I beg to move,
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise briefly the question of civil defence generally, and in particular to draw attention to the pamphlet "Civil Defence—why we need it". I commend it respectfully as a beautifully written and expertly produced publication, and express my appreciation of the attendance of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who has special responsibility for these matters in the Home Office. I wish at the start to set the leaflet and the subject of civil defence in a general context. It so happens that 36 years ago I was a young Army officer ready to embark from a port in India for what was to have been the invasion of the country then known as Malaya. It was perfectly clear that that would be a bloody business. At almost exactly that moment we learned from our radios—there was no television there in those days—that a new and hideous weapon had been dropped on Japan. I do not think that any of us had grasped the measure of these weapons—to which this pamphlet and others refer. It will not surprise you to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that as a young man in my early twenties I did not view that event as being an unmitigated disaster. My ability to stand here at all may in part have turned upon that event. At that time, I came to two conclusions. In one I think that I was profoundly right, and in the other I was profoundly wrong. I concluded, almost at once, that if on that occasion the Japanese had had the ability to retaliate and to drop a bomb on us, we should never have taken that action in the first place. That is why I so warmly approve, as this pamphlet makes clear, that the continuing thrust of Government policy is to prevent war, and to prevent the happenings in respect of which this pamphlet has been produced. The people of Britain accept that by ceaseless diplomatic activity Her Majesty's Government will strive towards supervised multilateral disarmament. But I believe that the vast majority of British people know that those efforts are more likely to succeed, not less likely to succeed, if we keep up our defences. Civil defence may be small, but it is part of those defences, and it is important to set it in the context of the whole. I repeat, a young man's contemplation of the dropping of such a hideous weapon all those 36 years ago was that we would never have dared to do it if we had known that the Japanese possessed such a weapon. I think that I got that lesson right. I concede now that the second conclusion to which I came was profoundly wrong, although I think that it was perhaps understandable in my young twenties, and in 1945, that I might have come to that conclusion, because I thought that we were seeing the run-up to an inevitable third World War. That is what I thought, and I looked at it gloomily. To understand that misunderstanding, however, it is important to remember that my generation felt considerable bitterness that the generation before us had permitted our defences to be run down, including our civil defences. We felt that we never need have added those dread years 1939 to 1945 to our war memorials if in the years between the two wars we had shown ourselves resolutely ready, if necessary, to defend ourselves—not aggressively, of course. No more than a minuscule number of the British people have aggressive intentions in respect of any other nation; but we needed to demonstrate, and we did not do so until perilously close to 1939, that we were, in civil defence or in any other measure, prepared to defend ourselves. Furthermore, in mitigation of my misapprehension of the position, it is as well to remember that the end of the 1914–18 war was as close to the outbreak of the next one in 1939 as 1960 is to today. It is as though today the previous war had ended in 1960, and sometimes when I speak of these matters in universities and elsewhere I find that that is the best way of bringing home to young people the close proximity and therefore the feeling of almost inevitability of a third war. Although I was born in 1924, well clear of the end of the first war, it hung like a cloud over my boyhood. In my mother's family, every eligible male life had been slaughtered. Later today I shall be going to a small but loved cottage home only because my namesake took four days to die on the wire at Gallipoli when he was 20. It is small wonder, therefore, that my generation thought that we were in for an inevitable rerun. There, we were profoundly wrong. It is the very existence of these hideous weapons of destruction that has kept us free from an active war. It has not kept peace. I do not say that there has been peace. I do not ignore those parts of the world where there has been trouble and bloodshed. I served for a short time in the Northern Ireland Office, and I know a little about it. I am saying that we were wrong and that the possession of these massive weapons of destruction has avoided the outbreak of a major war between the two great powers. The moral for me is clear. In civil defence, as in other aspects of our defence, we are more likely to keep the peace which we all desire if we maintain our defences. Civil defence has its detractors, of course. There are those who laugh at it. But people did exactly the same before the Second World War. I am told—this pamphlet deals with the argument admirably—that there is no effective defence, so there is no point in having a civil defence programme. We were told the same before 1939. I invite hon. Members to turn up some of the great speeches of those days and to look at the way in which what was called "aerial bombardment", never before experienced, was thought to be so severe and so hideous that there was no possible defence. Hon. Members need only turn back the pages to see how those who nobly pioneered some civil defences for our people in those days were laughed at and how