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Civil Defence

Volume 28: debated on Thursday 29 July 1982

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6.39 am

May I say at once that I very much regret having cost my hon. and learned Friend some seven hours' sleep, but knowing his active and fertile mind, I am sure that he has put the seven hours to good use. Perhaps during the next Session we shall see the fruits of those seven hours—maybe in more civil defence legislation. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) and Harrogate (Mr. Banks) for indicating their intention to participate in this important debate.

It is now almost two years since my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made his statement on civil defence to the House. He said that the
"Government consider that an expanded civil defence programme is both prudent and necessary to achieve an appropriate balance in our defence capability."—[Official Report, 7 August 1980; Vol. 990, c. 790.]
The statement continued by announcing various improvements in the civil defence network. The report stressed that much civil defence work should be done at local level, and that the Government proposed to double the amount of money available for that purpose. My right hon. Friend said that he recognised that many county and regional councils at present lacked resources to plan for community involvement in civil defence below district level, but that the Government would make more money available for this purpose. All in all, the total additional cost of the immediate measures that were announced over the three years commencing August 1980 amounted to about £45 million, but despite the good intentions, the situation had not improved to any marked extent.

Civil defence is important in the context of conventional war—and it is worth remembering that all the 140 wars that have been fought since the end of the Second World War were conventional. Civil defence is important in the context of natural disaster, but in the context of nuclear war civil defence is not important; it becomes critical. No one wishes the onset of war, natural catastrophe or disaster, but wishing is not enough. In our daily lives, we insure against disaster and accident. Equally, it is necessary for the Government in the larger context to adopt a similar insurance policy, and part of that insurance policy is civil defence.

However, the situation takes on overtones of tragedy when one realises that not all the funds available have been taken up by local authorities, since it is apparent that some civic leaders and local councils evidently still believe that magic wands exist, and that by declaring nuclear-free zones they will, in some miraculous way, defy the basic elements of wind and fire. Those latter-day Canutes believe that words will defy the bomb. Theirs is the classic posture of the ostrich with its head buried firmly in the sand—and the word "buried" may have more than passing significance.

Perhaps I may refer here to the exercise Hard Rock and its postponement. I served as a local councillor on four authorities over a period of 21 years. I believed that there was a clear relationship between local authorities and central Government. I am appalled to think that certain Labour-controlled local authorities have decided to adopt a policy of non-co-operation with the Government on this exercise—so much so that the exercise has been postponed. That is disgraceful. Local authorities have only themselves to blame if Government take unto themselves more powers, not only in civil defence but in other respects. Those civic leaders should remember that Japan was also a nuclear-free zone. That certainly did not save it from the full horror of nuclear war. That horror was intensified for the Japanese by their lack of understanding and preparedness for the new style conflict that burst about them.

Civil defence is not a substitute for peace. There can be no substitute for peace. However, there is action that the State should take. After almost 40 years, the United Kingdom level of preparedness is not much greater than that of the Japanese in 1945. A major five-point programme of civil protection is now required.

First, that programme should encompass voluntary recruitment and training—a voluntary programme that includes the Territorial Army, the Red Cross and the other voluntary organisations that do so much in time of crisis. We should introduce training that ensures that the nation has a substantial number of its people prepared, able to lead, take the appropriate action and with the right equipment.

Secondly, a statutory requirement should be laid on local authorities clearly to identify those buildings that may be used by the civil population in time of war—for example, the tunnels, the basements, the underground car parks and even the old factory air raid shelters that still exist. Within my constituency of Rugby the General Electric Co. has a large underground air raid shelter for use in time of emergency.

Thirdly, we should amend building byelaws so that any new building over a certain size should have a basement that may be used as a shelter. That provision is now new. It has existed in Switzerland and elsewhere for many years. What is good enough for the Swiss is surely good enough for the British.

Fourthly, adequate food stocks and medical supplies should be held to ensure survival. Those stocks should be held on a county or borough basis, not regionally or nationally. One must expect some considerable difficulty in moving foodstuffs and other stocks about the country following the onset of war.

