Civil Defence

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st March 1963.

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2.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Van Straubenzee Mr William Van Straubenzee , Wokingham

I beg to move, That this House commends the work of the 600,000 men and women engaged in Civil Defence in Great Britain, believes they have a vital and effective part to play in the defence forces of these islands even in a nuclear age, and welcomes the reorganisation of the Civil Defence Corps as leading to a more efficient and balanced force. I am agreeably surprised that there is a short time available for discussion of this Motion. It has always seemed to me that we have far too infrequent opportunities in this House for discussion about civil defence. I very much wish it were possible to do so far more frequently. The Motion falls into three parts. The first part deals with numbers. It draws attention to the numbers of men and women in Great Britain who are engaged in civil defence.

I pause for a moment at this point to say that it came as a surprise to me, and, I think, subsequently to other hon. Members and to the public, to discover how many persons are engaged in civil defence. I elicited the figures from the Home Secretary on 2nd February. His reply to my Question—in column 87 of HANSARD of that date—was that the total numbers involved were 616,806. This is a substantially larger figure than I think the general public appreciated.

It would be worth while to break these figures down briefly into round figures. In the Civil Defence Corps there are 328,400; in the Industrial Civil Defence Service 181,000; in the Auxiliary Fire Service 16,800; in the National Hospital Service Reserve 73,700; and in the Royal Observer Corps 16,300. Those were the figures as at 31st December last.

As I have said, these are higher figures than was previously realised and, since nothing succeeds like success, it might be appropriate if this debate were to start by our placing on record the substantial numbers of men and women already engaged in what is overwhelmingly voluntary work.

Since we in this country tend to take voluntary work of this nature too much for granted, I have ventured to start my Motion with a commendation which I hope and think will receive the approval of both sides of the House, whatever views may be held on defence matters generally. Here we have a substantial body of men and women who in their spare time, unheralded, unsung and with none of the glamour of a crisis to sustain them, month in and month out carry through their preparation and training for an eventuality which they all profoundly hope will never occur. I think it is appropriate, therefore, that the House should set on record the sense of appreciation we feel for all that these people are doing and have done.

The Motion then goes on to deal with the assertion, or to make the assertion, that the civil defence forces have a vital and effective part to play even in a nuclear age. I venture to draw the attention of the House to the selection of these words, which was not by chance— '…' vital and effective… even in a nuclear age… I want to take a few moment in justifying that contention, as I see it, for I well appreciate that it is not without question in the country. There is a view that in the modern nuclear age the holocaust is so appalling, so complete, that any form of civil defence is useless and nothing more than a sham. It is not a view I share. For that view to be tenable, one must proceed on one of two assumptions. The first assumption—and I put it first because we can dispose of it more quickly—is that we either have such a complete system of security or the nuclear stalemate is so absolutely reliable that nuclear war is an absolute impossibility.

Gladly would I like to feel that this was the case. I believe that there are very strong arguments for the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence, but I would not be prepared to go so far as to say that it was a complete and absolute stalemate and that there was no possibility in the modern world of a nuclear outbreak. Certainly I would not feel that that was a sensible basis of policy in the modern world.

The second proposition upon which the assertion can proceed, therefore—and this is the one upon which it does proceed in the minds of many people—is that modern nuclear war means for these islands absolute, complete and total destruction, that there is no possibility of anything less than that in the appalling event of a nuclear war breaking out.

I shall certainly not get myself into the position of arguing other than that a modern nuclear war would be an event of anything less than unimaginable horror. There is not one hon. Member who does not find it almost impossible to comprehend what might be involved. When we heard my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House not long ago discussing the Polaris agreement and drawing the attention of the House to the fact that the power of these weapons was 2,500 times greater than the weapon which destroyed Hiroshima, when one tries to get to that magnitude of the potential destruction, it does not lie in the mouth of any hon. Member, whatever his views, to belittle the horror which could be unleashed. Clearly, there is no one who is seeking to do that.

But the argument that necessarily the outbreak of nuclear war must perforce mean the absolute and total destruction of these islands ignores a number of things, including the human factor. Over and over again in the history of weapon development there have been examples of exceedingly powerful weapons, almost perfect systems of attack, falling down under the human error. While I have no doubt at all that in any country which has it in mind that at one stage it might want to rain nuclear weapons on this country there is an efficient targeting system and plan prepared, it still depends in part on the purely human factor.

Furthermore, the argument ignores such factors as the weather. When one is dealing with nuclear fall-out, the weather is an important, though subsidiary, factor. It also ignores the state of mind of a potential enemy, for surely the art of effective use of aggressive force is to use not the maximum but the minimum necessary to attain one's object. If one can secure that unacceptable damage is done to the United Kingdom by appalling destruction in one part of it, there is little incentive for attempting the total and absolute destruction of the entire island.

