The amendments are similar. Contingency planning is about preparation, and it is vital that we get everything right. Clause 2 focuses on the duty to assess, plan and advise: if we do not get those things right, planning is a pointless exercise. I have reservations about the lack of audit to ensure that all the responsible bodies are doing exactly what is required of them, and I do not want to leave subsection (1) as weak as it is. It states that
(a) from time to time assess the risk of an emergency occurring,
(b) from time to time assess the risk of an emergency making it necessary or expedient for the person or body to perform any of his or its functions''.
What does ''from time to time'' mean? If one asks a child to clean his bedroom from time to time, it simply will not happen.
The sort of contingencies for which we are planning include the 11 September plane attack, which has been mentioned time and time again, and the prior attack on the twin towers; the Tokyo subway gas attack, which I am sure is still in people's minds; and bombings of ships. Those are all well-known international incidents. We are lucky that, although we have tremors now and then in the midlands and thereabouts—we had one in Wales once—we experience nothing on the scale of the earthquakes that occur in other countries. In Iran recently, thousands of people were killed in an earthquake, and there was criticism that the authorities were not prepared, even though the region is prone to earthquakes. I am not certain we prepare we can prepare for a disaster on that scale. Turkey and Greece have been hit several times by earthquakes, and there have been problems in a number of other countries.
We do experience severe weather. We may be hitting some now, and in future an unforeseen severe weather incident may arise that cuts people off for days on end. Advice is given about staying in the car, or carrying in the car a blanket that we can wrap around us to ensure that we stay a bit warmer than we otherwise might.
Many category 1 responders are mentioned in schedule 1, and different responders have different attitudes to the regularity with which they check their procedures. We talk about local authorities stocking salt, for example. Other organisations have an inspection routine for emergencies that may occur once a year, or once every 10 years. Who will decide when and how consistently the various utilities should examine their emergency procedures? The traditions of different utilities may differ, and the problem lies in achieving a concerted approach that will satisfy the Government and the local authorities.
My hon. Friend is right. Relevant authorities, such as the police, will not always examine their emergency procedures every three months or every six months: each police force may have a
different policy. Some police forces may decide to examine their procedures every three months, and others to do so every 10 years.
The Bill also mentions health authorities and miscellaneous authorities, such as the Environment Agency. Health authorities may be extremely pressed because they have emergency problems of their own to deal with. How often will they carry out systematic review of their procedures?
Again, I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. Everyone can see in schedule 1the sort of bodies that we are talking about and that the problem can be a real one.
Although I was a West Glamorgan county councillor for six years, I am still a little vague about what our emergency planning procedure was. I do not believe that we ever discussed emergency planning or procedures. That might have been because it was before 11 September 2001 and international terrorism was not so much in our minds. I assume, however, that someone was looking after such matters. We had a bunker in West Cross in West Glamorgan that was fairly famous, because although it was there for protection against nuclear attack, it was the only bunker in Britain with windows. None the less, some preparations were made during the 18 glorious years of the Conservative Administration. We also had a bunker in Clitheroe, which was part of a cinema. It is still there.
I am tempted to. Today, I found out that six full-time members of staff are involved in emergency planning. Ribble Valley has one part-time member of staff, who also has responsibility for building. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) is referring to the fact that local authorities are so strapped for cash and time, and the Government have piled so many extra regulations, rules and requirements on top of them, that emergency planning is simply one more obligation.
The hon. Gentleman has helpfully tried to get local authorities to re-examine their emergency procedures every three months.
Far be it from me to dig the hon. Gentleman out of the hole that he is in—I am sure that he can do that himself. However, the Joint Committee heard evidence from about 300 sources, and every local authority—perhaps predictably—said that it needed a ring-fenced sum for the purpose. That is right, because the money available to authorities is finite, and given the choice between social services and care of the elderly and planning, people may well opt for the bread-and-butter stuff—even post–9/11. There is, however, a valid point to be made. I am afraid that if I were to ask a local government officer to do X, Y or Z ''from time to time'', that would not elicit a very positive response in the long term. I say that with great respect to many local government officers, many of whom are friends of mine. Giving that person a deadline to meet, however, would be fairly productive.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman because he has spoken about two issues: finance, and the targets that must be achieved. On finance, all members of the Committee will know from representations from the Local Government Association about the problems that local authorities face due to the extra regulations and provisions of the Bill. If we want them to do the job, we have to ensure that they have the resources. It is as simple as that. I would like to return to the matter during the clause stand part debate, because local authorities do not have the full resources to deal with the rules and regulations that are being imposed on them.
To take that point one stage further, given all the pressures that the local authorities and other organisations—including national health service trusts and hospitals—are currently under, emergency planning is going to be somewhat towards the bottom of their priorities. They do not believe that there will be a debilitating emergency tomorrow, or next week, or a month down the line—indeed, it has already been said of the legislation that we hope never to have to use it. We sincerely hope that no terrorist threat or threat of such a nature that we have to use the powers of this legislation arises. From reading through the procedures, I understand that a state of emergency has not been called since the 1970s—almost a quarter of a century. There is plenty of precedent there to say that we hope that, when the Bill passes, we will not have to use it.
It concerns me greatly that the Government want the police, given all the extra things that they now have to do and the bureaucracy that they have to deal with, to ensure that they are as high profile as they can be. With all the extra things that they have to deal with, emergency planning is going to be way down at the bottom of their list of priorities. From my experience on West Glamorgan county council, I can say that emergency planning was not uppermost in my mind at that time because it was not uppermost in the mind of others in the council. They had lots of things to do in relation to education, social services and transport—that is where the resources and the officer time were going. One or two chairmen of committees might have been called in to look at things, but I do not know because we never discussed it in our local authority. Each of the authorities mentioned as a category 1 or 2 responder will have better things that it could immediately spend its time and money on. Emergency planning is something that they will probably do now and again, then put on the shelf.
I am reminded of the preparations that were put in place for foot and mouth. We all remember that preparations were put in place after the 1960s outbreak, and we were told, ''This must never happen again''. We were told that we had to make absolutely certain that the requirements and guidelines were in place so that an outbreak would never happen again, and if it did, it could be sorted out properly. We do not have to think back too far. Any Member representing a rural area who talks to farmers will have been told, with great feeling, exactly what happened. The guidelines were apparently drawn up, but my goodness, how often were they pulled off the
shelf to be examined? How often were they revised to ensure that they were properly up to date and met the requirements of the changing nature of farming in this country?
Perhaps part of the reason for that is the fact that, when in government, the Conservative party cut the number of vets employed by the state veterinary service in every year between 1983 and 1997.
The hon. Gentleman wanted to make a partisan point, which he has done with great effect. My point is equally serious. For whatever reasons the deficiencies arose, there is not a single person in this country who would not admit that the preparations for foot and mouth were quite appalling. Businesses and farming jobs were sacrificed unnecessarily, and the number of animals destroyed as a result of the outbreak was incredible. Only now is our farming industry getting back on its feet. I assume that, somewhere along the line, the Government have learned their lesson and have said, ''This must never happen again.'' We must ensure that we have up-to-date guidelines in place, so that we know what the requirements are. We know what farming is these days: animals go from area to area far more than they did in the 1960s, and abattoirs are all over the place. The guidelines must reflect that if we are to control a future outbreak of foot and mouth.
Let us suppose that we have to deal with an emergency relating to a dirty bomb. My goodness me, what guidelines are already in place for our emergency services? I assume that they are considering the matter and that guidelines will be drawn up that everybody will have to follow. The clause is intended to ensure that the authorities, blue-light services, and the NHS trusts have in place their own guidelines and contingency plans in case an emergency occurs.
