July 5 2004
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldhansrd/pdvn/lds04/text/40705-23.htm#40705-23_head0 Civil Contingencies Bill
Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall comment on the timing of this debate. On behalf of everyone involved I apologise to the House that we are starting at this time. That is due to us underestimating the length of time that the Children Bill would take, which was longer than many of us anticipated. This is not a timed debate, so I cannot issue anything other than advice to the House. That advice is as follows: not counting the Front Bench contributions, if the Back Bench contributions were to last about six minutes this debate would last for three hours; if the contributions were about eight minutes the debate would take three hours and 20 minutes; and if the contributions lasted about 10 minutes the debate would last about four hours. That is the arithmetic that the House should consider.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I do not believe that it is normally acceptable to start the Second Reading of a Bill at this stage in the day. However, as the Chief Whip said, at the time that we agreed to the scheduling that has led to this situation none of us
The aim of the Bill and accompanying non-legislative measures is to deliver a single framework for civil protection in the United Kingdom, providing a framework to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The current framework for civil emergency planning was not designed with the needs of the modern world in mind. Indeed, the Acts which the Bill seeks to replace date from the first half of the last century.
The basis for local civil protection work dates back to the Civil Defence Act of 1948. That Act was originally intended to organise the local elements of national civil defence efforts in readiness for a possible attack from the Soviet Union and is now one of the few remaining vestiges of the Cold War.
The emergency powers framework pre-dates even that. The Emergency Powers Act was enacted in 1920, following the lapse of emergency wartime legislation at the end of the First World War, and with the 1919 police strike still fresh in the minds of the Government and Parliament.
Yet the underlying rationale for both of those Acts remains. Planning for emergencies must be properly organised at the local level, and the range of organisations with a role in civil protection should be properly co-ordinated. Every comparable nation-state has provision for Government to take emergency powers in a crisis, to assist in managing national emergencies and ensure a speedy return to normality.
The problem with the existing Acts is that they were drafted for a different time and different circumstances, and they do not take account of the significant cultural, technological and constitutional changes which took place in the second half of the last century.
It is important, however, to consider why the Government believe the modernisation is necessary now. This Bill is not driven by short-term concerns—it is intended to be a framework that endures—but it is right that we reflect on the current context as a useful illustration of why civil contingency legislation should be kept up to date.
Noble Lords will be familiar with the range of emergencies stemming from climate change. Just as the climate is changing, so is economy and society. We have to cope with the demands of modern networked
None of these risks is a specific justification for this Bill, which is about generic capacity rather than any urgent operational need. But they do demonstrate the importance of proper frameworks for preparing for and dealing with disruptive challenges, and the need to keep them fit for purpose.
I turn now to the process by which we developed the Bill now before us. It would be wrong to characterise the Bill before the House today as a response to September 11, important though those tragic events have proved in informing our work. In fact, the start of this process was a commitment to a review of emergency planning made by the Deputy Prime Minister in November 2000, following the serious flooding of that year.
That review was strongly focused on local emergency planning arrangements, and confirmed the overwhelming demand from civil protection professionals for this new legislation. Since that point we have been working hard with the fullest range of organisations to construct the right legislation, including the Emergency Planning Society, the Local Government Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers, as well as Liberty and Justice.
This open and consultative approach has been a consistent theme. When the Government had their proposals ready, we published them first in the form of a draft Bill in June of last year. We carried out a successful public consultation, and we submitted the draft legislation to the process of pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government invited a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at the draft Bill and work with us to refine it. The committee's report was very constructive, and I am very grateful for the time and effort contributed by the members of the committee to the work. I very much hope they will be able to bring this experience to bear on our debates.
We made significant changes in response to the Joint Committee's report, accepting 38 of its 50 recommendations, including: removing political, administrative and economic stability from the definition of emergency; strengthening the triple lock, the key safeguard against the misuse of emergency powers; and removing the clause which would allow emergency regulations to enjoy the same status as primary legislation for the purposes of the Human Rights Act.
We looked at international examples, many of which were too imprecise or reflected the unique demography and geography of the country in question. We also took the views of practitioners on the appropriate definition of "emergency". And we received powerful representations arguing against elements of the draft definition from the pre-legislative scrutiny process, with civil liberties groups also voicing concern at the breadth of the definition.
The definition in the Bill has therefore been weighed carefully and its scope narrowed so far as is prudent. On the Joint Committee's advice, we removed the words "political, administrative and economic stability" from the definition. We have met the concerns of local responders, many of whom asked for the definition in Part 1 to be caveated by reference to the definition of "emergency" in the Government's Dealing with Disaster guidance—that an emergency is a situation which requires special procedures or arrangements to be put in place.
We now have a definition which we believe to be right. The Bill defines an emergency as an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare, the environment or national security. That definition follows the same form in both substantive parts of the Bill, and it is to those that I shall now turn.
The purpose of Part 1 of the Bill is to establish clear roles and responsibilities at the local level for bodies engaged in local civil protection. We start from a strong base. Within the United Kingdom, there is substantial experience of major emergencies and we have highly professional and dedicated emergency services. However, it is also important now, more than ever, to ensure that coherent strategies and systems for the harmonisation of contingency plans and procedures are in place.
The Bill identifies the range of bodies at the local level which have an interest in local civil protection. The Bill describes them as "local responders". Irrespective of the particular responsibilities of organisations and agencies which may be involved with the emergency response, they all work to common objectives at the local level, including saving and protecting life and property, maintaining critical services, safeguarding the environment and restoring normality as soon as possible.
But it is clearly important that the duties imposed should be proportionate to the role that organisations play in civil protection. That is why the Government are proposing a differential duty. Essentially, we propose to split local responders into two categories. Category one responders are the "core" organisations which are more likely to be closely involved in preparing for most incidents. They include the emergency services, local NHS bodies and the Health Protection Agency, local authorities, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Environment Agency. They can be characterised by their central role in the co-ordination of response and the delivery of its main elements.
Category one organisations are subject to more significant duties than those in category two. They include risk assessment, business continuity planning, emergency planning, including training and exercising, and putting in place arrangements for warning and informing the public in the event of an emergency in so far as that helps to prevent, reduce, control or mitigate its effects. Responders will also be obliged to co-operate with each other through local resilience forums. That will bring the existing network of multi-agency groups on to a sounder footing, delivering improved co-ordination and communication.
Category two responders are "co-operating bodies". They are less likely to be involved in the heart of planning work but will be heavily involved in incidents which affect their sector. They include utilities such as water, gas, electricity and telecommunications, transport companies and infrastructure providers, and the Health and Safety Executive.
Category two responders will take on two activities—co-operation and information-sharing—which mirror the same obligations as those on category one bodies. However, it is important to note that Part 1 relies heavily on delegated powers, and that is obviously a matter that the House will want to consider. That is consistent with existing legislation and it reflects the technical and unpredictable nature of emergency planning and response. The Government have published the regulations for Part 1 of the Bill in draft. Before the regulations and guidance are published, we shall consult publicly again on their content.
Therefore, taking Part 1 as a whole, the Bill sets out a new framework for local civil protection which builds on many years of good practice and experience. It contains duties which reflect the wishes of practitioners and it sets in place structures to ensure that standards of performance are maintained.
Part 2 of the Bill essentially updates the Emergency Powers Act 1920. In the United Kingdom, emergency powers for more than 80 years have meant urgent, specific new legislation in place temporarily to deal with the most serious emergencies. The Government hold to that approach and the Bill reflects that. It is a special legislative mechanism for abnormal situations. There is still a need for a latent capacity to make new, temporary statutory provision rapidly where this is the most effective way of enabling the resolution of an emergency.
The ability to make emergency regulations is the central element of Part 2. But it departs from the existing model by improving the process by which regulations are made and by enhancing the safeguards.
As with the 1920 Act, the Bill places the Queen at the centre of the process for making temporary special legislation, but with a simpler process which removes the need for a separate royal proclamation. This is an improvement, agreed with the Palace, which reflects the need for practicable arrangements. In discharging this responsibility, the Queen would be acting on the
Under the provisions of the Bill it will be possible for the first time to use emergency powers on a regional or devolved administration basis—a common feature internationally. This will ensure any special temporary legislation will apply only in the part of the United Kingdom affected by the emergency, leaving those elsewhere unaffected. Regional response will be supported by the new role of the regional nominated co-ordinator.