For all these reasons, therefore, I personally reject the view—I am not questioning the sincerity of those who hold it—that there can be no possibility whatever other than the total, complete and absolute destruction of these islands in the event of a nuclear war. I personally hold the view that however extensive the damage—and I repeat that I accept without question that the damage would be unimaginably great—there will be two results which are relevant to the debate.

The first is vast casualties. Nowadays, we have moved into the realms of measuring these things by "mega-deaths"—one of the most awful, modern scientific words which illustrates the state of mind into which we have moved in this modern world. There would be enormous casualties and no Government source of any party has ever denied it.

There would also be a severe breakdown of communications and therefore the isolation of substantial parts of the country from the rest. I pick only two eventualities where the work of civil defence as a whole would come into play. It surely must be right to prepare trained men and women to reduce the suffering by burning and by injury. It surely must be right to have trained persons at a time of possible panic as centres for law and order, administration and essential services like water and food.

Anyone who has ever seen any of these training exercises realises that this is the projection which is being put forward. All these must be right and proper precautions to take in the belief that the total and absolute destruction of these islands is at the least contested, if not unlikely, and that if there are to be survivors, granted the appalling casualties, it must be the duty of a modern civilised country to reduce the resultant chaos and suffering to the minimum which could be achieved in a nuclear age. This, though I have had to truncate the argument, is the justification for civil defence training in the modern nuclear age.

The Motion also welcomes the reorganisation of the Civil Defence Corps, one constituent part of the numbers that I gave to the House. I am well aware that this reorganisation of the Corps has not been carried out, and is not being carried out, without some difficulty. Frankly, it is never easy to carry through a reorganisation. We are all conservative in habit, as well as in voting tendencies, and it is not an easy task, as well I understand, for old-established set-ups, persons or authorities, to come under scrutiny and possible reorganisation to keep up with modern conditions.

I am also aware that my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend have been under some criticism, as representing the Home Office, for this reorganisation. However, it has been and is proving effective—it is only part of the way through its journey—and, as I have sought to say in the Motion, is likely to produce and is producing a more effective Corps for duties which one (trusts it will never be called upon to perform, but which it is wise it should be ready to perform in the 1960s.

I have always tried, within the limits of what can be accomplished by a backbench Member, to keep the claims of civil defence in front of the House. I have not always done so wholly and uncritically. I have not expressed criticism in the Motion, but there has been one criticism which I have felt and on which I will touch briefly again. I believe that in times gone by the Government have not taken the British people sufficiently into their confidence. Where we have a modern, educated and intelligent electorate, which is certainly the case in this country, I believe that we can err on the side of not taking such persons into our confidence. I am well aware of the counter-arguments about spreading alarm and dismay, and many of the facts which one should tell the people are of a very horrific nature, but on balance it is better to tell the British people bluntly and plainly what the facts are. They will face them, and we gain the understanding and intelligent backing of a free people, which is of inestimable value and far greater than that of the pressed service of persons who have no power to decide.

I will temper that criticism, which I remember arguing hotly at the civil defence staff group at Sunningdale Park, a visit to which I warmly commend to any hon. Member who has not taken advantage of the opportunity. I detect a decided change in recent months, but without apology I propose to keep pushing my hon. Friend, who has been courteous enough to be here today to reply. I have watched the issue of simply written explanatory booklets, but time does not allow me to go over them. I notice a decidedly forthcoming attitude on the part of the Home Office to take us increasingly into their confidence in these matters, and I suggest to my hon. Friend that this is a trend in exactly the right direction. I hope that he will permit me to push that view firmly from the back benches.

I end, as I began, with the words of commendation which start the Motion. We frequently pay tribute in the House and elsewhere to the glories of voluntary service in this country, and we mean them. They are not lightly said. The danger of it is that we tend to think that the matter can begin and end there and that such persons neither require nor wish any expression of thanks for what they do. They certainly do not do it for an expression of thanks, but from time to time it is appropriate that the House, with its very special position in the country, should place on record its commendation of these people for what has been done, and that, and in order to draw attention to the problem generally, is the object of my placing the Motion on the Order Paper.

3.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) is to be congratulated on having brought this subject before the House because, as he said, we have far too few opportunities of discussing civil defence. It is encouraging to know that there are so many people in the civil defence service at present. It is surprising in a way, because we allowed the wartime civil defence organisation to fade away. I think that that was a big mistake. We have had to start afresh. Nevertheless, we have about 650,000 people, plus, of course, the allied organisations such as the St. John Ambulance Corps, the Red Cross and all other bodies, which I have no doubt will work, as they worked last time, in very close harmony with the official civil defence organisation.

It may be useful at this stage to remember what happened last time and to ask whether there are any lessons to be learned from it. During the last war I could not help feeling that the civil defence organisation was based far too much on local authorities. It is convenient to have it based on local authorities, but to have, as we then had, the town clerk almost automatically becoming civil defence controller as well as food controller, coal controller and I do not know what else, in addition to his municipal duties, and to have the whole organisation based on the council was in my opinion a mistake. We should try to avoid that in setting up the new organisation.