Let us think about what could happen after the Bill becomes law. Everyone will be keen to get involved if there is money; if there is not, they will make token gestures. Let us say that what we all dearly hope does not happen happens and the water supply is contaminated, or a dirty bomb explodes, or there is a chemical incident that affects a number of people. We may be talking 10, 15 or 20 years down the line. It will be like the experience of foot and mouth: something happens 20 years down the line, and the contingency plans have not been revised. Some of the authorities have not looked at their plans for 10 or 15 years because there are other priorities, or because they have moved on. We will go through the same turmoil that we went through with foot and mouth, and the repercussions would be huge. Contingency planning is a pointless exercise unless we get it right.
The amendments are helpful. I know that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam said that authorities have many extra responsibilities and that we would just be giving them more by requiring them to consider the contingency plans every three months, but surely he would applaud that? If we are to introduce the provisions and require bodies to do something sensible by way of preparation, is it not right that we carry out regular checks?
Later, I will speak to other amendments relating to the education of the public, which is vital. We are asking certain bodies to do things, and we will also have to ask the public to make preparations. That element is woefully lacking from the Bill. We will have to make absolutely certain that everybody is ready for the eventuality in question, be it a terrorist act or some other incident that means that emergency planning is necessary.
Will the Minister consider the amendment carefully? If he has any reservations about the three months requirement, he should say that the period should be up to three months. There may be some bodies that are very much involved in contingency planning, and that may wish to assess the risk more frequently than every three months. Perhaps they could carry out assessments as part of a continuous rolling programme, as incidents occur to them.
The Minister will know that Scotland Yard is to consider a number of areas in relation to threats to this country or parts of it. It and other authorities that will be ordering people around will want to know that the legislation is absolutely right and that the bodies that they will be ordering around will be prepared and ready, will have the right tools in place and will not have any problems. The bodies can be in that state only if they consideration is given to the matter at least every three months. If they leave it 10 years, the preparations will be stale, we will have another foot and mouth incident on our hands, and it will be an absolute disaster.
I commend the hon. Member for Ribble Valley on a valiant effort to make his way back to the Front Bench and for holding the line in the absence of any other Conservative Front Benchers. I differ from his colleagues: I thought that there was no good reason for him to return to the Back Benches, and I am sure that he will be back in time.
I am not persuaded, however, that his amendment is desirable. I accept his point that ''from time to time'' is perhaps not the most elegant wording, but it achieves its aim. To set a tight timetable as rigid as the one that the hon. Gentleman seeks would be counter-productive and would defeat the ends that he seeks to achieve. If he is trying to achieve a regular and thorough review of the emergency plans in place, setting down a rigid three-month period in the Bill would not achieve that. It would mean that the plans are taken out of the cupboard every three months, made the subject of a half-hour meeting and put back in. My understanding is that when the plan is created, it includes as a term of its own assessment the date by which it ought to be reviewed: that seems eminently sensible. Perhaps the Minister could confirm or deny that?
I accept that resources must follow if the clause is to be meaningful. However, I do not share the enthusiasm of some hon. Members for ring-fencing money. There will be gross disparities between different authorities on the work that they will have to do on emergency planning. I am thinking, for example, of a number of local authorities in central
Scotland, of which the Minister will undoubtedly be aware. Authorities such as Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire could all work together to arrive at similar plans. My local authorities will produce very different plans that will be unique. To try to ring-fence money in such circumstances is next to impossible.
Furthermore, we all know that when money is ring-fenced, the least amount is ring-fenced. The plans will have to be well resourced, but resources must be allocated on the basis of need. The effectiveness of the clause, when it is implemented, will come not from central control, such as the hon. Gentleman seeks to impose, but from the ability of local authorities to do their jobs.
I fully accept that there is an argument, which the hon. Gentleman has just advanced, that three months may be far too tight a schedule regularly to consider these matters. However, does not he think that the wording of the Bill is far too lax? The phrase ''from time to time'' is an extraordinary one to use in these circumstances. Perhaps it is a conventional phrase, being used casually as in ordinary conversation, that is used to indicate that the plans must be considered from time to time on a regular basis, and there is an understanding inside the Administration—any Administration—that that means something that may not be obvious to any ordinary citizen. Perhaps the Minister could explain? Perhaps it has a special meaning in this context but, on the surface, it seems to be a sloppy use of English.
If the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) seeks something more thorough and relevant—I think that he does—surely ''from time to time'' errs too far in one direction, and ''three months'' goes too far in the other direction. Perhaps there is a hidden or more exact meaning to the words that might be more evident to civil servants. It might also be the case that there was no consensus on what should be put in the Bill, so ''from time to time'' was inserted simply as a fallback phrase for reasons of convenience and time, rather than doing the necessary thinking now as to why there should be something more systematic and more pointed put into the Bill.
After all, my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley made an important point in his excellent speech. A large number of organisations must make such decisions, including local authorities, emergency services, the police, the fire authorities, health authorities, primary care trusts, health boards and the Environment Agency. All will have different views of what is relevant and timely in terms of how often they should review procedures.
A relevant and pointed example is the foot and mouth disease outbreak. When all was said and done, it turned out that in the archives of the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food there was a plan, arising from the previous outbreak, on how it should be handled. Perhaps there was a failure of collective memory—the problem was certainly not a lack of vets, although there may have been a lack of vets—but although there was a plan for dealing with such an emergency, that plan was not adhered to during the panic that ensued from the latest outbreak. We do not know why it was not used.
My hon. Friend may recall a number of rumours that appeared in the newspapers. One was that it was the duty of someone in MAFF to ensure that there were sufficient pallets throughout the country so that if it were necessary to burn animal corpses, there would be sufficient wood readily available to do so. Someone somewhere knew that there was a plan, or they were at least relying on some guidance somewhere along the line, but there was no overall coherence. That is why there was a shambles.
That is precisely the point. There was no time framework. In a normal situation, plans are taken out and reviewed and some thought is given to whether they are satisfactory and up to date and whether account has been taken of more recent trends. If that had happened before the latest foot and mouth outbreak, the story might have taken a different turn from the tragic one it took. In essence, we are suggesting three months, which is a nominal period to enable us to have a debate, but no one is stuck on that period. We are discussing terrorism, not just foot and mouth disease, and we must have a framework that forces civil servants—even new civil servants who are unaware of what happened in the past—to consider such matters regularly.
The sheer range of emergencies for which plans must be prepared will be such that they will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. That is why each individual plan should include the date for its own review. That seems to be rather more sensible than putting a time limit in the Bill, whether it is three months, six months, nine months, a year or whatever.
I fully accept the logic of the hon. Gentleman's position and am sympathetic to it. Our amendment may not be ideal and he may not want to support it, but does he accept that what the Government have put in the Bill is not right either? Something is needed to provide greater certainty, or we will end up in a situation similar to that of the foot and mouth disease outbreak. That is not acceptable when we are discussing the threat of terrorism.
I fear that certain inconsistencies crept into the argument of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley as he advanced his amendments to the Committee. On the one hand, he seemed to be arguing that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland had indulged in partisan points; on the other, he commented on the 18 glorious years of the Conservatives, which certainly passed me by, if they ever happened.
On a more substantive point, the argument of the hon. Member for Orpington that great and onerous burdens were being imposed on the police that prevent them from doing other important work—while the hon. Gentleman was advancing an amendment suggesting that what his hon. Friend was kind enough to acknowledge was a nominal date for reviewing such plans—was effectively demolished. I do not accept the need to require local responders to conduct risk assessments every three months, as suggested in the amendment, and choose to retain
the current requirement to do so from time to time.
The hon. Member for Orpington asked whether the phrase ''from time to time'' is common in statute. I am given to understand that it is a common legislative term, but I will come to the basis on which it is used in the Bill in a moment.
As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland was kind enough to acknowledge, the risk of terrorism in any major city may need to be assessed on a day-to-day basis, in contrast to other circumstances in fundamentally different localities. At the other end of the spectrum, the risk of a bridge or building collapsing will need to be assessed far less frequently.
