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Civil Defence (Police Accommodation)

Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 5 March 1952

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10.45 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the Draft Civil Defence (Police) Regulations, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th February, be approved.
These Regulations, and those referred to in the Motion in the name of the Secretary of State for Scotland, are virtually the same, each dealing with the same matter for the two countries, and I suggest that, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, it would be for the convenience of the House if the two were discussed together. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is here, and if any points are raised either of us will be able to deal with them.

Section 5 of the Civil Defence Act, 1948, lays upon members of the police forces a duty of complying with the requirements as to training for and taking part in any form of civil defence for the time being recognised as appropriate. That Section only lays that duty on individual policemen and no duty is laid on police authorities as such until functions are conferred upon them by Regulations made under Section 2 of the Act.

Such Regulations were made—the Civil Defence (Police) (Training) Regulations, 1950. Those Regulations are, in fact, being repealed by the Regulations now before the House. They gave to the authorities the necessary power to train and equip. In fact those same Regulations are being reproduced in this Statutory Instrument with purely verbal amendments; and I take it the House will not wish to discuss that matter, which was dealt with previously and in regard to which there is virtually no change.

These Regulations, however, give an additional function to police authorities—that of providing protected headquarters from which operational control can be exercised over the police under air raid conditions. In other words, they give a function to the police authorities to provide specially strengthened buildings or parts of buildings or adjuncts to buildings which would make suitable headquarters in the event of bombing. That is a new Regulation, and it has been found necessary to bring it before the House in order to deal with one or two actual cases.

Buildings are now being erected in which it is necessary to make suitable provision to meet the eventuality of war. Provision cannot be made under the Civil Defence Act without these Regulations. In fact, the only way of dealing with the matter is by making the provision and paying for it under the Police Act.

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, the Regulations use the words "protected accommodation." Is there any definition of "accommodation" in the principal Act. There is no definition in the Regulations, and it might mean anything from providing a policeman with a house with a double-bolted door to the very necessary reinforcement of headquarters, which I gather is intended.

I will check on that point and try and give the hon. Member the answer before the debate is over. My impression at the moment is that there is no precise definition. The word "accommodation" does not need definition and perhaps it is desirable to use a more general word such as "protected" in present circumstances. I cannot think of any occasion in which protected accommodation could be provided in circumstances where this House would not wish that to be done. However, the hon. Member will no doubt have an opportunity of developing that point if he wishes to do so.

The main importance of these Regulations is that they will enable the cost of providing this accommodation to be met out of the Civil Defence grant, which will be 75 per cent. or over, from the Exchequer. instead of out of the police grants, which will carry only a 50 per cent. Treasury subvention. I do not think I need say more in submitting these Regulations, but, if hon. Members have particular points to raise, either my hon. Friend or I will be able to deal with them.

10.51 p.m.

I put a point and I understood I was to have an answer. It seems to me that "protected accommodation" is the vaguest of terms, covering anything from a bird's nest, in certain circumstances, particularly if it has an earth reinforcement below it. It is a meaningless term as it stands. Is there any definition? Otherwise, it seems that the powers being asked for are wider than has been represented. What is "protected accommodation"? Does it mean protected physically, or militarily; protected by police, protected by law, protected by Regulations, or what? It is a vague term, indeed.

I am not pressing the matter. One knows that the administration of these Regulations will be subject to a good deal of supervision and that plans have to be submitted, but it seems to me a little bit hard if that is the position, for the Joint Under-Secretary of State to come and say, "I am asking for powers." In my view, what we want is some concrete headquarters, because we want adequate protection for the police in a bombing raid. Everyone agrees that that is necessary and desirable.

Under this term, the protection can be at any constable's house, or in any street or place or any side-street, and reserved for the police. It can be in any Anderson shelter—I am sorry, Waverley shelter—or any of the other various places used from time to time. I should have thought that the Joint Under-Secretary would have said that these words have a meaning, that they were put in because they have one, that this is what was meant, and that this was how it came about.

10.53 p.m.

I think the hon. Member is making a mountain out of a molehill. These words have a perfectly plain meaning and are not in any sense terms of art. I should have thought it was unnecessary to define words of plain meaning.

Does this mean that the hon. Gentleman is going to tell us at the end that there is no definition? That was the question I asked.

While the hon. Gentleman was speaking, I had the point checked and there is no definition. I submit that the words are perfectly clear and that the hon. Gentleman himself has suggested a number of quite desirable means of protecting a house. If it is necessary to protect a house to ensure that the police are able to carry out their duties under air raid conditions, I submit that the House would wish to see that was done, and would wish that expenditure to be met properly from Civil Defence, and not from police, sources.

10.55 p.m.

I am glad that these Regulations are being brought forward, and may I say that I hope that these definitions will be kept as wide as possible, because the Regulations may have to be used—I hope they will not— in the circumstances of war, when, of course, we cannot say what will have to be met or what the exact needs will be. During the 1939–1945 war, this kind of thing grew in complexity and variety as the campaigns proceeded and more devilish instruments were invented by the enemy.

I think the police may find that in certain areas they will have to adopt forms of protection that we cannot possibly foresee now. Therefore, while I think my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) was well advised to raise his point, and get an answer from the hon. Gentleman, I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman had to consult the Box before he could supply an answer—the answer that I know he would get.

I think the Regulations are to be welcomed. I hope that they will give reassurance to those people who have joined the police and are entitled to have any protection that the circumstances of the particular time may render necessary.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved:

That the Draft Civil Defence (Police) Regulations, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th February, be approved.
Draft Civil Defence (Police) (Scotland) Regulations, 1952 [copy presented 19th February], approved.—[Mr. Henderson Stewart.]