§ 4.29 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on civil defence.
"On taking office last year, the Government decided to accord high priority to the defence of the nation; and a review of civil preparedness for home defence was set in train so that this 1618 important element of our defence strategy could be considered as part of the improvement of our general defence effort. The review has been wide-ranging, embracing the responsibilities of many of my right honourable friends as well as my own. As a result I am now able to announce certain immediate steps which the Government judge to be necessary; these will extend as appropriate to Scotland, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be responsible for them there. I will also refer to parts of the review which are still continuing.
"I begin by emphasising that, despite the difficulties of the present international situation, the Government does not regard armed conflict with the Warsaw Pact countries as probable, let alone inevitable or imminent, provided that we maintain, as we intend, a firm commitment to peace while ensuring that our defence forces remain balanced and effective. We believe that to be seen to be prepared at home, as well as capable of military deterrence and defence, will make war less likely. Nevertheless, I would remind the House of what my right honourable friend said in paragraph 110 of his Statement on the Defence Estimates 1980. He said that Soviet strategists hold that any war in Europe is likely to escalate into a nuclear exchange, though it might start with conventional warfare, and that the warning time we might receive could be very little. This period of warning might, we believe, be measured in days rather than weeks.
"Against this background the Government consider that an expanded civil defence programme is both prudent and necessary to achieve an appropriate balance in our defence capability. To this end we propose to take the following immediate steps.
"First, with regard to the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation, which exists to give the public warning of air attack and, in the event of a nuclear attack, to give warning of the approach of radioactive fallout and subsequently to monitor the intensity of fallout radiation: the organisation will now modernise its communications, replace certain obsolescent 1619 equipment and improve the allowances paid to the volunteers of the Royal Observer Corps who play a vital part in maintaining the warning and monitoring systems. There will also be additional expenditure on the completion of the organisation's administrative headquarters and the sub-regional headquarters for decentralised government. Extra expenditure will be incurred on the associated communications network, and on improvements to the arrangements for the wartime broadcasting service which, if the need ever arose, would be established to ensure the continuation of public broadcasting facilities even after large scale attack.
"A great deal of civil defence work must be done at local level, and the Government propose to double the money available for this purpose. We will consult the local authority associations about the allocation of additional resources for local planning and for training, and for the adaptation of premises by district councils to complete the pattern of local authority wartime administrative headquarters and communications. Effective civil defence arrangements depend upon co-operation between central and local government. I know that some concern has been expressed about variations in civil defence arrangements in different parts of the country. I am satisfied that the Government have adequate powers to ensure that proper standards of protection are provided throughout the country, and it will naturally be our aim with the local authorities to see that that is done.
"We recognise that many county and regional councils at present lack the resources to plan for community involvement in civil defence below district level. The Government are ready to make more money available to meet this need and will discuss with the associations the most effective ways of doing so. We are anxious in particular to enable local emergency planners to maximise the contribution made by the large number of citizens, both individuals and members of organisations, who wish to add their efforts to civil defence planning on a voluntary basis. Many individual volunteers are 1620 already active in the civil defence field and certain voluntary organisations are keen to play a fuller part. The harnessing of volunteer effort will be an important feature of our plans and I intend to make a special appointment of a person of high standing for this purpose. There will be a separate appointment in Scotland.
"At the same time there will be greater involvement in civil defence planning and training on the part of central Government departments, the emergency services, the Post Office and the National Health Service. There will be an increase in central training facilities for the senior staff at local and other authorities, including an expansion of the Home Defence College at Easing-wold. There will also be improvements in the arrangements for the operation of emergency port facilities. The stock of emergency fire appliances is being refurbished this year.
"The total additional cost of these immediate measures over the next three years will be about £45 million, and by 1983–84 expenditure on civil defence will have risen from £27 million a year before the review to £45 million a year, an increase of over 60 per cent. The additional costs will be covered by a reallocation of resources within existing programmes and without adding to the total of public expenditure.
"I turn now to certain general policy matters and further studies which are still in progress.
"In the face of an attack, dispersal is not a practicable policy, and in any event no part of the country could be regarded as safe from both direct and indirect effects of nuclear weapons. A study is being made of domestic or family shelters, and advice will be available to the public later this year on a range of structures which would provide improved protection at relatively low cost. This guidance will consist of design outlines for five different types of shelter, and the degree of protection provided by each. We propose that, additionally, a survey of existing structures suitable for communal shelter purposes should be conducted, and we will discuss with the local authority associations how best to do this.