The amendments would cause the wasteful use of valuable resources in particular circumstances. The current wording ''from time to time'' recognises the time-consuming, resource-intensive nature of risk assessment and the diversity of risks that local responders must assess under the Bill. It may assist the Committee if I answer the charge that the wording ''from time to time'' is too vague. Clause 2(1)(e) requires category 1 responder bodies to consider whether to modify a plan in the light of a new or revised risk assessment, which are required from time to time. Those requirements are obviously necessary to keep planning arrangements up to date; a concern that has been expressed during our discussions.
The frequency with which risk assessments need to be carried out varies enormously with the type of risk under consideration. The frequency of assessments relates to the nature of the hazard and is effectively built into the normal functioning of the body carrying out the assessment. The police are used to making regular assessments of the risk of terrorism and are resourced to do so. The borough engineer is used to assessing the structural safety of bridges and is resourced to do so. The Bill is unlikely to impose new burdens in that regard.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates what I am about to say. With his forbearance, I will come to that point in a moment. Before that, I wish to clarify another issue that was identified in relation to risks and individual responder bodies; how do we avoid duplication of risk assessments? Under the regulations, the Bill will oblige responder bodies to co-operate with each other.
One form of co-operation will be through local resilience forums based on police boundary areas, which all responder bodies are obliged to attend. A key item on the agenda of those forums will be specified in regulations and outlined in guidance that will be prepared; a community risk register. Its aim will be for each responder body to bring to the table its own risk assessment. From those multi-agency discussions, an overview of the risk to the community will be prepared. That is the community risk register. It will help organisations better to understand how the other organisations view the
potential emergencies that their communities face. It will also enable the forum and the organisations to assess their priorities. Responder bodies will each assess risk according to their own functions. Duplication will, in many instances, be relevant to the overlapping functions of respective bodies. Equally, the envisaged collaboration between bodies will ensure that separate bodies do not go into unnecessary detail.
I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Orpington on whether there will be assessment by central Government. Responders will have a duty to assess risk from time to time. If they fail to perform that duty, they can and will be held to account through the auditing and inspection regimes that we will, no doubt, discuss later in our deliberations. Enforcement action is covered in clause 10.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley asked about audit arrangements. Most category 1 responders are subject to audit or inspection regimes by bodies that have been established under their sectoral legislation. Examples include the overview and scrutiny committees of local authorities and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. In addition, many category 1 responders are subject to audit and inspection to ensure that they are performing their functions while having regard to the base value principles of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. The Secretary of State can issue directions to such bodies if they are failing in that regard.
I hope that I have answered the substantive points raised in relation to the fact that we recognise that various different responders will take forward their own risk assessment on different timetables rather than the nominal timetable set out in the amendment, and that there is a comprehensive series of steps in place to ensure that central Government have a view of risk assessments at local level.
Sadly, the Minister has not reassured me. I intend to press the amendment to a Division. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that we were being too prescriptive. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington said, although three months may not be long enough, we are at least putting a time scale on it, which is vital; it is better than being vague about it. We would be making a requirement of those bodies.
My hon. Friend said that the terminology was sloppy, and clearly it is. Every three years is ''from time to time''. If we are asked, ''How often do you go to church?'' we will say, ''Oh, I go to church from time to time.'' I suspect that some may not, but it our ordinary response to questions on things that we should be doing regularly. How often do we check that the battery in the smoke detectors in our homes? From time to time, I guess. Some, like my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend), check it regularly. The phrase ''from time to time'' is sloppy; and ''regular'' is not be as prescriptive as I would like.
I fear that the hon. Gentleman stretches the analogy too far. Would he not accept
that, in the case of attending church on a Sunday morning, or even every day, we are not issued with guidance, nor is there an inspection regime to ensure that we attend?
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor said ''regularly'', but once a year is regular. Three months, too, is regular. We need to focus the attention of those who are responsible in an emergency. Part of the problem is that if terrorists are going to perpetrate an act that would cause an emergency to happen, they will do it when people least expect it. They will not take an advertisement in The Guardian or The Times to tell people that they are going to perpetrate a terrorist act next week. They will do it when they think we are least prepared.
In the spirit of consensus that we have managed so far, will the hon. Gentleman not accept that it is a matter that is not best expressed in the Bill but rather that it is an appropriate matter for guidance?
No; yet again, I do not. I specifically believe that ''from time to time'' is far too vague. The Minister said that different bodies have a different sense of emergency when dealing with different things. I fully agree, but it does not mean that they should be able to abdicate their responsibility for making contingency plans. That is what we are asking for in a number of areas in the Bill. I remember from this morning's discussion that the areas that could be determined to have an emergency is rather wide.
One of our criticisms of the Bill is that it too broad, although I accept that the Government have narrowed its provisions. Not only can the emergency take place in any part of the United Kingdom, but the definition deals with the loss of human life, homelessness and damage to property; it then deals with money, food, water, energy and fuel. It then introduces communications, disruption to transport and to services relating to health. I suspect that almost any incident that one could think of would fall within the scope of the Bill. That is why it should include effective measures to ensure that whatever happens, people will be ready.
That brings me back to the point that terrorists will try to cause as much damage as possible. Those insane suicide bombers want to cause terror, but they also want to perpetrate as much damage, loss of life and carnage as they can. Sadly, we have seen far to many examples of that happening around the world. Terrorists will take advantage of an element of surprise. They are not going to advertise the fact that they are going to act. Chilling as it is, we are the right body to discuss such matters, as we do not want to scare members of the public unnecessarily.
However, such incidents happen around the world, and sometimes we see it up front. I went to New York shortly after 11 September. I was there when the Foreign Secretary gave the readings in St. Thomas's church and Trinity church, and we gave a bell cast at the same London foundry as the Liberty bell. We met
some of the relatives of those who had died. Nobody thought that anything like it could happen; there was always a sense of security in the United States. The disaster happened on a huge scale. It could have been even worse had the other plane hit, as I understand that other terrorists were ready to fly a fifth plane. It is hugely worrying.
Surely it would not have made a blind bit of difference if the New York civic authorities had acted according to the strictures that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting and undertaken a three-month review of their emergency services. The authorities in New York reacted not on the basis of the nightmare scenario that he describes, because all that was after 11 September, and they did not have to produce a civil contingency plan every three months. They responded well, and I challenge him to point out any area of municipal or civil organisation in New York where there was any failure.
What is the problem? Why cannot the hon. Gentleman simply accept that continuous assessment applies in all groups listed as category 1 responders in schedule 1, and that to implement a three-month timetable would be utterly limiting, making no difference to the scenario that he describes in Manhattan?
I disagree. The proposal might have made a difference to the number of fatalities in the emergency services. Security personnel acting as fire marshals for the buildings might have been better prepared. In Portcullis House, members of staff are fire marshals; despite the regular false alarms and fire tests, if a fire broke out and all the brown doors closed, it would be a bit of a nightmare to get out because the building is a bit of maze.
The unexpected forms part of the problem. Unless we train people properly, including amateurs, in the guidance that they must give, as is mentioned in this part of the Bill, there will be severe problems. Unless training is properly and regularly updated, we may see a greater loss of life.
The hon. Gentleman says that nothing would have changed on 11 September. Many things could have been changed to make the emergency services more effective, and they now are more prepared for atrocities; indeed, they have to be.
I hope that suicide bombing will be considered very carefully. To date, the UK has been protected from it, but what would we do if someone were able to enter—I could name any crowded place but I will bring matters close to home because it is pointless shying away from it—the Palace of Westminster? Until recently security has been woefully inadequate, but the increased security on the front gates is now more effective. What would we do if someone strapped with explosives managed to reach the Chamber or Central Lobby?
I assume that we have precautions in place, that exercises are taking place and that there is a plan. If there is not and we do not think that we are a target, we should think again. I was in Australia on
11 September, and one of the first things I did when I heard about the atrocities was to phone my staff at my office and tell them to get out of Portcullis House, because I thought that it would be a target as well.