later their detractors were thankful that preparations had been made. The scale has grown, but so has the scale of the defence required. That is the problem. For example, one of the new factors in our cavil defence today is radiation—I describe it as new in that it is different from the Second World War, though I repeal that the Government's policy is to ensure that it never happens. There is a great deal of evidence and there are admirable publications from my hon. and learned Friend's Department showing the sensible precautions that ordinary people can take and about which, in case of need, we could be even better instructed. Further, there is always the possibility, in the hideous event of which I speak—I repeat that the whole objective is to prevent it—that another war might start without the use of nuclear weapons. There was a period of what is now called conventional warfare, when the great and other powers came to their senses before the use of nuclear weapons. If there were another such period, we know from bitter experience what a great contribution can be made by conventional civil defence. Because the scale has grown, so it has outstripped, for example, our ability to provide shelters for all. Perhaps, in an ideal world, if one had all the additional resources at one's command, one would embark upon a massive programme of providing deep shelter cover for all. However, one does not have to be an expert to see the vast expenditure programme that that would involve and how unrealistic it is to suggest, at least for the foreseeable future. The Government have shown that, while they are prudent in matters of expenditure, more is being spent on civil defence than ever before. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will speak authoritatively on this, but I believe that by 1983–84 the expenditure will be running at £45 million a year. I know that some people would measure the intention and sincerity of the Government by whether or not they would re-create a corps, remembered by people of my age with respect and affection, exclusively and expressly for civil defence. The tasks of those involved in civil defence today spread right across our people. In the hideous event of which I speak—I repeat that the intention is to prevent it—it will be essential to provide information. The leaflet to which I refer is express and clear about the requirements of making information available to all our people and about the methods by which it would be done, allowing for the fact that it is not an instruction manual but a leaflet that is written in simple terms for all to understand. Such is the scale of the task that people in voluntary organisations such as the Red Cross, the St. John Ambulance Brigade, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the special constabulary—everyone in a civil defence corps—and others would take part in defensive operations. I do not accept the charge that by making that sort of provision the Government are warmongering. There is at least one other major example in the world. I, like other hon. Members, make regular visits to Switzerland. It is a country that people enjoy immensely. We think of it as a place with glorious lakes and mountains that beckon us. Switzerland has agreeable food and delicious wines, which, unfortunately, do not travel well, and people who are kindly and welcoming. It has something else: it is a neutral country with a higher standard of preparedness and self-defence than any similar nation, as can be seen from the training requirements for Swiss men, unless they are unfit, per year. The building regulations in Switzerland require that any new building, whether residential or office, must have a deep shelter provision. For example, I recently visited a young married couple, with a young family, whom I knew for some years before they married, at their new flat in Basle. They had a deep shelter provision, which is used for other purposes but would also be used in the deadly circumstances of which we are speaking. No one says that the Swiss are potential aggressors or warmongers because they have those essential defensive postures. They care for their own people and, like Britain, deeply abhor the possibility of nuclear war. The person who strives hardest to prevent war is he who has experienced it. I cannot believe that more than a minuscule number of those who have seen their contemporaries killed or maimed would want to go through that experience again. It has left me and many others with a determination to do anything we can to ensure that that never happens to the generation in Britain who are now in their prime. There are some, as there were in pre-1939, who are trivialising and sloganising. Great issues have been reduced and movements, in part politically motivated and numerically, though not intellectually, strong, have arisen, comprising people whose objectives are not disarmament, but the destruction of a society which gives them the freedom to demonstrate while they are blessed by the unemployed monsignori. The pre-1939 counterparts of those people were as responsible as anyone for the misunderstandings of Britain's position which led to the outbreak of the Second World War. We must be certain that the misunderstanding is never allowed to happen again. Civil defence may be but a small part of our defences as a whole, but it is a vital part and I am happy to have been able briefly to draw attention to it.That this House welcomes the recent publication of the pamphlet 'Civil Defence—why we need it' which draws atention to the provisions of civil defence made by Switzerland and Sweden notwithstanding that those countries follow a policy of neutrality; and believes that, while the risk of war is slight so long as the United Kingdom maintains its deterrent capability, there is a humanitarian duty upon central and local government to provide for civil defence.