Fifthly, and above all, we should seek to educate our people, not by means of a discredited pamphlet but by providing much more detail and guidance. That guidance should be sensible and credible and seen to be of positive assistance in time of crisis. All education is important, but this form of education could be literally a matter of life or death. It should seek to combat what I describe as the doctrine of despair. For example, Nagasaki and Hiroshima are now, and have been for years, prosperous cities. They have recovered from the attack, just as Dresden and Hamburg did.

The reasons for the doctrine of despair are not hard to find. In order actively to promote the effectiveness of the nuclear deterrent, a deterrent that has been responsible for 40 years of peace in Europe, it was necessary to underline the appalling and devastating effectiveness of nuclear war. We have all surely lost count of the number of times that we have been told that the survivors would envy the dead, and yet there is a direct analogy that can be drawn between our mental state now and that which existed in 1939.

In 1939 it was seriously argued, and, more to the point, believed, that the bomber would always get through. The population was convinced that aerial bombardment would level cities and destroy populations with great loss of life. There will be those hon. Members who will say with justification that there is no similarity between conventional bombing and nuclear attack. Those that hold that view should try telling that to those who were lucky enough to survive the firestorms that raged in Dresden, Berlin and Hamburg and the survivors of the massive Tokyo fire raids. What the allied bombers did in Germany and Japan is what we believed would have happened in the United Kingdom in 1939. The saving difference was that the technology in 1939 was simply not equal to that which existed in 1945.

Let me develop that theme. Despite the general and accepted belief that war would result in the destruction of our cities and the death of substantial numbers, the Government did not abdicate their responsibilities; far from it. We developed a massive programme of civil defence called, in the jargon of the time, "Air Raid Precautions". It embraced wardens, home guard, ambulance and fire services—all closely integrated and designed to give the civil population the maximum possible protection against the attack to come. Those precautions were taken to a much greater extent in Germany, and it was that fact that enabled so many to survive the massive allied raids in 1944 and 1945. The great catastrophies occurred where precautions had not been taken, for example in Dresden and Tokyo.

It is the first duty of the State to protect its citizens. It is, therefore, the clear duty of Government to ensure the protection and survival of the maximum number of British people compatible with resources available. I do not seek to equate conventional and nuclear war. Their only point of similarity is the horror and frightfulness of war. Indeed, perhaps to find a true comparison with the effect and aftermath of nuclear war one has to go back 600 years to the time of the Black Death that ravaged Europe and destroyed so many of the population. Again, it is fair to remember that, in time, Europe recovered.

The technology of destruction has always existed, but matching it has been a will to survive and the need and duty to protect one's own people. That will needs to be rekindled and the British people expect the Government to give the lead. It is the character of our race that, when faced by challenge, it is accepted. The Falklands are perhaps a recent and good example of that. There, we did not count the cost, but recognised a clear duty, and that duty was discharged. Hon. Members have a duty to protect their fellow citizens. We should not abdicate that trust or responsibility.

It is noteworthy that nations ranging from the Soviet Union and China to Switzerland and Scandinavia have all made preparations to protect their civil populations. The entire Soviet civil defence programme is in the control of the USSR Council of Ministers, led by a Colonel General A. T. Altunim. In the republics, the organisation of civil defence comes under the chairman of the republic's ministerial Government. Heads of schools, institutions and industry as well as of farms are designated as local defence chiefs. Workers councils combine forces with the Young Communist League to form command brigades and groups to educate and motivate public awareness in all matter pertaining to civil defence and war survival.

Soviet industry has also taken precautions designed to protect a high proportion of its machine tools. Soviet literature describes industrial civil defence exercises and anticipates a survival rate as high as 80 per cent. However, there is considerably more to the story of Soviet civil defence. There is compulsory civil defence instruction for all, including children. It has much civil defence literature, films, talks, exhibitions and broadcasts which, incidentally, take place throughout the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact countries. It maintains links with the armed forces. It has huge stockpiles of food and large amounts of gas masks, protective clothing and radiation meters available. A vast complex of underground shelters has been constructed for many of the population.