My point is about contingencies and ensuring that people concerned with planning take a look at their procedures every three months. The hon. Member for Ealing, North made a proper point when he asked whether it would have made any difference if the authorities in New York had looked at that every three months. But it must have done, if those authorities had looked at procedures regularly. I do not know what precautions they took, although we all applaud the emergency services, having seen how they behaved.
Later we will come to the issue of a volunteer force. Such a force might well have been called on as well. What if, five years before 11 September, someone in New York had had a bright idea and said, ''We could have a volunteer force in place to help us in case of emergency''? It could work in the way that the lifeboat service does, employing people who do other jobs, but have certain specialisms. We are not talking about people with no expertise, but about those with expertise who take regular training. That might well have made a difference. That is what I ask for: that regular preparation should take place.
The interaction between what we are discussing and clause 9 may be the key. By my reading, clause 9 deals with monitoring by a Minister of things that need to be done to comply with preparations. How often does the Minister think that Ministers would monitor what is happening on the ground in local government? That could be a key to the matter.
I agree with that. That would be key, but monitoring must be done in an effective way.
I come back to foot and mouth, because that issue is important. The Minister said that there will be some form of audit and that Ministers will impose requirements on bodies. From time to time, I guess, a Minister will phone those bodies and ask how they are preparing for eventualities and emergencies. The Minister said that if somebody was deficient, that person would be brought to account by that method. I am still trying to work out who was brought to account over the deficiencies in the handling of the foot and mouth crisis. Nobody was. An entire industry was devastated, but nobody can point to anybody who was deficient.
Nobody has been able to say that the plan was not carried out properly. Nobody has said that the plan was not up to date or effective, or that exercises were not regularly done. I suspect that we are still at a loss because we have not had a proper and full public inquiry, but we will take that by the by. We need to be told that the Minister will be responsible for checking up on some bodies. However, we do not know how often he will do that. As we know, Ministers change on a regular basis. We may see changes later this week—who knows? [Interruption.] I could not possibly name names. I am surprised that we have not heard more from Government Members, who may be vying for ministerial positions. They will want to shine during the passage of this Bill to try to draw attention to
themselves. Perhaps we will hear more from them later on.
The Minister tried to give us an assurance. What sort of things would he be doing? Will he ring up all 365 local authorities himself? [Interruption.]
Will the Minister phone the local authorities himself and ask what sort of emergencies they have been looking at, what exercises they have been on and what sort of training has taken place? This is a detailed issue. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) talked about expense earlier; it will take a lot of money to do all this effectively. There are no two ways about that, and it will have to be done effectively.
It may well please the Government to keep matters vague, because local authorities and other bodies can then get away with not being as effective as they might be. When they are strapped for cash and the Government say that they will be capped if they try to raise the council tax above a certain level, how do we know that the councils will carry out everything that we are going to ask them to do? How do we know that they will not have to put up the council tax above the capping level to do it? When the Bill is enacted later this year, after the council tax rises that come in April, there will be a further requirement on local authorities. The phrase ''from time to time'' seems to be the get-out clause in case the Government do not provide enough money. That provides an opportunity for a chief executive or somebody else to say, ''Right, this is what we need to do. We have demands on education, huge demands on social services because of an ageing population, and other problems that require spending.'' The last thing that would be said is, ''And by the way, let's have a training exercise on contingencies, just in case there is an emergency.'' I have huge reservations about that, which is why we tabled the amendment and why we will press it to a Division.
To some extent, the Minister has done himself a disservice. If he had been more forthcoming about the practical arrangements that the Government have in mind for monitoring the situation, he would have helped himself. The truth is that ''from time to time'' seems a vague phrase to any member of the public. He used the word vague, and I think that that is right. He made a reasonable attempt to assure me that there was something more exact in the Government's mind and that it was a conventional term that had been used before, which I accept, but he should none the less have gone further and been more forthcoming.
Presumably, there are some arrangements—the Minister referred to clause 9 and the Bill's monitoring provisions—in Government and in his Department for an overview to be taken. It cannot be left to a particular Department, such as the Scotland Office or the Department for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs, to decide when it wants to monitor an agency in its area. There must be greater co-ordination than that, given that we seek a disciplined and systematic attempt to ensure regular arrangements for reviewing emergency procedures. That would reassure the public, and this is a question of public confidence, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley rightly pointed out.
Although we are in Committee and there may be vastly more interesting affairs taking place in the Chamber, what is said here will have some effect on public perception. It will affect the perception of the relevant authorities, and through them, that perception will be disseminated to the public. It would be helpful if the Minister said a bit more about the extent to which he and his Department—I assume that it must be the Cabinet Office—will exercise a co-ordinating role.
The Minister knows that everyone who gave evidence, especially those from local government, said that we need an extra pot of money. I am interested to know whether it will be forthcoming, and if so, in what form. How will the Minister judge how much is appropriate for each authority, whether it is a local authority, a health board, a fire service, the police or whatever it may be?
I have already responded to the debate, and I am conscious of the time. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the position of the Local Government Association is that we should move away from ring-fenced funding? It has accepted that view and articulated it in discussions in preparation for the Bill.
I can say only that local government people in Wales have told me that they would not be able to do much unless they were given funds. With the best will in the world, they want to obey the law. They understand that there is a risk and a need to act. As the Minister knows, they have all said, ''Yes, we need a Bill to draw together the various parts of the legislation that we have had over the years. We need a new approach to this matter and we need to codify the legislation and to strengthen it.'' All of that is fine; none of that is argued with. I saw no evidence to suggest that they do not want the Bill. However, they all say that they cannot function properly and obey the law in its true spirit unless they have additional resources. That is an obvious point.
I know that local authorities plead for extra money and that there is sometimes a case of special pleading, but in this instance, in the notes that accompany the Bill, there is a reference to new obligations being imposed. If they are imposed, it will cost money to introduce them. If local authorities are ''from time to time''—or whatever phrase we use—to observe and ensure and assess, somebody must be paid to do the work. They cannot add that cost to what they already have.
The Minister may be able to assist us, if not today, then during the Committee's future deliberations, on how the money will be distributed. Will distribution be decided by a simple head count or will it take the form of a pseudo-ballot? Both options would be wrong.
Money should be distributed according to need, and some places have a greater need because of greater risk. The Minister may look at me with amusement, but that is an important core matter, which we must get right. If we are to improve the Bill, we must tease out responses.
The hon. Gentleman is right. The risk will vary from area to area. London will have an extremely high risk, whereas the risk in some villages or towns will be almost non-existent. I suspect that the two bridges that run between England and Wales are prominent terrorist targets, as some bridges were in the United States and extra precautions against terrorist attacks were taken. Resources will be needed.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right, and I would certainly not assist any terrorist. In my constituency, which is a rural area, there is a decommissioned nuclear power station, which is a high risk. Needs will vary. Will the Minister respond in detail to that concern, if not today then later?
I thought that I heard the Minister use the word ''guidance'' in an intervention. That may be a conventional phrase, but it is fairly loose. He argued that it would be a waste of resources to be more specific than that. However, if I were a member of one the bodies mentioned in the Bill, I would take comfort from greater clarity about my precise responsibilities. Will the Government issue detailed guidelines that would protect the interests of the Government and of public bodies? In that way we can ensure that the duties prescribed in the Bill are carried out properly.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that guidance will be issued. I return to the substantive point that the debate has moved widely in terms of the responsibilities of local responders. Those responsibilities are defined in the Bill and clarity will also be given in the guidance. Rather than impose a nominal or arbitrary figure in the Bill, it makes more sense to say that appropriate review periods will be discussed in the guidance. That common-sense point seems to have eluded certain hon. Members.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 13.
I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to discuss all the things in the clause on
which we did not table amendments. This debate might allow the Minister to be more specific about the extra guidelines and how prescriptive he will be with regard to how often the Government will check up on them.
