Orders of the Day — Civil Defence (Grant) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:40 pm on 28th November 2001.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Croydon Central 7:40 pm, 28th November 2001

It is known that the Government intend to introduce emergency planning legislation because the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned it for something like 2003 or 2004. That information is in the public arena. As I understand it, we are moving quickly to ensure that we do not have a blank-cheque approach in the aftermath of the Merseyside decision. Prior to that, and since the Civil Defence Act 1948, decisions were made on a reasonably even basis. Since the Merseyside decision, the Government have been open to a certain amount of financial exposure. Instead of future grants being determined by a rational formula, they could be decided arbitrarily. That is not in the interests of the taxpayer or, indeed, of local authorities, which need certainty when they plan for emergencies.

There is a need to act quickly. The Government are doing that. It is important that the overall budgets, which vary between £14 million and £19 million, are set in the wider context. That is not a large sum considering the total expenditure that is put aside for responses to disasters by the police, the fire service, ambulances and so on, which is provided through the Bellwin scheme. Hon. Members referred to the clarity of the formula and executive management, but the Minister made it clear that that is within the wider remit of the Home Secretary, who chairs the Cabinet Civil Contingencies Committee.

It is important that the level of grant is decided rationally and that it is appropriate for current circumstances. It is also appropriate to protect taxpayers. There must be accountability and the money's use needs to be rationally explained. The grant allocating method should be brought into line with all other Government grant allocating methods. It is the only grant from Government expenditure that is not formula-driven, and that anomaly needs to be sorted out.

We need to update the 1948 Act, which was introduced to deal with hostile attacks from abroad. I appreciate that the Civil Protection in Peacetime Act 1986 extended local authority responsibilities from wartime planning to peacetime planning for flooding, train crashes, plane crashes, chemicals and so on. In the light of other events that have occurred, such as the flooding in 2000, the fuel crisis and foot and mouth, the legislation is overdue for amendment, especially because of the Merseyside decision.