Clause 2 - General

Civil Defence (Grant) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 11 December 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Liberal Democrat, Winchester 11:00, 11 December 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 21, leave out '2003' and insert '2004'.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

With this we may discuss New clause 1—Commencement—

'This Act shall come into force on the day following the day on which the United Kingdom proposed derogation from Article 5(1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as set out in the schedule to the Human Rights Act 1998 (Designated Derogation) Order 2001, ceases to have effect.'.

Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Liberal Democrat, Winchester

The purpose of the amendment is to delay the implementation of the Bill until the financial year ending in 2004. There are a number of reasons why we feel that a delay is needed. The first is to allow more consultation with local government. We heard some of the concerns that local authorities may have in the debate on clause 1. What consultation has there been with the local authority associations to allow them to express their concerns?

A second compelling argument for delay is that many of those actively involved in civil defence are extraordinarily busy at the moment. Obviously the events of 11 September have taken up their time. If local authorities are to be consulted and if there is to be change, it would be wiser to introduce it when those individuals can focus on it and work with the Government on what would be a sensible change rather than now when, I would hope, most of their activities relate to the aftermath of 11 September.

The third argument for delay is that a number of lessons may have been learned from the past couple of months. The Government should study what has happened since 11 September and how local authorities implemented their civil defence programmes. That may throw up a number of interesting points, not least about the financial demands that are involved in trying to put in place a programme. It therefore seems strange to move towards the proposed change in the system when we have just gone through the biggest practical example of how such change might have to be implemented in future.

No time is allowed for a review of the lessons that can be learned from 11 September and an assessment of the financial consequences for individual local authorities. They will have a much greater idea now of the real costs involved in trying to implement some of these proposals than ever before.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making but does he not agree that his proposed study could not, by its very nature, be in the public domain? We would otherwise be informing potential enemies of the weaknesses in our defence arrangements.

Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Liberal Democrat, Winchester

I understand that point, but I would much rather we had a system that meant that we got things right for the future. Many of the figures will be audited—the Audit Commission and the district auditor will examine them. They will appear in local authorities' annual reports. They will have been debated in council chambers throughout the land. The Government should take account of the physical costs of what is involved in the process. By pushing ahead now, there will not be a chance to do that. My concern is that the level of funding set and the formulae that are put in place will not take account of the reality and the lessons that we have learned from 11 September.

There is a fourth area that concerns me. The Government have recently completed a consultation exercise, and I understand that they plan to examine how civil defence is operated. If there is a review of civil defence, why cannot the Bill be tagged on as part of that review? Surely that review will include consideration of the best way to allocate resources. It seems strange to prejudge a review's findings by setting in place a formula. There are strong arguments for a delay. It would not cause difficulties for the Government and it would be sensible. After all, it is important that we get this right for the future. There are so many things that have resulted from 11 September that we really should delay the Bill.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale 11:15, 11 December 2001

The two changes proposed to the Bill would, in effect, be identical: amendment No. 2 would postpone the introduction of the Bill for a year, and new clause 1 would delay its introduction until the Government felt able to remove their proposed derogation from article 5(1) of the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The proposed derogation would last for only a year, or even less.

The proposals seek clarification from the Government of their current assessment of the extent of the threat to the United Kingdom and of whether they continue to take the view that the Bill remains appropriate, given the changed circumstances since 11 September.

The purpose of new clause 1 is to establish whether the Minister believes that legislation that he has reconfirmed would have the effect of reducing the funding made available by the Government for local authority emergency planning. Does he, on further reflection, continue to hold his view expressed on Second Reading that the Bill remains appropriate, given the scale of the national emergency formally declared by the Home Secretary, who went on the radio again in the past few days to tell the nation about it?

It was put to the Secretary of State recently that the United Kingdom is the only European country that has exercised its right to derogate from article 5(1) of the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as new clause 1 acknowledges. He said that that was because he had access to intelligence not available to others, and he spoke of the possibility of a threat of further terrorist action in this country before Christmas. The Home Secretary said that he hoped that that would not happen, a view shared by Opposition Members. It is curious that a Minister—not just any old Minister but the most senior Minister in charge of domestic security plans, whom the Under-Secretary of State has confirmed is the Minister designated under the Bill to take a decision on the allocation of grants—is saying that we are facing a national emergency that under the terms of the European convention threatens the survival of the state, when at the same time we are considering a Bill which the Minister, under pressure on Second Reading, acknowledged was likely to mean less money being available in the coming financial year to support local authority emergency planning than was available in this financial year.