With one reservation, to which I shall return later, I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Minister on the excellent layout and content of "Civil Defence—why we need it". I hope that it will soon be followed by another edition "Civil Defence—what to do about it".There are those who believe in the ostrich approach—ignore the problem and, with luck, it might go away. I do not hold with that approach. It reminds me of the religious groups that one hears of from time to time, who sell up and give away everything because they are convinced that the world will end on a certain day, and then meet to await the event. How long they wait and how they cope with the future, I am not sure. Perhaps they fall back on a kindly Welfare State to get them over the immediate problems. There are always those who say, whatever the catastrophe—the flooding of the Thames basin, a Flixborough-type disaster, or a nuclear bomb—that it is too horrible to contemplate, or impossible to take avoiding action. That, of course, is nonsense. I remember my father arguing with friends at the outbreak of war in 1939 that, with the developments of the weapons of modern warfare over those that were available in the 1914–18 war, the war could only possibly last between six weeks and six months. In the event, it lasted six years. How wrong it would have been to give in without a struggle, and thank God for those who, against public opinion at the time, still prepared for our defence. There is no doubt that another world war would be a terrible event, but at the same time how wrong we would be to ignore the basic right of man to protect his family against such an awful possibility. My only regret about by hon. and learned Friend's pamphlet is its statement that the civil defence volunteers should not be revived. In my view, it is essential to have an emergency management to back up the fire, ambulance and police services, in addition to those provided by the local authorities, because I do not believe that they alone could cope. I realise that in these difficult economic times it is not easy to call for expansion. However, I draw my hon. and learned Friend's attention to one source that he should look at closely. Every year a number of officers, warrant officers and other senior ranks complete their service with the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. They leave to make way for others and, because of the limit on ranks that can be achieved in a part-time Service, they are usually men and women in their forties who have given 20 or more years part-time service. The officers then go on the unposted list for a year, as I did, before being transferred to the reserve of officers, where their records are consigned to the vaults. During their last few years of service, they tend to look round for another interest to take up on completion of their reserve commitments. Obviously, they apply more time to leisure pursuits and other worthy causes. In my opinion, however, more use could be made of those on the unposted list. While they are on that list, they can attend courses or other training, but they are not on any unit strength. Here is a wonderful opportunity, and at little cost, to consolidate the emergency management that would be essential at such a time. The sort of people I have in mind have considerable experience in such matters as stores provision, engineering, communications and other essential skills that would be required at these times. By introducing, perhaps, a camp of five days, with two weekends a year, they would be able to maintain and update their skills. That would provide an essential component for any emergency service that could arise on a national scale. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) on introducing such an important subject. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will strengthen and enlarge civil defence, which has been left neglected for too many years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) has done the House a great service by providing us with an opportunity to debate a question of immense national importance—the need for civil defence. I am extremely grateful to him for having drawn attention to the pamphlet that my Department recently published. In addition, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) for the kind things that he said about it. We tried to take half a dozen of the questions that are most commonly asked by those who are genuinely bewildered about civil defence issues, and to give truthful answers to those questions in simple terms that could be understood by all. I am extremely grateful to both my hon. Friends for their encouraging remarks about that publication.The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham for the most perceptive, wise—and in parts moving—speech with which he moved the motion. My hon. Friend has long experience of our affairs, particularly in Government. His words will have reassured many people and will have given great encouragement to the thousands of dedicated men and women who—whether in local government, the Royal Observer Corps or other organisations—serve the community through civil defence. Their important work is generally unsung, yet it is vital that they should continue it. On their behalf and on behalf of the Government I thank my hon. Friend for his speech. These days, it is not difficult to understand why a discussion about civil defence often becomes caught up in a mushroom cloud of emotion. Perhaps the world is more dangerous today than at any time since the conclusion of the war in which my hon. Friend served and from which he has drawn such apposite and compelling lessons. The super-powers and other powers hold many fearsome nuclear weapons. Rightly, there is revulsion at the very thought of modern warfare. Many honourable people almost instinctively reject anything to do with it. Would that, by the very rejection of war, we could make all risk of it disappear. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, drawing upon his experience and his recollection of his boyhood in the years between the two World Wars, no amount of wishing that the risk of war would go away, and no amount of closing one's mind to the possibility of war could ensure the safety that all humane, decent people desire. Therefore, the greatest benefit of my hon. Friend's speech is that he spoke with reason, while not overlooking the enormous forces of emotion that the subject engenders. Once reason is brought to bear on the subject it becomes plain that two groups of questions must be asked if any serious disucussion is to take place. First, is Western defence policy right, does it lessen the risk of war and should we continue to play our part in it? The second group of questions includes whether our civil defence is relevant only if we say "Yes" to the first group of questions. We must also ask whether in this dangerous world we need civil defence in any event. My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham powerfully and compellingly expressed his belief that our policies of deterrence and membership of the NATO Alliance, and the policy of the Alliance, are right. I entirely agree with him. Like so many with recollections of the pre-war days, my hon. Friend believes that if we had had anything like the commitment to deterrence in those days that we have had for the last 35 years the Second World War probably would not have occurred. As my hon. Friend demonstrated so clearly, we need civil defence in any event. I shall develop my hon. Friend's argument. That argument represents the theme of the pamphlet to which he referred. That theme is in the foreword message from the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland which states:
Perhaps the key concept is the duty to protect our civil population if an attack were to be made upon us. I emphasise that the likelihood of such an attack is at present very slight because the likelihood of war in Europe is very slight. As long as NATO and the Alliance remain strong and coherent and while the United Kingdom maintains its own powerful contributon to it, I believe that the peace of the last 35 years will continue. There is no reason to suppose that the Soviet Union would, in those circumstances, have any intention of starting an armed confrontation with the West. The consequences of such a war would be so incalculable that no aggressor could judge that the objects that he hoped to achieve warranted the scale of damage which he would be certain to sustain. The risk of attack upon us is very slight, but my next proposition is that that risk, slight though it is, cannot be ignored by any responsible Government. No responsible Government can gamble with the lives of our people in the hope that it is a safe bet to do so. There is a one in a hundred chance only each year that a surge tide will flood London. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South referred to that. Nevertheless, it is enough to warrant the huge Thames barrage project. The risk cannot effectively be diminished, let alone be made to disappear, in any imaginable set of future circumstances, as long at the Soviet Union maintains its present posture and policies. Even if unilaterally we were to give up our nuclear deterrent and even if we were to secure the removal of all nuclear weapons from the United Kingdom, we would still live in a world in which enormous numbers of nuclear weapons exist. We would still remain a member of the NATO Alliance which is pledged to defend the West against attack. That is why even such members of the Alliance as Canada, Norway and Denmark, which neither possess nuclear weapons nor have them based upon their soil, maintain effective civil defence organisations and plans. Let us suppose—however unrealistic it may he—that a United Kingdom gesture in the form of unilateral nuclear disarmament would lead eventually to complete multilateral nuclear disarmament. Even then we would still have a confrontation between the conflicting ideologies of East and West, with the respective states still organised into powerful military alliances armed with a range of what are called conventional weapons of war of a nature and on a scale far beyond anything known 40 years ago. To induce the British people to suppose that conventional non-nuclear attacks are a thing of the past is to mislead them profoundly, a point which was made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham. However, they are so mislead by people who should know better because it is convenient to them to create the belief that any future attack must be on the maximum imaginable scale of horror. That is why I believe that the following passage in the Home Office Pamphlet is so important. It answers the proposition that surely there is no real protection aganst a nuclear attack with the words:"For over 30 years our country, with our allies, has sought to avoid war by deterring potential aggressors. Some disagree as to the means we should use. But whatever view we take, we should surely all recognise the need—and indeed the duty—to protect our civil population if an attack were to be made upon us; and therefore to prepare accordingly."
