§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
rose to call attention to the problems of civil defence and in particular to the duties in this respect of local authorities and to the value of encouraging the recruitment of volunteers to this and other related forms of public service; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, with regard to what my noble friend the Chief Whip has just said, I am 1073 delighted that he repeated his statement that we have 12 minutes per person, which is what I calculated, because in his earlier speech he gave only 1W., minutes to the previous lot, and as there are exactly the same number of speakers I could not quite understand the difference. However, we can take full advantage I did not say so at the time, for fear that he cut down. our timing. I welcome all the speakers who have kindly put down their names to speak, particularly the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletsoe, who will be giving us his maiden speech. I welcome him very much and greatly look forward to hearing what he has to tell us.
It is some time since a debate on this subject was held in your Lordships' House, and I can touch on only some aspects of what can be quite a wide subject. I hope that others of your Lordships who are taking part in the debate will be able to fill any gaps that I may leave. Though the Government have taken welcome initiatives—financially, in giving advice about civil defence and in raising a volunteer force-1 believe that it is necessary at the outset to examine, once again, the basic needs. Why do we need civil defence? I suggest that the fundamental reason is that we need to have an organised body of trained volunteers, led by a relatively small, full-time specialist team who are able at any time to support local authorities in the event of any natural or man-made disaster. Floods. extensive subsidence, major air crashes, major train accidents, major snowfalls, landslides and chemical disasters in sophistocated plants or in vehicles, are all features of modern life, and a great many of them are features of recent modern life. Secondly, I think there is a need for such a force of specialists and trained volunteers also to be available to back up the regular armed forces and their reserves in the event of any attack by an outside aggressor on these islands. I should have thought that this was absolutely obvious common sense.
I turn now to why, in the main, it should be a volunteer force. I suggest that there is a limit to the number of full-time local authority employees whom it is reasonable or economical to have available for unforseen major disasters. There is a similar limit to the size of fully trained armed services, and their reserves, available for back-up purposes. There is, on the other hand, a great number of men and women who are ready to come forward and assist this great country to surmount any major disaster which may strike it in peace or war. Good, well-established examples of such voluntary services are the many nursing organisations, the lifeboats, the volunteer fire brigades and bodies of that nature. But I suggest to your Lordships that they do not of themselves provide precisely what I am saying we need for unforeseen disasters.
With that background, it seems to me to be singularly shortsighted not to tap this great volunteer reserve and give it the necessary training to tackle the tasks which may occur at any time, and without warning, and to tackle them in an organised way. The broad mass of the people would surely not forgive either central or local government if an emergency arose and the thousands, maybe more, of able bodied people who are willing and able to do so had been given no chance to be prepared to help. Their effectiveness in doing so 1074 will of course be immeasurably increased if they are trained and organised in advance. As well as giving such people a chance to help if they are needed, the fact that the arrangements have been made at all will be yet another indication to any potential aggressor that we would resist attack, and will help—but only help—to deter him from doing so.
Your Lordships may have noted that so far I have made no mention of the relevance of civil defence to nuclear attack. That most unlikely form of attack is only one of the emergencies for which an organised civil defence force could be of assistance. I suggest to your Lordships that nuclear aggression is most unlikely, because those who are capable of implementing it are fully aware of the disastrous and long-term effect of such resultant explosions, and are also deterred by the possibility of retaliation. Furthermore, the main purpose of war for an aggressor—I would mention that according to my reckoning this country, under major war conditions, has not been an aggressor for over two centuries, so we do not know what it is like to be an aggressor and cannot therefore judge these things —is to impose his will on the community under attack. What is the point of totally destroying those whom you wish to subjugate? However, I have some sympathy for the Government of the day which wound up the civil defence force in the 1960s when the Soviet threat appeared to be only nuclear.
Since then, things—as they tend to do—have moved on. There have been, fortunately, few natural disasters and man-made chemical catastrophes. In those few cases, unsung ordinary people have sprung to the assistance of the authorities. In many cases there has been a hard core of people with experience of war, accustomed to organising behaviour for emergencies. But we are running out of these people. The other, and vitally important, new factor has been that in the past 20 years the Soviet Union have developed their so-called conventional forces to a size far in excess of that necessary for their stated aim of self-defence. If, as they are currently trying to do, they can persuade the countries of Western Europe to drop their nuclear guard, then, if the situation looks right, they will be able to threaten to impose their will by so-called conventional means. Thus, we need civil defence for peacetime emergencies. We also need it desperately both to deter and, if necessary, to help to tackle a conventional Soviet attack.
Much of what I have said is included in the Government pamphlet Civil Defence: Why We Need It, and in the excellent Home Office circulars to local authorities —ES1/81 and ES2/81. Thus I find it incomprehensible that so many local authorities do not realise the grave disservice which they are doing to their electors in failing to implement coherent plans for civil defence. They also mislead those electors into thinking that, somehow, an efficient civil defence force has some sort of link with a nuclear threat—which they, and anybody else who is sensible, does not like the thought of. In some cases they mislead their electors even further into thinking that the declaration of a nuclear-free zone provides any defence whatsoever against anything. It is absolute nonsense. Those local authorities would do their electors a much better service by preparing for all types of emergencies and by joining up with the various peace movements to ask the 1075 Russians when they are going to reduce their conventional arms to a level that is necessary solely for self defence.
I must also say that, good though their recent circulars are and welcome though the financial support which they offer is, the Government themselves seem to have been surprisingly backward—at least since the excellent speech of my honourable friend Mr. Mayhew in another place on 27th November 1981, at col. 1156—in giving positive impetus towards the implementation of their excellent intentions, especially concerning the ignorant and incomprehensibe behaviour of so many local authorities. I believe that the Government have also been backward in correcting the general public regarding the misleading nonsense about linking civil defence with nuclear warfare and establishing nuclear-free zones, to which I have already referred. I hope very much that my noble friend the Minister, to whom I have given notice of those two latter points, will be able to tell us of positive action to correct them, or about the contemplation of such action.
In conclusion, I commend to your Lordships the National Council for Civil Defence, of which I, together with the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and my noble friend Lady Vickers, have the privilege of being vice-presidents—and of which my noble friend Lord Renton is the illustrous president. I commend it to your Lordships of all parties, and indeed it is sad that there are so few people on the Benches opposite who are joining in this debate. It is a body of parliamentarians and other members from many parts of the country, formed independently to help persuade people—the country at large—that civil defence is truly needed by the country for tackling the emergencies which I have described, and for deterring aggression. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Lord Elystan-Morgan
My Lords, the House is deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, for this opportunity to discuss matters which are of prime interest and of profound public concern. May I join with the noble Lord who opened the debate in saying how much I, too, look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso.
I am sure that the House and the opening speaker will forgive me if I seek to confine my remarks to the question of civil defence in the context of an attack upon the civilian population. The field of civil defence holds vital issues involving some of the greatest considerations any community has had to face throughout history. Civil defence in its broadest aspects has the widest scope possible. It has a multiplicity of roles, ranging from one extreme of seeking to neutralise any physical threat to the public at large, to the other extreme of attempting to create some semblance of order out of cataclysmic chaos and of salvaging the very structure of Government from the mangled remains of a community. If I may, it is against that background that I ask the question: has civil defence in that respect any meaningful role in Britain today?
In so far as the capacity of civil defence to counter the horrendous effects of nuclear attack is concerned, then quite clearly such a capacity does not exist. There is overwhelming evidence on that score from 1076 every quarter. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, as the House is well aware, had an equivalent explosive force of some 12,500 tonnes of TNT. It achieved in an instant the deaths of 60,000 people, and some 60,000 more died within a few months, followed by the deaths of many, many thousands more over the years. A Government exercise carried out in 1980—Operation Square Leg—seeking to simulate in realistic terms a nuclear attack upon Britain, was based upon the probability that such an attack would involve Britain suffering 125 nuclear missiles, amounting in total to some 200 megatons—that is, the eqivalent of 13,000 Hiroshimas.
The Government are on record as having calculated that the number of deaths in an all-out attack on Britain would be in the order of 35 million. How the Government can calculate that the figure would be 35 million rather than 40 million, 45 million or 55 million is something which no doubt the Minister will wish to comment upon in due course. The late Lord Louis Mountbatten, in a speech at Strasbourg on 11th May 1979, spoke of a nuclear attack upon Britain in these terms:In the event of nuclear war, there will be no chances and there will be no survivors. All will be obliterated.He went on to say:I am not asserting this without having deeply thought about the matter. When I was Chief of Defence Staff, I made my views known. I have heard arguments against this view, but I have never found them convincing.The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, chief scientific adviser to the Government for many years, made a speech in the United States of America in November 1979, when he put it this way:As our own White Paper on Defence put it as long ago as 1957, there was then no means of protecting the nation against the consequences of a nuclear war. There is none today, when the scale of attack may he 100 times greater than it was in the 1950s.One could continue finding quotation upon quotation, all by people of distinction and experience in this field, and all pointing to an almost inevitable apocalyptic disaster in the event of a nuclear attack One thing, in my submission, is clear: the effect of a nuclear attack on Britain would be to leave these islands a smoking and radiation-contaminated ruin. There is no precedent even in the most terrifying chapters of human history to turn to for a realistic parallel Indeed, one would have to descend into Dante's Inferno.
Civil defence as a shield to protect the mass of the people of Britain against nuclear destruction is a physical impossibility and a myth. I am sure that this House will accept that to propagate such a myth would be to blur the sharp edges of reality and to delude the mass of our people. To do this would be an act of wicked irresponsibility on the part of any government. But sometimes those who take a particular stance in relation to civil defence say, "But you must never presume that the attack upon Britain will be a nuclear one." Let us think of that for a moment. Let us assume that a conventional weapons attack was made by a nuclear power. Why should that ever be so? Surely any such power, in deciding to attack Britain, would have to come to the conclusion that it had a fair chance of knocking out the 1077 British community completely and depriving it of its power of retaliation. If by using conventional rather than nuclear weapons it took any risk, it would be an imbecilic risk for such a country to take. It is almost as if one had argued in 1939 that the Germans would not use their vast armada of bombers to attack Britain but would send only a few antiquated Zeppelin airships instead. So far as the possibility of an attack from a non-nuclear country is concerned, that is a prospect too ludicrous to justify any examination.
