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Civil Defence

Volume 13: debated on Thursday 26 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will increase the resources available for civil defence.

My right hon. Friend has no present plans to do so. We are satisfied that the additional resources for civil defence which my right hon. Friend announced to the House on 7 August last year are sufficient for further progress to be achieved.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the vast majority of people in this country support the nuclear deterrent, but that they require the Government to provide adequate civil defence to go with the nuclear deterrent? Is he therefore aware that more money is required for civil defence, and that if local authorities under Socialist control are not prepared to provide it the Government should step in? Is he further aware that more nuclear shelters are required to guarantee protection in the event of some sad occurrence and to ensure that a large number of people in this country survive?

My right hon. Friend announced in August 1980 that national civil defence expenditure was to be increased by about 60 per cent. annually, to £45 million annually by 1983–84. I agree with what my hon. Friend says about the importance of a nuclear deterrent. The Government are equally concerned to make the point that the case for civil defence is a humanitarian one and that one can be wholly committed to unilateral disarmament and at the same time be very firm for proper civil defence.

Is the Minister aware that the huge upsurge of interest in the peace movement, not only in this country, but throughout Europe, and the tremendous demonstrations that have taken place are due not to the underground activities of the Communist Party in the CND, or even of the KGB, but arise from a real fear of nuclear war and the realisation that there is no adequate civil defence against nuclear attack?

Many of the people supporting those demonstrations are extremely sincere and extremely misguided. It is a grave disservice to them and to the whole country to suppose that, in the unspeakable event of an attack upon this country with nuclear weapons, millions of lives could not be saved by the provision of a sensible degree of civil defence.

How is my hon. and learned Friend getting on with persuading that wayward organisation, the GLC, to play its part in civil defence? Does he appreciate that my constituents and many other people in greater London believe the GLC's attitude to be wholly irresponsible?

My hon. Friend will recall that a fortnight ago the Government published a simple pamphlet "Civil Defence: why we need it" giving the answers to a number of questions that are commonly asked. I am glad to say that the GLC has undertaken to distribute the pamphlet. It has also undertaken to carry out a survey of buildings, as the Government have requested, that might be suitable to provide protection against radiation. I believe that persuasion is the way to approach these local authorities.

What estimates has the Minister made of the cost of effective protection against nuclear weapons?

That is an impossible question to answer. The concept is not capable of being defined. The Government have always made it clear that it is beyond what this country can afford to provide shelters for everyone on the scale carried out in the last war. However, the risk of war breaking out so long as we maintain our independent deterrent is so slight as not to warrant that precaution.