The Minister has had two or three weeks since Second Reading to reflect further on the matter and to seek the advice of his colleagues and officials. I want to press him, first, on whether he still believes that the measure remains appropriate, and, secondly, on whether he still believes, as he said on Second Reading, that it would be appropriate for the Government to ''pencil in'' an allocation of roughly £14 million, the same sum of money that has been available for the past few years for the support of local authority emergency planning. He has said, encouragingly, that although that sum was pencilled in, he would need to negotiate and look again at the sums. It would be helpful if he could amplify that statement because some of us are worried about the timing and the appropriateness of the measure.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

The hon. Gentleman accepted, in the light of 11 September and the court case, that some tidying up is needed. His new clause would defer matters until the current emergency ends. His arguments are contradictory.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

I aim to defer a cut in Government support for local authority emergency planning. The court case removed the previous understanding of the grant's distribution, and we currently have a demand-led system. Our contention is that demand will grow, which is a significant problem. We cannot return to the previous system of an allocation where everyone assumed—I do not claim that the Conservatives had greater prescience than the Government—prior to 11 September that funding was sufficient.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was his colleague, the then Home Office Minister, who said of this Bill:

''This short technical Bill would enable us to return to the previous funding levels for the Civil Defence Grant.''

The previous funding levels were £14 million a year, not the current £20 million a year. We are debating a substantial reduction, which we would defer. It is currently inappropriate for the Government to introduce legislation that would reduce funding.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

On the third repetition of his intentions for the new clause, I must defend the Government's position. The Bill does not set the level of funding for the next financial year. I have said it before, and I will say it again; it enables the Government to have a national and strategic formula rather than a demand-led system. The hon. Gentleman refers to deferring a cut, but the new clause could have the effect of deferring an increase, if a formula is not possible, and we do not have the power to budget on a national basis.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

The Minister's last comment was extremely reassuring, although I do not know whether the Minister's colleagues in the Treasury will find it so. It is the first time that a Minister has said that the Government may increase provision. I remind him that his colleague—not someone outside the House, or a Member of another party—said that the Bill's purpose was

''to enable us to return to the previous funding levels for the Civil Defence Grant.''

The previous levels are lower than the present levels.

However, the Minister is right when he says that we have debated the matter on several occasions. He holds to the proposition that the Bill is a technical procedure to allow a formula. I hold that it is not, since he refers to pencilling in £14 million—a sharp reduction. I want the Minister to explain how long the state of emergency declared by the Home Secretary, requiring derogation from the European convention, is likely to last. Two changes to the Bill were grouped together, which seems to imply that it will take about a year, but the period may be longer. Before the Minister denies that it is a matter for him, if this country is formally declared to be in a state of emergency threatening its survival for more than a year, it would make sense to bring forward the Bill in the context of an overall review of the nature of emergency planning and the demands placed on local authorities and other bodies, rather than as a freestanding piece of legislation that causes many people concern.

In support of amendment No. 2, I refer the Minister to remarks of members of the Emergency Planning Society who are experts in these matters. They told journalists and others that the Bill is premature and that it pre-empts the results of the Government's emergency planning review, to which the Minister referred, which we hope will be concluded by 2002 or, at the latest, by 2003. If the Government accept the amendment, it would make sense for the Bill to be enacted after the review has been completed and we have had a chance to reflect on it.

The hon. Member for Winchester had an interesting exchange about whether we should give away information to a potential enemy when we talk about weaknesses in our emergency planning structures. He will recall a similar criticism of Mr. Winston Churchill before the second world war that he should not complain about the weaknesses of the RAF because it encouraged the Luftwaffe. Mr. Churchill is relevant to current events as someone who not only defected to the Liberal Democrat party, but defected back again. I can tell that Government Members hope that the second precedent will not be followed.

There is serious concern that the Government are trying to have it both ways. They are telling the nation that there is a serious problem, which requires rapid legislation on terrorism. That is true. However, they are also telling us that they should introduce the legislation without amendments, which concerns us. No change has been made to the Bill since 11 September. It is the same Bill with the same wording and purposes, which seems curious.

Will the Minister respond to concerns about funding? The Local Government Association stated in its representation to the emergency planning review that

''there needs to be a real and substantial increase in financial support for emergency planning work, including new money for non-metropolitan districts.''

