money which they are expending, largely on public services. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, said yesterday, one has to relate the particular saving that is imposed to the saving as a whole by the Government. This point, for obvious reasons, was not made yesterday from either Front Bench, but it is important to me and my colleagues on these Benches. It is a fact that £200 million a year is now being expended in the defence field by the Government on obsolete weapons that will, in all probability, never be used, if the noble Lord, Lord Willis, is right—that is on the Polaris submarines. Before they are fully 1135 built and equipped, they are obsolete. The Government's Manifesto referred to doing away with the independent nuclear deterrent, but they are now spending vast sums on trying to equip it with a double warhead so that its obsolescence will become less marked. The Government are spending over £200 million a year on an obsolete weapon which contributes to general Western defence, according to the Prime Minister himself when he was Leader of the Opposition,as much as a pea does to an elephant".That was the Prime Minister's expression, and he was referring to the British nuclear deterrent. In order to provide the pea to the elephant, the Government are doing away with all these voluntary efforts, which are much more likely to be needed. This will discourage the volunteer spirit.
Recently we saw an example in a bay off Korea of an American warship being captured by a small number of boats: an American warship being attacked in this way, which had not happened since sailing ship days. Why could not the American Air Force release that ship? It was because every American aircraft was equipped only with nuclear weapons: they were afraid to use them, and so could not release their own ship, because no American aircraft had conventional weapons. This is another illustration of how absurd the nuclear weapons of Britain are.
§ LORD STONHAM
May I interrupt the noble Lord? It is a great pity that we did not have the benefit of this speech yesterday. At the moment we are considering an Order, and I should have thought that the noble Lord could deal with the Order under consideration.
§ LORD OGMORE
I was coming to the Order. I had to develop the background. With respect, I am quite in order, because the noble Lord himself, in deploying his arguments, said that this proposal was based on economic factors, and it was because we wanted to save money. I am now pointing out that the Government could save a far greater amount of money in another direction, and avoid the necessity of taking these steps, which I think are wrong. I do not see why, just because I did not make a speech yester- 1136 day on a Motion, I should not make a speech to-day on an Order. To suggest that is to me a very odd Parliamentary doctrine. Surely it is more important to speak on an Order, which may be voted on, than on a Motion.
However, I want to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. He has said—and there is of course something in what he says—that if we reject this Order and vote against it today we shall leave the local authorities in the extraordinary position of having to carry out duties and not getting any money from the Government to do so. But he also said that even the duties they will have to perform anyway they will not be able to carry out properly because they will not have enough money. I do not see that it is a very great argument against voting down these Orders to-day, if in any case they will not have enough money to carry out their duties.
In any event, I do not think that this is a point that should concern us to-day. After all, we are presented by the Government with several measures for our consideration; and we have to deal with them as they are presented to us. If as a result of our consideration we turn them down, then it becomes necessary for other consequential action to be taken by the Government, and it is their responsibility to do it. It is not our place to say, "Well, we must not do this because if we do we land the local authorities in a bit of a jam". If we turn these Orders down, it is then the Government's duty to put the matter right and to bring in the necessary measures to do so. So I honestly do not believe that the well-intentioned arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, should in any way discourage noble Lords who feel, as I do, that we ought to vote against these Orders from doing so.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ LORD BOURNE
My Lords, I was not able to take part in yesterday's debate on Civil Defence, so perhaps I may detain your Lordships for two minutes while I explain why I am against the revocation of these Civil Defence Regulations. My objection has nothing to do with the voluntary spirit, which we have discussed many times in this Chamber, or with attitudes and opinions as to whether Civil Defence is "bunk" or is worth while. These revocation Orders, to my 1137 mind, involve diminution of the efficiency of the Civil Defence organisation in this country. Since we invented the aeroplane Civil Defence has been a necessary component of defence, or weapon, if you like to call it that, in this country. We had to have it in 1939 to meet the conventional attack, and we know perfectly well how badly we needed it at that time. Since the previous Labour Government authorised this country to have a nuclear deterrent force, the Civil Defence organisation has become an even more necessary component of our weapons. To do without it would be like sending an army to fight a conventional battle without its artillery or engineers. I do not believe it is right to diminish the efficiency of our Civil Defence organisation, and that is why I am against the revocation of these Regulations.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, it is not my intention to continue the debate. No doubt noble Lords will agree with me that it is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, with whom I disagree, and the noble Lords, Lord Ogmore and Lord Bourne, were not able to take part in the debate yesterday. But since your Lordships agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that we should couple with the first Order the two Scottish Orders, I feel bound to express from these Benches a Scottish view and to speak with a Scottish voice for all those who are amazed and bewildered at what has happened, all those who, like myself, believe utterly in the worthiness and worthwhile nature of voluntary effort, to say that we regard the whole action over Civil Defence as alarming and to be opposed so far as possible.