Compare that level of preparedness with what exists within the United Kingdom. Our civil defence is but a pale shadow of what is thought necessary in eastern Europe and elsewhere. As part of the Labour Government's economy drive in 1968 the 340,000 strong civil defence corps and auxiliary fire service were disbanded. Their equipment was sold, dumped or left mouldering in warehouses. Even the civil defence literature disappeared from shelves and bookshops.

There are many reasons for our lack of preparedness. They range from genuine and honest attempts to use scarce resources in what are considered to be more fruitful areas to deliberate attempts by subversive groups to discredit and undermine the nation's will to survive. We should build home defence, not from the top down with all the conventional apparatus of State, regions and counties, but from the bottom up, using parishes in country districts and the block or ward system in towns and cities. They should be the basic building blocks for home defence.

It has been accepted that there can be no major evacuation from the cities. Reception areas have not been designated and no preparations have been made to receive the flood tide of humanity pouring from the cities. People will have to sit tight, but they will do that only if they know that there is a local organisation that can assist and organise in town, city or country. Each grouping must be identified and responsibility contained in that area. Use should be made of the enormous number of volunteers that exist. There is substantial interest shown in this subject. We should be capitalising now on volunteers' enthusiasm. Government should channel that enthusiasm and interest into a positive organisation that is based on the small community, and the small communities should produce their own leaders.

I know that money is short and that the disaster may never happen. There are many people, both inside and outside the House, who will say that it is all a waste of time and effort. But the worst might happen, and if it does may God help a defenceless civil population who are more defenceless now than in 1939.

My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State is sympathetic to the principle of civil defence. However, he must operate within the severe financial constraints imposed by the Treasury. It is important to remember that our economy is in some difficulty and that the availability of money is genuinely tight. Despite that, two years ago more funds were found, and for the first time since 1968, thanks to the Minister, civil defence is being taken seriously by Government. I and people who think as I do are grateful to him for his efforts. I do not doubt that my hon. and learned Friend will do everything possible to provide the leadership and, if necessary, the legislation for civil defence and a real measure of protection for the civil population.

6.59 am

We have come through the watches of the night. Dawn has broken and London is stirring, and we have now come to discuss probably the most important subject that has echoed in the Chamber since we started the debates on the Consolidated Fund. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) on his informative and valuable contribution.

Almost two years ago to the day my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a very important statement. He brought civil defence out of mothballs and gave it credence, which it had not had for many years. He recognised that there were variations in the civil defence arrangements in different parts of the country. He took important and valuable initiatives to encourage local authorities to update civil defence arrangements with Government cash grants. It is with a deep sense of regret that we learn that many local authorities have failed to respond to the grant initiatives. Nine have totally failed to do anything; others have made only a limited response; but yet others have taken action.

It is highly regrettable that only £620,000 of the original £3·3 million made available to build and improve wartime headquarters and other civil defence measures was taken up in 1981–82 by local authorities. The proportion of the further sum of £3·3 million taken up by local authorities for planning and training is, unfortunately, not identifiable. But it means that many opportunities and jobs have been lost and considerable delay has been occasioned in implementing new civil defence measures.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced recently the postponement of exercise "Hard Rock" which was designed to test local authorities' emergency planning skills. The exercise has foundered due to lack of interest. Only 34 out of 54 authorities agreed to take part and seven of those on the basis only of limited participation. I believe that my right hon. Friend was right to postpone the exercise.

The North Yorkshire county council was the only authority in its region to comply with the requirements of the exercise. I praise the authority for its civil defence work. The Harrogate borough council has also taken civil defence initiatives and made decisions to move the present headquarters to more satisfactory premises under the assistance scheme.

