PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

DRAFT CIVIL DEFENCE (GRANT) (SCOTLAND) AMDT. REGULATIONS 1987 AND DRAFT CIVIL DEFENCE (GRANT) (AMDT.) REGULATIONS 1987

Wednesday 18 March 1987

LONDON

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Knox

Bright, Mr. Graham (Luton, South)

Brown, Mr, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)

Clarke, Mr. Tom (Monklands, West)

Corbett, Mr. Robin (Birmingham, Erdington)

Corrie, Mr. John (Cunninghame, North)

Fletcher, Sir Alex (Edinburgh, Central)

Garrett, Mr. Ted (Wallsend)

Hogg, Mr. Douglas (the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

Hoyle, Mr. Doug (Warrington, North)

Johnston, Sir Russell (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

Lang, Mr. Ian (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland)

Lloyd, Mr. Peter (Fareham)

Maclean, Mr. David (Penrith and The Border)

Stewart, Mr. Andy (Sherwood)

Strang, Mr. Gavin (Edinburgh, East)

Taylor, Mr. Teddy (Southend, East)

Thorne, Mr. Neil (Ilford, South)

Trotter, Mr. Neville (Tynemouth)

Miss P. A. Helme Committee Clerk

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3 Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday, 18 March 1987

[SIR DAVID KNOX in the Chair]

Draft Civil Defence (Grant) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1987

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg): I beg to move, That the Committee have considered the draft Civil Defence (Grant) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1987.

The Chairman: With this we shall consider the draft Civil Defence (Grant) (Amendment) Regulations 1987.

Mr. Hogg: The draft regulations seek to increase the rate of civil defence specific grant payable in support of staff costs from 75 to 100 per cent. Grant is paid to local authorities, and to fire, police and water authorities, towards the expenses they incur in their civil defence functions. Provision for the payment of grant is set out in the Civil Defence (Grant) Regulations 1953 in which grant is payable at a rate of either 100 or 75 per cent. The schedule to the 1953 regulations lists the categories of expenditure which are fully reimbursable. The 1987 regulations would add one item to that list. In addition to the increase in grant, the draft regulations for Scotland will include some additional provisions. The proposed amendment to regulation 1 is for clarification. First, it emphasises that grant is properly payable for the civil defence functions of police authorities. Secondly, it restates in clearer form the circumstances in which civil defence grant is not payable, that is, when the relevant expenses would in any event have been incurred by the authority even if civil defence functions had not been conferred on it. The proposed amendment to regulation 6 will allow grant to be withheld from any local or police authority in Scotland which fails to provide the Secretary of State with information about its civil defence activities at his request. That does no more than put the grant arrangements in Scotland on the same footing as those in England and Wales. Where the Government are carrying so much of the cost, they should possess any relevant information that can properly be made available. The main purpose of the regulations is to increase grant for staff costs from 75 to 100 per cent, and the grant applies to England, Wales and Scotland. Last year, the Government reported on local authorities' progress in implementing the 1983 regulations. The report showed that although a great deal of work had been done, more was needed if a satisfactory and balanced state of preparedness is to be achieved across the country. Accordingly, we produced a planned programme for the implementation of the 1983 regulations which has become known as the PPI. It is a rolling three-year programme, setting broad priorities and a timetable for systematic monitoring of local authority activities. 4 However, local authorities cannot make satisfactory progress and respond as we would wish, if they do not have enough emergency planners to do the job. We believe that a significant number of local authorities are in this position and that central Government should help them adequately to staff their emergency planning teams. The necessary expansion of some local authority' teams will be firmly controlled. Under civil defence regulations, prior approval must be sought for all grant eligible expenditure. Furthermore, our detailed consideration of individual authorities' activity in the annual PPI discussions will allow us to look very closely at their staffing needs. The Government fully recognise that the 1983 regulations impose considerable demands on local authorities. They already receive substantial financial support in meeting those demands. However, increasing that support in the key sector of staffing would be beneficial. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

10.33 am

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington): In other circumstances, I would have asked for an adjournment so that we could all see "When the Wind Blows" which is the British-made animated feature film of Raymond Briggs' chilling, clever and compulsive book, because it puts this matter into the right perspective. The Chernobyl disaster, accidental and 6,000 miles away, underlined the deadly, lingering effects of radiation. The fallout is still affecting the north and the Welsh hills and uplands. That disaster and our lack of organised response to it highlighted a frightening omission in the regulations. That has been said before, but it bears repetition. The regulations state that local authorities and police authorities will receive a 100 per cent grant towards staff costs to pepare to combat a nuclear war that the Government say will not happen because of the nuclear deterrent. However, those authorities will not receive a similar grant for civil protection to deal with peacetime emergencies which can and do arise. The Government insist on making the idiotic distinction between so-called defence—trying to persuade people that there is even a remote chance of mass survival after a nuclear attack—and civil protection—preparing to cope with radiation and fallout from an accidental Chernobyl, from a nuclear power station either on the French coast or in the UK. Local authorities and police authorities can spend a 100 per cent grant on staff employed on the pretence of civil defence, but not on staff employed on the reality of civil protection. I am worried not only about accidents at nuclear power stations, but about the railway accidents, plane disasters, multiple pile ups on motorways and carnage from dangerous chemical plant explosions with which various authorities and emergency service have to deal. There is no cash available for those nearer realities. Why do the Government persist in treating civil 5 defence and civil protection separately? It is no good saying that local authorities have money from other pockets with which to plan adequately for civil protection. In a climate of rate support grant cuts and penalties, when councils spend to meet known and accepted needs, the authorities cannot hope to find the money to prepare adequate measures for civil protection. Clause 5 suggests a let-out; perhaps the Minister will comment on that. It mentions expenses in and with "the employment for civil defence purposes of any member of the staff of a local authority or police authority"— the following words are important— "who is employed primarily for such purposes". Does that mean that if an officer spends two and three quarter days a week on civil defence he can then spend two and a quarter days on civil protection? Is this Nelson turning his blind eye? It is dangerous rubbish because it means that if there are to be even inadequate preparations for civil protection, they will be brought in by the back door. That is to attempt civil protection on a wink and a nod. How much has been paid out in grants for civil defence to some illustrative local authorities in the year for which the latest figures are available? How big is the budget and how much has been spent? Will the change to a grant of 100 per cent apply in some cases to equipment or to staff costs only? I again ask the Minister to reconsider the dangerous division that the Government make between civil defence and civil protection. There are differences between civil defence and civil protection, but adequate, properly funded civil protection measures at local authority level would underpin the Government's civil defence intentions. We cannot take the regulations seriously while the Government fail to fund civil protection, training and resources properly and specifically. I leave the Committee with one thought. Let us suppose that the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry had sunk, when it was leaving not Zeebrugge, but Dover. Are we absolutely confident that we should have sufficiently planned and organised resources to respond in the magnificent way in which the Belgians did? I doubt it.