The other main lesson to be learned is that we should not concentrate too much upon training for nuclear war. The hon. Member tended to concentrate on that aspect, but he will remember that although we envisaged the last war as being a gas war, and spent much time breathing various kinds of poison gases and learning what to do about them, we fortunately never had to apply that knowledge. On the other hand, some of the dangers of the war were never rehearsed by us, the mast important being the unexploded bomb. We never thought of that one, but we had to deal with it, and the civil defence organisation rose to the occasion and dealt with unexploded bombs in a very commendable way.

The only suggestion I want to make is that we should take another look at the training of this new Civil Defence Corps. I should like to see it extended a little, and referred to by some other name, such as the Civil Emergency Corps, or the Civil Emergency Volunteers. I have noticed that whenever there has been a bad railway disaster, a fire, or something of that sort, the civil defence organisation has lent a hand. If we could widen the scope of this body, give it a name such as I have suggested, and encourage the idea that people should be ready to help their neighbours not only in a nuclear war but in any kind of war, or in any national or local disaster, it might have a wider appeal to the public.

Thousands of people would be willing to do something if they felt that there was something useful to do, and that they would not be wasting their time. Thousands of men and women have passed through the Boy Scouts, and other youth organisations, and have learned the idea of service. They are willing to give service, but they do not always want to be told about what would happen if there were a nuclear war. It is a horrible subject. It may happen, and we must be prepared for it, but if this wider conception were available it might well attract a few more people. That is my main suggestion.

Once again, I offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for raising this subject, and I wait with great interest to hear what the Minister has to say about the Government reorganisation of the Corps.

3.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Worsley Mr William Worsley , Keighley

The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) has made three points, and I very much agree with the last one. I hope that my hon. Friend will have some comment to make upon it. There is much in what the hon. Member said. What surprised me was his first point. I know that he speaks with authority in these matters, but I am surprised that he should advocate a wider separation between local authorities and civil defence.

I should have thought that the opposite was required, and that whatever may have been the case in the last war, in any imaginable situation in which civil defence would be needed in the future, the great task would be to see that the ordinary working of local authorities continued to operate in the conditions existing after a nuclear attack. It is absolutely essential that the local authority organisation should be responsible for what goes on, because in an emergency civil defence is merely local authority in action. However much I agree with the hon. Member about his other points, he has not made a case for this separation, and I hope that the Government will not adopt his suggestion. On the contrary, I should have thought that the essential test of an effective Civil Defence organisation was that it should be thoroughly local in character. I should like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to assure us that in the event of a nuclear attack the local authority will be able to continue in operation without having to call on supplies from a central point.

I should like to know whether geiger counters, which will be of critical importance if a situation such as we have been discussing arises, are distributed locally enough. Will the local people be able to get these instruments rapidly in the event of such an emergency? This is important. My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) talked about the necessity for the Government to take the public into their confidence. I believe that he is absolutely right, and I am very glad that he said this. I think my hon. Friend will agree that the recent publication, Civil Defence Handbook No. 10, is a real step in the right direction. My only criticism of it is that it tends to sit on the bookstalls and costs 9d. I am wondering whether it would not be a good thing to distribute the booklet rather more widely. I know the balance of argument, the argument that if this were done it would he likely to cause panic. I wonder whether that is right.

What we ought to be aiming at, surely, is a state of affairs in which the whole population of the country has stored in a corner of its mind, not frequently refreshed, certain basic knowledge about what to do in an emergency of this kind. This booklet indicates not only the sort of precautions which could be taken in the event of an emergency arising after due warning but also things which could be done in a matter of an hour.

The critical test, as I say, is that people should know, without having to wait for the information to be given to them, the elementary A, B, C of what can be done. This elementary A, B, C could make all the difference between millions of deaths and none. It would be of as great an advantage as that. I should have thought that there was an overwhelming case for a wider distribution of the booklet, and that it would be a good thing if it were tucked away not only in the minds of people but on a bookshelf in case it were needed. I think that very much more could be done to teach this A. B, C.

My next point is this. Presumably, in the event of a disaster of this character—provided the lessons to which I have referred are understood—people would keep indoors. No doubt they would feel immensely isolated in their individual houses, and they would rely on television and the radio, at least for a time, as their only communication with the outside world. I should like my hon. Friend to tell us whether it is part of civil defence in this country to make quite sure that whatever disruption there may be—disruption, for instance, in electricity supplies—something will be done to keep the services running. This, to my mind, would make all the difference in a crisis between panic and a reasonable degree of civil defence, very likely only initially, through keeping indoors.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on moving his Motion. It is really an extraordinary feature of the way in which we run our Parliamentary affairs in this country that while on these critical issues we all agree that it is important that information should be disseminated, the House of Commons, which, after all, is supposed to set an example, just does not bother to discuss civil defence. It is only thanks to my hon. Friend that the subject has been discussed today. Neither in this Parliament nor in many previous Parliaments has there been a formal discussion on civil defence. I think it the simple duty of the House of Commons to discuss this question at least once a year. I do not understand how we can criticise a local authority for not discussing the matter unless we are prepared to discuss it.

