Orders of the Day — Civil Defence (Grant) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:21 pm on 28th November 2001.

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Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale 6:21 pm, 28th November 2001

I did notice that. However, in fairness to the Minister, I think that that was a slip of the tongue and that he meant to say the Cabinet Office rather than the Home Office. We have probably had enough fun with him on that point, and I think that he understands where we are coming from.

The final series of points that I shall make on the Bill relates to the fact that this is the House's first opportunity to debate issues arising from civil defence, emergency planning and the way in which the Administration have handled unexpected crises and difficulties. The history of those matters has been not at all encouraging. We have had, as I said, a fuel crisis. Many people in my part of the world, in Cumbria, believe that the Government might have reacted rather more rapidly to that crisis if the petrol stations had started running out of fuel in London and the home counties rather than in the north and north-west. There have been many criticisms of the way in which the crisis was handled.

We can also debate the way in which the floods were handled at about this time last year. The floods produced a commitment by the Government that they would review those matters but there has not been a great deal of activity since then. I know that some of my hon. Friends may wish to develop that point in later speeches.

Finally, and most seriously, we had the outbreak of the foot and mouth crisis. I do not propose going into that matter in any depth, other than to point out that many hon. Members will have read the very powerful Private Eye report which states that the outbreak

"was allowed to escalate into the worst epidemic of the disease the world had ever seen."

For my constituents and many others, not only in Cumbria but elsewhere, the Government's mismanagement of the outbreak was spectacular. At various times in the crisis, to defend themselves against the charge that they must have known the true situation before the last few days in February, when the official announcement was made, the Government said that they had contacted various people to get hold of railway timbers, for example, because that was part of "contingency planning"—which is particularly relevant to this debate. If the Government had a contingency plan, it was not a very good one. I think that emergency planning was better at local authority level than it was in central Government, but even that planning was not as good as it could have been had we had proper, adequately funded civil defence and emergency planning.