Civil Defence

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd November 1984.

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Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth 12:00 am, 22nd November 1984

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to have completed an analysis of the answers to the civil defence questionnaires sent to local authorities.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

Before the end of December, when a report will be made available to the House.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

How many authorities have not completed the questionnaire, and what action will my right hon. and learned Friend take to ensure that they do?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

All local authorities, except two, have completed and returned the questionnaire. It is expected that the two outstanding questionnaires will be returned by the end of the month. I imagine that my hon. Friend's concerns relate more to the answers in the questionnaires than to the questionnaires themselves.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

Did the Home Secretary see the recent BBC television programmes which showed vividly the extent of death, devastation and destruction as a result of nuclear war? Does he agree that the programmes demonstrated clearly the futility of civil defence against nuclear attack?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

I could not disagree more. I did not see the programme, but we do not need a television programme to tell us that, in the event of nuclear war, the destruction will be horrific. We also do not need a television programme to be fully aware that even the most elementary civil defence preparations could save millions of lives and greatly reduce injury and suffering.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North

How can local authorities adequately answer questionnaires or plan for civil defence if the Home Secretary refuses to share with them his planning assumptions about likely targets in their areas, the casualties likely to result from an attack and other consequences? If the major air threat is from conventional attack, as the Home Office now asserts, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us what is the evidence for that assumption, why it differs from the NATO strategy and how, once an air attack against this country has been launched, local authorities are expected to decide whether it is a conventional or a nuclear attack?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan Mr Leon Brittan , Richmond (Yorks)

All NATO countries make proper provision for civil defence, and we intend to do the same. My original answer showed that, even if the hon. Gentleman has difficulty in answering the questionnaire, local authorities seem to be doing so, which suggests that it has been directed to the right quarters.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the warning systems to be introduced to advise the public of the presence of chemical gases, liquid or spray will be the same as those in use by the United Kingdom's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation partners.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

Within NATO there is no standard warning system. We are studying how such warning could be given, building on present arrangements to warn of air attack and radioactive fallout. This work is being undertaken in close co-operation with our NATO allies.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

My hon. Friend will appreciate that the background to my question is that the Soviet Union has 300,000 tonnes of chemical weapons and is continuing to add to them. Presumably there is some purpose attached to that. Despite what he has already said, will my hon. Friend ensure that the new consolidated guidance to local authorities covers protection of the public in the event of chemical attack?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

That aspect is being worked on. If those initiatives are successful, there will be an addition to the circular. My hon. Friend raises an important point in stating the Soviet Union's chemical weaponry capability. It is worth bearing in mind that we unilaterally renounced chemical weapons in the late 1950s, but that does not seem to have had much impact on the Soviets. One wonders where unilateral disarmament stands in that scenario.

Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East

Do the civil defence responses referred to in the earlier question cover that aspect?

Photo of Mr Neil Thorne Mr Neil Thorne , Ilford South

My hon. Friend has already mentioned that we unilaterally renounced all our chemical and biological weapons at the end of the 1950s. Is he aware that the military commanders are most concerned about the situation in relation to what the troops, especially in Germany, would suffer? Will he give careful consideration to the steps required similarly to protect the civilian population?

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

Yes; that is precisely what we have in mind.