I am interested in the duty to assess, plan and advise in respect of subsection (1)(g), which refers to maintaining
''arrangements to warn the public, and to provide information and advice to the public, if an emergency is likely to occur or has occurred.''
I agree with that; it is very important. However, we need to know exactly what it means and how much it will cost.
As the Minister knows, after the Bali bombing the Australians managed to send out a pack to every household in the country about homeland security and the threats that they could face if there were terrorist acts on Australian soil. Nobody ever considered that Australia was a likely terrorist target. It was not thought to be high on the list of countries that might be attacked, unlike the United States of America and the United Kingdom—especially since the Iraq war, I suspect.
The Bali bombing came out of nowhere. A significant number of Australians were killed, although I cannot remember the exact figure. Australians used to go to that part of the world for their holidays. Many of the victims were youngsters. They should never have been thought of as a target for terrorism, but they were cruelly executed.
The Australians have risen to the challenge. John Howard has ensured that the sensitivities of all Australians with regard to terrorism have been significantly heightened. They have been sent a pack to warn them about what they should be doing. It lists the items that they should have in their homes in case of an emergency. I assume that that is the sort of thing that paragraph (g) refers to. It mentions the advice that the authorities should give to the public. I assume that that includes what they should do and what they need to store.
The UK Resilience website is relevant on this subject. If members of the public who have information relating to terrorism dial 999 their names will be known. However, there is also a confidential terrorist hotline on 0800 789321. I understand why the Government have made that confidential. Somebody who has seen their neighbour doing something that they think is peculiar might not want to raise the hackles of the authorities by saying that they suspect that their neighbour is a terrorist and for it somehow to get back to the neighbour that they reported those suspicions. Confidentiality is important. Members of the public who have shopped people such as terrorists will almost certainly not want to advertise that they have done so.
There are sensible precautions that the public should take in case of an emergency. I assume that they will be included in the advice. It is right for there to be a warning about the possibility of losing access to power, water, telephones and roads. The public should ensure that they have certain things in their homes. I
will give a short list of them, and it would be useful if Committee members were to ask themselves how many of the items on it they have at home. The list includes spare batteries and a battery-powered torch that actually works. I have been in a hotel where there are torches in drawers in the rooms which light up as soon as they are pulled out so that if a fire blacks out the hotel's electricity supply, people are able to get out immediately.
The list also includes a battery-powered or wind-up radio. I do not know where to buy a wind-up radio, but they have enjoyed a renaissance in popularity because people do not have access to batteries in some developing and emerging countries. The list mentions ready-to-eat food, such as tinned food. I assume that we would not have to add water to that food because if the water supply is contaminated or turned off, a cup-a-soup would be useless. A few bottles of water, which could be eked out over one or several days, and blankets or duvets would also be useful.
Also included in the list are the phone numbers of police, local authorities and utility services, and advice on ensuring that, in an emergency, people know where to locate the main switches for electricity, water and gas in their homes. There is separate advice for businesses. Do they know who their members of staff are, and have they been properly security checked? Are the managers aware of how to handle such emergency incidents? There is also advice about protection against hacking.
I commend the Government on their advice, but it is available on the internet. When did people last look at the UK Resilience website? I look at it regularly, but only since I started reading about some of the issues in the Bill. Otherwise, I would not have heard of it. Only a minority of members of the public—about one third—have access to the internet. I am sure that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam will tell me if the figure is higher than that, and I would be happy to stand corrected
About 55 per cent. of the public have direct access and, through proxies, that figure increases to almost 80 per cent. Access is quite good these days.
Access is increasing all the time, and the internet is a way of informing and updating people about what they need.
The Government want to ensure that all the information is available and are putting the obligation to distribute that information on local authorities. The one thing that local authorities do is send out the council tax demand once a year. Most also provide a magazine to say how brilliant they have been over the past 12 months and how the council tax increase is nothing to do with them. Leaflets from the police and several other bodies are also included. That information is already sent out. As local authorities will be obliged to inform the public, why cannot we issue them with a document each year that gives advice on how people should prepare for any eventuality or emergency? Those are common-sense matters. People will not know exactly what will be affected—whether
the electricity will be working, the water supply contaminated or the gas cut off. No mention is made of candles, which might be useful if an emergency lasts for some time.
I know that the Government have links with the BBC so that they can get messages across in the various avenues and media in which it operates. When I was in the United States of America in the late 1980s, I used to see test broadcasts on television of the emergency service so that people would know that a particular signal meant that they should listen to the Government's statement. It will be more difficult with the onslaught of satellite television to get through to people who watch not only four or five, but the current choice of 150 channels, and the situation will only get worse. How will the Government get their message across to the public? I hope that they are looking at ways in which, for instance, they could interrupt MTV and the other pop channels, which may be watched by young people who do not watch the traditional terrestrial channels.
The Government will also have to take into account what will happen if the electricity is out. Televisions or radios will work if they are run by batteries, but only if generators are available to the broadcasters to enable them to get their message out. There are all those issues to consider. The internet is available at the moment, which is great for preparation, but will it be available during an emergency? Perhaps not. It is a similar situation with telephone lines.
We all rely on our mobile phones these days, but the battery can be charged only for a certain length of service. If the electricity supply is out, once that charge is gone, it is gone unless we have a spare, recharged battery. We cannot just put fresh batteries into mobile phones and once a phone is dead, it is dead. We could go to our cars and start the engine and perhaps recharge the mobile phone in that way, but that might also be limited, as the passage of traffic would, I presume, be restricted. That is going to be a real problem.
In looking at every eventuality of an emergency that will be covered by this Bill, the Government must ensure that the public are properly informed. It is quite simple. We could be doing it now; in schools, and in packs sent to homes. I cannot even think of the last television programme that I watched that talked about the things we should be looking to do in a time of emergency. I hope that the Government will take this seriously.
These preparations do not come free. However, not taking any of these steps will have a larger cost if there is an emergency. A terrorist incident would cause not just loss of life but huge disruption, and could have a significant cost. Foot and mouth disease cost billions to try to put right. It is not as if we saved anything by not taking the precautions and contingencies seriously enough, or by thinking that we would save a few bob. It cost us billions in the end when we got it woefully wrong. These measures also will cost a lot of money.
Clause 2(5), paragraphs (l) and (m) require a plan to include provision for the carrying out of exercises, and
a plan to include provision for the training of staff or other persons. Let us first of all look at the plans. We have asked the Government to reassure us when the Bill returns to the Floor of the House that these plans will be up to date and effective. If we are to involve schoolchildren and young people it should be clear what they should do in cases of emergencies. Teachers in schools and colleges will also need to know what to do. We are talking about a very large programme.
I assume that the staff here at the House of Commons will know what to do in the case of an emergency. I assume—because this is what we are asking our local authorities and other responders to do—that there is a plan somewhere, specifying that, within the House of Commons, if there is an emergency, a group of people will be able to direct the rest of us. If not, I would have not the faintest idea of what to do. I suspect I would be standing next to the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope), who no doubt would make a suggestion such as, ''Get another one in, Nigel, it is your round''. Seriously, we would not know what to do, so there has to be sufficient training in that regard.
My hon. Friend will recall that there was a trial of the House's emergency procedures two or three years ago. It was noticed that all Members who had offices along this corridor, or who are participating in a Committee, as we are, had to go to the far end of the Committee Corridor and down that small staircase. That was shown to be perfectly inadequate for the numbers who would be using it. I do not know whether that has been looked at since then.
This is what we are trying to smoke out from the Minister. I am not certain where the emergency plans for the House of Commons are. We are surely a terrorist target, so I assume that guidance will, at some stage, be issued to us, and to people who will want to train others who will then give guidance to us in the event of an emergency. I have not the faintest idea whether the point my hon. Friend made has been looked at since the trial. Clearly the exercise found procedures to be wanting in certain areas; that is the purpose of exercises.