I do not believe that we should be forgiven, or would have any claim to be forgiven, if, in that knowledge, we none the less neglected to plan for warning of attacks, immediate response to attacks or recovery from attacks of that nature. An unknowable degree of human suffering that could have been avoided would not have been avoided and for that we should be responsible. Of course, there are those who seek safety in withdrawal from NATO altogether and the abandonment of our Western partners, perhaps resorting to the stance of the Swiss or the Swedes, which is one of armed neutrality. My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham has spoken appositely about the many civil defence precautions that the neutral Swiss believe to be necessary. The resort to neutrality is an intellectually respectable position. When we examine it, we could pass over the unpromising precedents of Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway in the Second World War, whose neutrality did little to save them. We could even overlook the recent episode of the Russian submarine in enclosed Swedish waters. The Swedes and the Swiss maintain, notwithstanding their neutrality, civil defence organisations of a high standard. They do that because they perceive risks against which they believe it wise to take precautions. There is no reason to suppose that, by adopting a similar neutrality, the United Kingdom would somehow render itself immune to the same risks and thereby make it justifiable to have no provision for the civil defence of its population. Nor do those risks presuppose an attack being made upon Britain or any neutral country, although neutrality—as the history of Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway makes clear—is no protection against an attack. As my hon. Friend made vividly clear, we now have to face the development since the end of the last war of nuclear fallout. Nuclear fallout from attacks elsewhere cannot be ordered to halt in its downwind progress at the borders of a neutral country. It is right for the pamphlet to make that clear in its concluding paragraph:"Millions of lives could be saved by safeguards against radiation especially. But civil defence is not just protection against a nuclear attack. It is protection against any sort of attack. NATO experts reckon that any war involving the United Kingdom is likely at least to start with non-nuclear weapons. Indeed, while no war is likely so long as we maintain a credible deterrent, the likelihood of a nuclear war is less than that of a conventional one."
Therefore, my hon. Friend is surely right to refer to the duty to provide for civil defence as a humanitarian one. It is totally unnecessary—although it can be done with great effect—to divert the argument into a discussion on the merits of a deterrent policy, nuclear or otherwise, whether pursued in alliance with others or alone. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary states in his foreword message:"The case for civil defence stands regardless of whether a nuclear deterrent is necessary or not. Radioactive fallout is no respecter of neutrality. Even if the United Kingdom were not itself at war, we would be as powerless to prevent fallout from a nuclear explosion crossing the sea as was King Canute to stop the tide. This is why countries with a long tradition of neutrality (such as Switzerland and Sweden) are foremost in their civil defence precautions."
Civil defence is a humanitarian activity. It is not specific to a nuclear strike on this country. It has relevance to any form of attack that we might face in a future war. It exists solely to mitigate the consequences for the civil population of hostile action against this country, to ensure that essential services and supplies can continue to be provided by government at all levels, despite the disruption of attack, and to provide the means for survival and recovery after the war. Is it to be said that no steps are to be taken for that essentially humane purpose in the event of the unspeakable actually occurring? How right my hon. Friend was to insist time and again that the thrust and purpose of Government policies are to ensure that war should not break out. The duty to provide for civil defence rests on central Government and local government, as the motion makes clear. The central Government must provide funds and central organisation. They will naturally judge or calculate the scale of provision by reference to their assessment of the likelihood of war. As my hon. Friend will recall, in 1937, 1938 and 1939, all with eyes to see and ears to hear reckoned that war was inevitable. Inadequate though it then was, by reason of the imminent onset of war, the scale of provision for civil defence was higher than we now believe to be necessary. A higher likelihood of war would justify and induce higher expenditure than we consider it right to allot at present. Following his review of civil defence in August 1980, my right hon. Friend judged it right—and Parliament approved—to increase over three years the sum annually spent on civil defence by 60 per cent. to £45 million annually. It is important to remember that under the previous Administration and for some years before civil defence was unjustifiably neglected. By far the most important contribution of the Government is the provision of arrangements for warning of impending attack and monitoring the consequences of an attack, whether nuclear or conventional. The attack warning and fallout monitoring capability of the United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation is being brought to a higher state of readiness. This is being achieved through improvements in communications, the application of computer technology to the various systems and by way of better conditions of service for the volunteer warning officers and 10,000 members of the Royal Observer Corps, to all of whom I pay tribute today. They form a dedicated and highly efficient organisation, as I had the opportunity to observe personally during a weekend exercise on 1 November this year. Next, further information and guidance will be given to the general public about civil defence so that in peace time there is greater awareness of what might be the nature of any future attack on this country and of the measures which government at all levels and people themselves can take to improve their protection and survival prospects. Central Government Departments are improving their own plans, designating public officials for war-time responsibilities and providing the necessary training and exercising. The plans of the emergency services, of the health and medical services and of public utilities and plans for the provision of essential supplies and services are being brought up to date. Planning for the provision of a measure of public shelter is in hand. Much more needs to be done, of course. In paying my tribute to the volunteers, I take particular note of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South about the reservoir of trained and mature former members of the reserve and territorial services. I take especial note of his point about the use which might be made of them when they are on the unposted list towards the end of their volunteer service. I am grateful to him for that suggestion. Parliament has imposed upon local authorities the duty to plan for the continuation of essential local services in war. Local authorities will best know the needs and special circumstances of their localities. The Government attach great importance to maintaining the local authorities' relationship as agents for the implementation of central Government policies for civil defence. I recognise the problems which face local authorities in diverting scarce resources from important peace-time public servies to planning for what seems a remote contingency. The Government consider it vital that they do so. The Government provide, and will continue to provide, 75 per cent. of all relevant expenditure. We believe that the resources now available are sufficient to encourage local authorities to follow the lead given by the Home Secretary last year. I hope that they will bear in mind that it is by no means only nuclear hazards to which the statutory obligations imposed upon them by Parliament are relevant. Local authorities need to strengthen their emergency planning teams, to bring their plans at all levels to a higher state of readiness and to give particular attention to the development of plans which would enable small communities to help each other in the event of war. In this respect, the use of volunteers is of the utmost importance. They already serve valuably in national voluntary organisations. One thinks of the Red Cross, the St. John Ambulance Brigade, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, members of the Home Office and local authority scientific advisory services and the thousands of volunteer civil defence workers in organisations such as Civil Aid and the many important local groups such as the Devon Emergency Volunteers, the Wiltshire Community Advisers and many more. To all of them, I express the Government's appreciation of their services and our confidence that their work will continue to grow in importance and in public recognition. The Government have appointed Air Marshal Sir Leslie Mayor as the co-ordinator of civil defence voluntary effort in England and Wales and Mr. Armstrong to a similar post in Scotland. They are ready to help local authorities in the development of voluntary civil defence effort in any way. I hope that their services will be used. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham ranged widely over the arguments for a sensibly judged measure of civil defence. He said that we are more likely to maintain the peace if we keep up our defences and that civil defence, perhaps in a small way, is a part of those defences. He is right. There are those who say with varying sincerity and with varying motivation that all civil defence is futility. If so, they should say what it is that impels hundreds of scientists, many of great distinction, to serve as volunteers in the United Kingdom civil defence organisation. They do so because they know that millions of lives can be saved. They recognise that the provision of civil defence is a humanitarian duty. It is rightly stated to be so in the motion, valuably put before the House by my hon. Friend. It is a duty that the Government are determined to discharge."Even the strongest supporter of unilateral disarmament can consistently give equal support to civil defence, since its purpose and effect are essentially humane."
Question put and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the recent publication of the pamphlet 'Civil Defence—why we need it' which draws attention to the provisions of civil defence made by Switzerland and Sweden notwithstanding that those countries follow a policy of neutrality; and believes that, while the risk of war is slight so long as the United Kingdom maintains its deterrent capability, there is a humanitarian duty upon central and local government to provide for civil defence.