Civil Contingencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 14th October 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Home Affairs 3:45 pm, 14th October 2004

I shall speak also to Amendment No. 83A. There is a gaping hole in the legislation that we believe is a serious misjudgment. It has the potential to undermine much of the intent of the Bill. Presently, there is no intention to impose category 1 duties on any central government department or the vast majority of central government agencies. That is despite such agencies playing an important and significant part in all of our lives.

The Committee may be interested to learn that there are 834 public bodies sponsored by UK government departments, spending more than £20 billion of public money each year. Of course, there are the small and relatively obscure, but I am thinking about such significant bodies as the Food Standards Agency, the Highways Agency and the Benefits Agency. Such an omission comes despite the fact that, by and large, the local response is in relatively good shape.

Where things fall down is when the scale or impact of the emergency require the involvement of central government resources, prime recent examples being the fuel crisis and the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. That failure is a direct result of the fact that central government emergency planning, training and exercising, if it takes place at all, is not integrated with that of local responders.

We understand that the Government's stance is that,

"No reference to the role of central government is needed within the Bill for the government to engage in the full range of civil protection duties".

It is, however, noteworthy that the revised communication and liaison methods proposed following the fuel crisis have never been tested by exercises. Only recently has Defra engaged with local government in the discussion of revised arrangements for handling a recurrence of foot and mouth disease.

In addition, it could be argued that the Government are setting their own precedent. Paragraph 12 of Schedule 1 gives category 1 duties to the Secretary of State,

"in so far as his functions include responding to maritime and coastal emergencies".

A little further on, paragraph 28 of the schedule gives the Secretary of State category 2 duties,

"in so far as his functions relate to matters for which he is responsible by virtue of section 1 of the Highways Act 1980".

If a Secretary of State and, by inference, his department can have duties imposed in those specific areas, why not in general? With the amendment, the Bill would encompass central government and its agencies north and south of the border as category 1 responders. I beg to move.