There was an exercise recently to show what would happen on the tube if there were a chemical outbreak. No doubt lessons were learned about the sort of precautions that had to be taken and the atmosphere that emergency workers would face. The fire brigade does exercises and training all the time and needs to do so to ensure that it is not opening itself up to further risks than it already faces. Its plans must be up to date and the training must be effective; both the levels of training and the exercises to ensure that that training is appropriate.
Somebody should be considering the training that needs to be taken in each local authority, the police authority, the fire brigade and the health trusts. The training will be different from area to area. As the Minister knows, the things that they deal with in hospitals may include chemical spills, people suffering from toxic poisoning, explosions, trauma and fear of what is going to happen.
I was in the Grand hotel in Brighton when the bomb went off. I was with a group of people and the last thing that we expected was a bomb. The one thing that terrorists want to do is cause surprise. We were chatting away in the early hours of the morning when the explosion happened.
We were discussing education policy and the debates that were to take place the next day. There was a noise, followed shortly by another noise. The lights went out, a fire alarm went off and a journalist sitting there shouted, ''Everybody down, it's a bomb.'' That was when I threw myself onto the floor. There was a sprinkling of glass. People had been leaving through the main door and the fa¢ade, where the door was, came down. People in the rooms were injured as it collapsed into the main well of the hotel.
A member of staff came into the bar area with a torch and said, ''Everybody follow me.'' We could not get out through the front door. When any of us stay in hotels, we are not familiar with them. The first thing we think when we walk in somewhere is not, ''How do I get out of here if I can't get out through the normal entrance or exit?'' That is the last thing that we think of. Thanks to the training that had taken place in the hotel, we were trekked out of it safely. That is the sort of thing that we must be looking for. Training is vital.
Training involves a huge cost. It means that we are taking people away from the job that they normally do and training them up in responsibilities secondary to what they otherwise would be doing. The training may last half a day, one day or may be extensive in some areas; people may be away for a week. The police, for example, receive training for certain drivers so that if someone wanted to attack a member of the royal family, they would know how to drive in those circumstances. That is a special skill. Police officers receive training to guard against any terrorist attack on a member of the royal family and, I suspect, some Ministers as well. That training is special and it takes a long time for people to be up to speed with it. They have to retrain regularly to ensure that they retain those skills.
In local authorities, a number of key workers will be trained to ensure that they have the right skills to do what they need to do and to follow all the guidelines that we are putting in the Bill and fresh guidelines that may come out afterwards. What estimate has the Minister made of the extra cost that will be put on local authorities and other relevant bodies who will have to train? We know that it will cost a lot. Later, I will mention the representations from the Local Government Association, which the Minister has used for his defence to date.
Exercises are also hugely expensive. Workers are taken away from their normal jobs and undertake role-playing of certain circumstances. London used to be a centre of terrorism; for example, there was the explosion in the City of London several years ago, and the centre of Manchester was also targeted by an IRA bomb. We have had more than our fair share of terrorist activity and preparations and exercises would
have taken place. However, the threat that we now face from international terrorism is more real, ready and violent than ever before. We must always be prepared for the threat of terrorism. How much does the Minister estimate
''the provision for the training of staff'',
as outlined in paragraph (m), and the exercises covered in paragraph (l) will cost?
The Local Government Association has briefed us on its concerns, and its major concern is about the costs. It wants a full review of the funding, otherwise it warns that
''local authorities may well be unable to carry out the essential role in the protection of the public''.
We cannot ignore that. If the LGA wants a full review of funding, we cannot simply say, ''Well, we gave a 35 per cent. increase last year''; that was an increase on a low sum of money.
The LGA has provided figures for the funding of emergency planning. In 1991, the Government grant was £24.5 million, which strangely enough is more than the current figure. The figure dropped to £14 million for the period between 1997 and 2000.
The hon. Gentleman just missed the other figure in the brief, which tells us that between 1991 and 1997 the figure was cut from £24.5 million to £14 million. It is important to understand the time scale in which big cuts were made.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The decrease has happened over a period of time, whereby the impression was almost that emergency planning was not a priority for the Government. The figure was slowly whittled down to £14 million in 1997, before the increase of 35 per cent. to £19 million for the period from 2001 to 2002. The Government grant in 2003 was just over £19 million, but local authorities have to raise an additional £17 million. The total amount spent on funding of emergency planning is £36 million, and the LGA points out that,
''unlike the emergency services (police, fire etc), local authorities have received no extra funding to undertake additional anti-terrorism work expected of them by the Government as a result of 9/11.''
Post–11 September, everyone else has opened their eyes to what may happen, but local authorities have not received a single extra penny. That must be addressed. The Minister cannot ask a host of other things of bodies and get away with the fact that there is no extra funding. The local authorities may embrace him more if he could be more open about his discussions with the Treasury. He may then give us some insight into those discussions and tell us how much money will be made available.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy talked about ring fencing. The Local Government Association may not be too happy with ring fencing because it, too, wants flexibility. Local authorities and others may be spending a specific sum on, say, anti-terrorism emergency contingency planning; an area
that clearly could be downgraded in times of pressing need if they wanted to spend the money elsewhere. I am minded to suggest that the money be ring-fenced and that we look to ensure that everyone is at least confident that a certain amount of money in the pot is being used solely for the preparations for contingency planning.
I hope that the Minister will shed more light on where the funding will come from and what the estimated costs are, so that we know the sort of sums we are talking about. The amount must be well in excess of the £36 million that is currently being spent. If it is four or five times that amount, so be it. At least let us know, so that we can work out where the money will come from.
What my honourable neighbour is saying is not where we are now. We may be the Government in a few months' time. In that event, the hon. Gentleman will know exactly where the money will come from because we will let him know. However, we are not in that boat now. Surprisingly, his party's Government are; it is their Bill. We want to know that they have made preparations. We know that the black hole that the Chancellor of the Exchequer must now face is massive and the Bill may well add to it. Perhaps the Minister will let us know when he responds. I assume at least that the preparations and the estimates have been made so that we can know what they are.
Requirements are also placed on other bodies in an emergency and a terrorist attack. Yet again, British Telecom has told us that certain requirements will be made of them, and I assume that the same will be required of water, electricity and gas boards. They may be asked to do things that are outside their responsibility. Whoever is responsible for directing them says that they want to ensure that this or that exchange is switched back on or that certain actions are required to ensure integrity of the communications system. They want to know who will pay. We were sent a briefing that says that the time is right to codify exactly what will happen. Everyone wants to know who will do what in an emergency, but that should also apply to funding. That demands clarity about who pays for what for all parties involved. The funding of all activities associated with an emergency need to be addressed. BT believes that the Bill should include a statutory duty on the Government to fund the costs of category 2 responders for costs incurred.
Other responders in category 2 want to know where the funding will come from and what will be their position if they are engaged in activities outside their normal business operations. Who will fund such
activities? I have asked the Minister enough questions so I shall give him time to respond.
I should like to cover three areas in a short space of time. First, the question of funding is relevant to the new, comprehensive duty on local government; clause 2 is, in a sense, the meat of part 1 as it places a duty on local government. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley mentioned the figures, and it is clear that between 1991 and 2001, central Government did exactly what we fear that local government will be tempted to do; they de-prioritised civil contingencies. Developments in eastern Europe and the perceived end of the cold war at the end of the 1990s cut the funding from £24.5 million to £14 million over that 10-year period. In 2001—before 11 September—a judicial challenge by the local authorities created the impetus for an increase to £19 million. Since then, local government has contributed from general funds to support the planning work.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland pointed out, we are not in favour of ring-fencing per se; we support local government's view that it is full of big, professional people who are able to manage their budgets. We must ensure that the overall budget for local government is sensible and fair and reflects its needs, but it should then be up to local authorities to decide how to spend the money. Funding is clearly a difficult area and, as I have argued, we must seek commitments from the Government that there will be adequate support for local government to do what it needs to do.
