asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether Her Majesty's Government will provide 100 per cent. grant-aid to offset expenditure on emergency planning and the raising and training of civil defence volunteers by county councils and the Greater London council as required under the proposed new civil defence regulations.
Consultation with the local authority associations is still in progress. My right hon. Friend hopes to lay the new regulations in draft form before Parliament in March. Under the proposed regulations, civil defence grant-aid would be increased from 75 to 100 per cent. on approved local authority expenditure on the training and exercising of staff and volunteers, and on communications and related equipment in emergency wartime headquarters.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Is he aware that many local authorities are unwilling to take up the grant-aid because it is described by them as overspending and they claim that they are penalised for it? We must find a way to encourage all local authorities to involve themselves in this necessary activity.
In no case can it be a question of "cannot", although in some cases it may be used to serve as a spurious cover for political hostility to civil defence. It is a question of priorities, but all local authorities recognise, or should recognise, that they have to conform to the Government's economic strategy.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that he may have to employ an advertising agency to sell these regulations to the people, because not only are Labour local authorities opposing them, but Conservative authorities have now started publicly to criticise their wisdom? The Minister cannot operate an effective national civil defence scheme unless he has the positive support and co-operation of every local authority in Britain.
The hon. Lady would do better to add her voice to those who proclaim what is true—that civil defence is a humanitarian duty. It has nothing to do with politics. It is a humanitarian duty to protect people as far as possible in the event of a catastrophe, which we all hope will never occur.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that local authorities would be more sensible to apply their energies and thoughts to civil defence than to the idiotic and ostrich-like activity of pretending to be nuclear-free zones?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I went to the conference of the so-called nuclear-free zone authorities. They sent me an invitation, but did not think that I would go. However, I enjoyed myself and told them some things that they did not expect to hear and to which they had no answer.
The regulations refer to the movement of the population to temporary accommodation. Will the Minister say where the 500,000 citizens of Manchester, for example, will find temporary accommodation? What temporary accommodation is available in the event of a pending nuclear attack? Will there be accommodation only for those wealthy people who own pads in the Welsh mountains?
Every prudent local authority would wish to make such plans as are possible for almost any eventuality that can be foreseen. It is desirable that they should be encouraged to do so.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that helpful reply. It shows that the Home Office is paying this important subject the attention that it deserves. If it is important enough for the Swiss to establish a sophisticated civil defence system to maintain their neutrality, surely it is important for this country, which is in the forefront of NATO, to do so. Will my hon. and learned Friend continue to give civil defence the emphasis that it needs?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. As I said, civil defence is about saving people's lives, where possible. The difference between the Swiss and ourselves is that the Swiss do not contribute to preventing war by belonging to NATO. We put the bulk of our money into doing our best to prevent a war.
Will my hon. and learned Friend encourage as many hon. Members as possible from both sides of the House to visit this remarkable college, whatever its name may be in the future? They will then see the high professional standards of the people in charge and the encouraging measures of prevention and precaution that are possible in an eventuality which we all devoutly hope will never occur.
I agree with my hon. Friend. It will give great encouragement to those at the civil defence college. Last year 546 people attended courses, and during this year about 700 are expected. A number of Labour supporters have attended courses. They went with a sceptical view of civil defence, but they had that view corrected.
Local authorities take the lead in local emergency planning, and the Government have appointed co-ordinators for England and Wales and for Scotland to advise them on the use of voluntary effort. Valuable contributions can be made by the voluntary aid societies especially, and we encourage local authorities to seek and organise help from any quarter.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Is he aware that many people who are deeply interested in effective civil defence believe that voluntary effort can best and most effectively be channelled and utilised along the lines of the Devon volunteer organisation? Will he undertake to push and encourage that idea throughout the country?
I have the greatest admiration for the Devon voluntary organisation. Sir Leslie Mayor is responsible to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for assisting local authorities and voluntary organisations in England and Wales to adapt to local circumstances the best features and arrangements for civil defence that operate elsewhere.
If the hon. Gentleman is referring to such an accident taking place in peacetime, the local authority or the police, whichever is most expedient, would take charge. It depends on the particular circumstances. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that an organisation that is set up to take precautions and make preparations during wartime will also be valuable in peacetime.
What advice will my hon. and learned Friend give to local authority employees who are being advised by their local union branches not to co-operate in the event of their having to work on civil defence matters?
I do not believe that my advice would be particularly parliamentary. They must take every opportunity to point out that those who are seeking to impede civil defence precautions are seeking to impede the giving of help to people who may need it desperately at some time.
I am not sure what kind of conscience would preclude a person from helping others in times of stress. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary proposes to introduce, not a Bill, but regulations, about which we are consulting at the moment. We shall heed what we are told.