Although the destruction that Britain would suffer from a nuclear attack would be truly massive, it must follow—must it not?—that no-one could possibly calculate within 1 million, 5 million or tens of millions just how many people would be killed and how many would have a chance of survival. It must follow that, in relation to nuclear attack, there must be a real case for civil defence. If civil defence was not able genuinely to deflect or neutralise the prospect of nuclear destruction, nevertheless it has a role if it offers the possibility of saving millions upon millions of lives. The question of saving millions of lives must be a real possibility so far as people who live on the edges of a nuclear blast are concerned. It is impossible to say in what circumstances there would be such a patchy or partial attack on the British community, but one can imagine a dozen different situations in which that would happen. The possibility of the saving from jeopardy of millions or tens of millions of lives must indeed be central to the very duties of a state. In fact, I would argue that there is no higher duty that a state has in the material world.
The question, however, that one must ask is whether civil defence as we know it at the moment in Britain is geared to such a role. The scale of the enterprise from a financial point of view is extremely modest. In 1980, the Government spent £27 million on civil defence. By 1983–84 that will have risen to a sum of the order of £45 million. That will be one-third of what was spent upon civil defence in 1968 when the Civil Defence Corps was stood down and placed upon a care and maintenance basis. The £45 million is a fraction of what Britain spends, for example, every year upon military bands. Certainly I do not attack military bands—on the contrary—but I think it gives us some idea of the priorities in this context.
Government publications in this field have not given any real clue at all as to Government commitments. The latest pamphlet, Civil Defence: Why We Need It, is confined to arguing the case for civil defence. There was an earlier publication in 1976, which was issued to the general public only in 1979–80, that exhorted people in the event of thermo-nuclear war to hide under tables, to white-wash windows, to horde tinned food and toothbrushes. Among these clouds of good advice there was no commitment by the Government for the most direct methods of defence. The Government, it seems, have no plans for seeing to it that a substantial proportion of the people of Britain are provided, either communally or privately, with deep shelters. If the Government say that the risk of nuclear war is negligible, then, of course, I accept that it would be folly to commit ourselves to the vast expenditure that such a project entails. But if the risk of nuclear war is negligible, why should Her Majesty's Government commit Britain to the expenditure of £8,000 million 1078 upon the Trident scheme? If the risk, however, is real, then there is a real duty upon the Government to protect their people.
There is a great deal that I would wish to say, but I am afraid that time has completely forestalled me. I end by asking that question. If the Government consider that there is this real risk, small but nevertheless real, by failing to provide the British people with a chance, which in the case of millions of people would give them a real prospect of survival, the Government inevitably must be abdicating one of their basic responsibilities.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, a number of points about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, puzzled me very greatly. He began by reminding us of the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in nuclear-free zones. This morning I received a document called The Londoner, a newspaper published at the ratepayers' expense, which informed me that London had been declared a nuclear-free zone by the GLC; put on a par, that is so far as its status goes, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki—they were in nuclear-free zones. It can be argued that if the Japanese had had nuclear weapons, the tragedies that overcame Hiroshima and Nagasaki might never have taken place.
Then the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, left us in some doubt as to whether he wished the Government to build deep shelters, or whether he wished the Government to do nothing. It is perfectly possible from the speech of the noble Lord to deduce either that he wishes the Government to do nothing or that he wishes them to build deep shelters.
§ Lord Elystan-Morgan
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene—and I am most grateful—certainly what I say is that if, according to the Government's own argument there is a real danger of nuclear war, and if they really want to protect millions of lives then shelters certainly should be built.
§ Lord Mayhew
The noble Lord, with great respect, is avoiding his moral duty to this House. He really must say whether he wishes the Government to do nothing or to build deep shelters.
§ Lord Elystan-Morgan
My Lords, unreservedly I do, unless it can be shown that the risk is a negligible one, and at the moment the risk is not a negligible one. I do not think I could be clearer than that.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, now I am clear that the noble Lord wishes a very vast sum of money to be spent, millions of pounds, on providing this country with deep shelters. Where the money is coming from no doubt other Members of those Benches will explain.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, I wish to suggest, on the contrary, that the Government are at fault for a different reason. I take very much the line of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who opened the debate, in this sense: I think it is lamentable that local authori- 1079 ties, including the GLC, are not co-operating in the civil defence venture of the Government. They argue, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, has argued, that nuclear war is so destructive that it is futile to make any provision against it. They argue that in preparing for civil defence in some way brings nuclear war nearer, or even involves preparing for fighting a nuclear war. In my view, all these arguments are preposterous. But they are exploited quite effectively in order to dissuade local authorities from doing their duty in the field of civil defence.
My complaint with the Government is this: that their civil defence effort has been planned and presented not as a response to natural disasters or the possibility of conventional warfare, or even as a response to a single nuclear explosion, possibly accidental, possibly the dropping of a demonstration bomb. The Government's civil defence plans have been prepared and presented to the nation solely in terms of the nuclear holocaust to which the last speaker was referring. What nonsense this is!
Why are the Government taking this line? Do they really think that a nuclear holocaust is more likely than conventional war? It does not correspond with the views of the Secretary of State for Defence. Or do they think that conventional war will not also cause appalling destruction and terrible casualties? Or do they feel that the public will respond more readily if the case for civil defence is put in terms of a nuclear holocaust? If they think these things they are wrong on all these counts, and must carry considerable responsibility for the failure to mobilise the country; the failure to get the co-operation of local authorities throughout the country.
My own view is that while we have a deterrent the possibility of conventional war with the Soviet Union in Europe is very small indeed, and the possibility of nuclear war with Russia in Europe hardly exists at all. If we are to have skeleton civil defence plans, as I think we should, I think they should be geared more to conventional war than to nuclear war. And to the extent that they are geared to nuclear war they should be geared to a single nuclear explosion, possibly an accident, possibly a demonstration bomb, more than to a nuclear holocaust. In planning and preparing their scheme, the Government have done exactly the opposite and have given a great opportunity to extreme Left-Wing views to exploit the situation against the NATO defence policy which is supported so widely in this country. The Government have got their priorities wrong and have helped nobody except Left-Wing extremists and unilateralists.
I would also say, however, as the last point 1 wish to make, that no matter whether one is a unilateralist, a multilateralist or a pacifist, whatever one's political views, it does not affect the case for civil defence at all. The case for civil defence is a humanitarian case and that is all it is. It simply asserts that no matter what may have caused suffering it is everyone's obligation to try to limit it. That is all it says, and this applies in all circumstances in all countries, no matter how wicked or how stupid the Government may be; it is a humanitarian case and it gives me the greatest pain to see my old party rejecting the case for humanity in this very casuistic way, this very unconvincing 1080 manner. This argument of humanity also applies in neutral countries. If war comes in Europe, whether it is conventional or nuclear, it is unlikely to have been brought about by the governments of Sweden or Switzerland. Nor are they likely to be participants or to be deliberate targets in such a war; but these two countries are foremost in the protection they provide for their citizens in civil defence. If Britain followed their example, if we became neutral, if we became non-nuclear, we should have exactly the same obligation to defend our citizens, to provide civil defence. In my view, therefore, the present attitude of some local authorities in refusing to co-operate in civil defence is not only extremely illogical but essentially inhumane.
§ 6.2 p.m.
Lord St. John of Bletso
My Lords, it is a great privilege for me to speak in your Lordships' House for the first time, and particularly in this important debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, for his kind introduction. I am conscious of the traditions of this House and of the vast experienc and depth of knowledge of all aspects of life represented here. Although I have spent most of my life in South Africa and thus to some degree have been remote from the public debates on defence matters which are of such immediate concern to the countries of the northern hemisphere, nevertheless I have no doubt of the importance of the subject we are debating.
Parallels are not easy to draw between one part of the world and another, but I am sure that all observers would agree that the most tragic aspect of the various guerrilla wars which have occurred, and are still occurring, in Southern Africa is the loss of life among innocent civilians caught between the fires of opposing parties. In Europe, too, it is perhaps easy to forget that in a major war the greatest burden in deaths, casualties and distress is inevitably likely to fall upon the civilian population; but although in considering the question of civil defence one's mind naturally turns to the possibility of a military attack on this country, none the less the severe social disruption which would inevitably be caused by such an attack could be brought about by other circumstances.
I refer particularly to natural disasters, or what may be called technological disasters, such as the power failure which gripped New York a few years ago—I believe in I977—which caused such disruptive consequences. Whatever causes these disruptions, the same kind of consequences are likely to follow; for example, breakdowns in communication, transport failures, the collapse of vital services like the supply of water and of electricity. Furthermore, the possibility of looting and other civil disorders such as occurred during the New York power failure which I have mentioned cannot be ruled out.
In considering the powers and functions of this country's civil defence authorities we should not forget to take into account these non-military factors. In the circumstances of serious social disruption the maintenance of law and order will of course remain the proper responsibility of the police force. It may also be necessary to call upon the armed forces to ensure that at least minimal vital services can be 1081 maintained; but I would suggest that there are many people in the community who would be keen and willing to offer any assistance they could to help those not in a position to help themselves.
I am not suggesting that what is needed is some form of vigilante force. The main burden for the maintenance of law and order should fall upon the police and existing authorities; but would there not be great value in encouraging volunteers to come forward for instruction, so that in the event of any form of disaster, on however localised a scale, there would be those in each locality aware of the actions they can take to help those in schools and hospitals, as well as the elderly? A call for such volunteers would not be intended to stir up a bellicose mentality among the population nor, I am sure, would it have that effect. It is surely a natural expression of a community's vitality that there are those in it who are prepared to do their bit to help others in distress.