If the Bill's introduction were delayed, the Government would be more likely to take into account the need for an increase in the financial year 2004 after listening to such representations and adjusting the financial formula accordingly. If they introduce the proposed legislation now, there is likely to be a reduction in the coming financial year.

It would be regrettable if the Bill's introduction in 2003 resulted in a reduction followed by an increase. It will probably be agreed that all public services experience problems when years of feast are followed by years of famine, or vice versa. I freely admit that that problem existed when the Conservative party were in Government. Stability is required, but it is unlikely that it will be achieved if the Bill is introduced prematurely. The Local Government Association also referred to its longer-term concerns and stated:

''Local authorities have, for the last ten years, complained about the under-funding of emergency planning, as Civil Defence Grant was progressively reduced. The recent emergencies have highlighted both the inadequate level and the inappropriate basis of government funding in this area''.

If the Bill were delayed, the Government would have a chance to think again. For at least a year, that would ensure that decisions on the grant would be—in the words of the Minister—''demand-led''. They would be dependent on what local authorities could prove they needed.

Local authorities cannot spend whatever they like, claiming that they are charging under the provisions of the legislation—[Interruption.]—I am grateful to the Government Whip for applauding my dexterity. I do not think that I shall field for England. Local authorities must obtain a Government agreement that they spend whatever they receive on particular projects. The Government must agree that the money has been appropriately spent. Finally, audited accounts must demonstrate that the money has been spent as set out in the agreement.

Although not as neat, tidy and simple as most Ministers would like, the demand-led system has the merit of ensuring that local authorities have what they need to spend on a vital public service during a national emergency.

Does the Minister intend that the moneys available should be reduced? Is the Bill right at this time of national emergency? How long will the emergency last? Will the planning review be completed in 2002, 2003 or 2004? The Minister should take the opportunity to think again. The Government and local authorities would benefit from extra time, whether that is 12 months or another period, to reflect carefully on whether the Bill is appropriate in the prevailing dramatic circumstances since 11 September.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:30, 11 December 2001

On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. Will the Minister clarify the implications of the Committee's choosing to insert new clause 1 into the Bill? What would be the consequences for clause 2(2)? We need to know when it is likely that the proposed derogation would cease to have effect. If it ceased after 31 March 2003, clause 2(2)(a) would be nonsense, and probably so would clause 2(2)(b). Should the Minister explain when the derogation would cease to have effect, or is that not a point of order?

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

I can confidently say that that is a matter for the Minister. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman put the point in that way.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

That helps me enormously because it reinforces the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale: we need to know when the derogation will cease. The Minister must address that.

I welcome the amendment and new clause 1. We do need to pause and take stock for the reasons cited by the hon. Member for Winchester and my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. All hon. Members accept that civil defence is good, and as a Conservative, I also believe that cash limits are. We accept the principles that underpin the Bill. The application of those principles in the current circumstances causes me concern. I emphasise the point already made—not at length because that would be repetitive and tedious—that a fundamental review is under way. The Government will undoubtedly draft a Bill during the next parliamentary Session addressing current matters, including financial arrangements. That will be the right time to make a change. The official Opposition oppose the Bill, because this is not the right time for it. Changing the time would make the Bill much more acceptable.

The absolute percentage increase from £14 million to £19.5 million mentioned in the explanatory notes is clearly large and means quite a significant change in the amount of money available to county councils for this function. In the context of the great global expense of the Government, however, the sums are really quite modest. I doubt that £5.5 million would meet the Deputy Prime Minister's travel bill in this financial year. We are talking about very small sums in the great scheme of things, although the Minister says that the Bill is urgently needed to bring them under control. [Interruption.] I did not catch that.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

Order. Please continue, Mr. Luff.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am not sure whose make-up bill was mentioned, but the phrase ''pot and kettle'' comes to mind.

Counties are on a tight budget. My local county council's settlement is very tight. I am sorry to bring Worcestershire into this, but it is a useful practical example to illustrate concerns about the Bill. It does not have money splashing around to fund additional requirements for civil defence and emergency planning. This is a strange time to be introducing the Bill in a great hurry. I am sure that the Minister could quite easily find another £5 million for these purposes in the current year, when there is a more acute need for emergency planning than there has probably been in any of our lifetimes and certainly since the war.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

My hon. Friend is on to a vital point about the pressures on local authorities. Is he aware of what the Government say in their submission to the emergency planning review? It states:

''The Government anticipates that local conditions will encourage some authorities to provide more than the SSA allocation''.

