Civil Contingencies Bill
Lord Bassam of Brighton (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, as, I think, I said about the previous group of amendments, the Government are committed to ensuring that the drafting of the definition conforms to the Lucas principles of simplicity, clarity and consistency. It is in that spirit that I speak to the government amendments in the group.
Clauses 1(2)(f) and 19(2)(f) provide that,
"disruption of an electronic or other system of communication",
is capable of constituting a threat of damage to human welfare. With the advent of e-commerce and the networked society, electronic communications have become integral to our lives, and the failure of an electronic system of communication could precipitate an emergency or exacerbate its effects. However, the formulation "system of communication" clearly comprises electronic systems, and there is no need to refer to it specifically. In the spirit of the rule followed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, we propose to remove it.
The Government have looked again at Clause 1(3)(a) in the light of similar concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in Committee. The Government are committed to striking the right balance between, on the one hand, economy of words and, on the other, ensuring that we give local responders the clarity that they need. The Bill refers to,
"contamination of land, water or air with— (i) harmful . . . chemical or radio-active matter, or (ii) oil".
On reflection, we think that we can rationalise the drafting. There can be little doubt that oil is a chemical that can cause serious damage to the environment. Given the reference to chemical matter, it is unnecessary to refer to oil separately.
We also agree that it is not necessary to refer specifically to "harmful" chemical, biological or radioactive matter. Contamination will constitute an emergency only if it poses a threat of harm to the environment, so the word "harmful" on line 5 is redundant. The clause will now provide that,
"contamination . . . with biological, chemical or radio-active matter",
may constitute a threat of serious damage to the environment. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that his amendments will make the drafting of the clause clearer, sharper and more concise and therefore we propose to accept them. I beg to move.