Civil Contingencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 21st October 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 11:00 am, 21st October 2004

The noble and learned Lord knows far better than me that ignorance of the law has never been a defence in our country. I shall deal exactly with the example given by the noble Lord. The regulation made for it would likely be that the emergency services would be entitled to remove the vehicle from the site, not that the person who had left it there would have committed an offence. The most important thing in the emergency is to make sure that the emergency services can respond.

A difficulty that may occur is that, if someone were there and the emergency services told them that they had to clear the area—that there was a cordon, that they could not trespass and must not drive their vehicle in—the person might try to breach the cordon. In those circumstances, when they had been notified that that was unsafe, it would be perfectly proper for them to be arrested and prevented from exacerbating the situation or putting themselves or anyone else in danger. There must be regulations for the emergency services to do what is proper to make the position safe. The sort of situation that the noble Lord envisages is highly unlikely to happen.

Where the HMSO publication comes in is if the regulations have not been published. If there has been no reasonable or proper step made to publicise the consequence of those regulations, that is a defence under the Bill. We are really dealing with a situation where the public know that such matters are prohibited, following communication to them. The issues have been published and there is then a transgression or breach. At that stage, it will be possible and proper for it to be dealt with.

It is also very important to recall that this is an enabling Bill. There are circumstances in which strict liability offences would be appropriate. That is why the Bill enables such offences to be created. But that does not mean that all offences created under the regulations would be offences of strict liability. Certainly, under the 1920 Act most offences did require some mental element. So, the regulations enable us where appropriate for the purposes of the emergency to make offences which would have a strict liability. It is important to bear in mind that what we are doing is enabling these issues to be dealt with more speedily, more easily and more effectively.