On the other hand, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has said. If indeed the problems are going to be so great that the already hardly tried local authorities will be put to great difficulty, I feel that it would be a mistake to reject Orders such as these. It is, I think, right that a voice from Scotland should be added to those we have already heard, especially the voice of my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery, who has protested against the action the Government have taken.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, may I intervene for one moment? I think that we are all, or the great majority of 1138 us in this House, bitterly opposed to what the Government have done, and that at any rate the great majority of us feel that we have to keep this organisation in being. I believe that 90 per cent. of the House feel that. But I suggest to your Lordships that a great deal of the argument which has been addressed to the House, particularly by the Liberal Peer who addressed us at such length, is wholly irrelevant to the issue which is before us now.
If, by a vote, we could say to the Government, "You are to reverse your policy", that would be one thing. But we certainly are not able to do that. All we should do, if we insisted on voting this Motion down, would be to deprive the local authorities of the money which they will get, little as it is, under this measure, and we should leave them with the obligation they have but without even the modest grant the Government are offering towards it. Therefore I would beg your Lordships to address yourselves to the relevant question, while hating what the Government are doing, and not to vote for something which would only make the matter very much worse.
§ 3.56 p.m
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I will not say one word which can be interpreted as resuming the debate which ended yesterday; and I do not think that in my original speech this afternoon commending this Order to your Lordships I said one such word, either. I spoke only about the Order. That is what I intend to do now. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, has put the whole case in a nutshell, as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, when he said that, in his view, the effect of rejecting these Orders would be to leave local authorities with a statutory obligation to maintain a Civil Defence Corps but with no money to do so. That would be precisely what any noble Lord who voted against these Orders would be doing. Do not let us make any mistake: it would not be a protest about volunteers; it would not be an effective way of showing your dislike of the Government's decision at all.
We had five and a half hours of debate in your Lordships' House yesterday on Civil Defence. I was here the whole time, and I should say that during four and a half of those hours there were not 1139 more than twenty Peers present. I only wish that we had had as many as are present now to hear all the arguments in an excellent debate. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said that if these Orders were not passed it would embarrass the local authorities. I put the matter very much more strongly than that: it would put them in an impossible position. The Government of 1949 passed regulations imposing statutory obligations on local authorities, and since then successive Governments have provided Exchequer funds in order that those statutory obligations could be complied with. The present Government have said that they can no longer supply funds on the same scale, and therefore they are proposing to remove from the local authorities those statutory obligations. It is as plain as that. Therefore, I ask all noble Lords in your Lordships' House, whatever may be your feelings about the subject generally and about the desirability or otherwise of the step we are taking, who take a really responsible view of their obligations to Parliament—and I hope that that means everybody—not to oppose these Orders.
I want to say three more things. First, we agree that this step means that it would be a difficult matter, and would take some time, if the Government of the day decided that it was again necessary to enrol volunteers for something analogous to the Civil Defence Corps. The very Orders we are revoking, or proposing to revoke, did this in 1949, four years after the end of the war. It was done then. I do not think it would be impossible to do it again. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, put two questions to me. The first was whether consideration would be given to the possibility of spending more money so as to provide more staff for local authorities? These discussions are going on, and we are endeavouring to find, with them, what is necessary to carry out the continuing obligations which they are required to carry. Certainly when the necessary level of staff is agreed the question of cost will be looked at.