1621 "We have also decided that it is right for information about civil defence and the likely effects of a future war involving the United Kingdom to be made generally available in peacetime. The public has a right to knowledge of these matters. We have already published Protect and Survive, and we will be examining ways of making more information available.
"The Government will also be studying the role and closer involvement of industry in defence planning.
"Finally, the review has emphasised the need to promote effective coordination at all levels and between all those with responsibility for civil defence. Ministers will be attending some of the conferences already planned in various parts of the country for this purpose.
"Mr. Speaker, the measures I have announced today are an important contribution to improving our civil preparedness: they are positive and cost effective. The Government are confident that they will be widely supported in this House and in the country."
My Lords, that is the Statement of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord BOSTON of FAVERSHAM
My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for repeating this Statement, and I certainly welcome the review which has been carried out. It was right to carry out a thorough review. The Statement raises a large number of matters which perhaps we could return to on another occasion, so as to go into them in rather more detail.
I would ask the noble Lord, first, would he accept that the preambulary passages in the Statement, that the Government do not regard armed conflict with the Warsaw Pact countries as probable, let alone inevitable or imminent, are significant because they help to put this whole matter in perspective? So, while it would be quite wrong to be alarmist, it is indeed quite right to be prepared. I would ask the noble Lord whether he recalls the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, that in the event of 1622 a thermo-nuclear attack designed to knock out this country, no civil defence organisation could really achieve much, if anything worthwhile. So the context in which we are talking about the need for effective civil defence here is to limit the harm from the effects of attack, nuclear or conventional, less than that, assuming that is possible and sensible given the possibilities of escalation.
It is right to emphasise the great value of civil defence organisations and the role of voluntary organisations, and I would like to join in the tribute to them, and also to welcome the proposed appointment of a person of high standing to co-ordinate their activities.
I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead about the public expenditure aspects of the Statement. He spoke of an increase in the amount, and I am wondering how this compares in real terms with what has been spent previously. The noble Lord the Minister said in your Lordships' debate on 5th March this year that home defence expenditure of £22 million at that time was not high, and it was a third of that in 1968 when civil defence was put on a care and maintenance basis by the previous Government. I am wondering how the new figures compare in real terms with that. Also, are the Government satisfied that the proposed expenditure is in fact sufficient? After all, if the Government consider that this is something which is not only worthwhile but indeed essential, and part of the necessary measures for the defence of the realm, then they should commit the necessary expenditure.
As to measures that people might be encouraged to take for themselves, it is true that there is some room here for self-help, but there is a danger in too much of a do-it-yourself exercise. After all, everyone has equal right to the minimum protection considered to be essential, but there is a danger that if left to themselves those who could least afford it or could least attend to it—and I am thinking of those in poor health, the elderly people, the infirm and the disabled—might be either left out or left with inadequate protection. I am wondering what steps the Government propose to take to ensure that the needy are not left out. Can the Minister give an assurance that the Government are satisfied about that aspect?
1623 I note that dispersal policy is not dealt with in the Statement. That will come as quite a surprise to many of your Lordships who expressed concern about this matter in the debate in March, and I am wondering whether it is simply that the Government have accepted that no part of the country is safe. I would certainly agree that the fullest possible information should be made available for people generally. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has referred to the booklet, Protect and Survive. I wonder whether the Government might consider distribution of a cheaper, leaflet version of that. Also in the debate in March the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, referred to the consideration the Government were giving to up-dating that booklet itself, and I wonder whether that is in fact still in hand. So far as the distribution of a cheaper leaflet version is concerned, I would mention that the GLC and the relevant London boroughs did in fact a few years ago embark on an exercise of this kind, warning people about the measures to be taken and the dangers from flooding. These things need to be done in good time. So far as that exercise is concerned, it is only now, if it is not wholly inappropriate to say so, that the information is beginning to sink in.
The only other point I would put to the noble Lord is whether the Government might consider a regular review of these matters. They are clearly very important. They clearly need to be up-dated from time to time. I am thinking of the example of the Defence Review and whether it might perhaps be appropriate to do a regular review of civil home defence as well, perhaps as part of that, or at any rate every so often.