It is only right, therefore, that great attention should be given to civil defence in this country, not because we anticipate a war, but because, should a war be forced upon us, or should a serious natural disaster occur, it is right that every effort should be made to ensure that the innocent and the weak do not suffer more than is absolutely unavoidable.
My Lords, you have listened to me with great indulgence. I hope that our debate today will help to stir the thinking of the authorities responsible for our civil defence in all its aspects, since the more thought we give to it now, the more future generations will thank us.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships will wish to join with me in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, on his maiden speech, which was penetratingly thoughtful, fluent and convincing. Naturally, I welcome his support for civil defence and for the need to maintain vital services in case of all emergencies in peace and war, and the encouragement that he gave to the use of volunteers. He was good enough in his speech to refer to the experience and expertise in your Lordships' House, but we in turn should welcome the fact that his presence means that we have youth on our side. For that we are grateful and we hope that we shall often have him speaking in our debates when he is free to attend from his professional duties elsewhere. There, as he has explained to me, he will have to make his living and his life; but his presence with us is most welcome.
I would like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mottistone on initiating this important debate and on the way in which he did so. He was surely right to point out that we need to prepare for the immense peacetime disasters which can hit us as well as the possibility of conventional or nuclear war. He too referred, so rightly, to the part which trained volunteers should be given a chance to play. I listened eagerly and anxiously to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. I believe I can at least say about it that it showed a degree of responsibility which we do not always get in these matters from members of his party, who so often in a deceptive kind of way try to tell people, especially the young people of this country, 1082 that there is only one kind of emergency, that that is an all-out civil war, that civil defence exists only for that, that it is a waste of time and therefore we do not want civil defence. That false simplification of the argument does no service to the people of this or any other country. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, avoided that argument.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, will my noble friend give way? He said "civil war"; I think he meant "nuclear war".
§ Lord Renton
Yes, my Lords; I am sorry, I meant nuclear war. 1 am most grateful for that correction and interruption which is so typical of the type of diligent service which we in civil defence receive from my noble friend Lord Mottistone.
However, in analysing the risks which the Government and local authorities have to face, I feel bound to say that the noble Lord's picture was incomplete. Besides those risks that he mentioned, there is the additional risk, so rightly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that a nuclear accident might happen anywhere and the people, for example, in Scotland could suffer from a nuclear accident on the continent of Europe, by fallout drifting over. To say that civil defence would be a waste of time in such circumstances is again to deceive the people. That is one of the reasons why we need civil defence. I happened to mention another one at, I think, Question Time last week. We know now that several dictators, including, we believe, the Argentina junta, have or will soon have the nuclear bomb. We are told that Colonel Gaddafi has practically got it. I think that one of the possible risks, not a probable one, but one that should be borne in mind, is that a bomb-happy irresponsible dictator could drop a bomb somewhere and the fallout could drift over a continent.
I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan Morgan, in saying that we do not have to face the prospect of a conventional war between the great powers. I trust that there will never be a war between the great powers. However, if there is a war, then a conventional war is much more likely and the real risk in such a war is that the losing side, in order to try to bring the conflict to a conclusion, might drop not 100 nuclear bombs, but one nuclear bomb. That is a serious possibility, and one of the risks against which we should provide and in respect of which we should be prepared to pay the premium which is a modest one.
Without being too rhetorical, I should like to echo the sentiment of Alfred Lord Tennyson and say that I wish that we could:Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace".That is what we would all like. It is not only the wish of those in the peace movement—they do not have a monopoly of that desire. But we live in a dangerous world. We shall not get peace by unilateral disarmament, by declaring nuclear-free zones or by letting local authorities neglect the statutory duty imposed upon them by Parliament when there have been both Labour and Conservative Governments. It is a very meagre responsibility. It is merely a responsibility to plan for emergencies in peace and war. It is not onerous. At the lowest it is a mere paper exercise 1083 although it could—and in my opinion should—amount to much more than that and should include the training of local authority staffs, as mentioned by my noble friend. It could and should include the involvement and training of volunteers whether in existing organisations or not; it should include preparations for industrial civil defence on which I know at least one of my noble friends is to say something; and it should include adequate take-up of the warning systems. Luckily we have the Royal Observer Corps and their early warning system. Indeed, that is possibly one of the strongest parts of our civil defence organisation. But it means that it should be carried down to the local level, to parish and ward level.
It would be interesting to know what the Government include in the concept of emergency planning. As have said, it can be merely a paper exercise. The tragedy is that many local authorities are not even doing the minimum. This is disgraceful, for it means that not only are they failing to do what Parliament has required them to do but, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, it also means that they are failing in their humanitarian duty towards their own ratepayers. That failure seems to me, from what one can glean from the newspapers and one's knowledge of what goes on in local government in the country, to be largely due to ideological prejudice based partly on ignorance and partly on wilful deception. But it has the effect of weakening our country against the possibility of attack.
It is rather interesting to note in passing that the other day 11 young Russians tried to start a peace movement outside the Kremlin, and they were immediately arrested and put inside. The money which the peace movement is spending in this country would be much better spent in sending as many people as possible to Russia to protest there, where the real source of possible war exists.
Although it is obvious that there is no defence against a direct hit by a bomb, whether nuclear or conventional, those of us who are old enough can remember feeling very lucky at not being hit by a bomb or by a shell which might have taken us directly and which did take our friends. However, there is a good chance of survival for all those people who are on the perimeter or who are outside the perimeter. Protection against fallout can be given—scientists are agreed upon this, whatever Lord Mountbatten said—if advanced preparations have been made, but it is not so easy to improvise at the last minute. Fortunately, no nuclear bombs have been dropped anywhere since 1945 and it is unlikely, I trust, that any will be dropped. But vast numbers of high explosives and incendiary bombs have been used, some very effectively in the Falklands for example. Therefore, it is right that we should concentrate our minds mainly on the possibility of conventional attack.
We are entitled to ask the Government what they propose to do about the present unsatisfactory situation of local authorities failing in their responsibilities for emergency planning. If it is a question of money, it is surely worth changing the present financial arrangements whereby 75 per cent. of the cost of emergency planning is assumed to be included in the negotiations for the rate support grant, but it can be spent by local 1084 authorities on other things or not spent at all. I suggest that it might be very much better if we convert that element of the rate support grant into a specific grant, require local authorities to spend it on emergency planning and require them to spend the remaining 15 per cent. which would come from the rates.
In my opinion, and in the opinion of my friends on the National Council for Civil Defence, one of the problems of our present situation is that the Government lack the staff and the resources for monitoring the lack of performance by local authorities, for ensuring that the best standards are maintained, for advising local authorities on what needs to be done in the national interest and for co-ordination with public services and with the Armed Forces. Surely we need a director-general of civil defence with adequate powers and adequate staff.
Of course, we used to have very well-organised regional headquarters. My noble friend Lord Bathurst, who, with me, used to be responsible for civil defence in the Home Office under the Home Secretary, will remember that we used to have a very well-organised system of regional headquarters. They do not exist now; the underground places and equipment are still there but in mothballs. I should have thought that it would not be over-reacting if we had at least a skeleton staff dealing with that.
I have already exceeded my time. I must conclude by saying that it would make war less likely if we had better civil defence, because it would make our country less vulnerable both to conventional attack and nuclear fallout.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
My Lords, first, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord St. John of Bletso on his maiden speech. A propos his remark about experience, to which reference has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, both he and the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, have experience on the political side. How do I know that?—because, when the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, visited the Civil Defence Staff College, as it then was, at Sunningdale, I happened then to be a student there and, I suppose, because I had a handle to my name, I was dragged out from the multitude to have my lunch beside him.
We had a perfectly good system of civil defence—home defence—until the late 1960s when, in turn, both the Territorial Army was truncated and civil defence abolished. The Conservatives mentioned in their last manifesto that they would do something about it. We became rather anxious; things were going slowly. Some of your Lordships will remember that I initiated a debate on 5th March 1980 on the need for home civil defence. That was followed on 7th August 1980 by the Home Secretary's Statement, which was followed at the end of the year by the appointment of Sir Leslie Mayor as a co-ordinator of voluntary effort in civil defence. That was followed by the Home Office Circular ES2/81 in August 1981—note the date—a year after the previous Statement. There was a whole year's delay before the Home Office got around to giving the necessary instructions. ES1/1 was purely a civil defence review. The whole emphasis has rightly been on the responsibility of local authorities and the use of local volunteers.
1085 As several noble Lords know, I have an interest to declare here, in that we in Devon have raised what we call the Devon Emergency Volunteers. As of this date we have about 2,000 volunteers, and we had them long before the Government started doing anything. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, will remember that 1 asked him and the co-ordinator to visit us, as soon as possible after the appointment of Sir Leslie Mayor, to see what we had done. But the trouble is that, despite efforts on the part of individuals, on a national level co-operation has been fragmented and at times non-existent. We have had references to this already today, when noble Lords have mentioned that officials in various counties or at equivalent levels have said, "No, we shall not do anything to defend our people". Instead of everyone working together under an agreed plan, as used to be the case in the old civil defence organisation, we have various bodies that should be co-operating but are not.
They are not doing so because of jealousies between various organisations. I mention just three, with great respect to my noble friend—the WRVS, the Red Cross and the St. John Ambulance Brigade. We need a co-ordinator with sufficient powers to get the voluntary bodies to pull together for the proper good of the nation, not to indulge in internecine strife. I must say that I am extremely irritated, to say the least, at the behaviour of the army cadets in not giving full support to civil defence, which we feel they should. In my part of the world we have excellent relations with the air force cadets. Why must the army cadets hum and haw about what they can do. The Boy Scouts are of more help to us at the moment. It is not the fault of individuals; it is the fault of the blokes up top.
