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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 how many copies of the publication "Civil Defence: why we need it" have been published; and how extensively it will be distributed.

Five hundred thousand so far. The pamphlet has been distributed to county and district councils, police forces and certain voluntary organisations. Members of the public may obtain copies from these bodies or direct from the Home Office emergency services division.

Does the Minister agree that this is a miserable and pathetic document compared with the earlier document "Protect and Survive"? In view of the fact that in the recent civil defence exercise, "Operation Square Leg" it was estimated that 200 megatons of TNT could be used against Britain—which is equivalent to 16,000 Hiroshimas—what does the document say about dealing with that, on the very day that the Cabinet is meeting to discuss further public expenditure cuts in local authority services? Will the Minister at least respect those local authorities that want to make their areas nuclear-free zones?

The theme of the pamphlet—which is very far from pathetic—is that civil defence is common sense. Even if the hon. Gentleman's constituents were to live in a nuclear-free zone, they would not be protected from the effects of fallout from nuclear attacks on the Continent of Europe. The pamphlet seeks to dispel the confusion that has been sown in people's minds by a great many people such as the hon. Gentleman, who seek to say that no measure of protection can be given to millions of lives.

Is my hon. and learned Friend happy that after a disaster the chief civil power should be in the hands of the chief executives of county councils and similar unelected and unknown nonentities? Would it not be much wiser if each county had at the head of its civil defence some well-known local figure, such as Mr. Ian Botham in Somerset, or Mr. Kevin Keegan in Southampton?

The Government believe that all their efforts have to be devoted to ensuring that no war ever breaks out. We believe that if we maintain our deterrent policy that will be the case. But if there has to be a system for the post-attack government of this country, we believe that it is right to work through local authorities and those who serve them, because they have the best means of knowing the needs of their areas. I think, therefore, that the Government's policy is broadly correct.