The House is familiar with the grave necessity for adequate civil defence capabilities in peace and war. I wish to refer particularly to the role of civil defence as a means of safety in conventional warfare. Before any war became more serious, if it did so, there would be a period of conventional warfare. A lesson that we learnt in the last world war must ring true when we are considering the necessity for civil defence in a conventional situation. It is one of the foundation stones on which national security is built. A defence policy is useless when that which is being defended could be in a state of chaos. Deterrence is of limited credibility when a nation has taken insufficient steps to defend its civilian population.

In this light, and in view of the fact that, with the substantial Government grants now available, the actual burden of costs that falls upon a local authority in maintaining civil defence requirements is minimal compared with that authority's total budget, it can only be on ideological grounds that those authorities oppose the progress of civil defence or are in wanton ignorance of its importance.

In doing so, they are abdicating the responsibility they have in playing a part in the security of the civilian population. My right hon. Friend said in York recently that he is urgently considering with the Secretary of State for Scotland the amendment to the planning regulations made under the Civil Defence Act 1948. In consideration of the limitations of this Act, which only obliges the local authority to plan for an emergency without making any other provision, I urge him to make the statutory obligation that I believe we all regard as necessary. If much of the vital responsibility for civil defence is to remain devolved in local hands, the authorities concerned will have to be obedient to a higher standard of preparation. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will introduce measures to that effect as soon as possible.

On the occasion of my right hon. Friend's statement in 1980, I put forward the idea that we should have a commissioner for civil defence and that he would have an inspectorate to ensure that local authorities met the standards required of them. I cannot help feeling that that would have been wise then, and I feel that it should have been implemented now. I hope that he will give consideration to this idea.

Many good things have happened in civil defence since the statement in 1980. There has been the start of the main programme for communication, and for modernisation of the warning and monitoring organisation, and the increase in allowances for the Royal Observer Corps. It was doubled immediately after the review and has been raised a further 17 per cent. since. That has brought the strength of the Royal Observer Corps up to its full complement. The new headquarters at Oxford were opened by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. That was a significant development. We had the refurbishment of the Green Goddesses, which was a necessary and a good thing to do.

But I believe that we need to have better information available for the public to refer to the sort of measures that they may wish to take or that they can be advised they should take to make advance preparation. I am not happy with "Protect and Survive". I hope very much that that publication can be quickly got out of the way and that we can get down to some sensible literature. We have the increase in residential accommodation in home defence college and some 20 extra places for training have been found by the addition to buildings there. This is a valuable step. I hope that, if necessary, if we require additional training places, which can be found in existing buildings, perhaps through the use of universities during the vacation and so on, we can have particular training courses.

I was very pleased when I heard that Sir Leslie Mavor was appointed as the co-ordinator of voluntary help, but I believe that this takes us to the area of volunteers, which needs particular attention. There are many young people who do not have jobs. Here is an opportunity, possibly in conjuction with the Manpower Services Commission, to bring young people in as trainees in civil defence who can be part of the corps of people who will instil enthusiasm in local people in the local area to join up into a community volunteers' corps. We have to come to terms with the fact that volunteers will have to be organised in a special way. In this respect we need to have a full survey of existing buildings to find out what accommodation is available that could be used. It is the jobs that are available for young people in this area that I think should be made available.

We have, of course, always to remember the existing voluntary organisations. They, I think, have a most valuable and important part to play. They can be co-ordinated within the whole scene through local authorities setting up the right organisation.

Finally, I should like to say something about the film which appeared on BBC1 on Monday evening, called "Armageddon". It showed the effects of a 1 megaton bomb dropped on St Paul's and vividly portrayed the fire, the blast, the devastation and the loss of life.

If any potential enemy were to drop such a bomb on St. Paul's to devastate the whole of inner London, it would be the most ridiculous and stupid act, because they would be trying to win over a heap of ashes in the centre of the capital. The object of any aggressor is to take over a country and to retain its structure and its fine historic buildings. Why, for heaven's sake, would an enemy even consider dropping a bomb on the centre of London and destroying everything that they would need to bring the country together again after the war?