The importance of civil defence is something which should be kept before the minds of the people as a useful way of serving the public. We should have a more comprehensive annual report on civil defence. The page in the Statement on Defence referring to civil defence may be a little fuller in detail than the statement on defence generally. But the information given, though necessarily of a general character, does not get down to figures. I consider that as much information about civil defence should be presented to Parliament as is given about the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. On the basis of such a report we should have debates regularly and that would appear to be the most useful thing which this House could do to keep the subject before the public. If nothing else is achieved as a result of this debate it will at any rate have indicated the great need for a wider and fuller discussion of the subject.

3.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

I take a different view about civil defence from those which have been advanced so far. It appears to me that civil defence is an integral part of our deterrent. A deterrent is a threat, and if that threat is to be any good it must be a credible threat. When people threaten to take action without taking any steps whatever to guard themselves from the inevitable consequences of their act, the threat is not taken very seriously. To me that seems to be our position. It is no use talking about an independent deterrent, or even a collective deterrent, when no credible steps have been taken to protect oneself from the consequences of that which it is threatened will be done.

I suppose that the Cuba week-end was, in nuclear terms, a test crisis period. I do not know, and I do not know of anyone who does know, what was the warning that should have been given. Apparently the Home Office did not know. Somebody said it might have been by the sounding of a siren. In some districts, including my own constituency, sirens are used to summon fire brigades and so that might have been a little confusing. Someone else said that a Morse letter—I forget which one—would be banged out on the top of a dustbin. This sort of preparation, coupled with the fact that during the crisis week-end the gentleman in charge of civil defence for the Metropolis had not considered it worth while to suspend the week-end leave of his key staff, indicates the measure not only of our defensive imbalance but our deterrent threat.

I believe that we cannot have an independent deterrent in these islands, whatever means of conveyance, whether it be Skybolt, Polaris or Blue Streak or anything else. There is a simple geographical reason why we cannot defend ourselves at all from the consequences. I believe that is the final answer to the possibility of our independent deterrent. It is rather a different picture when we look at the collective deterrent as to whether we can do something to protect ourselves from the attenuated blow which we might receive after the main counter-force effort of the Americans. This is what one is seeking to make credible. Nevertheless, in nuclear terms I cannot see this as a picture of keeping local government going as before, or indeed of volunteer services being remotely adequate to cope with the situation.

My view is, and has been for a long time, and I have put it to the House before, that if we are to keep civil defence at all on a credible basis it ought to come under Territorial command. Civil defence ought to be the responsibility of the Territorial Army, and it would probably become almost its major responsibility. I believe also that in a state of emergency the whole of the fire services should come under Territorial command. Under nuclear attack the possibility of either local or central government would almost immediately disappear and government would depend on district military commands which would be the only thing that could be kept going. One should think in terms of bringing civil defence and the fire services in emergency under Territorial command and realise that that is the only way one could deal with a nuclear attack.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

As a Territorial Army officer it would be fair for me to say that, as I understand, the Territorial Army commander works directly with the civil defence officer for the area. The hon. and learned Member proposes to take a step much further. He proposes that the fire services and other services should come under military command and should prepare themselves for military command in emergency. That is a very big step which I should like us to think more about.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Yes, that is exactly what I propose.

3.23 p.m.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I am sure that everybody agrees that the hon. Member for Wokingham {Mr. van Straubenzee) has rendered a distinct service in enabling us to have a debate, however short, on this important subject of civil defence which unfortunately we seldom debate in the House. The hon. Member was studiously moderate in the way in which he approached the subject. and on the whole he seemed to suggest that everything was all right in what we are doing about civil defence at the moment.

There are some who take a totally different view. At the one extreme there are people who say that any money spent on civil defence is money wasted, because nothing can be done usefully to protect the civilian population in the event of nuclear war. There are others who say that if we are to take civil defence seriously we should spend more money on it to make it more effective. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) suggested that there would be a ease for much more expenditure on civil defence.

We would all agree with the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Wokingham to the 600,000 people who are at present actively engaged giving time voluntarily and willingly to this work of civil defence. I hope that nothing will be said in the House to discourage them in the efforts which they are making to prepare for some emergency, however unpredictable it may be and whatever its nature.