If there is a war—conventional or nuclear—assistance to the less fortunate has, for obvious reasons, to be local. My main criticism of the Home Office is that it seems to want no particular involvement in the production of national training material. Let us just look into that. I asked the noble Lord's predecessor one or two questions about that in his time. But I have an even greater criticism of our politicians as a whole, because they do not appreciate that civil defence is a part of home defence, which is a part of national defence. Santayana wrote to the effect that those who did not learn from history were condemned to repeat its mistakes. We need go no further back than the early 1930s.
Perhaps I might quote my own experience; there are several noble Lords present who will, of course, remember the same circumstances. When I first went up to Oxford I was a "I will not fight for King and country bloke; I am a Peace Pledge Union bloke ". Fortunately, on my first vacation I went to Germany and the idealism was naturally muted. What happened then? We had a Peace Pledge Union—it was rampant, with thousands of signatures. What did it do? Baldwin admitted afterwards that he dare not re-arm because he might lose the election. What happened was far more damaging to the country. It convinced Hitler, through Ribbentrop, that under no circumstances would we fight, and so were a contributory influence to the starting of the last war. I would like the CND to see whether the cap is not fitting at this moment. Are they not persuading the hawks in the 1086 Kremlin that we are a pushover?
I will tell you what the CND are doing now. We had a meeting of volunteers in my neck of the woods. The meeting was after the floods in Newton Abbot. We called the meeting to discuss how, when various emergencies came again, we could do more to help. What did our local CND do? They came to bust the meeting up: just as the Peace Pledge Union came and bust up the meeting when Duff Cooper was addressing the cadets of the senior division of the OTC at Oxford University in my last term there. History is repeating itself.
May I add one thing to that. Did your Lordships read—of course you did—Galtieri's interview with the Italian lady journalist?" Oh, no. We never believed that Britain would do anything. All the information we had was that they would not fight. They would not send anyone." History repeats itself. I would like to commend our politicians of all parties to read a bit more history. I would like to repeat the truism that civil defence is a part of national defence. It certainly is in the way that it can dissuade would-be aggressors.
What the Government have to do now is to make arrangements whereby the co-ordinator has more power to co-ordinate. I am far from satisfied that those vital elements that we had in the civil defence in the days when I was active in that line, are co-operating now as they should. What about the special constables? What about the WRVS? What about the army cadet corps? They all have a role to play in an emergency. They all had a role to play in the earlier emergency, but now they are of little or no help because they are so fragmented.
I should like to end by saying that this is supposed to be a Christian country. I was brought up to believe that three of the main Christian virtues were faith, hope and charity. Having an adequate civil defence fulfils each of these three things. Faith in one's own people, hope for the future, and charity to those who are in an unfortunate position.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow that great fighter for defence, the untiring patriot from Devon, my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. It is an even greater pleasure to add my congratulations to those of my noble friend Lord Renton to the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, who has come among us for the first time and has given great pleasure in a most admirable speech. We indeed welcome him among us and hope to hear him often in the future.
Before I say anything else, I simply cannot resist the temptation, usurping the office of my noble friend the Minister here, to reply to a question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, of the Government. He asked: if the risk of nuclear war is negligible, why should the Government spend £8,000 million on Trident? I suggest turning the question round, when you would discover that if the Government spend £8,000 million on Trident, they therefore regard the risk of nuclear war as negligible.
However, what I chiefly wish to do is to make a rather uncivil attack upon a certain class of person. 1087 I will initiate this by quoting a piece of history from last October, when there took place a meeting in Manchester which was aimed at promoting a common approach towards the creation of so-called nuclear-free zones. These were local authorities to the number of 75 who took part in this meeting. Various resolutions were passed. A typical one came from Avon. It was worded in this way:The spending of public money for the purpose of civil defence in preparation for a nuclear attack is futile and gives people a false sense of security.This is an equivocal statement, and it is possible to take it, to give the authority the benefit of the doubt, as saying that they were not in fact condemning civil defence entirely as useless because it was useless against nuclear attack.
However, we cannot do this in fact, because there exists a paper called Sanity, which is the magazine of the CND. Writing about that conference a gentleman called Dan Plesch wrote about the Avon performance:A hundred and twenty councils have rejected nuclear weapons and the civil defencecon'".A little later on he writes;The stock of local civil defence handbooks has been put through the pulping machine. Work on the CD has been frozen.I submit that there are two kinds of person who can write that: the stupid, and the dishonest. There is no other possibility, I believe.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, will the noble Earl give way? It happens that I know Mr. Plesch personally, and I can assure the noble Earl that he is neither stupid nor dishonest.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, I do not know how the noble Lord is able to do that. I say that this kind of statement can be made only by a person who is either stupid or dishonest. I say that with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. How can it be anything but stupid to say that civil defence is useless and must be abolished, simply because it is useless against a nuclear attack?
The point has been made by my noble friend Lord Renton and before him by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that nuclear explosions do not necessarily amount to the fearful number of 125 nuclear missiles postulated by the Government, according to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, and resulting in some 35 million deaths. As my noble friend Lord Renton pointed out, you can have an accidental explosion. You can have a shortfall coming from who knows which side, which will land and explode possibly somewhere in the Western Approaches.
I will reveal to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that there are three results of a nuclear explosion. There is the blast, which kills; there is the radiation, which kills, and there is a whole flock or cloud of radioactive particles which is known as fallout. This travels on the wind. We have in England a prevailing wind coming from the South-West. The cloud of fallout initiating in the Western Approaches will travel with the wind up the Bristol Channel. It will arrive pretty soon at Bristol, which is in Avon. I suppose the defence put up against it there will consist of members 1088 of the county council waving placards saying, "No radiation here; this is a nuclear free zone ", while the millions of people who live in Bristol and around it die like ninepins and the cloud passes on to devastate the rest of the country.
This can happen. Does the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, not know that this can happen? Does Mr. Plesch not know that this can happen? If he says that it cannot happen and that the only possibility is total destruction by blast, then that gentleman is deliberately misleading his readers. There can be no other interpretation of this. Furthermore, we have here public authorities deliberately linking, according to Mr. Plesch, civil defence with what he calls the "CD con". What is the con? Presumably it is the con that it is possible to survive an attack by means of civil defence. Of course it is, as I have pointed out; there are defences against fallout.
But civil defence is not about nuclear war. Indeed, why must we have nuclear war brought into it at all? Why need we have an enormous organisation called the CND, filled with people who are campaigning against civil defence as though it were civil defence against nuclear war? It is not. My noble friend Lord Mottistone, in initiating the debate, made perfectly plain that that is not the basic requirement of civil defence.
Civil defence is about chemical factory explosions, air crashes and floods, things the defence against which is to be forbidden by the people of the CND, including presumably the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. Civil defence is about tanker spills of corrosive acids on motorways, explosions of any kind in peace or war, train crashes, landslides and excesses of snow. All of those are emergencies which the civil defence organisation and plans are designed to combat, none of which is to be allowed by those people. What sort of people are they? Civil defence is a humanitarian cause, and I echo the excellent words spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and underlined heavily by my noble friend Lord Renton.
It is customary in debates for each succeeding speaker to congratulate the mover of the debate, a custom which, I confess, I have sometimes found tedious. I have not done so, preferring to keep my congratulations to the end and thereby, I hope, to give them somewhat greater emphasis. If this debate has the effect of stimulating the Government into further activity in the cause of civil defence, as my noble friends and as the noble Lords, Lord Elystan-Morgan and Lord Mayhew, have hoped it will, then indeed my noble friend Lord Mottistone will have performed a signal service for his country in attacking—or I hope I may support him by attacking—thoes strange people, those enemies of the country (because they are nothing less) who lurk and masquerade among the genuine and sincere, but none the less muddle-headed, patriots, altruists and pacifists of the CND.
§ 6.43 p.m.
My Lords, I am glad we have been given the chance this evening to return to the question of civil defence. It was about a year ago that we debated it at some length and it is time to do it again, and I am glad that my noble friend has given us this chance. I want to leave the more general questions 1089 of policy and comment briefly on organisation because, even if our policy is right, it is necessary that our organisation should be right too, and in this field it is all too easy to build an organisation which is a compromise between the interests of different groups—to which reference has been made an organisation which would probably fail when called upon to act quickly.
At the present time, I believe that the main responsibility rests with county councils and that the chief executive of the county council is the head man. It is interesting how different counties have achieved very different results to date. They have had a long time to do something; we should take note of that. There has been reference to the statutory minimum duties which county councils should carry out. They are described in the Act, I believe, in very general terms. I have spoken to different people closely connected with civil defence in the counties, and they all say that it is impossible to define exactly what the statutory minimum really is.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, the precise terms—to the extent that they are precise, and they are not very much so—are in the civil defence regulations made under the Civil Defence Act 1948, which, it is true, is in very general terms.
I thank my noble friend. At last, my Lords, 1 have found someone who thinks he knows what the statutory minimum is. When answering at Question Time not long ago, a Minister led me, and no doubt others, to believe that there were no clear defaulters among the county councils, although some had done more than others. I should like him to confirm this sometime, because there is a feeling in the country that some county councils have done virtually nothing.
Returning to the question of organisation, if a county has to put its emergency plans into operation, whether to meet a severe natural disaster or military action against this country, it must be able to act with clear authority, and its relations with the different services which are vital to it must also be clear. In those circumstances, there is no time for long consultation and seeking approval from higher authority. Somebody must be able to act, and act quickly. The co-operation of the various organisations may be promised during the training periods, but is such co-operation really enough? It is easy to see different views on priorities developing between the chief executive of the county council, the local military commander and the chief constable, the organisations of the latter two being absolutely vital to the county's plans.