10.40 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Ian Lang): This has been a short debate, and a useful opportunity to air views on, and take stock of, civil defence, which receives less attention than it merits. I shall attempt to reply to the points raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr Corbett). He referred to Chernobyl. That was a peacetime disaster and different from the sort of disaster that might arise in the event of war. The hon. Gentleman suggested that there was a lack of preparedness and asked why peacetime civil protections were kept seperate from civil defence provisions. As a result of the enactment of the Civil Protection in Peacetime Act 1986, local authorities are able to use civil defence resources in responding to a peacetime emergency that has occurred or is imminent in their 6 area. The Act also allows civil defence planning to take account of that role. However, it does not alter the statutory definition of civil defence nor the basis on which grant is paid. Activities solely or predominently aimed at peacetime emergencies will still not be eligible for civil defence grant. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced in December, with regard to the Chernobyl disaster, the first stage of a thorough review of existing emergency plans and procedures is now complete. Detailed planning work on the response to a nuclear accident outside the United Kingdom is in hand. There is a great deal to be learnt from the disastrous accident at Chernobyl and the Government are anxious to take maximum advantage of what may be learnt from current research. On the matter of costs and how much has been spent on civil defence, total national expenditure is roughly £100 million. Out of total local government expenditure of £19 million, about £15.5 million is reimbursed as grant, made up of £5 million reimbursed at 100 per cent and £14 million reimbursed at 75 per cent. Under the new arrangements, the balance will swing to such an extent that £15 million will become 100 per cent reimbursed and £4 million will become 75 per cent reimbursed. The change is to cover the employment of emergency planners. The hon. Member for Erdington asked what would happen to emergency planners who were involved part time in civil defence preparations. They would be eligible for that part of their employment that was involved with civil defence preparation and planning. On the matter of equipment, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the schedule of the 1983 regulations, which sets out the expenses that are completely reimbursed, and refers to expenses that are not administrative. Such expenses include those relating to training for civil defence purposes—consisting of payments made in respect of travelling, accommodation and subsistence—and payments reimbursing reasonable expenditure for persons serving as volunteers. Also included are expenses determined by the Minister to be capital and not administrative expenses, in connection with any article other than an article intended to form part of any permanent or semi-permanent works, or to be used for equipping an office. It is a shame that policy in this sector is no longer bi-partisan. Previous Labour Administrations have given at least a measure of support to civil defence. There have been misguided attempts to suggest that encouraging civil defence is in some way an aggressive action. I find that difficult to understand—nothing could be further from the truth. It is bizarre that those who do most to draw our attention to the horrific nature of the damage and destruction caused by nuclear explosions, also encourage us to make no attempt to protect ourselves against the consequences of such damage. Our objectives are peaceful and all our endeavours, including our policy of defence by deterrence, are designed to maintain and sustain the peace that we have enjoyed for more than 40 years. However, we owe it to the people of our country to acknowledge that there can be no absolute guarantee of peace and that the possibility remains, however 7 remote, of this country being attacked. For this reason there is a duty on all sections of Government, local and central, to take steps to protect the population should calamity strike. That is the purpose of civil defence and the amendment regulations are provided in support of that end. There has been substantial progress in civil defence preparedness since the Government took office. Although much remains to be done, we have substantially increased resources devoted to civil defence. Total United Kingdom expenditure on civil defence is about £100 million year, of which expenditure by local authorities accounts for £19 million. We recognised the important role properly paid by local authorities in civil defence planning in the regulations that we introduced in 1983 and we have consolidated and extended guidance to local authorities on civil defence. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said, we have reviewed last year's progress by 8 local authorities in implementing the 1983 regulations, and achievements in certain quarters were less than we would have wished. Through the planned programme of implementation, we have taken steps to co-operate with local authorities to ensure that a more consistent approach is adopted in future. The measures in the amendment regulations are intended as an encouragemnent to local authorities and as a demonstration of the Government's commitment to achieving the civil defence objectives. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Civil Defence (Grant) Scotland Amendment Regulations 1987.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Civil Defence (Grant) (Amendment) Regulations 1987.—[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]

Committee rose at thirteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.

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THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Knox, Mr. David (Chairman)

Bright, Mr.

Corbett, Mr.

Fletcher, Sir Alex

Hogg, Mr. Douglas

Lang, Mr.

Lloyd, Mr. Peter

Stewart, Mr. Andy

Thorne, Mr. Neil

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