The Government recognise that these are significant powers, and that they should not operate in an unfettered way. That is why the Bill contains a much more coherent, transparent and comprehensive package of safeguards than can be found in the 1920 Act. The centrepiece of this is the "triple lock", which ensures that emergency powers will be available only if three conditions are satisfied. First, it must be the case that an emergency which threatens serious damage to human welfare, the environment or security has occurred, is occurring or is about to occur—that is to say serious and requiring immediate action. Secondly, it must be necessary to make provision urgently in order to resolve the emergency as existing powers are insufficient and it is not possible to bring forward a Bill in the usual way because of the need to act urgently. Thirdly, emergency regulations must be in due proportion to the aspect or effect of the emergency they are directed at.
The Bill also replicates and enhances the express limitations from the 1920 Act. For example, the emergency powers cannot prohibit industrial action, nor can they instigate any form of military conscription. They cannot alter any aspects of criminal procedures or create any new offence other than breach of the regulations themselves.
It is also important to be clear that Part 2 of the Bill has been drawn up to operate within the current constitutional settlement on human rights. The response to any emergency is a balance between the needs of the wider community and the rights of individuals. Given that the Bill gives the Government considerable power to take action in the interests of the wider community, it has to be tempered by proper protection for individual rights. This will doubtless be a subject which we return to in the debates to come, but it is important to emphasise a number of key points. The Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and Ministers have made statements to that effect. Emergency regulations allowed under the Bill must be compatible with the Human Rights Act, and we amended the Bill in the other place to require a statement to that effect to be made any time emergency powers are used.
If emergency regulations were made which did not comply with the ECHR, the maker of the regulations would be committing an unlawful act. The regulations and action taken under them could be challenged by the courts.
Emergency powers could not suspend the Human Rights Act, and we removed a draft clause that provided that emergency regulations be given the same protections as primary legislation in relation to the Human Rights Act following the report of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee. I realise that this will be a topic of some interest to noble Lords, but it is our view that emergency regulations cannot substantively amend the Human Rights Act.
The Bill also preserves the important principle of parliamentary approval of emergency regulations. The Bill sets out that emergency regulations, once made, must be laid before Parliament as soon as practicable. Parliament will then have seven days to approve them, with or without amendment, or they will fall.
This amounts to a much more comprehensive and coherent set of safeguards than exists under the current Act, and it better reflects important elements of the current constitutional settlement including devolution and the Human Rights Act. The Government believe that the balance we propose is the right one.
The Bill is necessary. I believe that we can all agree that a legislative framework for dealing with emergencies is a vital component of the statute book. In the light of recent events, it is clear that this modernisation is also timely.
The Government have worked towards the Bill in a considered way. We have pursued an open and consultative policy development process, and we have worked hard to carry parliamentary colleagues, practitioners, national representative bodies and a range of other organisations with us. This House will have a vital role to play in helping to refine our proposals further, bringing its considerable experience and knowledge to bear to ensure that the consensus we are building strikes the right balance between protecting us all from the effects of emergencies and not distorting the way in which we go about our lives.
We are in a position now to deliver the single legislative framework for a coherent response to the disruptive challenges of the future—that is our aim. I look forward to working with noble Lords to deliver the protections in every sense which the people of the United Kingdom deserve. I commend the Bill to the House.
Lord McNally: My Lords, as ever, we are grateful to the Minister for explaining the Bill in her usual lucid fashion. I shall not dwell on the matter too long, but I thought that the two Chief Whips revealed a naivety that I do not usually associate with them when they believed that they could pack two such matters into a day's business as they have done today. It is a little unfortunate that the Second Reading of so serious a Bill starts at this time. My sympathies go to the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe, who in the future may well remember their maiden speeches by the fact that they went home to the dawn chorus.
I shall press on. The late George Woodcock, when general secretary of the TUC, used to pose to his members the question: why are we here? When Members of the House of Lords are faced with a similar question, they need look no further than legislation such as this Bill before us. Yet again, a piece of legislation reaches this House amidst complaints from the other place that there has been insufficient time to consider the Bill. Mr Richard Shepherd, for example, said during Third Reading:
"The fact is that we have not had a proper discussion of the most important part of the Bill, which affects our civil and political liberties".—[Official Report, Commons, 24/5/04; col. 1406.]He was, of course, referring to Part 2.
Those concerns were expressed by other honourable Members. It is not for me to advise the other place on how to conduct its business, but yet again the onus is placed on this House to give a piece of legislation the kind of in-depth and detailed scrutiny of which the other place appears incapable. With the legislation before us there is the added imperative voiced by my colleague Richard Allan, MP, who said:
"Our concern is the risk of abuse of these sweeping powers by a future Government, which should concern all of us as constitutional democratic politicians".He went on to say:
"I am sure that more concerns will be raised in the House of Lords, particularly on issues to do with human rights law. There are far more expert voices than mine there. I know that many of my colleagues will want to engage with that issue and I trust that they will do an excellent job".—[Official Report, Commons, 24/5/04; cols. 1404–05.]We will do our best from these Benches to live up to that confidence. I know that other noble Lords will do so as well.
Because we intend to scrutinise with vigour does not mean that we do not appreciate the nature of the threat, or the need to bring up to date the rather elderly laws in this area to which the Minister referred. It is remarkable that we are legislating to replace both the Civil Defence Act 1948 and the even older Emergency Powers Act 1920. Both belong to a different age in terms of technology and the potential threats we face. It is also true that the laws underpinning our fundamental freedoms have stood the test of time not just for decades, but for centuries. It is very important that they are defended and preserved.
In saying so, I do not wish to imply that the Government or individual Ministers have any intention of undermining those basic human rights and civil liberties which we have, over the centuries, written into our law. Nevertheless, it is true to say that the Home Secretary, in particular, shows an impatience with the protection—as he sees it—that our laws give, and which prevents him from—how shall I put it?—"nailing" wrongdoers. So, even at the risk that some Ministers will go to some by-election and claim that we are soft on terrorism, we will do our job and stimulate debate in areas left undebated in the other place, and suggest improvements and amendments to the Bill where necessary.
Let me start by acknowledging that the Bill has been through a most welcome process of pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation. The Government, as the Minister has indicated, have made changes during that process. It also received cross-party support in the other place, albeit with qualifications and continuing concerns. There have been criticisms and concerns expressed by almost every parliamentary committee which has examined the legislation, as well as by a range of external bodies, from Liberty and the Law Society to the British Red Cross, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the Salvation Army and the St John's Ambulance.
Not all external lobbying speaks with one voice. For example, we have to balance the desire of the voluntary bodies to be involved in contingency planning with the concerns of local government about writing such consultation into statute, with its incumbent cost to local authorities. We will also wish to tease out the lines of responsibility under devolution, and the relative powers of local, regional and central government. We will have to test the concerns expressed by Dr Lewis Moonie, the chairman of the Joint Committee on this Bill, that it is a "one-size-fits-all" Bill for every possible scenario. Dr Moonie made those remarks with particular reference to what we mean by "emergency powers" and, as the Minister anticipated, I think we can see a very full debate in Committee on that matter.
There will be a very thorough probing of the whole of Part 2 of the Bill. A number of Members in another place—and in all parties—expressed concern about civil liberties and the human rights aspects of the Bill. As my honourable friend Richard Allan pointed out, this House is rich in expertise in this area, and we will certainly be putting down amendments in Committee to allow the fullest possible debate on Part 2.
I have already mentioned the need to debate how best to use the expertise of the voluntary organisations with local government. We will be probing the whole basis of funding these measures. It would not be the first time that central government have willed the ends to local government without providing the means. I know that my noble friends Lord Garden and Lady Hamwee will have more to say on this aspect, as, I suspect, will the noble Baroness, Lady Thorton.