With regard to the second question, if only a small amount of Government money will be available, so that those who are dead keen to keep together and to train together can be held I can only 1140 say this. All over the country there are voluntary movements starting up now. Some are in a sophisticated stage, like that in Birmingham, and have not directly asked for any money. We do not wish in any way to oppose or inhibit these efforts, but we must wait and see, before entering into any kind of commitment, what emerges and what is likely to endure. When we are in a position to see that, we can look at the matter again. My Lords, apart from that I have nothing to say, except to thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, for the advice which he gave to your Lordships' House.
§ 4.3 p.m.
My Lords, I wish just to say a few brief words on this Order. I believe it to be a miserable Order. I believe that the three Orders that follow it are miserable Orders. I believe that the policy which the Government are pursuing towards Civil Defence is both dangerous and in contradiction with the policies of previous Governments, and, what is more, with the policies of this Government. I believe that the volunteers in the Civil Defence Corps are being treated shabbily, that their loss will be a very great one, and that once they have been stood down the Government will not find it possible to stand them up again: and I believe that this is a serious matter.
It is also noticeable, as my noble friend Lord Brooke has pointed out, and very surprising, that on this important issue, which affects not only the safety but possibly the life of every single man. woman and child in this country, there was not one Member on the Benches opposite prepared to support their two Front Bench spokesmen in your Lordships' House yesterday afternoon. Admittedly the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has given his support to them to-day, but of course it was for a very different policy.
I am, however, grateful for the slight chink which I perceive the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, may have opened in at least two of these doors. At least he has said that on two of the important issues which came out of our debate yesterday the Government are preserving something of an open mind, pending their discussions with the local authorities. But, all in all, I have a great deal of sympathy 1141 for my noble friend's standpoint. I should like to say how flattered I was at the quotations which he read out, although I should have been happier if he had not happened to alight upon the longest single sentence which I have ever spoken in your Lordships' House. That being so, I was glad that he gave only two quotations of mine and awarded five to my noble friend Lord Brooke.
After the debate yesterday evening I was tempted not to withdraw my own Motion and to see the Papers for which I moved brought in. I was tempted to vote to-day for the rejection of these Orders, but I have thought this matter over as carefully as I can, and I feel compelled to tell my noble friend that if he does bring this issue to a Division I shall not, regretfully, be able to support him.
There is a certain constitutional ground here which is not unimportant. The undoubted power which this House has to reject these Orders derives from an historical quirk that when the Parliament Act was enacted there was very little subordinate legislation, and that is why Orders were not brought within its scope. That being so, I believe that it behoves your Lordships to give careful consideration before taking action to reject an Order of this sort.
Such rejection would in fact be unprecedented. In the 58 years since the Parliament Act was enacted no Order requiring Affirmative Resolution has been rejected by your Lordships' House. Therefore, I believe your Lordships should feel yourselves on very solid ground before supporting my noble friend, if he does decide to bring this matter to a Division. Much as I should like to believe that he is on solid ground, I cannot bring myself to believe that he is, for the reasons which my noble friend Lord Brooke has put to your Lordships this afternoon. He has explained that rejection would cause acute embarrassment to the local authorities, and in fact would be quite ineffectual; and I thought that his arguments on that score were incontrovertible.
I believe that the doctrine put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that your Lordships should have no real thought for the consequences of your action is at least debatable—
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, it would be debatable, but I did not say that. I said that if the Government brought forward a proposition to us we were entitled to reject it, and it was for them to put right the consequences of that rejection.
I believe that in these particular circumstances, your Lordships should have regard to the consequences which would befall and the acute embarrassment in which rejection of the Order would place the local authorities. These are the reasons why I hope that my noble friend will not press this to a Division and why, if he does so, I shall regretfully be unable to support him.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.