Civil Contingencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:05 pm on 9th November 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Home Affairs 5:05 pm, 9th November 2004

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 43, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 44. I am eager once again to address the crucial issue of central government's role as a responder in a major emergency.

I believe it is imperative that this legislation clearly defines central government's role in an emergency. While local responders and local emergency plans are certainly comprehensive and developed, the question still remains of what action central government are to take in co-ordinating the response to a large-scale emergency situation.

The very nature of an emergency is that it creates chaos and uncertainty. Therefore, should not this legislation include provisions to ensure that the Government have adequate resources to plan for such a situation? Is it not our duty, in addition to modernising the legislative framework for civil protection, as the Minister stated in Committee, to provide that national emergency planning, training and exercising are integrated with that of local responders?

With respect I do not agree with the Minister's statement that the Government do not need specific legislative authority to plan for an emergency. It would be irresponsible in our view to pass legislation that goes only halfway towards providing a solution for the management of emergency situations.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, remarked in Committee that devolved administrations and local government are in charge of emergency planning within their sphere of responsibility. The Minister also stated that the UK Government work very closely with the devolved administrations. I hope so. Therefore, I do not see the objection to amending this legislation to codify the Government's role in emergency preparations and in requiring the involvement of central government resources.

Recent examples where central emergency planning was lacking include the fuel crisis and the foot and mouth outbreak. Certainly those experiences have taught us only that central government play a central role—a key role—in containing emergency situations.

These amendments therefore, by widening the scope of category 1 responders to include central government departments and their agencies throughout all countries of the United Kingdom, would allow for far greater oversight of emergency response preparations and the efficient co-ordination of resources.

It is the strong opinion on these Benches that this group of amendments would greatly improve the legislation. Indeed, in proposing these amendments we are responding to what the Joint Committee said in its report:

"We recommend that the role and responsibilities of Government Departments, the National Assembly for Wales and regional government are outlined on the face of the Bill and that they are given a statutory duty to undertake their responsibility".

I beg to move.