As well as funding, we also want a clear understanding of how quality control will be implemented, so that citizens—wherever they live—can be assured of a consistently high standard of preparedness. Ministers need have no fear that this Bill, in its intentions, will lack support on these Benches. Indeed, we share with the Conservatives a mild surprise at its leisurely amble towards the statute book, given that work on updating the existing legislation started as long ago as 2000, as the Minister acknowledged.
To answer George Woodcock's question, the House of Lords is here to revise and advise. It has a particular responsibility when legislation calls into question fundamental human rights and longstanding civil liberties. Along with our legal and human rights
We also have noble Lords with a deep understanding of the capacity and commitment of our voluntary organisations. All this expertise and experience will be deployed to make this a better Bill when it leaves this place. By better I mean in giving the British people the best and most effective protection that good planning, proper resources and effective communication can provide in the face of any threat, outrage or attack.
"This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast and if you cut them down d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that blow then?"
This is why the debates in this House on Part 2 of the Bill will be so important. We have to provide a law which is not only effective in meeting a particular crisis or threat, but which is good for all seasons in safeguarding the civil liberties and human rights which make our liberal democracy worth defending.
I resent very much the time we are starting on this Bill. I resent very much the incompetence of the Government's business managers in allowing such an important Bill as this to come on at this time of night. I regard it as a gross discourtesy to those of our colleagues who are going to make their maiden speeches this evening.
For all of us who have had the privilege of being able to make maiden speeches in your Lordships' House—and those of us who have had the double privilege of making one in another place as well—these are days that we remember and shall remember for all of our lives. And to invite those of our colleagues to make maiden speeches at this time of night is the most disgraceful discourtesy.
The Chief Whip told us a few moments ago that we might speak for six, seven or eight minutes. I am not a bit interested in that. This is a Second Reading. Speeches can last as long as the speaker wishes. I do not intend to have any interest in an artificial time limit, which is totally against our rules.
The Government cannot come here talking about the "ten o'clock rule", trying to get the business over by ten o'clock, when they themselves have so blatantly cheated over us coming back in September and, in return, for us getting up in the middle of July. They have sold their integrity on this matter this year by having us getting up on 22 July and stealing a week from us. I have talked about that before. I have had my rant.
The threat of a terrorist attack here in Britain is a real one. As many people have said, it is not a case of "if", it is a case of "when". I can only quote the remarks of Elizabeth Manningham-Buller in the speech she made last year to the Royal United Services Institute. Referring to attacks, she said:
"That could include a Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear attack. Sadly, given the widespread proliferation of the technical knowledge to construct these weapons, it will only be a matter of time before a crude version of a CBRN attack is launched at a major Western city".
"has occurred, is occurring or is about to occur".To put that in modern English, it gives the Government powers when we arrive at panic stations. That is what the Bill is about—the powers that we give the Government when we get to panic stations.
I am not against these powers, although I know that some people are. I simply believe that when there is a major terrorist attack, if we are going to be sensible, civil rights and human rights will not be our primary concern when thousands, tens of thousands, and maybe hundreds of thousands of our citizens are either dying or threatened with death. I am bothered not by what is in the Bill; I am bothered by what, in my view, ought to be in the Bill. My concerns are about what should be done between now and a major terrorist attack, and what powers the Government ought to have between now and then, when the Bill clicks in, in order to deal with the situation by trying to look ahead.
Modern science makes it possible for terrorists to get their hands on the most horrific weaponry which, quite frankly, could make 9/11 look like just a skirmish. The horrors of CBRN devices are too terrible to contemplate, so many say, but, as parliamentarians and, indeed, as Government, we must contemplate them. I believe that the United Kingdom is woefully unprepared to deal with these attacks between now and that moment which we all hope will not come but which may come. As things stand, if something catastrophic occurred, I believe that the Government's unpreparedness would be shown to be wickedly negligent. I have said this in private to Ministers, but I believe that it is true, and that the Government would be rightly pilloried and never forgiven for their lack of preparedness at this time.
Let me give your Lordships an example of what I am talking about, such as a major biological attack. Take smallpox—my generation has been vaccinated many times. When I was a baby, it was a routine treatment. Since smallpox stopped being a clinical situation, however, my four, five or six smallpox vaccinations have little or no remaining potential.
Smallpox, mercifully, no longer occurs clinically, but a good many live cultures exist in the manufacture of vaccines and in stockpiles which are kept in very many countries around the world. Indeed, smallpox appears in all the civil defence manuals as a possible form of terrorist attack. The Government hold large stocks of vaccines. A year or so ago I suggested to my family that it would be a good idea if my grandchildren were vaccinated for smallpox, but it is not available—one cannot do it. I frankly cannot see why anybody, whether an adult or a child, should not be able to be vaccinated for smallpox on a voluntary basis.
The situation is much worse than that, however. I was in the United States a few weeks ago, with a NATO group on which I have the honour of representing your Lordships' House, with one of our colleagues.
I was at a science laboratory in southern California. I was expressing to an American scientist my concern about the very small number of doctors, nurses and ambulance workers in Britain who had been vaccinated for smallpox in the event of an attack of smallpox. He said to me, "Yes, you're quite right. I'm very worried about this too. In the United States, we have only 40,000 doctors, nurses, ambulance and emergency workers who have been vaccinated in preparation for an attack of this sort". I said to him, "You're very lucky". That is because when I asked a Question in our Parliament at the beginning of April about the number of doctors, nurses and other support workers who had been vaccinated to deal with an outbreak of smallpox in Britain, I was told there were 283. That outbreak could come without any warning at all. Noble Lords should not forget that there is a four to 17-day incubation period before anybody can know whether it has been addressed. That Answer stated that the vaccination of ambulance workers is likely to start shortly. That is complacency gone mad.
I am told that some people in our emergency services are reluctant to be vaccinated because of the side-effects and that is why only 283 people have been vaccinated for that kind of situation. Years ago, when I was first vaccinated, there was no particular concern about side-effects. It did not stop it being a routine procedure when I was born. Nothing less than complacency and inertia have allowed us to be so unprepared as in the example which I have given to your Lordships' House.
I am told that the Government are anxious not to scare or cause panic to the public. I do not remember that happening in 1938 and 1939, when, before the Second World War, my generation was fitted with gas masks. That was a pretty extreme measure at that time, but I do not recall any panic. The side-effects argument is totally spurious.
The Bill should be amended to include powers to require emergency workers to be vaccinated against the possibility of biological attack. I am not too concerned about the human rights implications of the Bill. That is one way in which I hope that we can amend it in the future.
I turn to a different issue. In the event of a CBRN attack, it is vital, early on, to discover exactly what it is. There must be a definitive discovery of whether a chemical attack has been made as soon as possible. It must be precisely established what it is and what its implications are. We had a classic case of that in this building just a few weeks ago. Somebody threw some blue flour on to the Prime Minister in the most disgraceful way. Equipment exists to detect almost all of those potential weapons, whether they are biological or chemical.
Recently when I visited southern California with the NATO group I went to visit the Science Applications International Corporation—SAIC—in San Diego. I saw its monitoring equipment, which is called VACIS, which seemed to us a magical piece of monitoring equipment for the contents of vehicles, including large lorries. That equipment is extremely useful, both for seeing whether there are illegal immigrants in lorries but also whether there are sealed lead or tungsten vessels in those lorries that might contain nuclear equipment, substances or material being brought illegally into the country.
SAIC is involved in an associated project called Cyclamen, which can identify radioactive material at ports and airports. I am told that in this country we have both VACIS and Cyclamen, but only tiny numbers, perhaps as much as we could count on two fingers. That is inadequate: there is a need for a great deal more urgency. The Bill should contain powers to force airport and port authorities, where they are reluctant—I am told that in some cases they are—to install such equipment.
Equipment exists to identify quickly biological or chemical material or if necessary to give the all-clear when a suspected substance is not present. That happened in the attack in the House of Commons a few weeks ago. We are lucky in this country to have a world leader in Smiths Detection, a UK company based in Watford. The military already has a great deal of its equipment. Only a token number of such detection instruments are around the country available to the civilian authorities. That is inadequate and needs to be addressed urgently.