Let us never forget that the same pictures could be applied to Moscow. It is the balance of nuclear power which ensures our survival. I wish that the film could be shown in the Soviet Union so that people there could appreciate what nuclear weapons can do.

I have visited Hiroshima, which is now a thriving modern city. Anyone who saw the television film may find it difficult to believe that although the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was smaller—12½ or 20 kilotons, I think —the city bears no scars. I read a hand-written report of a witness of the bombing of Hiroshima. That person walked through the ruins and gave a vivid description of what happened. The city has risen again.

It would be possible to portray on film an Exocet missile sinking one of our warships and that could be trumped up as an excuse for not having any warships. The people who watched that film could be alarmed by it and it purported to make civil defence appear to be out of the question, but it has an important part to play, particularly in dealing with those on the fringe areas. The film did not point out that if they had civil defence they would survive.

My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has his heart in civil defence. He is battling against a lack of funds. Those funds must be found and I believe that he is doing everything that he can to bring about a credible civil defence in this country. I applaud his work.

7.12 am

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) on his extremely interesting and well-researched speech which I much enjoyed. I also heartily agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) that this is probably the most important of the debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

The issue is crucial to the survival of this country and it should be taken extremely seriously. I am more than a little concerned that the only hon. Members who were interested enough to indicate that they wished to speak on the subject were Conservative Members.

It calls into question the attitude of Opposition Members and what they see as their responsibility to their constituents.

Civil defence has long been the poor relation of our defence forces. I am pleased that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State is doing all that he can to bring it to prominence. Civil defence was mothballed by a previous Administration and was left there for too long. The matter was not thought through properly at that time. if it had been, we would have appreciated the importance of maintaining an effective method of looking after the civilian population, particularly as it is essential that our front-line forces should have peace of mind when doing battle on our behalf in distant lands.

Those taking part in the conflict in the South Atlantic were able to apply their minds and their entire being much more readily to their task because they were not worried about what was happening to their families at home. If they had been doing battle in Eastern Europe and the civilian population had been under threat of a dreadful nuclear attack, their minds would have been divided between worry for their families at home and what they had to do to attack and defeat the enemy. That it too often forgotten. In any human relationship the man expects to protect and look after his family, and if he is away doing his duty on behalf of his Queen and country other people have to step in and take care of them on his behalf. We must turn our attention in much more detail to looking after the civilian population, and in particular the families of Service people here at home.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby spoke of the need to follow the Swiss in providing adequate shelters in buildings at home. That is important, but the method of construction of buildings in Switzerland is different from the method here. The Swiss have to build deeper foundations, owing to the inclement weather, particularly in the winter. As they are in the centre of the continent, the temperatures drop to a much lower level. Having to build their foundations much deeper, they can take advantage of the opportunity to build underground shelters without adding so much to the cost of construction. Because of our more temperate climate, we do not have to dig our foundations so deep, and there is not the same incentive to put in underground shelters.

The Government must consider this matter, because it is essential that there be adequate cover. One of the biggest areas of complaint is the inadequacy of provision for private individuals. We hear time and time again of various groups that wish us to have no civil defence whatsoever, because they believe that the man in the street will have no provision made for him at all. That is a sad state of affairs, the responsibility for which belongs to all Governments since the 1939–45 war. Immediately after that war a number of buildings in the City of London were designed to incorporate nuclear shelters in their underground car parks. That practice was quite common in the 1950s, but it seems to have died out. There are undoubtedly opportunities available, and the Government should be turning their attention in that direction.

I turn to the attitude of local authorities generally. Far too many are, with one excuse or another, ducking out of their responsibilities, particularly in some of the large conurbations. The Greater London Council's attitude is particularly deplorable in this regard. I understand that it now proposes to throw open to public inspection in the near future the shelter provided for the administration of civil defence covering my constituency. This is really an attempt to undermine the entire concept of civil defence. I deplore it. I see no reason why the public should not know that provision is made for them in the event of an emergency. However it is foolish to draw people's attention to specific locations for the simple reason that only a few days ago those who are intent upon destroying the State brought barbaric havoc to Hyde Park and Regents Park, right in the centre of London.