§ Lord HOOSON
My Lords, I also think it was sensible of the Government to undertake this review, and particularly I would commend and approve the decision of the Government to modernise and improve the warning and monitoring facilities, if only for the fact that if we are all to be blown to smithereens it will be a comfort to your Lordships and to other people in this country to have at least a little warning of it. Can the Minister say whether the £45 million, which he says will be the annual expenditure after certain steps have been taken, includes expenditure 1624 on this warning and monitoring system, or whether that is not covered by a different Vote? The second matter about which I should like to ask the Minister is this. He quite rightly said that the public have a right to know about these things. Would he not confirm that no shelter exists that gives any adequate protection from the direct hit of a nuclear bomb, and no shelter exists whereby there can be any sustained protection from the indirect results of a nuclear bomb? It is important that people do not get the illusion that there are shelters or something that enables one to avoid the consequences of nuclear war.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for the reception they have given to my right honourable friend's Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Boston, asked me about the defence assumptions and mentioned certain words which were spoken in your Lordships' House by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. Military defence planning is, of course, already based on the assumptions set out in the Defence Estimates for this year, and I would think from what both noble Lords have just said that they agree it is time civil defence planning came in line with those assumptions and those plans; this is what we are endeavouring to achieve in this Statement.
The noble Lord asked me about the total expenditure on civil defence. That in 1983–84 will reach £45 million, a 60 per cent. increase compared with the level of spending before the review was started. The noble Lord, Lord Boston, referred to future plans, wondering whether expenditure was going to be sufficient for future plans. Certainly the last part of my right honourable friend's Statement refers to the future and matters which we are continuing to plan and keep under review. With those plans, of course, we shall continue to keep under review the level of public spending.
The noble Lord then asked me specifically about the position of those who are disabled or old or needy in the event of attack. I think it is right that I should again draw attention to what was said in the Statement about the scope for voluntary efforts in civil defence, which the Government believe is very great. Of 1625 course, in addition to the national voluntary organisations—I particularly have in mind the British Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, and the Women's Royal Voluntary Services, which of course as well as being national operate at local level—we also have volunteers who are working in the field at county level, such as the Devon Emergency Volunteers and Wiltshire County Councils' Community Advisers. It is those organisations and those volunteers who, among others, we believe will particularly help the sort of people the noble Lord has in mind in the event of nuclear attack, in addition of course to other functions which volunteers will be able to discharge. The House might be interested to know something which was not in the Statement, which is that within the money doubled for local authorities—a point which was in the Statement—there will be £1 million extra for the organisation and training of volunteers.
The noble Lord, Lord Boston, asked me about dispersal policy. I think it has to be accepted that no part of the country could be considered safe from both the direct effects of muclear weapons and the result of radioactive fall-out, and this clearly is a serious impediment to mass dispersal schemes. But, of course, that is one of the main reasons why we believe that an expanded civil defence programme is both prudent and necessary.
Finally, the noble Lord asked me about two matters which I am grateful to him for raising. First, he asked about a leaflet version of Protect and Survive which, incidentally, was updated before it was brought out again. He also raised the question of regular reviews. I shall draw both those matters to the attention of my right honourable friend.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, asked me specific questions about the ability of shelters to protect those who are in them. I would aske the noble Lord, if he would not mind, to wait until a little later this year when, as the Statement said, we intend to make advice available to the public on a range of structures which could provide improved protection at a relatively low cost. I think that it will be at that moment that one will want to look at the details of shelter design.
§ Lord CHALFONT
My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in 1626 thanking the Minister for repeating the very comprehensive and important Statement, which I think deserves, before any protracted debate, the closest possible study. Also, I think that it is extremely appropriate that the Minister of State for Defence should be sitting on the Front Bench at this moment, because this is, of course, a matter of national defence. Indeed, there are some who believe that the liaison between the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence on these matters ought to be even closer and better integrated.