The Commons Science and Technology Committee reported a few months ago. I want to use extracts from its report to demonstrate why I feel that we are so utterly unprepared. The committee recommended that it should become,
"a medium term aim to provide the ambulance service with a basic level of detector technology for CBRN incidents in high risk areas".Regarding the police, it said,
"In a House of Lords Written Answer Baroness Scotland of Asthal said that 3,700 officers would be trained to deal with a CBRN incident by July 2003 and this would rise to 6000 next year".That is all very well, but the report continues,
"This is a facility we would have wished to have examined. Unfortunately, the Home Office refused our request for a witness to appear, even in private".
What are the Government doing? All that endorses my view that the Government's approach to such terrorist attacks in the future is shrouded in complacency. With regard to the fire service, the report states,
"The Fire Service says it does not have the skills to work with biohazard detection equipment yet the other emergency services are relying on its expertise. If this arrangement is to remain in place then the Government must move rapidly to provide the Fire Service with effective detection and identification technology and the skills to use it".
This all demonstrates the Government's utter complacency with regard to preparations for a terrorist attack. It makes me quite exasperated when I read the Government's totally lame response to the Commons Select Committee report. They refer in paragraph 2—and if ever there was a bland statement it is this—to,
"the Government's commitment to harness the best science and technology available".All that I can say, in the face of all this, is, "You could have fooled me".
The Government's whole attitude to the Bill is a matter of complacency. The Bill was introduced in January, after which it sat for 15 weeks between Committee and Report stages in another place. It is all summed up by the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on 17 May, to my noble friend Lady Buscombe. He said:
"The Bill is not driven by urgent operational need; rather it is a timely modernisation of existing legislation".
Not driven by urgent operational need! All I say to the Government is, "Come on! Wake up! The enemy could be at the gate, but whenever he is at the gate we need to find out he is there before he strikes!".
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has already drawn attention to the role played by the voluntary agencies in relation to this Bill. We have all received a briefing paper produced jointly by the British Red Cross, the WRVS, the Salvation Army and St John Ambulance. These are, of course, highly respectable voluntary organisations, which have contributed very significantly to the welfare of this nation, in times both of war and of peace. I find myself very much in sympathy with their request that the voluntary organisations should be included in the Bill and involved at the earliest stages of planning for civil contingencies.
The voluntary sector, by its very nature, encompasses a diverse range of people and skills, which are not only useful but vital at times of emergency. It is of course correct that the emergency services, such as the police, fire and ambulance services, play a primary role in emergency planning—but the voluntary sector is a wonderful resource which should be fully utilised in planning for an emergency.
There are different facets to an emergency situation which are best dealt with by different groups. Of course, the statutory services should play the lead role in ensuring that life and property are protected and
There are of course many caring and sensitive people in the emergency services, but their priority in an emergency situation must be the physical well-being and safety of individuals. It is the voluntary sector that can take pressure off the emergency services by caring for the emotional needs of survivors and families. The UK is blessed with a voluntary sector that carries out tasks in a professional way but, at the same time, we must be careful not to underplay the so-called "soft" elements of care that are so important, such as refreshments for the emergency services, a cup of tea or coffee, a caring word or a listening ear. These are not additional extras, but provide vital respite for people undergoing incredibly stressful situations.
One must not forget, either, the spiritual role that some of the voluntary organisations play. Many people caught up in an emergency will have spiritual needs that one would not expect the statutory services to meet. There are excellent examples of good practice in this area already. For example, in the London emergency plan, the Salvation Army is the co-ordinator of clergy of all faiths. So, in an emergency, clergy report to the Salvation Army rather than attempting to relate to the controller of the emergency response. This enables co-ordination of response, it streamlines the process and ensures that people's emotional and spiritual needs are met as well as they can be in very difficult circumstances.
There are many examples of clergy talking or praying with survivors or, more harrowingly, those who are not going to survive. It is absolutely vital that robust processes are put in place to ensure a co-ordinated response from those who could help to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of those caught up in disasters. It is exactly this kind of holistic care that is so necessary in a traumatic situation and which can only really be provided by the voluntary sector.
But the voluntary sector's contribution to an emergency can be of the highest order only if it is involved in planning for that emergency. Where that happens already, such as in London and other places, the benefits are clear. But just because it already is happening in some places should not be an argument for not putting it in the Bill. If involving the voluntary sector in emergency planning is best practice, which I believe it is, then it should be a requirement that all category 1 responders consult with voluntary organisations. It would be completely unacceptable if people in one part of the country were offered inadequate emotional and spiritual support because
From the representations that I have received it seems obvious that the voluntary organisations all realise that they play a secondary role in an emergency. It is not about grandstanding or self-aggrandisement on their part. The voluntary sector is simply desperate to provide the public with the best possible service and they see that being part of the planning process is crucial to that.
Like many others, I have welcomed the Government's commitment to the voluntary sector. For example, the Chancellor has made very positive and encouraging remarks to the voluntary sector about partnership and the importance of that sector in the deliverance of statutory services. The Homelessness Act 2002 includes a duty on local authorities to include voluntary organisations in reviewing and formulating their strategies on homelessness. That is to be welcomed. But I believe that what we have in the Bill is a situation where the voluntary sector wants to be involved, but is potentially stymied by the Government. Surely the Government ought to be sending out a very clear message that the contribution of that sector is to be welcomed.
Finally, to summarise, as key providers of emotional and practical support to victims and their families, the voluntary sector is united in calling for formal explicit recognition of their contribution to emergency planning and response. This recognition needs to form part of the Civil Contingencies Bill. A duty should be placed upon statutory authorities to involve the voluntary sector fully in emergency planning and response. Without this acknowledgement, the response to the human dimension in an emergency could well be less effective. I urge the Government to give serious consideration to this modest, but significant, proposal.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, particularly since I enthusiastically endorse every word he said. I will return a little later, if I may, to the voluntary bodies and no doubt we will discuss it together in Committee.
Time is against us. I understand why this situation has arisen. If the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, will forgive me—we have travelled many a yellow brick road together—I thought that some of his comments were a little intemperate. However, I hope that those outside this House who will read this debate will appreciate why some of us appear to have overlooked so many important matters.
The concept of an emergency is not new. Ours is not the first generation to encounter a major disaster. History has endowed us with examples enough from Nineveh and Pompeii to the Black Death and the Fire of London. People have recognised that there is a scale which transforms a misfortune into a visitation. Two things are new in our generation. First, the technological capability that empowers us to impact
"Someone's got to be summonsed".
So we begin with a consensus that the Government ought to put in place arrangements to forestall disasters, or at least to minimise them. That entails delivering to government the powers which they will require for that purpose. We are prepared to cash in some of our liberties in exchange for the right to survival, though I do not draw quite the same conclusions as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and our differences, if they are not apparent already, will appear later. However, there is a trade off.
The Government are to be congratulated on publishing a draft Bill and inviting prelegislative scrutiny. I was privileged to serve on the prelegislation committee which was fortunate to be chaired by my honourable friend Dr Lewis Moonie. The Government are to be doubly congratulated first on setting up the committee and, secondly, as my noble friend Lady Scotland pointed out, on responding positively to so many of its recommendations. Can it be made clear to certain sections of the media that when the Government respond to criticism in Parliament in an appropriate case, that is not a climb down? It is the purpose of Parliament to scrutinise proposed legislation, and the mark of a rational and open-minded government when they respond. Having, I hope, won the approval of my noble friends on the Front Bench for those comments, it may encourage them to forgive me for what I may say a little later if time permits.
Part 1 of the Bill is concerned largely with imposing on appropriate bodies an obligation to plan for and deal with emergencies. Its function is to make things happen. It is the engine room of the scheme so it requires scrutiny to ensure that action is targeted and limited to where it is needed, not primarily to safeguard civil liberties. There is a trade off between protection from undue intervention and protection from disaster. The principal purpose of scrutinising Part 1 is to ensure that we do not over extend the statutory services so that resources are dissipated and are not where they are needed. C S Lewis observed in a rather different context that the strategy of the devil is to have everyone running around with fire extinguishers when there is a flood.