I also would agree with the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Worsley), who rather dissented from my hon. Friend in hoping that this matter would always be one in which co-ordinated effort initiated by the local authorities was regarded as not only invaluable but, I should have thought, indispensable. It is only recently that in Islington we had a civil defence demonstration week which was very widely attended and during which all the various organisations in the borough and outside engaged in various aspects of civil defence. The ambulance service, the fire brigade, nurses and the Red Cross all joined in the operation and there were demonstrations of the latest equipment. There were indications of what safety-first measures could he taken and so forth.

Whether it will have any use or not, it would be a great mistake to discourage this vast effort that is taking place throughout the country in order that a certain number of people may be trained and may know how to act in an emergency wherever it arises. I, for one, hope that the Government will continue to encourage all the existing efforts in that behalf.

At the same time, I think that we in this House are entitled to ask the Government to tell us much more than they have hitherto done of what precisely is their policy with regard to civil defence. For example, is there any policy or scheme for evacuation in the event of a nuclear war or a near-nuclear war? Is it their conception that any such plans would be impracticable and, therefore, unnecessary or too costly? Is it their policy that there should be provision for deep shelters, or any shelters, against the risks and hazards of a pos- sible nuclear war, or is it their conception that preparations on any such scale would be too costly and unnecessary?

With regard to what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, I suppose it is fair to comment that civil defence precautions would be necessary, whether we took the view that there is any value in an independent deterrent or not. There are arguments for and against an independent deterrent, but, whatever may be the merits of that argument, we should still be at hazard if a nuclear war broke out, in which perhaps we were not directly concerned. Therefore, the merits of how much money should be spent on civil defence are quite independent of how much money should be spent on an independent deterrent, if any.

Gratifying as it is to know that this vast work is being done by so many people in civil defence, I think it is also worth while observing that at the present day, as compared with, shall we say, six or seven years ago, it does not seem to me that many people live or act as if there were much fear of a nuclear war. People go about their ordinary day-to-day affairs. They make plans for the future, buy or rent houses, have families, provide for future education, old-age pensions and so forth, not only in this country but all over the world, on the assumption that matters are going along peacefully year after year, that progress will be made and that expansion will take place.

Therefore, psychologically we have to face the fact that for the most part people in this and other countries are acting as if the fear of a nuclear war were receding. I would say that to date experience shows that the deterrent has proved effective to deter, and has in fact proved an effective deterrent against war. The evidence not only of Cuba but of other events during the past two or three years confirms the impression. If that impression be right, it follows, I think, that the more gruesome, the more powerful and the more violent nuclear bombs become and, therefore, the greater the holocaust and the greater the danger to civilisation if ever there were a nuclear war, the more likely it becomes that these great nuclear bombs will not be used.

If this is so, there still remains the risk that there may be an event less than nuclear war, in which case it becomes all the more necessary that the resources of civil defence should be available to the population. While we shall all support the text of the Motion which the hon. Gentleman has proposed, we look to the Home Office to take this opportunity to tell us more than it has yet done about its actual plans.

3.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

I have listened with great interest to this debate, and I believe that there are one or two hon. or right hon. Members who would like to say a few words before the end. I shall try to leave a few minutes for this purpose, but I suggest to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) that he will have a very good chance next week to speak on the closely related subject of defence in general, in which debate, I imagine, civil defence will be in order because, as several hon. Members have said, the two subjects are closely linked.

I welcome the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). Lest there should be any danger of its being talked out, I say at once that the Government wholeheartedly support it and welcome it. On behalf of the civil defence services, I thank my hon. Friend and all others who have spoken for their tributes, with which, I believe, all right hon. and hon. Members sympathise, as the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said, regardless of their views on the much greater and more controversial problems of the nuclear deterrent.

My hon. Friend has been a great supporter of civil defence for a number of years, both locally in Berkshire and nationally. He has been a welcome visitor to the Civil Defence Staff College, at which, incidentally, any other hon. Member interested in the subject would also be welcome if he would like me to make arrangements. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend deal firmly with some rather carping criticisms of the civil defence volunteers in an Adjournment debate last December.

Briefly, I refer the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) to the record of that debate in which he will find answered in some detail most of the points he made about the state of readiness at the time of the Cuba crisis. We can all pass round funny stories about these things, but I think that he will find that the facts were a little different from some of the stories which were circulated at that time.

After that debate, my hon. Friend wrote an excellent article in "Peace News" on the subject of civil defence. I think that it is greatly to the credit of that paper, which holds views very different from those held by many of us in the House, that it published this article and, later admitted an error of fact about the number of volunteers in the civil defence services, with which my hon. Friend began his very constructive speech.

I shall not go into the numbers again. My hon. Friend gave the figures accurately, since he had them in a Written Answer from the Home Office. However, I add to the tally not only, as the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) did, such voluntary organisations as the Order of St. John and the Red Cross but also the Women's Voluntary Service for Civil Defence, which functions as an organisation over and above those women who happen to be members of the W.V.S. and also of the Civil Defence Corps.