I should like to ask the Minister whether he is aware that the Defence Study Group of your Lordships' House recently held a seminar on this subject and that the minutes of that seminar are available in the Library of the House? He may find them illuminating. I should also like to ask the Minister two questions. First, would he not agree that perhaps there is a little too much emphasis on the volunteer aspect of this problem? Home defence, like other forms of national defence, is a highly professional matter, especially in the face of a possible air attack whether conventional or nuclear, upon this country. I wonder whether a sum of £45 million a year, which I understand from the Minister is what we might be spending by 1984, is thought to be really an adequate amount to spend on the defence of these islands, when we are spending something like £9,000 million a year on the rest of our defence budget.
I should like to ask one rather more important question. Would the noble Lord the Minister not agree that there is some danger in talking in such terms as "no civil defence programme can be effective in the case of a nuclear attack" and "no form of shelter can be a sufficient protection against nuclear attack"? Would the Minister not agree that the whole point of having a home defence programme is as a part of our integrated defence policy? Would he not agree that there is no sense in spending £5,000 million a year on a Trident missile, if we cannot ensure the protection of our own population?
Finally, will he take very careful note of the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, in respect of having a regular review of home defence? It seems that that is something 1627 that ought to be considered in consultation with the Ministry of Defence. I wonder whether the noble Lord can assure us that we may in future have a regular review of home and civil defence to go alongside the regular review of our national defence policy?
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I should like quickly to reply to the points which have been put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. Again I am grateful to him for his recognition of the importance of this Statement. I should like to pick up one of the points which he made in the middle of his remarks. The increase in expenditure which is now committed by the Government, by this Statement, is an increase of 60 per cent. by the financial year 1983–84. In the present economic climate that is a significant sum of money, and I think it shows a significant commitment by the Government and, when I say "the Government", I am, of course, speaking for all the Government departments not least the Ministry of Defence.
The noble Lord referred to too much emphasis upon volunteers. I point out to your Lordships that the scope for voluntary effort in civil defence is very great and, in addition to the voluntary organisations which I ventured to mention a few minutes ago, let us not forget that the whole of the United Kingdom warning and monitoring organisation is, so far as the Royal Observer Corps is concerned—the men actually in the field—manned by volunteers. The local authorities who, of course, are charged with a statutory duty under the regulations as regards civil defence responsibilities, are advised by scientific advisers who give their services in a voluntary capacity.
Finally, when the noble Lord said that the defence policy of this country should be an integrated policy, I think that he speaks to the converted when speaking in your Lordships' House. Certainly on behalf of the Government I acknowledge to the noble Lord that we realise—and it lies behind this statement—that to have a credible defence policy it is necessary to have a practical civil defence policy.
My Lords, from these Benches I should like to thank my 1628 noble friend for what he has said. Having worked in shelters during the last war I realise what a great benefit they can be. I should like to ask two questions. First, my noble friend has not mentioned anything about deep shelters. Will there be any fortification of deep shelters, which were, particularly in the undergrounds, very advantageous in the last war? Secondly, I was very grateful to him for mentioning the volunteers, and especially Wiltshire where there are already over 2,000 trained volunteers. Will he state that we can have a debate in the near future on this matter, because at present the House is rather thin on the ground and I think that it would be advantageous to hear the views of others and also perhaps get something more in the press which would give more confidence to the general public?
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Vickers has raised the very important subject of shelter design to which the Statement does refer, and your Lordships may like to look at the relevant paragraphs. However, my answer to the specific point which my noble friend raised about deep shelters is that, of course, those should certainly form part of the discussions with the local authority associations which the Government have proposed to carry forward in order to see whether existing structures suitable for communal shelter purposes can be repaired. Clearly the point which my noble friend makes should form part of that.
As regards my noble friend's question about a debate, I think that that is a matter for the usual channels.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, would not the Minister agree that his Statement has been more a survey of what can be done, than of what is to be done? Does he really believe that there is any safeguard for the great majority of the population of this country if a nuclear war occurred? Yesterday, the anniversary of Hiroshima was celebrated throughout the world. Has the noble Lord seen the statement of scientists in The Times that missiles carrying warheads could now be one hundred to a thousand times more destructive than the bomb which fell on Hiroshima?