It is obvious that they cannot all be put "under command"—to use the military phrase—of the county council. I speak under correction with the noble and gallent Earl to follow, and perhaps he could say whether it was the Duke of Wellington who distinguished between "under command" and "in support" and which formula he would have adopted here. We should address ourselves to this point, for it is all too easy under strain for any such organisation to fall apart. There are at present, I understand, a series of separate chains of command which really do not come together until we get to the regional commissioner, who might be a Minister of the Crown. Again, that 1090 is not the sort of organisation which will stand the strain of military-type pressure, or something like it, in a disaster situation.
There is another big question which has rarely been mentioned in these debates, and that is refugees. I am told that there will be no planned large-scale evacuation from the main centres of popluation, which is not the same, however, as ensuring that no large-scale evacuation happens as a result of private enterprise. There will be rural counties which could be flooded by refugees at short notice, and if that were to happen without sane organisation, it could be disastrous. I shall never forget seeing the Belgians in 1940 under the pressure exerted by the German Army drifting in tens of thousands in all directions, blocking the roads so that army vehicles had the greatest difficulty moving. The misery I saw was awful and I remember at the time thinking what a difference it would have made if they had had a larger number of trained volunteers dealing with the humanitarian and other problems. I should hate to see anything like that happen in this country.
I use the word "volunteers" because volunteers are the key to the whole debate. It was said earlier that we shall never see enough professionals. It is not possible and I do not think it would be right. What we want are intelligent, well-trained, well-led, enthusiastic volunteers, their enthusiasm stimulated by the professionals. In this country we have often had a genius which has made professionals and amateurs work well together in any number of fields. But we must remember too that professionals can be jealous of volunteers in certain spheres.
Finally, I hope that the Home Office will do all it can to give a lead to ensure that we see volunteers coming forward in big numbers, and to ensure that they stay in once they have joined, because they realise that they arc doing a good job and have their enthusiasm awakened. They must not he treated merely as so many numbers on a sheet of paper. Volunteers are the answer to our problem. and time is not on our side.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I, too, should like to join in the congratulations which have been extended to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, on introducing the debate. I also wish to congratulate the noble Lord who made his maiden speech. I am not sure whether he belongs to the St. John school or the "Sinjin" school, but whichever it is, I congratulate him and hope to hear more from him in future. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan, who spoke so trenchantly from the Front Bench. His speech did not receive the reception that it deserved—notably not from the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, who scarcely treated the matter seriously at all.
Noble Lords who have spoken in the debate will forgive me if I do not extend general congratulations to all of them. Frankly, I found some of their remarks unrealistic. I should like to say to the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, that I think he would agree that the noble Lords, Lord Brockway and Lord Soper—as was Lord Ritchie-Calder—are genuine and sincere people. I do not think that the noble Earl would address them, because he knows them, in the manner that he addressed a young man whom he does not know. I 1091 rather suspect that if he did know that young man, he would have used different words. I feel that this evening he did himself and this Chamber no good service.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, I referred to what I regard in my personal opinion as the genuine and sincere altruists and pacifists in the CND. They would unquestionably include the noble Lords to whom the noble Lord has referred—and indeed, why not himself, too?
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, we can perhaps leave the matter there.
It will be generally agreed that to house nuclear weapons on a small island is to make it a target. Soviet nuclear missiles have been targeted on Britain for many years, and the situation has been getting worse—getting worse every year, rather than better—because as more and more missles are housed here, consequently the number of missiles trained upon us increases proportionately. This must be the case, and if noble Lords pause to examine the situation, they will recognise that it is inevitably so.
Professor Michael Howard, of All Souls, scarcely a nuclear disarmer, even thinks that if we once actually get cruise missiles on our soil, we shall precipitate pre-emptive strikes by Soviet missiles. He said that in The Times. How he reconciles that with his other view, that we should nevertheless increase our vulnerability in this way, is his problem, rather than mine. But it is a problem. It is a problem for everyone—for everyone who believes that we should continue to prepare to take part in a nuclear war.
For those of us who are nuclear disarmers there is no difficulty. Having got rid of our own "nukes" and the American ones as well, we could simply do our best to provide as much protection as possible against the possibility of nuclear fallout drifting from a suicidal war taking place in some less enlightened part of the world, as the Swiss and the Swedes do. They have no nuclear weapons, and of course their substantial provision on civil defence is the corollary of that. If you do not have nuclear weapons, you can afford to spend money on civil defence because you are very unlikely to be the subject of a direct hit. But if you insist upon being a target, you increase your vulnerability, and far from nuclear weapons giving you any protection, they merely make it certain that the consequences of a nuclear war so far as you are concerned will be utterly disastrous.
That is the situation in which we find ourselves. If we had no nuclear weapons, we should no longer have to pretend to be able to succour a tolerable number of survivors from the holocaust of a direct nuclear strike. But, as we have nuclear weapons, the Government must do something. They cannot tell the people, "There is nothing we can do to save you", because it is part of their policy to have the weapon which creates the situation. So the Government must say something, and consequently they put out their documents, in which in one sentence there is an honest admission of reality, which they then run away from in the next sentence.
One reason for the great growth of CND has been 1092 the failure of the Government to sustain the pretence of survival in a sufficiently convincing way. I think that the nuclear warriors have been rather dull in failing to see that this pretence is a necessary part of the policy. The trouble is that the Government really do not believe it themselves, and if they want successfully to deceive the people, they must first deceive themselves. Some noble Lords on the Back-Benches may have succeeded in doing that, but the Government have not. I think that it is to the Government's credit that they have failed to convince themselves of the reality of reasonable, proper and worthwhile survival after a full-scale nuclear war. There are not enough dim-witted or wicked people in Government to sustain such a policy, and that is the truth of the matter. They are neither so daft as to believe in survival after a nuclear war, nor are they so Machiavellian as to try to pretend to the ordinary people of the country that what they know does not exist does in fact exist. That is the problem.
There may be a few at high level and one or two lower down, but that is not enough against the whole and growing body of world scientific opinion that nuclear war is not survivable. That opinion is held not only in this country; it is held all over the world. If noble Lords doubt it, I recommend them to read some of the latest American scientific literature, to read some of the literature which is now emerging from American medical opinion, and from our own medical opinion. All along the line the possibility of survival of a full-scale nuclear war is now reckoned to be practically nil.
This is dreadful, because for the first time mankind has within his power the ability to destroy his own species. That is the situation we are in, and it is totally unprecedented. It faces the human mind with a problem with which it has never before been faced. It is hardly surprising that sometimes noble Lords bring to this new problem traditional responses, emanating from their own background, which are not perhaps as relevant as they think they are.
I have played some part in exposing the unreality of civil defence as I see it. Back in the 'sixties I successfully moved a Motion in the old London County Council to abolish the Civil Defence Corps, on the grounds that the corps was being asked to perform an impossibility. At that time I suggested—and I am sorry that the suggestion was not followed up—substitution by a civil emergency force. This is precisely what one or two noble Lords have suggested—a force that would be there to deal with the kind of natural disasters which several noble Lords have mentioned. It would also be there to do anything which might conceivably be done in the event of a nuclear war. But it would not be a force which was geared, as the old civil defence force was geared, to the idea of trying to survive a nuclear war. Effectively to provide a defence against nuclear war was not possible then, and it is even less possible now.
When I became Member of Parliament I pursued the same argument with equal success, and in 1968 the Labour Government of the time accepted part of my argument nationally. But what they did not do was to accept the second part of my argument. They abolished the Civil Defence Corps, but they retained nuclear weapons. They abandoned the pretence of 1093 survival, but they continued to commit the nation to national nuclear suicide. The amazing thing is that ever since our people have tolerated the slow march to extinction and are only now beginning to say, "No" to national self-extermination.
The Government claim to believe that between 15 and 30 million people might survive a nuclear attack on these islands. Their main concern is the preservation of law and order among the survivors, and Home Office circulars to local authorities concentrate on this point, including the round-up of subversives before the actual strike. If some noble Lords had their way that would include every member of CND, for a start. Operation Square Leg, which is the operation which last year included civil defence—there is to be another one this year, which is to be called Hard Rock; I do not know what that means—seemed to include as subversive anyone opposed to nuclear war; but what the Home Office circulars have not done is to give any details of how the last hours of the majority might be eased. They go straight from strike to burial, and they say nothing about the period which must concern most people—what happens before you die. Are there any plans for suicide pills for the intolerably injured and sick? We do not know; and if we are committed by the Government to be the subject of nuclear death, we ought at least to know if there is to be any way of departing without terrible indignity.
Her Majesty's Opposition believes (and perhaps your Lordships will allow me a minute or two because I possibly am one of the few speaking in this sense)—and I quote from the official Labour Party document:For a densely populated country like Britain there can be no effective civil defence against a direct nuclear attack. The only effective civil defence is to ensure that Britain is not involved in a nuclear war, and to oppose all nuclear weapons and nuclear war preparations by Britain or any other country. We recommend local authorities to reject attempts to use so called civil defence to condition people to accept that a nuclear war is somehow survivable '.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt him, when was that produced?
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, that is a Labour Party document entitled Advice Note—Civil Defence, Home Defence and Emergency Planning dated June 1981 and circulated to local authorities. The real question is not: can we survive a nuclear war? Everyone really knows that we cannot. The real question is: are we going to maintain the pretence of survival until the day of our extinction, or are we going to stand up for the human race and demand the universal abolition of nuclear weapons and their prohibition from these islands?
§ 7.3 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletsoe, on his excellent maiden speech, and to join with all the others who have congratulated him in hoping that we shall hear from him again many times when he is able to address us. Your Lordships will well remember —or some of your Lordships will well remember, others perhaps not quite so well—the nerves that take hold of one on making a maiden speech in your Lordships' House, and that is the first trouble to get 1094 over. The noble Lord could not have been more composed or more self-assured. The second problem is to say something which the expert noble Lords who have already spoken have not already said. In this case, my Lords, it is completely the reverse: it is our difficulty to find something to say which the noble Lord himself, in his maiden speech, has not already said. We must congratulate him on his expertise and his feeling for this important topic of civil defence.
