Clause 4 - Advice and assistance to business

Part of Civil Contingencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 29th January 2004.

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Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark 2:30 pm, 29th January 2004

I would not seek to divide the Committee on this clause, but I will make one or two points to the Minister. The clause makes provisions for advice and assistance to business in an emergency such as those that we have discussed, whether caused by terrorism or a natural event. I ask

the Minister to clarify two points for me.

My first point concerns the Financial Services Authority. Depending on the circumstances, I should have thought that the FSA might already be empowered to take such actions as are specified in the clause. If there are good arguments that the existing FSA powers are inadequate, the FSA should be empowered to take such decisions and actions. That is why it was set up by Parliament. Does it make sense for the FSA to be ridden roughshod over from that point of view? Would it not be better qualified or experienced to deal with the particular problems occurring in that sort of emergency than any other authority or Minister?

My second point concerns the indication that we have been given by Project Unicorn. I will enlighten people about that, if I may. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) will be fascinated to hear the background to it, if he does not know it already. There is no doubt that London business, in general, feels that it is not adequately prepared to deal with an emergency–an emergency caused by terrorism rather than a natural emergency. The criticisms that the Project Unicorn paper made of the Government go long and far. My concern is that the Metropolitan police feel sufficiently undermined and unsupported by Government assistance that they have, off their own bat and off their own budget, commissioned a report, which brings out several serious criticisms of the Government in their support for business, particularly in the London area. May I go over those, just to make sure that the Minster is quite clear?

The report identified five significant themes, which have emerged from the work of Project Unicorn. First, is a lack of a co-ordinated and structured Government counter-terrorist communications policy; second, the absence of an identifiable and publicised centre for counter-terrorism in London; third, the potential of the private security industry, as part of a wider police family; fourth, the need for a better understanding of the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threat; and, last, the application of corporate governance to counter-terrorism.

I could go on, but I will not, as we need to crack on. These are serious criticisms that are being made, not in a party political style, but simply because business, particularly in the Greater London area, feels desperately vulnerable. Despite the work of London Resilience, to which I pay tribute–in the spirit of non-party political points, I do believe that a lot of useful work has gone on inside the London area–this report makes the point that unless a number of fairly simple and pragmatic measures are taken, business will continue to feel extraordinarily vulnerable. There are a number of other points, but, essentially, business in the London area feels that Government must come to its assistance. I do not see how in this clause of the Bill any further assistance is really offered to them. That is all I have to say–Project Unicorn and the affair of the Financial Services Authority make my point quite clearly. What is the Minister's point of view?