In response to the Joint Committee, the Government said they would encourage Part 1 providers to consult with voluntary bodies. It would be a welcome recognition of the work and the potential of those bodies, as well as a timely reminder to the providers, to include in the Bill a duty to consult.
There is much more to be said about Part 1 but, in view of the constraints on time, I must reserve it to enliven our Committee stage. Part 2 is the more controversial part of the Bill, where the trade-off between liberty and survival becomes more acute. The concept of the "triple lock" is a useful analytical tool, but it merits careful scrutiny. The expression first occurred in paragraph 19 of chapter 5 of the June 2003 consultation document, but does not appear in the Bill. The Government say, "No, we have not used those words. There is no one place in the Bill where you will find them". However, the elements are all there, and all you need to do is dig them out and nail them together". The Government have responded commendably to some of the Joint Committee's recommendations about that part of the Bill, but in the light of the discussion that the concept has generated, and the weight rested on it by the Government, it would have been simpler and safer to have included it expressly, not necessarily under that name, in one place, as the Joint Committee recommended. Perhaps, when my noble friend replies, he can offer us some good news.
I had a number of rather more burning issues to ventilate on Part 2. Those, too, I shall reserve for Committee, although no doubt my noble friends could have an informed guess as to what some of them will be. We do not want to handicap the Government in so important a task, but we need the Government to be less mealy-mouthed as to the powers that they are really seeking in Part 2. I think we can promise my noble friends an interesting Committee stage.
Baroness Richardson of Calow: My Lords, I shall be brief, partly because I want to leave adequate time for the noble Lords to make their maiden speeches, to which we are all greatly looking forward, but also because the right reverend Prelate has said most of what I wanted to say, only much more eloquently.
"assistance to the public in connection with the making of arrangements for the continuance of commercial activities".Community activity, however, is also exceedingly important, particularly when there is threat and danger and anxiety. I echo all that the right reverend Prelate said about the involvement of voluntary bodies and community leaders. I would tentatively suggest that this might be added to the Bill at Clause 24(3), which states that the regional coordinator shall,
"facilitate coordination of activities".That might be a useful place to include a reference to community leaders.
I want to highlight again the role of the community leaders of faith communities. I was present last week at a meeting between the leaders of the Christian and Muslim communities, where we were working on a joint statement to be issued in case there was a terrorist attack. We have worked hard to have good relationships between religious communities. Those could easily be threatened if an attack were to take place in this country. If reference could be made, either in requirement or permission, to include those of good faith and good practice who are working so hard to be together, that would assist in the requirements of the Bill as well as in the public's recognition of the work that these faith leaders are doing.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, the next few minutes promise to be both an ordeal for me and, I fear, for your Lordships. On Friday I listened to the fine maiden speeches from my noble friends Lord Truscott and Lord Snape. Unlike my two noble friends I do not have the experience or the confidence that must come from having been a Member of the European Parliament or a Member of the other place. For that reason I have been particularly appreciative of the help and kindness shown to me by the staff of your Lordships' House at all levels. Help, kindness and courtesy were shown, despite what must be the considerable extra pressures arising from the sudden influx of, I believe, over 40 new Members of your Lordships' House after three years of relative drought in that regard.
I recognise that I stand here as a complete unknown to the vast majority. That was a point brought home to me by an article that appeared in the Guardian five days before the initial announcement on 1 May. It claimed, in respect of the new Labour Peers, that the Prime Minister had been anxious to avoid appointing those who would be labelled "cronies", "rebels" or "luvvies", before asserting that I would be appointed as "a lower profile union official".
Leaving aside the fact that, for some of us, being described as "lower profile" might actually mark a step up the profile ladder, I was advised by one of my friends—or, at least, I thought that he was one of my
However, I admit that it is with some surprise, but with the utmost pleasure, pride and sense of privilege, despite my nerves, that I find myself where I am, doing what I am, at this precise moment. I believe that I may not be the first Member of your Lordships' House to be expressing that feeling of surprise, as I am sure some of your Lordships will know.
A previous Duke of Devonshire—I am not sure which one—is alleged to have said that one night he was dreaming that he was addressing your Lordships' House. "Then," he continued, "I woke up and, by golly, I was". Any feeling of self-importance that I might have had after the announcement on 1 May was somewhat deflated by an article in a national newspaper three days later, which started:
"The usual crop of tame union bosses was among those rewarded with membership of London's best club at the weekend".The article then referred to three of my noble friends, or shortly to be noble friends, with a trade union background without further adverse comment, before announcing that mine was,
"the most surprising name",as I was,
"a lifer at the TSSA, the low-key white collar transport union".
I have to say that the nearest that I have come to being a lifer was one night spent in Winson Green prison in Birmingham. I am aware that I am not unique in being a Member of your Lordships' House who has spent a night in prison, but in my defence I can only say that I was there in my capacity as a member of a national board covering the prison and probation services. Fortunately, the understanding of the prison officers about when I should be let out tallied with mine.
"he makes Jeeves look like a slacker".If that is why I was appointed, I may be the first Member of your Lordships' House to be here under false pretences, but fortunately I believe that it is now too late for anything to be done about it.
My background is a transport and trade union one, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunities in my life given to me by the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association in particular, and the trade union movement and transport industry in general.
I am here, though, as a Member of your Lordships' House who has accepted the Labour Whip. Like, I assume, all other Members of your Lordships' House, I do not regard myself as being here as a representative of, or mouthpiece for, any outside organisation. However, my personal views, my particular interests
The transport industry, in which I have been involved for over 40 years, is one which functions very much in the public eye, where a service not run or provided when scheduled or needed cannot be made up by increasing the number of services at another time. A former chairman of British Rail once said, "For us, every day is an open day".
The Bill we are debating tonight includes major transport organisations as category two responders. I want to make a few brief and I sincerely hope not too controversial points, as this is my maiden speech.
First, the Bill does not bury its head in the sands. By inference it recognises that emergencies will occur whether as a result of human or technical mistakes or failures, acts of God or, in today's climate, acts of terrorism or sabotage. To imagine that emergencies will become a thing of the past would be an unrealistic objective, and a dangerously unrealistic one at that. The need is to take steps to reduce to a minimum the likelihood of those emergencies, and to reduce their impact when they do occur.
Secondly, as the Bill seeks to do, there is a need to ensure that risk assessments and co-ordinated responses to minimise those risks, reducing their impact where they do occur, are thorough and involve all relevant bodies.
Thirdly, much of the debate on this Bill will relate to the potential legal implications and meaning of the powers provided in this Bill, which I do not deny are important and key issues. But if—or rather, when—an emergency occurs, it will not be a desire for a legal résumé and analysis of the content of this Bill which will be immediately uppermost in the minds of those at risk or facing risk. Rather it will be the effectiveness of the relevant authorities and organisations in acting speedily, decisively, intelligently and collectively to an agreed plan with an agreed purpose—with the left hand knowing what the right is doing, and why.
We must surely ensure that important though they are, the precision and detail of the statutory powers, requirements and safeguards finally laid down in the Bill are not such as to preclude the relevant authorities and bodies from acting decisively and quickly in the interests of those at risk at a time of crisis. It seems to me that if we cannot have some degree of trust in government, of whatever political colour, not to misuse or seek to misuse powers given under the Bill, then the prospects of all pulling together to address an emergency that might arise must be reduced.
Fourthly, there must also be effective action to ensure that not only are structures, including communications, right; but also that those involved— whether directly or indirectly—have been given the skills, resources, training and information to carry out the roles and responsibilities required of them at a time of potentially considerable pressure and stress.
Finally, we might remember in considering the Bill that planning and preparation by all concerned to minimise and reduce the impact of an emergency is not something new. After all, Noah built the ark before it started raining.
Lord Condon: My Lords, it is my privilege, on behalf of the whole House, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on his maiden speech. He brought humour, interest and relevant comment to our debate this evening. As noble Lords heard, he also comes to your Lordships' House with a very distinguished and honourable background of service and experience in the trade union movement as general-secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association; he has been a magistrate for many years; and he serves as a member of the Correctional Services Board, covering prisons and probation. What we have heard from the noble Lord this evening augers well for his and our future, and we look forward to the many contributions that he will make to your Lordships' House.