My Lords, I join in this debate because as my noble friend Lord Renton has said (and I am rather embarrassed) I used to be his dogsbody in the Home Office, and I was given the task of looking after civil defence. The Home Office had never seen a Lord-in-Waiting, let alone a Member of your Lordships' House who was, I think, Under-Secretary of State. They did not quite know what to do, but my noble friend put me on to civil defence and I did indeed find these amazing places to which he has referred. You opened a trapdoor and there was a world which existed only in science fiction films. I hope that there is something of the organisation of those places remaining—and it is disturbing to hear what the noble Lord said.
I also went once to a place, luckily not far from my home, where there was a huge shed full of civil defence equipment, most of which comprised dosimeters; and I spent a complete afternoon with the technician in charge of that place, who was also an expert on brewing home-made wine. I learned a great deal about civil defence in the course of that afternoon, and luckily was able to make a report on what dosimeters were, which report I presented to my noble friend Lord Renton. I also sent a copy to our right honourable friend at the time, the late Lord Butler, together with a sample of home-made dandelion wine. I do not know what the result was, but it certainly was not referred to in the diaries of the late noble Lord, Lord Butler. But something did happen with regard to dosimeters, and I think the noble Lord was entirely responsible for that.
My noble friend the Minister who will be replying will, I hope, welcome in a moment what I am going to say, because no noble Lord has referred to an Answer which he gave not long ago to my noble friend Lord Renton. In that Answer he said that his right honourable friend and the Government are going to spend 60 per cent. more annually on civil defence, and this will bring it in 1983, I think the reply said, to £45 million. I suppose that is quite a lot of money—certainly a great deal more than had been spent. Whether it should be more, and very much more, I am afraid I do not know; but at least more is being spent, and I am quite certain that all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, will wish to thank and congratluate him for that.
In the same reply my noble friend said that the capacity of the Home Defence College, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, is to be increased from 50 to 70, and that will mean that more experts can go there to learn what can be done in a nuclear attack. I am afraid I did not write to my noble friend to give him notice of this question, but I wonder whether he knows to what extent those places have been taken up. 1095 My Lords, there is some extra cash, but what else must it be spent on? There are the expert people mentioned by my noble friend Lord Inglewood; or equipment, communications. They must have advanced enormously since the days that my noble friend Lord Renton was talking about. There is also the organisation of civil defence set-up, and the people who are concerned with it. I believe —I always have done—that civil defence needs a new image. It is not quite right. Once upon a time there was an argument about it all, and the result was Home Defence ". Again, that was not quite right, because even then it was considered a type of what might now perhaps be called "Dad's Army". It did not seem to be quite right. But we called it "Home Defence College ", and we have it in pamphlets, "Home Defence"; so there is something there.
But whatever else it should be, I believe it should be a national organisation of some sort—and many of your Lordships have already said this. The word "emergency" would surely fire the public mind; and rescue"; and probably "defence" should be in there somewhere as well. I believe that it should be funded nationally, on the lines of the Territorial Army. Obviously, local councils will have to organise at council level—at least, I imagine so. But I do not believe it is right to allow rate support grant to be spent on such a national defence organisation.
My noble friend Lord Renton has suggested that it should qualify for a 100 per cent. rate support grant. It may be that that is so; but, in any case, I believe it should be national expenditure, because whatever else is going to happen in a nuclear war I am quite certain that where a nuclear weapon strikes it will not be the civil defence effort in that place that will come to the aid, it will be the civil defence effort of somewhere else—and, unfortunately, at the present time it would seem that those "somewhere elses" are the least civil defence-minded authorities.
I believe that a national status for civil defence would bring in that immense number of people who have already been mentioned by your Lordships. They would also deal with emergencies. My noble friend Lord Mottistone and all on this side of the House, and the noble Lord, Lord St. John, have suggested that they should be available and ready for national and local emergencies—and that is a very new view, I believe, in this House. Unfortunately, I could not be at the last debate. There is the National Council for Civil Defence. My noble friend Lord Renton is its president and all speakers, except for me, are members of that council. There are other experts in the field and they are conspicuous by their absence. I cannot see how any debate on civil defence in this House can be complete without the noble Lord, Lord Soper, making a brilliant speech on how morally incorrect was civil defence and without the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, giving a beautifully explicit, scientific reason why civil defence was no good at all —and he was, many noble Lords will remember, a member of an organisation called Pugwash. I could never work out exactly what that meant. It was some very scientific organisation. In any case, noble Lords will know that it is almost impossible to wash 1096 a pug anyhow, and even if you did, you should not do it; it is harmful. However, he used to put that view forward.
All I can say is that my noble friend Lord Elton has an easy ride tonight to answer in this debate. I am sure that he will be able to more than do justice to the points which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, nobly put forward in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet.
There is another organisation of which I had never heard previously. It is the Industrial Emergency Services Officers. They have a pamphlet which gives a review of their deliberations. Perpaps I can quote some of page 2 of that pamphlet to your Lordships because of the interest. Ordinary national and local disasters have entered into the debate. On the Flixborough disaster, there were 28 people killed, 105 injured, 200 homes rendered uninhabitable and some 5,000 people (about 100 coach loads) had to be removed. 1 am sure that some noble Lords will know something about that terrible disaster. I watched it humbly and in awe on the television. Mr. G. Jolliffe, the National Coal Board Yorkshire district reserve emergency stations manager would, I guess, know more about emergencies, disasters and accidents than anyone in the country. He reported to this organisation. I will quote:It was felt by many people that it was a job for the civil defence organisation.Then he goes on and I do not think that this is him speaking, but it is all in the same report:It was also felt by many people that the civil defence organisation as it existed would have coped with the Flixborough situation with a degree of competence and its availability was sorely missed".It was not there—that is what it means. Had it been there (and a man like Mr. Jolliffe said it should have been there) I believe that what everyone is saying is even more important. There was a terrible disaster in the early 1960s involving a Harrow tube train. I have it from first-hand evidence what a magnificent job an industrial civil defence unit did to save lives at that time.
I believe that if we could make a national corps, unit, or whatever, available for local and national disasters and defence, we will have thousands of men and women who are experts in their field coming to join, to sign up, to show where they are available, and ready for the real experts to guide them in times of any national or local emergency. Nobody can say that civil defence can take the place of the professional rescue and defence units. Nobody can say that. They will be very sorely stretched in times of emergency. Those who know something about radiation, who know how to turn off the gas and to fix electric light and power cables are the men and women who will be wanted at such a time. I believe, like my noble friend Lord Mottistone, the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletsoe, and all noble Lords who have taken part, that these people will come forward—which alas! they have not yet done with our present civil defence organisation.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Earl Cathcart
My Lords, I should like to add my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Mottistone for giving us the opportunity this afternoon to discuss this 1097 subject, a subject which we have not debated for too long in my opinion, and a subject which all too often is swept under the carpet. To talk and discuss the possibility of an all-out attack on this country, perhaps even a nuclear attack, is highly unpalatable. But the unexpected often happens, as many of us have recently come to realise. As far as the defence of these islands is concerned we should be ready for any eventuality. In his speech my noble friend Lord Mottistone outlined clearly some of these eventualities. Civil defence is far too often put in doubt and disparaged by some people in this country, but we must not run away from our responsibilities and we must acknowledge the humanitarianism and non-aggressive qualities of civil defence.
Much of the opposition to any form of organised attempts to establish any form of effective civil defence is based, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, pointed out, on the single scenario that an attack on these islands will be an all-out nuclear attack and that in such conditions there is no point in surviving, so why bother to organise any arrangements to mitigate the effects of that or of any other form of attack or attempt to organise any recovery? I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, over-emphasised the nuclear aspect in his speech and this was shown up by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, in his speech.
An attack on this country might take many forms, ranging from extensive sabotage of essential public services right through to a nuclear demonstration strike or a series of nuclear strikes against essentially military and industrial targets. I must mention the highly unpalatable subject of chemical warfare. There arc certain nations who are not our allies, and not in NATO, who do not regard the use of chemical warfare as anything but conventional. There is no doubt that a civil defence organisation could mitigate to a great degree a chemical strike against this country.
Successive defence White Papers have stressed the high priority given to the defence of the United Kingdom, and civil defence is an essential and integral part of our military effort to satisfy this important priority. Yet civil defence is the Cinderella between the two sister departments of defence and home affairs. To expect our armed forces to conduct effective defence of the United Kingdom against hostile attack in whatever form it might occur, without proper arrangements to protect and sustain the civil population, is unthinkable. If this is not done (and my noble friend Lord Inglewood stressed this) it may actually impede the armed forces in their prime task. One can imagine the extent to which a large-scale, disorganised band of refugees moving in an uncontrolled way in this country in the event of any form of attack, would gravely disrupt the mobility of our armed forces attempting to defend the country and carry out their tasks.
Furthermore, in such a situation our conventional public services—the police, the ambulance service, the fire service and others—will have their hands full in performing their normal tasks, and they will be totally overwhelmed unless within each community there is some organisation within the civilian population to enable them to cope and to sustain themselves. There are so many tasks civilians can do to sustain themselves and to maintain administration within their own communities when communications perhaps have been 1098 destroyed or disrupted; yet these capabilities need organisation and preparation, and cannot be achieved at short notice when an emergency has actually occurred.
There is no doubt that the Home Office agrees with this. Indeed, it has acknowledged the need for civil defence as part of our defence posture; but I do not think it has approached the subject with a proper degree of urgency, and neither do I think it has imparted urgency in a satisfactory manner to local authorities. Certainly civil defence is best organised on a local scale based on county and local authorities; but, of course, local authorities are harassed, busy people in peacetime. If they are to organise a satisfactory civil defence they need considerable encouragement and guidance as well as financial support from central Government. I think central Government need to be far more forthcoming than they have been so far.