Why should we draw attention to the precise location of potential safeguards, inadequate though they may be, that have been provided for the protection of the civilian population so that everyone would know exactly where to hit if they want to destroy the population? It is entirely wrong and typical of those who are at present in charge of the GLC at County Hall.

Even if there is no question of an atomic attack, there is no doubt that civil defence would be required for other possible emergencies. The recent discharge of chemical fumes in Northern Italy is a case in point. Considerable damage was done to the health of the local population. That could have been substantially averted if a full-scale civil defence system had been available. The floods in the West Country of some years ago are another example of where civil defence administration is essential. There is a need for some such organisation, regardless of the potentialities of war.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby mentioned plague and what happened in the Middle Ages. That is another type of natural disaster that can take place without a war and in preparation for which we should make provision for the civilian population. To fail to do so is to utterly ignore a politician's responsibilities to his constituents. I urge the Government to increase expenditure on such provision.

Because local authorities are letting the community down in civil defence matters, the Government should take two courses of action. In the short term, they must look towards a 100 per cent. grant for civil defence expenditure. That does not necessarily entail increased total expenditure. It would be possible to make an appropriate reduction in the rate support grant. It is too essential a matter to be left to the option of local politicians. In times of stringent economies, they cannot be expected to expend their 25 per cent. contribution even on this important matter. We cannot afford to leave the issue to chance.

Ultimately, the Government should consider whether civil defence should be put on a separate basis. I would much prefer that it should follow the same basis as the Territorial Army. I should like the system to be worked out on the basis of the county and through the deputy lieutenants committees, which help with the recruitment of personnel for the TA, and to take over that responsibility. A substantial volume of help and support is available through that source. There are already many people on the deputy lieutenants' roll who would be only too pleased to take on the responsibility for organising civil defence on a local level.

It is, of course, vital that the crucial members of the team include the chief executives of the local authorities concerned, the borough engineers, the health officials, and so on. Nevertheless, I believe that control of this must be taken out of the hands of the locally elected politicians because this is essentially a Government responsibility, and, unless the Government face up to it, the general population will suffer and we shall be neglecting our duty.

I therefore urge the Government to take this matter most seriously.

7.25 am

It is the function of debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill to permit Members to raise subjects of particular interest to them or to their constituents and to draw attention to particular matters so that the Government may take on board these important considerations. It follows from that that it is desirable that as many hon. Members as possible should be able to speak in the debates.

Therefore, if I reply at this stage in what may seem an abbreviated or even cursory way, that is not to suggest that I regard my hon. Friends' speeches as deserving no more than that. I shall study carefully what they have said and I hope that they will allow me to reply in writing to some of the points that they have made. I wish to reply in that way simply to allow more Members to take part in the debates.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) on choosing this subject, as it is one of great importance to the safety of this country. He said that the first duty of the State is to protect its citizens. Although we acknowledge this in the case of defence and believe it right to maintain adequate defence services, Armed Services and so on, I often think that we do not give the same importance to the provision of a sensible level of civil defence.

That is why I believe that it was extremely important that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made the statement in August 1980 that civil defence was to be revived after the long Cinderella years and outlined steps for the provision, within the level of risk of war that was then and is now perceived, for a sensible and reasonable level of civil defence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby said, it is an insurance policy.

We organise our provision for civil defence on the basis that the local authorities shall be the agents of central Government. Central Government authorises a measure of expenditure and relies upon local authorities to take up the expenditure thus authorised and to protect the citizens within their own areas. I am sorry to say, however, that my hon. Friend is quite right to say that not all the funds have been taken up. It is not widely known that 75 per cent. reimbursement is available for money spent by local authorities on civil defence.