1629 So far as plans are concerned, is it not the case that in the last world war deep offices were arranged for members of the Government and the Civil Service in London? I went down them and I was astonished by the equipment and the air-conditioning of those offices under Whitehall. Is it not the case that those plans are now being extended outside London? While they might save the occupants for a period, radioactive elements would continue and it would be very unsafe for the occupants to come up for many weeks. What would happen to the administration of the rest of the country? I am asking the noble Lord to appreciate that the solution to this problem is not to concentrate on civil defence, but to concentrate on preventing a nuclear war occurring.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, before my noble friend replies to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, may I say that I think we are getting a little out of order over this particular Statement. I do not want to stop short any noble Lord who wishes to ask questions, but if we could keep such questions to questions for elucidation, as is the custom of this House, rather than almost coming to a debate, I think that it would be a very great help.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, I want to make an observation on what the Chief Whip has just said. It is a mistake, particularly at the latter end of the Session, to begin to discuss what, in the future, may be the most important topic to the people of this country. Obviously, there must be a debate on the Government's review, even if it means the submission, the exposure, of intimate details. There is a tendency on the part of some people to complain that if details are furnished, our potential aggressors may be too well informed. I think we have to take that risk. The next point I want to make—
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, the whole purpose of our defence, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Brockway—
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, I do not want to stop the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, but I wonder whether he would put his comments in the form of a question, because the Rules of Order carefully say that we do not debate on these occasions; we ask questions for elucidation.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, I am trying to put a question to the Chief Whip, because it seems to me that it is a mistake to begin with to discuss the matter at this stage. I think that the matter should be adjourned after until the Recess, when we will not only have this review before us, but also the investigations that have been undertaken by the Defence Group of your Lordships' House and by some private organisations outside. These matters must be dealt with. I suggest that rather than delving too deeply into the subject at this stage, we should adjourn it until we return after the Recess, when there should be a full debate on every aspect of the subject.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell is making exactly the point that I was making, only, of course, he did so with much more skill than I was capable of. This is not the occasion for a debate. No doubt the usual channels will be able to agree a time for a debate after the Recess. But in the meantime it is customary to allow noble Lords to ask questions for elucidation only. I should not like to deprive your Lordships, who need to know one or two points that are not quite clear, of that right. But if they could be as short as possible, we can get on with the very long day's business before us.
§ Lord PEART
My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition, may I say that I am certain it would be right and proper for us to debate this when we return after the Recess, at a time agreed through the usual channels. We have already had a debate on this and I see no reason why we should not have one later, and so make progress now.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, under the circumstances, perhaps I could reply in only one sentence to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, I would draw the attention of the noble Lord to a sentence which came quite early in the Statement where my right honourable friend said:
1631 "We believe that to be seen to be prepared at home, as well as capable of military deterrence and defence, will make war less likely".
Lord DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, may I point out to the noble Lord that the subject of refugees appears to have been omitted from the Statement. In areas on the edge of this subject there is great worry. Perhaps at some future date the noble Lord could elucidate on it. Secondly, in any further matters put forward, will he please include elucidation on how farmers should handle their animals and whether contaminated animals can be milked et cetera. It would be nice to hear that in the form of a Statement.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, this is precisely the sort of matter into which we can look into in more detail if we have a debate when we return after the Recess. The Statement was at pains to point out that these matters cover almost all the Government departments, as many of your Lordships know. I think that the noble Lord will find that we can look into this when we come back after the Recess, as, indeed, we can look into the first point which he put to me to which I think the increased spending by local authorities and voluntary organisations has some relevance.
§ Baroness HYLTON-FOSTER
My Lords, can the noble Lord say just a few words about what is expected of the three voluntary aid organisations? We understand that we are to man the first-aid posts. However, we have not the remotest idea how many there are throughout the country or their locations. Will the noble Lord be bringing any pressure to bear on local authorities and whatever the appropriate authority in the health service now is to encourage them to tell us what to do?
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I think that it is most important—and I welcome the opportunity to say this in reply to the last question—that the role of the coordinator, whom my right honourable friend will be appointing—which I think will be an extremely important post—is to harness voluntary effort to best effect. I think that that is how I can best answer 1632 the important question which the noble Baroness has asked me.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, even at the risk of doing something of which I was accused a few weeks ago, of stopping the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, in his prime, I can only try to interpret the feeling of your Lordships' House. From where I sit the feeling of your Lordships' House seems to be that we have probably given this matter enough consideration at the moment, so perhaps we could carry on with the business of the day.