One of the main problems is the integration of a large number of independent peacetime organisations to satisfy the particular problems which each community might have to contend with in the event of an attack. That was referred to very clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. Civil defence planning does not consist solely of the provision of shelters. That, in my opinion, is a red herring which has led us off target in our discussion of this overall problem. It requires a degree and variety of skills throughout the civilian population, and the need for the organisation to he made effective also requires proper co-ordination and a proper chain of command. That was referred to by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. I very much doubt whether the phrase "under command" would find favour in a largely civilian organisation, but "in support" I think would. But there must be a chain of command, with clearly recognised links between the various levels of command so that they may understand how they are to support the overall plan which they may be required to put into effect.
I think there are so many skills within the framework of civil defence that almost any natural ability of individual civilians can be satisfied and their training could be interesting and worthwhile. A by-product of organising civil defence in peacetime with a wide range of civilian population trained in this great variety of duties, would of course be the provision of a better degree of protection against disasters of a non-warlike nature which can so easily occur. Therefore, I very strongly support the Motion put forward by my noble friend.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)
My Lords, I should like first to thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Mottistone not only on providing us with a most admirable debate but also for providing the occasion for the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, to launch his first voyage upon the waters of this House, upon which we wish to see him sail with equal success—and that will be considerable success—for many years ahead.
Those of your Lordships who lived in this country during the last world war—particularly whose who lived in London or Coventry or Liverpool, or any of the other cities that were subject to aerial attack—will know very well what a vital part civil defence played both in saving the lives of countless individuals and 1099 in securing the survival of our people as a whole. They will also clearly recall something of which it may perhaps be necessary to remind some of our younger fellow countrymen and women: that civil defence is an entirely peaceable activity designed solely to save lives and make those lives livable under extremely difficult conditions. It is conducted without weapons and without malice, and by many it is conducted without any reward save that of knowing that they have contributed to the unwarlike victory of life over death. It is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, so eloquently argued, something to which pacifists can object. Yet it does have its own part, I believe, in staving off the actual threat of war itself.
Your Lordships will know that the Government's Defensive Strategy rests upon the principle of deterrence. The price of aggression must be seen, by any aggressor, to be not worth the paying. The effectiveness of that principle depends upon its credibility. The aggressor must be convinced not only of our ability to respond in kind, but also of our readiness to do so. No one will treat as real an advertised response to an attack when our own demeanour shows that we do not believe in the possibility of the attack itself.
In modern war the civilian population itself becomes all too often the target, whether intended or not, of weapons of huge destructive power. London, Dresden, Hiroshima, Beirut—to winners and losers alike the lesson is inescapable, and it is inescapable whether or not nuclear weapons are used. No country can be said seriously to believe in the reality of that sort of threat which does not take steps to mitigate its effects—and a country that does not believe in the threat is a country that is most acutely exposed to the reality.
There are those who argue that this very slender link between the deterrent method of securing peace (which rests upon the possession of weapons of a power and number sufficient to deter those who possess such weapons themselves) and any coherent system of civil defence (which rests upon the pre-arranged organisation of unarmed non-combatant civilians to rescue, succour and protect their unarmed noncombatant civilian compatriots) itself renders it immoral. I cannot follow the logic of that, my Lords; I really cannot. I cannot see that it is wrong to render a hideous war marginally less likely by trying to protect those who take no part in it and are principally at risk. Indeed, were the calamity to befall us and were thousands of our men, women and children to perish for lack of simple precautions and elementary assistance, I think that the people who had actively opposed or prevented those simple provisions would be revealed as clearly and inescapably responsible for a large number of unnecessary deaths.
But even if you accept the lemming logic behind that position, the opponent of civil defence is himself still in an indefensible position, for a very simple reason which, on other platforms, he himself is constantly advancing. I am not pointing the finger at anybody, but I am looking at a generality of people. No one, my Lords, positively no one, can guarantee the future. Even a 100 per cent. pacifist, unilateralist government could not guarantee the peace and it really does puzzle and sadden me to hear good and earnest men saying in one breath that nuclear weapons must 1100 be dismantled as otherwise they will eventually be unleashed by mistake, and in the next that our wives and children and we ourselves must not be accorded any protection by central government or civil defence in the event of an attack or an accident. And the words of my noble friend Lord Renton have done much to show how the risk of nuclear war being precipitated almost or entirely by mistake is likely to grow in the years ahead. If those who argue against us cannot agree with us in wisdom, my Lords, at least let them do so in mercy.
The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, argued against the possibility of conventional attack and took as an analogy the fact that the Germans did not hesitate to use their aerial fleet to bombard this country in 1940. In those years they had a very large and potent bombing air force and we had not. I would not seek to argue that analogy, but I would argue an analogy in the same year: then the Germans had large stocks of poisonous gas and so did this Government and we equipped our civilian population with protection against it. The weapon was there, and neither side used it. I do not accept the argument that having the weapon creates the risk. I believe that the risk is created by unpreparedness, both to respond and to protect oneself from attack. That being so, it is, indeed, logical that our civil defence arrangements should be concerned with conventional, as well as with nuclear, warfare, particularly against air attacks against targets of military significance.
One of my noble friends referred to the example posed in the South Atlantic. He has used that example, and let me refer your Lordships to the terrible plight of the civilian population of large parts of the Lebanon. Much central government activity in civil defence is taken up with planning against this form of attack, and the same should be true of local authority planning. This planning is, of course, closely related to planning against peacetime emergencies and disasters as well. I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Bathurst referred to the Flixborough disaster as an illustration of the admirable way in which co-operation can come together effectively at short notice in local districts. I often think that the fire service is not given sufficient credit not only for its role on that occasion, but for its very considerable role in preparing against, and trying to avoid, civil disasters up and the down the country. So let us remember that emergency planning is something that must offer protection to the people of an area against any emergency which may occur, whether it is a flood, a bombing raid or, in the worst case, a nuclear attack.
I now turn to those simple preparations which this Government have so far put in hand. Very soon after coming into office, the Government decided to take a fresh look at the state of planning measures. The result of that review was announced by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on 7th August 1980, and it was conveyed to local authorities by Home Office circular ES.1 of 1981. It marked substantial improvements, involving increasing annual expenditure progressively over a three-year period to exceed its former level, as my noble friend has generously reminded your Lordships, by 60 per cent. in real terms. Of course, we shall never please all of the people all of the time. Some think that we do too 1101 little civil defence planning; some too much.
The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, would have us have either a kitchen table or a mine shaft. In a most interesting postscript to his speech, elicited by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, he put forward a policy which I find slightly at variance with the National Executive Committee's Advice Note No. 6, published in June, 1981, which has already been referred to twice in this debate, and to which I shall doubtless have recourse again.
May I at this point reassure my noble friend Lord Renton, when we are on the subject of grants to local authorities, that the 75 per cent. grant is a specific grant and is not available for expenditure on other purposes. The job of the Government in peacetime is to access the extent of the risk, and to weigh that against what the country can reasonably afford, having regard to all its other commitments—
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, would my noble friend allow me to intervene on a rather important point? Has he any means of ensuring that local authorities spend the specific grant and spend it within the compass of emergency planning?
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I always proceed upon the thin ice of local government expenditure with great caution. I should like, if I may, to be more specific by writing to my noble friend, but it is a 75 per cent. grant on work undertaken. I think that my noble friend believes it is subsumed in the RSG. My understanding on the advice I have before me at the moment, is that it is a grant against a specific expenditure. If I am wrong, I shall have to inform your Lordships at a later stage. But, in any case, I will write to my noble friend —
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend here, because so many of your Lordships think that the expenditure is a vital point? Is it not right that the 75 per cent. specific grant, if it is spent, is also considered as a part of over-expenditure? I do not believe that it is separate from county councils' budgets that are allowable for grants and expenditure. Am I not right that it is not over and above what they must budget for?
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I should like to give a technical reply to my noble friend's technical question, and I think that 1 will just allow a little time for it to gestate, if I may so phrase it.
A primary requirement in the arrangements for the protection of a nation in modern war is effective provision for warning the civilian population of imminent air attack and, if—God forbid !—the enemy should use nuclear weapons, for monitoring the subsequent spread of radioactive fall-out. Your Lordships will know, as my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery has very clearly explained, the different sorts of damage, and the fact that the Swiss are digging deep shelters suggests that they are preparing for direct attack as well as for fall-out. But the fall-out needs to be monitored, because it is invisible, and lethal.
Those two capabilities, in a small and crowded nation such as ours, could save literally millions of lives. They rest on a typically British framework: a partnership between central government, the emer- 1102 gency services and volunteers from the general public. More than 11,000 volunteers of the Royal Observer Corps—many of them young people—train regularly for their vital role, and in recognition of this receive the improved allowances which were introduced by this Government two years ago. The full-time staff of the organisation now have a new administrative headquarters at Oxford. There are over 9,000 power-operated sirens in urban areas and nearly 20,000 warning points in suburban and rural areas. The communication chain and the equipment are steadily being modernised. All in all, the United Kingdom warning and monitoring organisation is an extremely cost-effective casualty prevention measure, of which the nation should be justly proud; and it does not threaten a single life.
In the aftermath of a widespread nuclear attack upon the United Kingdom, government of the country from London or any other single location would be impracticable for a time. A system of regional, or decentralised, government has been planned against this eventuality, and we are rapidly completing the network of protected administrative headquarters—both regional and sub-regional headquarters—which the system requires. These headquarters need to be matched at county and district levels, and in Greater London at group and borough levels, by protected accommodation for those whose duty it would be to marshal resources and co-ordinate relief operations. There is no general need at these levels for purpose-built headquarters, and the established practice is to make central government grants available to local authorities for essential adaptations in suitable premises which are already at their disposal.