This has led the Government to decide, reluctantly, to postpone exercise Hard Rock because the level of planning for which local authorities were responsible has been so very patchy. As has been pointed out, some 20 local authorities out of 54 declined to take part in the exercise. We therefore believe that specific duties must be imposed upon local authorities in addition to the duty to plan for the matters set out in the regulations. That was the reason for the postponement and for my right hon. Friend's statement.

It is significant that the participants in the debate have all come from the Conservative Benches. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby has a long record of involvement in civil defence. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) was involved in producing an influential pamphlet when the Conservative Party was in Opposition called "Britain's Home Defence Gamble". My hon. Friend the Minister for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) has a long and distinguished record of service in the Territorial Army. That is symptomatic of the attitude of the Conservative Party towards this important matter. The provision of a reasonable civil defence is an important duty.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby spoke of the need for shelter. It is important that local authorities should undertake a survey of the existing available accommodation that could be of use for shelter in the event of hostilities. It is a matter of deep regret that that survey has proceeded at such a slow pace.

Why is it that those countries dedicated to neutrality—the Swiss and the Swedes—none the less attach great importance to the provision of civil defence. They do not regard it as a warlike posture on their part. On the contrary, they do not contribute to membership of the NATO alliance. They have not contributed to the maintenance of peace to the extent that this country has done for the past 35 years. Incidentally, I believe that we have kept the peace for 35 years because we have maintained our position in NATO and the nuclear and conventional deterrents. Those countries can, therefore, afford more for civil defence.

Those who say that civil defence is a fraud on the public—and that is widely said by those opposed to civil defence—must explain why the Swedes, the Swiss and other neutrals attach such importance to it and do so much more than we do.

Two of my hon. Friends referred to a programme recently shown on BBC television called "QED—A Guide to Armageddon". That programme did a service in drawing attention to the horrors of war. War is always horrific. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby said that Dresden and Hamburg were horrific. One can always point to any episode in modern war to show that war is horrific. Therefore, the question is not how horrific is war, or nuclear war, but how we may best avoid it.

If it was right to have drawn, for example, snippets from films taken immediately after the fire storms in Dresden and Hamburg and shown scenes no less horrific than those in the programme on Armageddon, we must ask what is the best way of avoiding such horrors. It is not simply a matter of investigating what would happen if there is a nuclear war. Nuclear war is extremely remote and that is the view of planners in NATO and the experts. Provided this country and the Alliance maintains its deterrent posture, any war is extremely unlikely and nuclear war the least likely. As one of my hon. Friends said, conventional war is much more likely.

However, we must take account of the risk. It is an outside risk, but we have to accept that war may come. How could any Government face their own conscience, let alone the people of the country, if knowing that something could be done and that millions of lives could be saved—for example, from fall-out—they failed to take the simple precautions that could save those lives or failed to encourage local authorities to plan along those lines? That is what the Government's civil defence programme is about. To pretend that it is a fraud is a monstrous deceit upon the country.

I shall write to my hon. Friends about the issues that they have raised. I am grateful to them. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate spoke about the North Yorkshire county council. He is right; it has done well. It has spent £50,000 on wartime headquarters work and £63,000 additional expenditure has been allocated to civil defence. It has taken its obligations seriously. I am grateful to that authority and many others for what they have done and are doing.

I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South said about shelter accommodation and the need for people to be available to help in civil emergencies. Let us not suppose that those recruited for work in civil defence would be used only if there was an attack on the country. What about the aeroplane that comes down in an urban area or the nuclear accident at a power station? What about the enormous casualties that can follow an unexpected civil accident? To shut one's eyes to such possibilities is extremely irresponsible.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby for following up his long record of concern for civil defence. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate for continuing to draw our attention to such important matters. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South who has a long record of service in a voluntary capacity of helping in the event of trouble.

Opposition Members have not taken part in the debate and that is a sad reflection on their attitude to the topic. I shall write to my hon. Friends in detail about their contributions, upon which I shall reflect. I hope that it is abundantly clear that the Government take the provision of civil defence extremely seriously. We are heartened by the support shown today.