This is not the end of the account, of course, because, if this calamity which we are all determined shall never befall us were to happen, the civil defence service would not be functioning unaided. It would be functioning in conjunction with the regular police forces, the special constabulary, the fire service, the ambulance service and, of course, all the available manpower of the Armed Services.

I shall not discuss in detail the very interesting point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton about putting the whole thing under the Territorial Army. I think that the Territorial Army might have other functions which would make it difficult for it to exercise this function in an emergency. I can tell all hon. Members interested in this subject that we shall give particular attention to any such constructive suggestions that have been put forward in the debate.

Turning to the second point in the Motion, which is concerned with the rôle of civil defence in a nuclear war, it is, of course, recognised—the Government have never made any secret of it, and I wish to emphasise it again, because I agree with all hon. Members who have made the point that the British public can certainly take it if they are fully apprised of the facts—that this would be an unimaginable catastrophe if it were to happen.

There would be millions of casualties; there would be incalculable damage. How much it is impossible to estimate on any rational basis in advance because of so many unknown variables—enemy intentions, the weight and distribution of attack, the weather and so forth—but whatever did happen we believe, and we base all our calculations on that belief, that there would be millions of survivors who would need help which could only be given by organised and trained people with plans prepared in advance. I think that must be common ground to all of us.

Every exercise and every scientific appreciation which has been made of this problem has shown that a few simple precautions, such as set out in what is called the "Householders' Handbook", with the assistance of civil defence organisations, would enable millions to live who would otherwise inevitably die. But since it would be impossible in advance to say where in the country the survivors would be, obviously the preparatory organisation must be undertaken everywhere, even though inevitably in the centre of catastrophe the organisation itself would be wiped out.

I shall not elaborate the break-down of the organisation. One could take a great deal of time over all these different sections, headquarters, wardens, rescue and so on. I should like to comment very briefly on the interesting points made by the hon. Member for Accrington and the hon. Member for Islington, East who took opposing views about the rôle of the local authorities in these matters. The hon. Member for Accrington said that we ought not to be too much guided by experience in the last war, and that is certainly true, although one cannot forget certain fundamental lessons. But a future war would be totally different. The lessons of the last war about the rôle of the local authorities would not necessarily be applicable in a future war. The great advantage of the local authority organisation is that it exists in any case, and if it were not harnessed to the civil defence services an immensely complex, expensive, additional administrative structure would have to be created, which would mean delay over the whole country.

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

I hope that I did not express myself too badly. What I had in mind was that perhaps this matter could come under the police. I believe that it should be done locally, but not necessarily by the town hall. In the last war in which I was concerned with this matter I know that there was great confusion.

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

I take the point and we shall look at it most sympathetically. I wanted only to stress that, in common with other constructive reorganisation points, it may not prove to be so easy on close inspection. Certainly, I shall not say, echoing the words of the hon. Member for Islington, East, that everything is all right. We certainly do not believe that. We never shall believe it. We work the whole time to improve the organisation in the light of developments, and the situation, both strategic and scientific, is constantly changing so that we are constantly reorganising. We are continually working to reduce the margin of time needed to put the whole thing on an operational footing, and we shall never be satisfied with any improvement that we may make.

We look on this organisation as an insurance policy against disaster. Of course, no one can argue that having an insurance policy tends to provoke disaster, but, if we have an insurance policy, we must pay a premium for it, and for civil defence we pay the premium partly in service and partly in money. I will touch briefly on the money part first.

Home defence is, as has been said, an integral part of our national defence. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton on this point, although I certainly take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Worsley) about the desirability of having separate and serious discussion in the House on civil defence apart from national defence. This, like many other points, struck a sympathetic chord, but, of course, I am not in control of the business of the House.

Expenditure on civil defence is only a very small proportion of the expenditure on total defence, and it would not be possible to make it a vastly greater proportion without a very radical change of policy, for instance, over shelters, to which I will return in a moment. It would be possible to move the expenditure up into the £100 million bracket only if such a radical' change of policy were made. But the present more modest level is growing. It was roughly £15 million in 1960–61, £18 million the following year, just under £20 million last year and it will be £23 million in 1963–64, an increase of over 50 per cent. on expenditure for three years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley made the point that a high proportion of this expenditure is earmarked for improving and perfecting communications of all kinds, which we recognise to be one of the most vital elements.

I said that the premium contained an element of service as well as an element of money. I should like to join in the very sincere tribute paid to the thousands of volunteers who have come forward. I cannot imagine why anyone should wish to undermine their morale or sense of duty and sacrifice in an essentially humanitarian task which is, to my mind, perfectly consistent with a belief in the principles of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I can find no inconsistency there.