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Government believe that local authorities need to provide more at a time when they say that they are very short of cash, this is the worst possible sector and the worst possible time for local authorities, which may feel that they have no choice, to make reductions?

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

That is a fundamental point about the timing and construction of the Bill, and my hon. Friend is right to highlight the financial pressures on county councils.

Let us consider a service that is related to emergency planning. The Home Office—the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions now has the responsibility—traditionally demanded a high level of service from the fire service in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, but did not provide adequate funding for the standard spending assessment formula. My county has had to spend above SSA on its fire service for all of living memory. That is not a party political point; it was true under the Conservative Administration, too.

For what it is worth, this year's settlement has been marginally better for our fire service than usual. [Hon. Members: ''Hear, hear.''] I am a fair-minded man and am always happy to pay tribute where that is due. Our education settlement was a disgrace, but that is not relevant to the Bill so I will not pursue it.

We have been spending above SSA on the fire service for a long time and continue to have to do so to provide the level of service cover that the Government demand. In the current financial year, we have an opportunity to loosen the reins just a little on civil defence instead of tightening them up.

The Minister says that the Bill is not about money, but I submit that it is. That is why the delay proposed by the two amendments is so important. If the measure is not about money, why do the explanatory notes deal with money so specifically? They say:

''For example, in the current financial year expenditure is expected to rise from approximately £14 million to £19.5 million.''

It is not worthy of the Minister to make a tight, semantic and legalistic point by saying that the Bill is not about money. In a tight, legal and parliamentary sense, that is correct, but to people who live in the real world, the Bill is all about money—it has the word ''grant'' in its title.

In the next financial year, of all years, these functions should not be subject to a reduction in funding—not now. The Great British general public will find it incomprehensible if a local authority experiences a terrorist outrage, but says, ''Sorry. We're not prepared for this, because the Government cut our grant for civil defence planning this year.'' The Minister faces that danger. I urge him to reconsider the possibility of accepting either or both amendments, which would make the Bill much more palatable. That would reflect a great deal more common sense about the dangers that our country faces at present.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I understand many, if not all, the detailed points made by Opposition Members on amendment No. 2 and new clause 1, to which I shall reply. Broadly, the proposals would delay the Bill's implementation, so it is worth reiterating why we have introduced it now. We believe that a national strategic formula system rather than a local, haphazard demand-led system is a better approach to supplying resources for local authority emergency planning units. We are discussing not spending on responses to emergency situations but the planning capacities of local authorities. The sums for staff salaries, stationery costs and so on are relatively limited.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the argument made by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire is incorrect? If there was a fire or any other civil emergency, we would expect all public authorities to do their utmost, irrespective of budgetary constraints, to sort out the problem.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

That is absolutely correct. The budget that we are discussing is only for the planning abilities of local authorities, not the actual responses. Vast sums are budgeted for police, fire, ambulance and other emergency service provisions. It is not appropriate to discuss the Bill outside that context.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

The Minister is right to say that the front-line provision of services is not dealt with in the Bill. However, does he not agree that planning is at the heart of effective delivery and speedy response? One cannot easily distinguish planning from delivery. I am sure that in his constituency, as in mine, ambulance, fire and other services say that much depends on the amount and quality of advance planning and whether emergency planning facilities are manned at all times. As was mentioned on Second Reading, some local authorities will no longer be able to provide 24-hour cover for some of the vital back-up functions that are necessary for the other roles if the Bill is passed.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

Again, it is important to point out that we are not discussing planning facilities for police, fire or ambulance services. Their planning budgets are separate from budgets for local authority emergency planning units. If there is an incident, in the normal course of events, the police respond initially and set up a base station to co-ordinate activities. Local authorities become involved subsequently.

I entirely accept that it is important to maintain and update local authority emergency planning, but we must consider that piece of the jigsaw in the broader context of emergency planning funding. As has been mentioned, circumstances now are such that we need a national strategic approach to planning and preparing the resilience of the national infrastructure. We must look at the whole of the country so that we do not have distortions because certain authorities are keener than others. That must be the basis for determining resources for local authority emergency planning.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk 11:45, 11 December 2001

I entirely accept that that is an aspect of the review. However, my local authority, King's Lynn and West Norfolk borough council, is particularly concerned about low flying aircraft. Much of the low flying takes place over Scotland, Wales and Yorkshire, but we have Royal Air Force and United States air force bases in Norfolk and Suffolk, and there is a lot of low flying over built-up areas; a Harrier crashed in my constituency a few years ago, mercifully missing buildings. That issue concerns me a great deal. Will authorities in that bracket get extra funding?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The local authorities in question, with which I am not familiar, have no doubt considered contingencies in respect of, for example, incidents of aircraft activity. The Bill does not specify sums allocated to particular authorities, but simply allows those at central Government level to consider whether authorities need extra resources or whether formulas should reflect particular needs in particular areas, such as coastal erosion or weather hazards. Having a national formula is good financial practice. Local authorities and central Government must also be able to plan ahead. All parties agree that managing expenditure is a normal part of budgetary processes.