I support the Bill and, in doing so, I declare my membership of the Joint Committee on the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill. This was the first time that I had been involved in the committee process of pre-legislative scrutiny, and I was very impressed with the thoroughness of the process, the quality of the evidence that we received, and the diligence and hard work of our support staff. I was also very pleased that the Government responded so positively to so many of the 50 recommendations made by the committee.
The Bill before your Lordships' House is now in much better shape than the original. There is greater concern for human rights and, most importantly, the potentially unfettered powers for the government of the day in the draft Bill are now set in a more acceptable, if not perfect, framework of checks and balances. No doubt we shall return to that issue at later stages.
However, I still have some reservations, and I hope that the Minister will be able to assuage those concerns in his response. In view of the advisory time constraints, I shall be very selective in my comments.
First, I am disappointed that the Government did not respond positively to Recommendations 25 and 26 of the Joint Committee report in which we recommended that a statutory duty be placed on category 1 responders to consult with, and involve, the voluntary organisations. Noble Lords have heard this evening from other speakers, including the right reverend Prelate, of their support for this issue. It would not be an onerous duty on category 1 planners or, indeed, on the relevant voluntary organisation but, in my view, it would have enormous symbolic value in recognising the importance of the voluntary sector and in encouraging volunteering.
My principal concern relates to the inter-connected issues of resource implications and audit and management. Many witnesses who submitted evidence or appeared before the Joint Committee raised concerns about the resource implications that are likely to arise from the new civil contingency provisions. Similarly, they raised concerns that, without a more vigorous inspection and audit regime, they could not guarantee a step-change approach to our preparedness to deal with emergencies. The Government's current response is, with respect, in danger of being complacent and over-reliant on the status quo. The Joint Committee made nine specific recommendations about resources, audit, management and implementation.
I believe that the Bill should ensure that we make a step-change improvement in our planning and response to major emergencies. The Government's response to the Joint Committee's recommendations on resourcing, audit and management are, in my view, incomplete and unsatisfactory. They seem to encourage an unnecessarily stark choice between relying on the status quo provisions with a little tweaking or moving to an American-style Department of Homeland Security. That was never the intention of the Joint Committee, and there need not be such a stark choice.
I believe that there is scope to enhance significantly the provision of resources and the certainty of better planning and implementation, without the need to create a massive homeland security department. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that a step-change improvement in our preparedness to deal with the challenges will be achieved through the Bill. I invite him to reconsider whether the existing plans for audit and inspection are up to the task, particularly as there is so much uncertainty about the future regime of inspectorates that operate in this area.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, in addressing your Lordships' House for the first time, I would like to express my gratitude for the warm and friendly welcome I have received from Members on all sides of the House. I would also like to thank the staff at every level. They are helpful, polite and friendly. They radiate enthusiasm for their work and the institution they serve. In my 30 years in customer-facing businesses I have never seen a better standard.
I express some slight surprise at the warm and friendly welcome because my previous experience of Parliament was as a witness in front of select committees of the other place. There the atmosphere was more full, free and frank than warm and friendly. It was in my role as managing director of London Underground Limited for 10 years and its chairman for two years that I appeared in front of them. We discussed over the years a variety of issues, but they were particularly enthusiastic about helping me to build the Jubilee Line extension and particularly Westminster Station. I hope that noble Lords will agree that together in Westminster station we created a splendid back door for this magnificent Palace.
It is from my experience in London Underground and more recently as chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority that I would like to comment on the Bill. During the 1990s, London Underground faced a continuous threat from the IRA. Working with the security services, the British Transport Police and the Metropolitan Police, we created contingency plans effectively to mitigate this threat. We also planned responses to a wide range of even more frightening scenarios. In the nuclear industry contingency planning was always at the top of our concerns.
The House will no doubt want to concentrate on Part 2 of the Bill. Its efforts to balance the rights of the individual with the needs of the wider community will properly receive detailed attention. However, I would like to comment briefly on Part 1, particularly the duty to assess, plan and advise.
Dealing with an emergency is like a battle, or even a war. The powers are but the weapons. They are useless without a plan. A plan must address any scenario that may occur. It is the plan that will guide emergency leaders to bring resources to bear quickly as the catastrophe develops. Further, it is in the process of developing the plan that opportunities for prior mitigation emerge, either through hard engineering, procedures or training.
To achieve plans, one needs adequate resources, good people, wide involvement from all parties and good morale and esteem in the planning team. We are assured by the Government that the financial impacts are negligible. I hope that this means that the present resources are sufficient and will be maintained. Further, it is essential that government and local authorities devote some of their best people to the planning task.
The Bill lists and defines two categories of responders. It reads, to my untrained eye, as if category 1 responders do and category 2 responders react and inform. The modern world is more complex than that. A modern emergency may well involve catastrophic disruption to the utilities and transport. Only those industries understand their own businesses well enough to plan the appropriate response. It is essential that planning is an inclusive process, bringing together the expertise from all responders in any particular scenario.
Finally, creating contingency plans is a lonely and unsung profession. No member of the public ever knows what one does. Everybody, including the planners themselves, hope that their plans are never used. It is essential, therefore, that national and local leaders go out of their way to recognise the work of the contingency planners so as to raise their morale and esteem.
This is a good and necessary Bill. I am sure that when it has received your Lordships' attention, it will be an even better Bill. However, it will be of use as an Act only if it is backed by contingency plans of the highest possible standard. One day, the future of the nation may depend upon them.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is a very great privilege to have been asked to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, on his maiden speech. On discovering my name under his on the speakers' list, I had a brief look to find out about his history. I discovered with delight that he had been a pilot for BOAC. I am proud to say that we have one of those. I do not know whether the noble Lord compares himself favourably to any member of the ferret family, but perhaps we shall find out later.
As the noble Lord said, he had a torrid time as MD and chairman of London Underground. He has learnt, in a way that few Members of this House have learnt, how to deal with antagonistic press and Commons committees. In this place we are much nicer, as the noble Lord will doubtless find out when he sits on committees. I suspect that none of us will have the chance to be sacked by Ken Livingstone—except possibly the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, if he gets around to it.
As the noble Lord quite rightly said, he will be remembered for the Jubilee Line, which for any of us who use it is a pleasure and a glory. If it were not for the fact that we sometimes remember why it was built, it would be an unalloyed pleasure.
I enjoyed listening to the noble Lord's speech. I agreed with every word of it. I hope that that will be true of his future speeches. I very much hope that he will find the time to take a full part in the Committee and later stages of this Bill. We shall benefit enormously from his expertise.
As the Chief Whip is in his place, I hope that he will allow the Committee stage to be taken on the Floor of the House. I really believe that this Bill will not benefit from being tucked away in Grand Committee. The issues are too wide and of too much interest to too many people.
I shall want to say a great deal in Committee, but today I want to raise two points. First, if Part 1 is to work, we all need to know what to do when an emergency strikes. That applies, first, to the people who are to be involved in managing an emergency, as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said so cogently. In the way in which the Bill is structured, there is a real problem in that, as central government have written themselves out of the process. They do not appear to
In case that is not confusing enough, there will be a system of regional supremos who also will not be involved in practising and who will be identified only when an emergency occurs. "This is a kind of medical emergency so we'll pick Dr Thistledown from Manchester to deal with this one", when no one has ever dealt with him before and he has not been involved in the rehearsals that have taken place to produce an effective response.
It is absolutely crucial that the whole government machine is involved in practising, that the government response is co-ordinated, and that—whatever happens and whenever it happens—everybody in the central government, local government and other responders' machinery knows who is in charge, where they turn to for their instructions and what they are supposed to do if communications are down. Making sure that the mechanisms and structure are right, so that that happens, will be one of the crucial tasks I shall address.
What the rest of us know is important too. How many of us know what we do if there is some disaster which makes central London untenable? I do. I just learnt it by chance: you are supposed to walk to the local railway station and take a train from there, getting out of the way. We hear in the press that there is a procedure for convening Parliament elsewhere. But how are we supposed to get know of it after the disaster has struck? Nobody has told us, and every single member of this country is in the same position.