The second area of local government concern raised by the LGA concerns the definitions in clause 2. In particular, if a judgment is to be made about whether local government has fulfilled its obligations under clause 2, the phrase ''likely to occur'', which occurs in several places, causes the LGA some concern. Its worry is that it may be liable for not having planned for something that is ''likely to occur'' where it was not reasonable to think that it could occur. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley mentioned all kinds of incidents that he said are extremely improbable—such as large-scale earthquakes and 11 September-type incidents—which had not occurred before. The test for local government is the extent to which it must plan for incidents at the improbable end of the spectrum. I hope that the Minister will respond to the concerns that have arisen from the phrase ''likely to occur''.
Finally, I should like to refer to the draft regulations that are relevant to clause 2, and which the Minister has made available. Three, in particular, caught my eye. First, draft regulation 9 refers to guidance and risk assessments issued by the Minister. I assume that there will be periodic states of alert when the Government will be notified of a terrorist threat, for example, and will issue guidance to local government, asking whether such a threat has been factored into its plans and insisting that it make changes if it has not been. Can the Minister flesh out how that central Government guidance and risk assessment will work?
Secondly, draft regulation 13 concerns compulsory plans under section 2(1)(c) and (d). It says:
''Each category 1 responder must maintain a plan under section 2(1)(c) and (d) in relation to''—
and then there is a blank space. It is always helpful to have the draft regulations at this stage, but the only important part of the regulations—the matter in relation to which local government needs to have a compulsory plan—is blank. Will the Minister fill in that blank so that we make a judgment about it?
Finally, I congratulate the Government on draft regulation 17, which concerns not alarming the public unnecessarily. I take a slightly divergent view from the hon. Member for Ribble Valley. I remember that ''Protect and Survive'' was a horrible book; it haunted my childhood. It told us that whenever we went into a room we should look for the table under which we should go, and that we should pile heavy material around it and get into the brace position and kiss our backsides goodbye. I remember being aware of sirens, and so forth. ''Protect and Survive'' sticks in my mind as something horrible that I did not want to be issued to my household.
I take on board the hon. Gentleman's point that we do not want to frighten people unnecessarily, whatever ''unnecessarily'' means. However, is it not right to give them the right guidance about items they should have in case of an emergency? Is that not a common-sense thing to do?
I agree; there should be rational planning and sensible preparation. However, sometimes things become producer-driven. There are people who have an interest and a stake in creating a climate of greater fear to justify their own positions, such as the people who produce such books.
The millennium bug is a classic example. It almost became in the interests of the people who were going to solve the problem to talk it up. That is what I am worried about. It is helpful to have a measure that says, ''Let's have rational planning, but let's not go over the top.'' Sometimes, there is a tendency to think that we can dot every i and cross every t when we should be thinking about sensible planning.
The impact on children, in particular, was raised on Second Reading. My childhood suffered as a result of unnecessary scare stories. I have been trying to remember the title of the wonderful Raymond Briggs book about the elderly couple. Such stories stick in people's consciousness and fear can be very debilitating. It is important that people should be able to live their lives while making rational preparations and should not be subject to irrational fear; that matter must be respected. I hope that the Minister will say that these measures are aimed at getting that balance right, and that anyone who steps out of line and generates an industry of warnings and fears will be brought back into line.
Clause 2 is a significant measure. I hope that it will be properly resourced and that the regulations will be fleshed out a little more so that we can take a proper view about them.
I, too, shall make a brief contribution to what has been an unexpectedly interesting debate. We have just been given a telling insight into the childhood traumas of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam, which was a revelation.
The other revelation was the Damascene conversion by the Conservatives about the need to resource emergency planning. That will be particularly welcome in my constituency. For many years, we told successive Conservative Ministers with responsibility for shipping that we needed all-year-round emergency tug cover in the northern isles. We were told that we were silly and we did not know anything. Unfortunately, it required the tanker Braer to run aground in Shetland and Lord Donaldson's inquiry and report ''Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas'' before we got part-time cover from the Conservatives. We eventually got all-year-round cover, for which I give credit to this Government. That is important emergency planning; there is a tangible benefit and the sort of meaningful resourcing that we need.
It is worth saying that when one is dealing with emergency planning, one can never cover every eventuality. What is required is a mature and sensible assessment of the quantum of risk. I hope that that will not be resource-limited or resource-affected. It is not possible to cover every eventuality, but the risk must be assessed as well as the cost of addressing it.
I wish to explore with the Minister the provisions in schedule 1. All the bases have been covered in respect of schedule 1 and parts 1 and 2, but I should like confirmation of that. I am mildly puzzled that part 1 has been labelled ''Category 1 Responders: General'' and part 2 is entitled ''Category 1 Responders: Scotland''. With the exception of paragraph 12, listed under ''Miscellaneous''—
''The Secretary of State, in so far as his functions relate to maritime and coastal matters''—
all the provisions that are listed under part 1 relate to England, Wales and Northern Ireland exclusively. None of them has any impact on Scotland.
It would have been more appropriate to label that part as ''Category 1—responders: England, Wales and Northern Ireland'' and add a new paragraph 19 under ''Miscellaneous'' in part 2, saying: ''The Secretary of State, in so far as his functions relate to maritime and coastal matters''. It would be possible to construe part 2 in such a way that the Secretary of State's functions in relation to maritime and coastal matters were not to be considered under category 1 responders for Scotland. Given that trouble has been taken expressly to list those matters that apply to Scotland, the Secretary of State's functions ought to have been included, too. The only saving grace of the schedule's drafting is that it is headed with the word ''General'', rather than ''England, Wales and Northern Ireland ''.
There appears to be no definition of a local authority in Northern Ireland in the list of local authorities in paragraph 1 of part 1 of the schedule. Is that because the Minister is, in principle, excluding
local authorities in Northern Ireland from an emergency planning role? Although there might be many practical reasons why the same roles would not be given to authorities in Northern Ireland, I cannot, in principle, see any reason why they should be excluded. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain that.
It occurs to me that a Sewel motion on this matter might have been passed by the Scottish Parliament. I do not know whether the Minister knows if that is so. I hope that such a motion was passed, because that might explain the somewhat inelegant bolt-on approach that the Government have taken of including Scotland in this section. In particular, subsection (5) says that it should be read as it applies to Scotland with the necessary changes made. It would not have taken a great deal of effort to include that in long form. It would be much easier for anyone reading the Bill in the first instance. That takes me back to a point that I explored with the Minister during the passage of the Enterprise Bill. There is a danger that when Scotland is being dealt with by Whitehall Departments it has a tendency to fall off the radar screen.
We have had a wide-ranging debate. With the indulgence of the Committee I should like to set out a brief context and endeavour to answer the points made by Committee members.
Clause 2 establishes a clear framework of duties to perform activities that are, by common consent, crucial to effective civil protection. It will deliver clarity of responsibilities and expectations, as well as consistency and confidence in the fit of multi-agency planning and response arrangements. It will ensure, for example, that significant risks are identified and resources are focused in the right area; that local responders plan and prepare for significant risks; and that the public are made aware of risks where appropriate. It creates a clear trigger for the scale of events to which local responders must react and prepare for, and qualifies the duties to ensure that they are reasonable. The regulation-making power that it contains will enable the Government to strike the right balance between giving stakeholders the clarity about which we have heard during our discussions and maintaining the flexibility to amend the framework of civil protection as it evolves.
I should like to deal with two points raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. First, the Sewel motion is a matter that my Department and I have discussed with the Scottish Executive. I understand that the present position is that it is intended that there should be a Sewel motion; therefore, that is the intention in the draft before the Committee, although it has not passed through Holyrood.
