Civil Contingencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:37 pm on 19th January 2004.

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office) and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 4:37 pm, 19th January 2004

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about ensuring appropriate consultation with local authorities. That is why we are introducing this framework legislation, along with a number of other policy objectives that we have set for ourselves. I will be happy to address specific points about local authorities in the course of my remarks.

Over the past few years, we have witnessed a range of disruptive challenges to our country. As long ago as the Fennell inquiry into the King's Cross fire of 1987 there has been demand for improved co-ordination and liaison between organisations that prepare for and respond to emergencies. These concerns were still evident in the inquiries into the Southall and Ladbroke Grove rail crashes, the fuel crisis and foot and mouth, which have also shown where frameworks for handling challenges could be improved. Too much has had to be improvised when it could have been better planned for in a co-ordinated fashion. This has been a matter of growing concern for civil protection practitioners for well over a decade.

That is why it would be wrong to characterise the Bill as a single response to 11 September, important though those tragic events have proved in informing our work. In fact, the start of this process was a commitment to a review of emergency planning that was made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister in November 2000 following the serious flooding of that year. The Government carried out the promised emergency planning review in the second half of 2001, which initiated the work stream that has culminated in the Bill. There was wide consultation with practitioners on how we needed to change the structures that underpinned their work. The review was strongly focused on local emergency planning arrangements, and that is why such a significant part of the Bill is devoted to renewing those arrangements. The review was helpful in many ways and it confirmed one crucial fact: there is overwhelming demand from civil protection professionals for this new legislation.

Since that point we have been working hard with the fullest range of organisations to construct the right legislation. My Department, as well as working closely with many Whitehall Departments, Government agencies and the devolved Administrations, has built up close working relationships with key practitioners.