I suppose we can allow for some gentle confusion about what to do in the case of something relatively benign, such as London flooding because the Thames Barrier breaks down. But what if something serious is involved, such as the smallpox attack of my noble friend Lord Jopling? We are going to be in real trouble if such a thing happens here, because the first reaction of every other country in the world is going to be to seal us off. They will not want it. We are going to be faced not just with dealing with this infectious disease but with how to survive for a month or two with no food or fuel imports.
What does one do under those circumstances? Either one has immediate faith in a national plan, because you know it exists: it starts talking to you immediately, you know where to turn to, you know everything will be fairly treated. Or you grab a baseball bat, head off down to Tesco and make sure that you are going to be all right. That is what will happen, very quickly, if we do not all know what to do, or where to take our information from. It is crucial that we form a public-facing civil contingency system in this Bill. We do not need to know the details, but we need to know enough to form part of a co-ordinated civil response, rather than having to look after number one.
What concerns me in Part 2 of the Bill is what happens in an extreme case. Are we opening up our system to the equivalent of what happened in Germany in 1933, where it became possible for an extreme party legitimately to hijack a democracy and turn it into something totalitarian? It is not that difficult to imagine what happens. Perhaps next election we will have a hung Parliament. The Liberals will join Labour and their price will be proportional representation. In the Parliament after that, a chance for PR: you vote for who you want to make a difference. The UKIP and the BNP get significant representation in Parliament. The Conservative Party, pretty desperate for power, then allies itself with the UKIP and has a stand-off pact with the British National Party. The consequence of that, perhaps, is that we have an ex-Labour MP—a demagogue, shall we say?—who becomes a senior member of the government, perhaps Home Secretary, and that is the price for co-operation.
This scenario does not last for very long. There are too many tensions in it, and they can never really agree on what to do about Europe. Six months later, the Labour Party, sensing a real division, organises a vote of no confidence in the Commons. The UKIP and the BNP are very unsure about what they will do. They disappear into a conclave of their own, which continues to last as the debate goes on. Just as the Prime Minister rises to speak, a small tactical nuclear weapon explodes on a barge outside the Houses of Parliament. The only surviving Secretary of State is the member of the UKIP, and it rapidly becomes clear that the BNP are in with him. He creates an emergency. That is pretty easy to do under the circumstances: all you do is allege that that was done by Al'Qaeda, that it has a number of other bombs planted around the United Kingdom and that it is essential to track them down and discover them straight away.
We can run on from there and ask at what point we recover our democracy. We have created a Bill under which the first thing you do is, by order, amend the Bill, removing the safeguards in it using the powers in the Bill. You censor the press and suspend the courts. Faced with that sort of behaviour, what are the only real powers that remain in the land to do? What will the police and the Army do? Will they be able to read from the Bill the subtleties of constitutional interpretation in which the Government indulge in their response to the committee of which I was a member? Is it really right to expect a general to understand how that whole thing works, or do we need to write our protections for the preservation of our democracy much more clearly, in plain English, in the Bill, so that it is quite clear to everyone when lines have been overstepped?
We are not that far from giving a presently obscure, extremist party a chance at power. It requires only PR and a bit of clever manipulation and someone will have a chance. We must ensure that, even if such a person gets that chance, it does not last. That is a hard thing to do. Again, it relies very much on the public understanding of what the Bill can do and that what is
Lord Garden: My Lords, I welcome this long-awaited Bill. Sir David Omand, the Cabinet Office co-ordinator for these issues, spoke last week at the Royal United Services Institute. He said that, although we cannot eliminate the threat of terrorism in the immediate future, there is an achievable strategic aim for the next five years, which is to deny terrorists the ability to disrupt our way of life, our prosperity and our confidence in our societies and culture. The Bill fits well with that strategic aim.
However, I share with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, concern about complacency on the Government's part. We have moved incredibly slowly. The work started before the attacks on Washington and New York. We have had three years since then. There have been subsequent attacks. Yet we still receive reports from the Defence Select Committee in the other place calling for action. In July 2002, one called for urgent action to get on with the Bill. Another report in July 2003 regretted continued delays and called for a greater sense of urgency.
I fear that I share with the committee a sense of bewilderment at the slow progress of this enabling Bill. I am very pleased that your Lordships have decided to get on with it tonight, because imposing further delay because of problems with business timetabling seems exactly the wrong thing to be doing at the moment. Through what is perhaps a combination of good luck and hard work by our intelligence and police services, we have not suffered an attack like the one suffered by Madrid in March. I wonder whether, if we had had to cope with a similar scale of attack, we would have wished that we had made more progress with the Bill and the tasking arrangements that would come with it.
Due to the time, I shall concentrate my remarks on aspects of Part 1, because I know that there will be a great deal of subsequent debate on Part 2. During the Cold War, we invested considerable resources in all aspects of civil defence. Rightly, those were scaled down, but we now find that we have to re-create the expertise and capability to cope with short notice, high impact events. That is different from the ordinary emergencies with which we must already cope. A rapid response to such events can reduce casualties significantly. To achieve that rapid response, those tasked need effective planning, regular training and the right equipment.
In placing a duty of contingency planning on local authorities and emergency services, the Bill requires them to conduct a whole range of activities such as emergency planning, risk assessment, business continuity planning and communications with the public and businesses. If these plans are to work on the day, they will require significant training and exercises.
Local authorities already carry out some emergency simulations. For example, in 2003 Derbyshire County Council Emergency Planning Team carried out 25 exercises. Four of those were practical exercises while the rest were "table top" scenarios. The exercises included people from the health services, emergency services, local authority staff, the voluntary sector, the utilities and local media. However, to date no exercises on responses to terrorism have been carried out. The public have not been involved in the exercises other than when leaflet drops have taken place.
I worry that we are going to put these extra tasks onto the authorities without funding the necessary resources for them. Unlike the emergency services, local authorities have received no extra funding to undertake additional anti-terrorism work expected of them by the Government. Furthermore, the emergency planning service is already severely under-funded. It is not good enough for the Government to put new tasks without accompanying resources. It is not a question of the funding being done through the normal process—we are talking about what is known in military-speak as "urgent operational need". We need to make sure that they have the equipment to do the job. This is not an area where we can afford to take risks through under-funding.
I wish to raise one other aspect of our preparations which is of concern to me. In their reports on the Bill, both the Joint Committee and the Defence Committee expressed concern that the responsibilities of the Government were not covered by the Bill.
The Government answered these concerns in January 2004 in Cm 6078 by explaining that Ministers are directly accountable to Parliament. This does not seem to me to be a good enough excuse in these very special circumstances.
The 2003 Defence White Paper gives a list of the measures taken. The major innovation of the Civil Contingency Reaction Force was reported then as being at only 75 per cent of planned strength with uneven geographical distribution. I should be grateful if the Minister could provide the latest update. But perhaps more importantly, what number of CCRF personnel are expected to be available within four hours of any major emergency? These are reservists.
The Armed Forces have shown that they provide an essential capability for civil contingencies. When there is reasonable notice—such as during the fire officers strike—then large numbers can be brought in. When administrative chaos ensues, as we had with the foot and mouth problem, the Army can bring structure and order. When floods threaten, specialist military equipment saves lives. Yet all of these events have time for the normal military aid to the civil power
"We are not convinced that an essentially reactive approach to the defence of the UK homeland is satisfactory given the nature of the threat to the UK."
If we could afford the panoply of quick reaction forces and civil defence which were available to defend the United Kingdom during the Cold War, and we are under threat again, then we need to task the Ministry of Defence to assist the hard-pressed local authorities who are being tasked in the Bill. Without a clear statement of what is available from the Government, we are likely to see sub-optimal planning, exercises and procurement by those we are tasking.
I welcome the Bill, with the increased focus that it gives the Government in dealing with emergencies, following natural disasters and man-made emergencies. We have had Chernobyl in 1986, the floods in the UK in 1998 and thereafter, foot and mouth and the terrible events in New York. The Minister is correct that the natural and social context of emergencies is changing. Last year, 15,000 people died in France in exceptional heat. A Minister, we recall, resigned. That is an example of how unexpected emergencies can arise.