In the light of the observations that the hon. Gentlemen made in relation to the inelegance of the schedules, I will certainly consider this matter. I am sure that he knows of my history as someone who is determined to ensure Scotland's place within the Union, and so if there is a better way of presenting the material in terms of schedules I will certainly give it consideration. It came to me in the course of his
observations that clearly both the Health and Safety Executive and the British Transport police also exercise functions within Scotland, and if there is a manner in which we can express the situation more elegantly to capture that reality, we will give consideration to it.
I hope that I can deal reasonably straightforwardly with the other points made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam. First, regarding compulsory plans, that is something that we are considering, but any requirement to prepare a specific plan would have to be properly considered and resourced. That is why, when we have our regulatory consultations, I would welcome the views of the hon. Gentleman and indeed other members of the Committee on this matter.
We work collaboratively within the Government. We have a Cabinet system, rather than a system as in the United States where there is a single Department that considers all of these matters. If it would be helpful, I will write to the hon. Gentleman. As I said this morning, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman was present, my understanding on the basis of discussions with officials would be that we intend to consult on this matter on Royal Assent. By way of context, these regulations, which have already been developed and which were published on 7 July, have already been the subject of widespread consultation. We have an emergency planner, who—uniquely, I think—has been working directly with the Bill team on this matter. We will continue with this collaborative approach in framing these regulations in the light of the observations of members of the Committee and those of Members of the other place, and then we will consider the observations of members of the public following publication of the regulations.
Mr. Horam rose—
I have been generous in giving way, and I am keen to make further progress
Regarding the legal liability on responders, which was also raised by the member for Sheffield Hallam, all of the category 1 duties under the Bill are potentially susceptible to judicial review proceedings in respect of the way that they carry out their duties under the Bill. It is impossible to speculate in advance as to whether a responder would incur legal liability for its actions in the circumstances of a particular emergency, but the broad guiding principle which would be applied by the court is clear: a responder must act reasonably, and if it fails to do so it can be held to account by judicial review or, depending on the circumstances, by another form of legal action. ''Acting reasonably'' would be assessed with reference to what the responder knew at the time. It is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which a responder acting reasonably and in good faith could therefore be legally liable.
sector organisations. We have heard discussion about both utilities and telephone companies. It was curious that this morning the hon. Gentleman seemed to be saying that BT was simply getting on with the standard job of a utility company in making sure that electronic networks work effectively, but this afternoon he was somehow asserting that a range of duties were being imposed on BT which lay outwith the normal technical competence of a telephone company in getting its systems and electronic networks back into organisation.
I was concerned with activities that utility companies are not normally involved with from day to day—if there were something exceptional, for example, an act of terrorism, where they were instructed to do certain things that they would not normally be doing.
I am sure that we can find common ground in Committee in recognising that the utilities already carry out a wide range of civil protection work as part of their standard work. The additional duties for utility companies described in the Bill are minimal. I would pray in aid the case study identified in the regulatory impact assessment concerning the position of the united utilities. I understand that the figure in question there was about £2,000. It is important to have a sense of proportion in recognising both the mainstream responsibilities and other potential burdens or other duties under which utilities would find themselves operating.
The key element underpinning the whole of this clause stand part debate, however, is the question of funding for local authorities. The first thing to place on record is the fact that Government funding is not the only source of investment in local authority emergency planning. Local authorities have for many years made additional funding available to support the function of such planning, which boosts the resources for local civil protection in each community throughout the country, and we know that local authorities have concerns about the level of funding. Consistent with the collaborative and discursive approach we have taken, we have been in discussion with representatives of the London Government Association. Indeed I have met LGA representative to discuss a range of matters related to the Bill. We are working closely with the LGA to resolve this issue and establish what burdens if any the Bill might add.
Any additional pressures will be considered as part of the established public expenditure processes, which will be addressed in due course. Local authorities have received a substantial injection of new funding for emergency planning since 2001—an increase of 35 per cent. Significant new investment has also been made since 11 September 2001, particularly into front-line local civil protection activities such as those of the fire service or of the police. Local authorities have been able to build agreement with the authorities into their plans and improve their capacity to respond in those circumstances.
On the point about the LGA survey and estimated spending of £36 million, the civil defence grant is a contribution to the cost of civil protection at a local level. Local authorities have always supplemented the
level of grant, which again I clarify is provided for emergency planning rather than being in any way broader than that. We are working closely with the LGA to resolve the issue and it will ultimately reach its conclusion in the 2004 spending review process.
I must emphasise that the essence of the Bill is a framework of civil protection. Funding is a separate matter to be considered as part of the spending review process. In that regard, the Bill is largely organisational.
I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on the specific point of Northern Ireland because I am keen to move on and, in the limited time remaining, to cover the question of warning and informing the public.
The Bill will effectively reinforce arrangements at a local level to provide information about risks and planning preparation. The Government are committed to giving the public as much information as they can about threats and risks. Our guiding principle is that whatever, whenever and wherever information is available that will help to protect the public, we will give detailed advice in advance about how to handle every threat. We heard about several threats in the course of our discussion that could be misleading and unhelpful and could lead to confusion in an incident where members of the public, shorn of the local responsibility that I will describe in a minute, could misinterpret the circumstances that they were encountering.
It was suggested that a better system operates in Australia. Certainly, the Government are considering—and keep under review—the need to communicate directly with the public about what is an appropriate and sensible way forward in sharing information with them. Before any incident, it is appropriate and right to assure the public that measures are in place for their protection, but it is not always appropriate to specify in each and every circumstance the precise nature of those measures that are being taken.
We have heard compliments paid to the UK Resilience website, operated by the Government. Far from being overly secretive, such sites are designed to address the public's information demands. The Government, however, keep under review how we communicate with the public and how they should respond in the event of a major incident. We take that responsibility seriously. We have a long track record of having been able to work effectively with local responders—not least, the experience of Irish terrorism for more than 30 years has meant that the British public are well used to taking direction in circumstances of an incident, particularly from the emergency services. The public have a great deal of common sense that has been brought to bear in particular circumstances such as those we have experienced over the past 30 years.
Part 1 of the Bill is about making information available during the response phase. Local responders need to be able to issue warnings to make sure that the public stay out of harm's way or seek appropriate help. The Bill refers to arrangements and it is our intention to use the regulations to ensure that local responders work together to develop common warning arrangements based on jointly owned resources or protocols for who will take the lead in certain circumstances. That is more appropriately dealt with in the regulations.
By and large, those organisations with responsibility for warning the public, will retain those obligations under the Bill. The question of the range of exercises that have been run past government was raised, and the suggestion was made that no preparatory work was being undertaken, or at least questions were raised as to whether emergency exercises were being undertaken. I hope that I can offer the Committee some assurance on that point. It is simply not the case to suggest that exercises have not been undertaken. Indeed, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley recognised Operation Osiris on the London tube, which I attended last September.
The Government and emergency services train regularly and practise their responses to all kinds of major incidents, including natural disasters and accidents. In addition, the Home Office runs a programme of major exercises that specifically deal with terrorist scenarios. The proportion of live to simulated elements in each exercise varies according to the exercise scenario. The type of exercises that have taken place include table-top exercises, command-post exercises and full-scale live exercises. Depending on the various scenarios that have been undertaken in this work, they can involve any or all of the following: Government Departments, the emergency services, the military, local authorities, scientists and technical experts, utility companies and the security services.
In July 2000, Exercise Trump Card simulated a release of chemicals in London without any warning, which would have led to casualties and deaths among members of the public and the emergency services. Throughout the exercise, other dangerous devices were located and disrupted around the city, including on the underground. This was one of at least three full-scale live terrorist attacks and approximately 12 to 15 table-top exercises that take place each year. Other recent live exercises have included a hijacked aircraft, terrorist occupation of an offshore oil well and ships, the release or threatened release of chemical and biological agents, and nuclear devices. Of course, all exercises are fully evaluated and participants given detailed feedback, as was the case with Operation Osiris. I believe I have covered the funding points raised.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.