I shall address several of the points that have been raised. First, I have had several discussions with members of the Local Government Association, both with the central local partnership and with individual councillors who specialise in this area. After 11 September, we took a fresh look at the provision. The Government believe that the measure must be on the statute book in time for the next financial year, to ensure good financial discipline as well as the application of the national strategic framework to emergency planning.

Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Liberal Democrat, Winchester

I am interested by the Minister's comment that the matter has been re-examined in the light of 11 September. Has that review assessed the costs that local authorities have incurred in the past three months in implementing civil defence operations?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

Local authority emergency planning units have not been asked by central Government to undertake specific or significant new duties, but we need to remain flexible. That is why we are looking at levels of funding—an issue that the Bill does not directly address—through negotiations across government, in the usual way. We are considering the precise allocation and estimates for the next financial year.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

The Minister said that local authority emergency planning units have not been asked, since September 11, to undertake any significant new work. That is an extremely important statement, and I should be grateful if he would elaborate on it. One is led to ask why they have not been asked to do so, given the Home Secretary's formal designation of the position, what the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers have said about the enhanced threat to this country since 11 September and the widespread public concern about the possibility of further acts that try to maximise the number of innocent civilians killed. Does not the Minister think it curious that local authority emergency planning units have not been asked to do more work? Does the Cabinet Office expect to issue new guidance to them soon? Even if the Minister thinks, for whatever reason, that the units do not need to do further work, many people on the ground may believe that they do. Surely it would be better, for all the reasons that he himself has advanced, if that were done in the context of a national framework rather than just in a higgledy-piggledy fashion?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, local authority emergency planning units have wide-ranging plans to respond flexibly to a number of different emergencies, regardless of their nature, and have relevant arrangements in place. They did not start from scratch after 11 September; their plans were already fairly robust and well-worked at that time. My comment about no significant extra work having yet been requested of the emergency planning units referred to the fact that no new functions have been undertaken—although there has been a dialogue with local authorities about, for example, the situation following 11 September and the potential chemical and biological hazard. This is not a new function. Local authorities already have the capacity to respond through their local emergency planning units.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Liberal Democrat, Teignbridge

I understand the Minister's argument, but does he not agree that co-ordination between the different bodies is vital to civil defence? If we do not defer the measure, will the Minister tell us when the review of civil defence will be conducted, so that we can see the whole picture? During the foot and mouth crisis, there was a lack of co-ordination, and if I said that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Army were almost at war with each other in Exeter, you will understand my concerns. We must ensure that local authorities are properly funded, and that the funding fits into the overall picture. You have not convinced me yet.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

Order. I do not have responsibility for the Government, but the Minister will now respond for them.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

You have certainly convinced me, Mr. Griffiths, if I needed convincing.

I was coming to the point raised by the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) about the emergency planning review. It was started in August, although most responses were submitted after 11 September. They have now been collated, and I am waiting for an initial report, which is imminent. The review is being conducted in tandem with our civil contingency arrangements post-11 September, to which I alluded on Second Reading. It would be difficult to go into much detail about the processes for central protection and co-ordination, which will be driven by the secretariat at the Cabinet Office.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Liberal Democrat, Teignbridge

The Minister said that the work is being conducted in tandem with civil contingency arrangements. Why can that not be done in tandem with the measure?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

This measure, which is discrete and specific, is needed to implement a formula for the next financial year for local authority emergency planning units. It is necessary to re-establish the principle of formula allocation on a national basis, which is a prerequisite for strategic planning for the next financial year. However, as I said on Second Reading, we are examining separately the whole approach to supporting and financing local authority emergency planning units. Indeed, the emergency planning review has consulted on whether we should eventually move towards a standard spending assessment allocation process through the normal revenue support grant mechanisms. We are examining those issues in the wider context of emergency planning, not the specifics of local authorities.

Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Liberal Democrat, Winchester

That is a fascinating comment, and I will draw this conclusion from it. As part of the wider review, is it possible that the new system that will be implemented by the Bill will be abolished and reviewed again?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

That is possible, but for the next financial year the Government need the powers to institute a formula with a national and strategic basis. If we do not have that, we will have to continue with the random and haphazard system of the demand-led approach.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister just used the word random, which triggered a thought in my mind. The nature of emergency planning is that we have to deal with random events. In Worcestershire, we have had to cope with random events following not only 11 September, but the foot and mouth outbreak, which the hon. Member for Teignbridge mentioned. We have suffered catastrophic flooding, which is becoming more regular, and cases of tuberculosis in the human population that required the emergency planning service to step in. More and more random and serious events are afflicting Worcestershire at the same time as the Government are talking about cutting the money available for planning to deal with such events. The Minister is making a powerful case for the amendment, and I thank him for doing that.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Gentleman should surely recognise that to protect the nation from hostile foreign attack and potential internal disasters and emergencies, we need the ability to plan at a national and central level. It is not good enough to have a series of disconnected, local emergency planning units, all working on their own discrete arrangements. We need to consider whether certain parts of the country require particular attention. The Bill returns to the formula which operated relatively uncontroversially until the legal challenge.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Liberal Democrat, Teignbridge

I come back to the Minister's answer to my hon. Friend. He said that perhaps in the overall review the provisions relating to local authorities will be reconsidered. If prudence is a good friend of the Minister's, does he agree that it is a waste of time and effort to put local authorities through the enactment of this Bill if its provisions are to be reviewed in a few months' time?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

No. It is never a waste of time or effort to put in place a national formula that reflects national priorities, even if the review applies to the next financial year. That is what we are here to do. We must have a national strategic planning process. The Bill is important in that respect.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale asked how long the emergency derogation might last, and the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire asked when it would end. As they know, that is impossible to specify, but in arguing that the Bill should be contingent on another they make a false analogy, which is a bad approach to statute making. We must focus on local emergency planning units. Their work covers a wider scope than terrorism. The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill is concerned with our enemies to a great extent, whereas this Bill concerns our friends, the local authority emergency planning units. To line the two provisions together is to make a false analogy.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

I shall make the obvious point and then ask the Minister a question. Our contention is that we should be providing adequate resources to our friends to plan for anything that our enemies choose to do to us. Will the Minister give us an assurance—which would be greatly welcomed on both sides of the Committee and by those outside following our deliberations—that should the Bill be passed, no individual local authority will receive less in grant for planning for emergencies in the next financial year than it does currently? After the events of 11 September, such an assurance would be welcome and appropriate. I believe that most of us would find our objections melting away. If the Minister cannot give us such an assurance, then we have a continuing problem.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I am beginning to sound rather like a broken record. We are still in negotiations over the next financial year. The Bill is not about the level of funding of local authorities. The amendments could cause distortions, not only in reduced or increased budgets, but also in continuing a process that is unhelpful to emergency planning across the country. The events of 11 September changed our policy in a number of ways, but we must remain pragmatic and focused on a common-sense approach to both threats and realities. The Bill is necessary, even if it focuses on a limited area of the wider picture of emergency planning at a national level and our emergency services. I urge the Committee to resist the proposed new clause and the amendment, and ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Liberal Democrat, Winchester

I was convinced by the Minister's comments on clause 1, but not by his arguments on clause 2. The Minister virtually made the compelling case for waiting to have the question of funding of local authority grants wrapped up by the major review on funding. In a year's time we could be in a ridiculous situation where the review is completed and it recommends that these provisions are not the best way to implement funding. We will have asked local authorities to augment the change, and in a year's time we will change it again. It would be good, sensible government—I might even say joined-up government—if we waited a year for the outcome of the review and wrapped everything up at the same time.

The second compelling argument is that there is not enough information about what local authorities have done, day in and day out, in the past three months to implement their work. The Minister could not tell me how much money has been spent by local authorities; the Government may not have required them to take action as part of their civil defence procedure, but I am convinced that local authorities have done so, and have put plans in place, and they will have spent money. It would be sensible to find out what they have done and how much they have spent before putting a system in place.

It would make sense to have a delay and to wrap the matter up as part of the review, so that we can learn the lessons of 11 September. I seek support from Conservative Members in voting on the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Division number 1 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 2 - General

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.