Those of us who have visited the headquarters and training schools of civil defence have been unanimously and almost unexpectedly impressed and, in my own case, taken by surprise by the efficiency and, of course, enthusiasm, which goes without saving, of those taking part and by their skill in handling very elaborate equipment which is now available not on an entirely sufficient scale but on a great and growing scale and which we are determined shall be in the hands of all those who need it down to the lowest level as soon as it can practically be done.

The last part of the Motion is concerned with the reorganisation of the Civil Defence Corps, and I should like to dwell on this for a few minutes because I do not think it is widely known what has been happening since the beginning of last October, which is a very important development. Our start- ing point for this reorganisation was an acceptance of the fact that the number of volunteers which would be needed in wartime could not be expected to come forward in peacetime, although, of course, in a crisis there is at once a large rush to help, but this can be an encumbrance. A large number of untrained volunteers can be a liability.

Therefore, the basis for our reorganisation is to provide what in some contexts are called cadres—I hesitate to use the word "nucleus" in this context—for an expanded civil defence to be assembled at very short notice in a crisis. This is why a premium has to be placed on quality and on the level of training. This is the reason for the variety of categories which we have introduced in the reorganisation.

A new member entering the Civil Defence Corps is now required to undertake the standard training, which totals about 50 hours and is normally spread out over one year, although it can be spread over two years. At the end of that time, he or she takes a test. Those who fail the test or do not wish to proceed further can choose to go on the reserve. Those who pass the test can choose to enter either Class A or Class B of the new organisation on a three-year engagement.

In Class A, they undertake a commitment to go through advanced training totalling 50 hours. They undertake to take part in large-scale exercises and to be available for other duties such as, for instance, in a civil emergency of the kind to which the hon. Member for Accrington referred. Many hon. Members will remember the catastrophic gales in the North Country last year and the role played by the civil defence in mitigating the suffering there. If personnel undertake a total of 45 hours a year in Class A, they draw an annual bounty. Alternatively, if they opt for Class B, they undertake routine training of at least 12 hours a year.

We have taken care to offer existing members of the Civil Defence Corps the chance of fitting into the new scheme, on the same terms as everybody else and full recognition is given to their contribution. They have not necessarily all taken that opportunity. Some of them may have felt that this was the point at which to resign, either because things were too different from what they used to be in the last war or because of age or some other reason. We believe, however, that the result of the scheme, which we have fully discussed with the local authorities, will lead to increased status, prestige and efficiency of the 'Corps.

A member of the Corps has to prove himself in a way that he never did before in order to advance to higher rank, including officer status. When this began last October, we naturally realised that there was bound to be a drop in the total membership of the Corps as a result. There was, in fact, a drop of 47,000 in the December quarter last year. We accepted this; we knew that it was bound to happen.

We are sorry that so many personnel went, but we do not believe that in the long run it will be to the disadvantage of the Corps. We were glad to see that in the same quarter, the recruiting rate was higher than in any corresponding quarter in any previous year except 1961, which was exceptional because of the Berlin crisis.

I must add a word on a subject to which both my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham and other hon. Members have referred, although it is not explicitly within the Motion, about advice to the public. We have always recognised, and I hope that we shall be seen to do so more emphatically in the future, the great importance of keeping the public informed about the effects of nuclear weapons.

For some years, it was not possible to give absolutely complete and accurate information to all the public, because there was no certainty in our minds of the sort of information that could accurately be given. Whilst there is, of course, no certainty, there is now a greater probability and a more reliable assessment can be made.

In 1957, the Government began issuing a series of official publications with "The Hydrogen Bomb", which was written in non-technical language for the ordinary reader. At the same time, however, we have thought it right to make available in peace-time more detailed advice about the sort of quite simple physical preparations which could be made in the home in the event of a crisis.

Many hon. and right hon. Members will have seen the Civil Defence Handbook No. 10 which is entitled, "Advising the Householder on Protection against Nuclear Attack" which was issued in January. I should like to emphasise that it was issued for training the Civil Defence Corps, and for the police and fire and other services, and the National Hospital Services Reserve. It has been put on sale to the public.

Some people have suggested, like my hon. Friend, that it ought not to be put on sale: but that it ought to be distributed free to the public. I do not mind admitting that this was a question which gave us very anxious thought at the time when this booklet was being prepared—which was before the Cuba crisis, so it was not in any way influenced by the Cuba crisis. For a number of reasons, not from fear of scaring the public, we decided that it would not be right to distribute it now in a way which would appear to suggest that we were positively suggesting to the public that they ought to take the measures indicated in this booklet now, because we are not doing so, and that for more than one reason.

For one thing, to take even the fairly simple precautions now would involve a considerable dislocation of their daily life. We do not wish householders in present circumstances to start blocking up windows and taking other emergency measures.

Moreover—and this is what I was referring to a moment ago when I said that in previous years we have not published so much information—in the light of experience some of the advice which is given in these booklets is liable to become out of date, and perhaps even to become out of date fairly soon, and to be superseded. So it would clearly be a fruitless and unprofitable prospect to suggest to the public, or even appear to suggest to the public, that this is the kind of thing they are being asked to do now.

