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Minister For Civil Defence

Volume 648: debated on Thursday 9 November 1961

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asked the Prime Minister, in view of the growing concern in the country over Government plans for the defence of the civil population in the event of nuclear war, if he will appoint a Minister for Civil Defence.

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is widespread and growing concern in the country about the possible fate of the civil population in the event of nuclear war? Is he aware of a statement recently made by Sir William Stratton, the Inspector-General of Civil Defence, who said that the plans for evacuating 12 million people have to be revised because estimates of destructiveness have now to be increased and new plans are being arranged? Does not the Prime Minister think that this is beyond the capacity of either the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Scotland to handle?

Of course, we all know the terrible dangers, but this Question relates to the present Ministerial arrangements, and I think that they are satisfactory.

If it is necessary to have the military defence of the United Kingdom under one head, is it not equally reasonable that the civil defence, which is very important, should be under one command also?

I do not think as a matter of administration it is a wise thing to set up a new department. The Home Secretary is in general control and the departmental heads of other Departments concerned—local government, health and so on—work together under him.

Does not the Prime Minister think it would be a very good idea to have a closer look at this problem? Does he not recognise that involved in it is the question of providing deep air-raid shelters, food, drinking water and the question of whether we can segregate contaminated areas from uncontaminated areas? Is it not essential in the interests of the people of the country and those who are likely to survive that we should have a coordinated plan for Civil Defence? Will he kindly have a further look at this matter?

Of course we are continually reviewing the situation. What I am dealing with today is whether the appointment of a single Minister is likely to increase the efficiency of all the Departments concerned.

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's well-known anxious care for the name and thought of England, could he not spare a few minutes to look after the safety of its people?

I think that anyone who knows the work of the Government knows that these matters are continually being put forward either in the Defence Committee or another part of the Government's organisation.