I have now to reassure my noble friend Lord Renton that the 75 per cent. grant is available only on approved estimates of agreed expenditure. I hope that that answers his question. Over £1 million has been approved for such schemes over the past 12 months, and more money is available. The full effectiveness of the headquarters would depend upon reliable communications, and we have undertaken to spend more than for several years past on improvements to the emergency communications network across the country, which my noble friend Lord Bathurst said was so eminently desirable and which could save many lives.
I think that the convention of the debate would allow me to go on until about two minutes to eight. I shall not take the whole of that time, but I shall trespass beyond 12 minutes. Headquarters and communications are only as good as the people who use them. For this reason, we arc pressing on with the designation of the staff of central government departments—for example, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Health and Security, the Department of Energy and my own department, the Home Office—with civil defence responsibilities in war. Such designation will permit their training and exercising in peace time. Local authorities have, by and large, designated their war duty staffs, and they—together with the volunteer members of the scientific advisory service—receive training, both locally and nationally.
Here I would pay tribute to the excellent contributions which the Home Defence College at Easingwold, 1103 which my noble friend mentioned, makes to the nation's civil preparedness. We have built another 20 study bedrooms and thereby extended the tutorial accommodation at the college by 40 per cent. They opened only last month. They are being taken up, but I could not tell my noble friend to what level their use will eventually rise.
The emergency services, particularly the police, approach civil defence with great seriousness. Much is done. More remains to be done. The public, as my right honourable friend said in August 1980, have a right to know. Noble Lords will be aware of the extensive facilities which the Home Office has made available to the media in recent years. Radio and television teams have been welcome at sub-regional headquarters, at United Kingdom warning and monitoring organisation installations and, for a week at a time, at the Home Defence College itself. Ministers and officials have been interviewed freely. In addition, the Government put the war crisis booklet Protect and Survive on the bookstalls, together with two new booklets on domestic nuclear shelters for those who wish to know about such things.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone refers particularly in his Motion to the civil defence duties of the local authorities. They have an obligation under the Civil Defence Act 1948—I can confirm to my noble friend Lord Inglewood the words of my noble friend Lord Renton—to discharge certain civil defence functions. Many of these are detailed in the Civil Defence (Planning) Regulations 1974. It is here that my noble friend sees difficulty, because it is an unfortunate fact that some local authorities—guided in some cases, I believe, by the mistaken philosophies which I have already mentioned—are less than enthusiastic about carrying out these functions.
Some authorities have gone so far as to declare themselves nuclear-free zones. I find that to be a singularly meaningless term. It is rather like a bald man writing "rain-free zone" on the top of his head and expecting to remain dry throughout the summer—which of course he could not, unless he had a special arrangement with the Almighty. I suppose that the local authorities concerned may feel that they have some special and reliable arrangement with the Warsaw Pact countries, but if so it will be an arrangement that they will not only not drop a bomb on them but that they will not drop one anywhere upwind of them, in whatever direction the wind may be. That seems to me to be an admirable defence but one upon which we cannot rely.
This fallacy was devastatingly exposed, along with much else, by my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery. I regret to say that it seems to have been undertaken with the guidance of the Labour Party National Executive in the document distributed by them last June, to which I have already referred. That seems to me to be the height of irresponsibility. I can say, none the less, to my noble friend Lord Inglewood, that all local authorities are complying at least with their minimum statutory obligations. In the event of default, of course, the Government do possess powers of enforcement under the Civil Defence (General) Regulations 1949 and the Civil Defence (Grant) Regulations 1953. However, where there is apparent 1104 failure or refusal by a local authority, the Government have, so far, preferred to proceed by encouragement and persuasion as well as by pointing to the very considerable financial assistance available by way of specific grants, to which I have already referred.
I turn now to the matter which lies at the heart of the debate, to which the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, first drew our attention—after my noble friend; namely, the role of the volunteer in civil defence. Perhaps we should see this against the background of the Home Office Circular ES.2 of 1981 which set out in some detail Government guidelines on the organisation of the community in war. In his Statement in another place on 7th August 1980, the Home Secretary made clear that the role of volunteers is vital to the success of civil defence planning as a whole, and in particular to effective planning for community involvement below district level. He went on to say that the Government are ready to make more money available to meet this need and that "the harnessing of volunteer effort will be an important feature of our plans".
Herein lies, in part, an answer to the criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, whose arithmetic about the expenditure of the British Government on military bands has gone a little astray. No, we do not spend £45 million a year on military bands, which is what I think the noble Lord led the House to believe. I will let the noble Lord know in writing the exact figure, if he wishes, but its order of magnitude is half that, at most—and maybe even less.
The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, wants there to be more standard training material throughout the country. We understand this wish and at present we are looking into the possibility. Your Lordships will know that this Government appointed Air Marshal Sir Leslie Mayor to co-ordinate volunteer effort in England and Wales. He was one of the two signatories at the foot of Circular ES.2 to which I referred earlier. Subsequently, Mr. F. G. Armstrong was appointed to fulfil a similar office of co-ordination in Scotland.
It would be misleading to say that local authorities have responded with uniform enthusiasm, even to the enrolment and training of volunteers. As in other areas of civil defence planning, progress has been variable and there are disappointments. Substantial progress has been made and continues to be made. The Government are firmly committed to a belief in the importance of voluntary effort in our society and a conviction that there are many people eager to help others and to lend a hand in performing some public duty without financial reward. Civil defence is an activity which has a strong humanitarian appeal.
It follows that we owe it to these prospective helpers, and to those who wish to be helped by them, to see that this reservoir of voluntary help is not only used but used in the most effective way. The Government will continue to mobilise this resource to the best of their ability. In the meantime, I should like to pay tribute to the valuable work of these dedicated men and women, whether as individual volunteers, or scientific advisers, or members of one of the organisations assisting civil defence, such as the Royal Observer Corps, the warning officers of the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation, the British 1105 Red Cross Society, the St. John Ambulance Association and Brigade, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, Civil Aid and many local groups of volunteers.
No Government can afford to be complacent in all this. While, as I have said, encouragement and persuasion have been our watchwords, we shall not shrink from the consideration of other, more direct steps if the civil defence responsibilities properly placed by Parliament on local authorities many years ago are seen to be gravely neglected or deliberately flouted. Ours is a tolerant society but, as recent events elsewhere have amply demonstrated, the British people, in the fullness of time, brook no abuse of their sense of fair play. I am sure noble Lords will agree that it would be less than fair to people dependent upon the soundness of their planning if some local authorities were to pay little more than lip service to their statutory obligations and were seen to get away with it. Lip service might, or might not, amount in law to outright neglect or failure, but I am confident that the country as a whole looks to the Government to take positive steps to ensure that, however low the risk of war in Europe may be, the lives of people are not put at additional risk by irresponsible local authorities.
Many points must be unanswered in a speech which is already three minutes over the convention, but they will be taken into consideration at the Home Office by myself and more particularly by my honourable and learned friend and my right honourable friend. I think I have said enough to show that the Government's recognition of the profound importance to our people of effective civil defence is real. I believe that the great majority of noble Lords will agree with this view. I believe that the great majority of the people of this country will also agree with this view. I am sure that this debate will send to those public authorities who are sceptical about the value of civil defence a clear message that the country supports the lead which this Government are giving to improve the state of civil preparedness throughout the United Kingdom.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister very much for not going on as long as he threatened to do, for it gives me a little time in which to wind up. May I thank him for his reply. It contained excellent arguments against the nonsense that was coming from the Benches opposite—which I shall talk about in a minute—but it was terribly disappointing when it came to the "nitty gritty" of what real leadership is to be given by the Government, first in persuading people that they are mistaken in not going on with developing their civil defence and, secondly, in not undertaking to provide some sort of an argument against the misleading nonsense which is being put forward to the general public of the kind which the noble Lords opposite advanced earlier this evening.
Really, the Government should give something more positive. I was terribly disappointed that the point made by my noble friend Lord Renton, that there should be leadership in the form of a director-general with commitments and powers, was not taken up at all. That was a positive and useful suggestion as to how the Government could use someone to give the right 1106 leadership. There was a gap in respect of what was said by my noble friend; the sentiment is splendid but the action was non-existent.
It is my turn, at last, to add my congratulations to our maiden speaker. We would genuinely like to hear him again, when he can find the time. His maiden speech was remarkably well balanced; it was splendidly delivered and yet it lasted for only five minutes and told us all we needed to know. It was an example to the rest of us. I expect that I might even be able to emulate it, although I have a little more to say.
I was terribly disappointed also by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench from a position of authority in this Chamber. He was "rabbiting on" about "nuclear". It was so disappointing and so unimaginative. I am almost ashamed of the Opposition if that is all they think. It was so disappointing that there was nothing positive there at all. Luckily, I do not need to go on about it because the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, in a splendid speech tore it to pieces within seconds. But perhaps we will not have them as the main Opposition much longer, so that will be all right.
On the other hand, in respect of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, I came to the conclusion, after having thought for a long time that he was in the pay of the enemy, that he is really tragically and naively misguided. It is fascinating that anyone who is obviously so intelligent should be so misguided and naive. In that respect I will give him anything he likes to say but, by heaven! his arguments were tortuous. I am going to have fun reading them. It may be that another time I will be able more actively to untangle his knots, to help him see the truth. We shall see.
I cannot finish this speech without reminding your Lordships that my noble friend Lord Renton, in his position as president of the National Council for Civil Defence, has been tireless and energetically valiant in helping that organisation to get off the ground. I cannot tell him how grateful and thankful I am, and all the other members of that organisation are, for providing such splendid leadership. If only the Government would provide the same sort of leadership in controlling, encouraging and developing local authorities, and in putting some sense into them, then we would be getting somewhere. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.