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

Why charge 9d. for it?

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

Precisely in order not to attract too much public activity based on it now.

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

The figure of 9d. happens to be the figure at which booklets in this series have been priced. That is the only reason for the figure.

If the time ever came for the householders to take such precautions, if we wanted them to do so, the information in this booklet would, of course, be disseminated—broadcast and put out to the public in every possible way.

The hon. Member for Islington, East asked me to comment on two other points. One was the question of shelters and the other evacuation policy, only we now use the term "dispersal" because it is a slightly different concept. As for shelters, it is a question we are now looking at again in the light of a changing situation, a changing scientific appreciation of the possibility of shelters. The hon. Gentleman may know that the Americans went through this exercise a year or so ago and then did a rapid about-turn after they came to the conclusion of spending a very large sum on shelters. We do not want to have to do that, and we are making a careful assessment of this problem first.

As to dispersal, there was a reference to the policy for dispersal of some parts of the population in the 1962 Report on Defence. A dispersal scheme is being prepared. It will be a voluntary scheme under which people in the priority classes, who are largely women and children, would move from large centres of population to reception areas which are in parts of West and South-West England, and Wales, and there will be similar arrangements in Scotland. This does not necessarily mean that even in a crisis the scheme would be operated. It would be a large undertaking, and there are many factors to consider, such as the effects on families, industrial activity, and the life of the country as a whole, and also, of course, the effects abroad of any announcement of an intention to disperse the population. None of these things can be foreseen, and the purpose of the scheme is therefore to try to judge whether it would be the right course in an emergency situation. If we did not have such a scheme we should have no choice, because a mass move of millions of people could not be improvised in an emergency situation, and it is to make such a choice available that we are preparing the scheme and have informed the local authorities of it and given guidance about the detailed planning we want them to carry out.

I think I have covered most of the points raised in the debate. I merely want to say in conclusion that I agree with all those hon. Members who have emphasised that it is a humanitarian duty which lies on all of us to enable as many as possible to live through a calamity of this kind, if it were to happen, and to restore ordered life after it. I think it is an inescapable duty for the reasons very cogently put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham, which I will not repeat. But I welcome the opportunity to say these things, and I hope that the Motion and the many hon. Members who have spoken in support of it will help to encourage even more recruits of high quality to join the Civil Defence Corps.

3.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby South

I do not want to talk the Motion out, but I should like to make a few comments on what the Minister has been good enough to say. He admits, with the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), that there is a risk that we might have nuclear war. It is a real risk. If it were not, we should not be discussing civil defence today. Mr. Dean Rusk said in November that the real lesson of the Cuba crisis was that nuclear war is a possibility which may happen to us at any time. We must also remember that President Kennedy has said, not once but often, that what he calls "the nuclear sword of Damocles" hanging over the world by a slender thread may be cut at any instant by accident, miscalculation or madness. It is only seventeen years since we had Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese generals in power, and they were all mad.

It could happen that we had the use of nuclear weapons without total and complete destruction of our country, but I think it is most unlikely. Hon. Members should read the Home Office pamphlet on the hydrogen bomb, of which the Minister spoke, and see what it says about London. They should read the sentence in which it says that London is the only target in which there would not be a lot of open space covered by a 10-megaton bomb—and 10-megaton bombs are the type that are being prepared.

We could have a conventional war, and for that reason I desire to say nothing to discourage the people who are engaged in the patriotic task of civil defence. But I would urge on the Minister that while the Government are advertising for volunteers they ought really to tell us a little more about what the war would be like if it came. I remember that in 1955 the Home Office briefed journalists to the effect that London could take eight nuclear bombs and still survive. I have here an enormous advertisement which appeared in all the national newspapers in September asking for volunteers. Why does it not give us some description of what the war would be like if it came, so that people know what it is they are preparing against?

I do not believe in shelter or evacuation as a policy for strengthening the deterrent. I conclude by urging on the Minister that we should be told more and that we should have an annual debate on this subject in Government time. It is not good enough to have an hour and a quarter on a Friday afternoon on a private Member's Motion. We ought to have a debate every year. This is what the life of the nation may depend on.

I end by saying that there are two forms of civil defence, to both of which the Government are committed. One is what we are discussing today. The other is general and complete disarmament. They are both Government policies. The Government are spending on civil defence double the amount of money spent on the United Nations and all its activities in the highest spending year, 1962, since the United Nations began. I think they ought to advertise disarmament as well. They should advertise the Government's pledges.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved,That this House commends the work of the 600.000 men and women engaged in Civil Defence in Great Britain, believes they have a vital and effective part to play in the defence forces of these islands even in a nuclear age, and welcomes the reorganisation of the Civil Defence Corps as leading to a more efficient and balanced force.