I declare my interests as a member of the advisory committee on natural disaster reduction, a voluntary body that provides an input at the pre-legislative stage. I am chairman of an NGO that deals with marine issues, and director of a company that provides advice to the Government on some of these issues. I am also involved in the insurance industry advisory group.
I should like to make three technical points that are not clear in the Bill at present. The definition of "emergency" in Clause 1 is broad. I welcome that, and the Minister's remarks were appropriate. It includes welfare, property, environment and the marine environment. This is reflected in the schedule covering responsible bodies. However, there are questions about which agencies are included. I refer to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, in this context. The Environment Agency is mentioned, quite rightly, but it is surprising that the Meteorological Office, which is part of the Ministry of Defence, the Food Standards Agency and several other operational agencies are not included.
Other noble Lords have commented on the way in which the Government will operate during an emergency. Japan is a world leader in natural disaster reduction and has also had experience of other kinds of emergencies, as we saw on the Tokyo underground.
The guiding role of the Cabinet Office is not explained in the Bill, nor how it will co-ordinate between departments, agencies, county councils, the police and private sector organisations. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also made this point very thoroughly. I was head of the Met Office and saw that, despite this apparent British informality, there is an effective way in which different branches of government work in emergency planning. So while I do not share all the concerns expressed by other noble Lords, I believe that there are real problems which must be overcome. The Bill, suitably strengthened, is necessary.
My second point is that Clause 2 empowers the Government to plan for and mitigate the worst effects of emergencies. I understand that the Bill includes measures to be taken before an emergency occurs, as well as during an emergency. The wording is not exactly clear, but I believe that to be the import of the Bill.
The importance of this has been emphasised by previous speakers. The question is whether the Bill should include measures to ensure that the full scientific and technological capabilities of the UK are developed and utilised. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, that the level of research and development is inadequate. It should be the responsibility of the Government to keep R&D under review. That could well be a provision in the Bill. There are excellent groups in the UK, but the research councils are not adequately involved, nor explicitly mentioned.
Collaboration between the Government and scientific bodies could greatly be improved. Scientific bodies are another part of the NGO world that must be consulted. No budget is indicated for serious expansion of R&D to provide improved systems. My impression is that there is a lack of urgency to mount a serious R&D campaign or even comprehensively to use the technologies that are currently available in government agencies and the private sector.
That brings me to my third point. The private sector has a strong role to play, as do the commercial instincts of individuals and householders. Those are complementary to the role of communities, which other noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry emphasised. In other words, the provision of guidance and information has an important part to play in preventing damage in emergencies. That is mentioned in Clauses 4 and 12 of the Bill.
It therefore seems surprising that although large private sector organisations are mentioned in the Bill, and are to be consulted, the insurance industry is not included. It has been mentioned as being important in other fora and it should have a vital role. That connects strongly with the R&D necessities as well.
The Bill provides for what was in the Civil Defence Act 1948, but also for other events which pose threats to security in the United Kingdom, such as terrorism, and events which threaten serious damage to human welfare. The duties it imposes include the duty to assess the risk of an emergency occurring and to maintain plans for the purposes of responding to an emergency.
For years, I have been a member of the British Red Cross. I took my exams when I was 18 and I have been president of the North Yorkshire branch for many years. We face modern challenges such as acts of terrorism around the world and the emergence of new health dangers, such as SARS virus, which alerted many people to what could easily become a world epidemic with horrific results. But far worse could be a terrorist smallpox outbreak, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. We must be prepared.
The British Red Cross, the WRVS, the Salvation Army and St John Ambulance have a wealth of experience in dealing with emergencies and disasters and should be included in the Bill. We should surely be grateful for voluntary bodies which fill the gaps and give their services freely. Voluntary organisations which are going to help in disasters should be involved at the planning stage and volunteers have to be organised, with structures in place. Like anyone else, volunteers have to be recruited and trained. In all kinds of emergency situations, volunteers are providing humanitarian, skilled, emotional and practical support to victims, their families and friends.
Volunteers of the British Red Cross and Salvation Army worked at the reception centre for more than three days following the explosion at the plastics factory in Glasgow in May. In February, British Red Cross volunteers were present to comfort the survivors of the cockle-pickers tragedy in Morecambe Bay. After the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, St John Ambulance volunteers gave assistance for seven days and its ambulances transported many victims to hospital. In Yorkshire, at the time of the terrible floods in 2002 the British Red Cross gave assistance.
Yet there is no formal recognition for engaging the voluntary sector in emergency planning and response. The Civil Contingencies Bill presented an ideal opportunity to formalise arrangements by including the voluntary sector in the legislation. However, the Government rejected the Joint Committee's recommendations on the Bill that a statutory duty be placed on category 1 responders to consult and involve relevant voluntary organisations in civil contingency planning and that category 1 responders be given flexibility to identify and consult with the most relevant voluntary organisations in their area.
The voluntary bodies involved are puzzled and disappointed that their contribution in that key area should remain unrecognised, particularly as the Government have included the voluntary sector in recent legislation. The Homelessness Act 2002 includes a duty on local authorities to include voluntary organisations in reviewing and formulating their homelessness strategies. During Third Reading in another place, Members of Parliament gave encouraging support to the voluntary sector's plea to involve it in the planning and delivery of services in times of emergency.
The tragic events in Spain in March illustrate the vital role that the voluntary sector could play. Within minutes of the bomb explosions of the terrible morning of 11 March, Spanish Red Cross volunteers were on the scene. Over the following 24 hours and beyond, 900 volunteers provided medical care, psychological support and handled inquiries from the public. Fifty-two ambulances, 26 transport vehicles and mobile blood collection units run by the Spanish Red Cross worked in close collaboration with the statutory services.
Volunteers supported many bereaved families as they went to identify the bodies of their loved ones. Sixty-one requests for information on missing persons were received from abroad and dealt with through the International Red Cross message and tracing service. The Spanish Red Cross was able to make such an exemplary response to the tragedy because in Spain the voluntary sector has a formal role in the civic protection framework.
The Spanish voluntary sector plays an integral part in emergency planning and is designated to be involved in rescue, medical care, information, communication and emotional support. It brought a video in English to another place a few weeks ago. The representatives wanted to show us how important their work was so that we could do the same in an emergency. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment which will be tabled in Committee to include the voluntary sector.
Lord Kimball: My Lords, the Bill gives Ministers more power to do whatever they want to do by declaring a state of emergency. They can suspend the normal workings of Government and act without parliamentary approval. I hope that during passage of
As my noble friend Lord Lucas requested, can we have an absolute assurance that the Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House so that those of us unskilled in matters of law will be able to benefit from those who have held high judicial office? We cannot allow this Bill to be used to restrict the right of people to a decent and proper protest. I am concerned that this Bill, which deals with terrorism, contains a mysterious clause about using emergency powers to prevent the destruction of plant and animal life. That is a threat to rural activities and part of a very draconian measure. I shall move that that part of the Bill cannot stand.
I have searched the whole of the Bill and, like the noble Lord, Lord Garden, I cannot find a single reference to the use of the Army or the Territorial Army. I have searched the whole Bill to find the part that should be played by the Territorial Army—a chance for it to revert to its traditional role of looking after homeland security. As it is set up at the moment, we have 10 brigade groups, each commanded by a brigadier, covering the whole of the United Kingdom. Under their command, they have up to 500 people who can be mobilised at short notice. That is something that the soldiers know, which must be shared with their employers. Each year, some will fall by the wayside and others will take their places; but it should be known in each unit who has been chosen so that they can train to succeed them when they fall by the wayside.
This is a new role, with a short-term mobilisation plan, probably only for about a week. In particular, the territorial units with their communication skills can provide a major part in assessing the range of any chemical or biological attack. That does not affect the part that the TA plays in support of the regular Army in Afghanistan and Iraq on a nine-month engagement.
The Government seem to be afraid of involving more people in the Bill, as my noble friend has just said. They seem to have a prejudice against voluntary service on a county basis. They should realise that knowledge dispels fear and brings to an untrained and inexperienced population a better designed campaign for public information.
Baroness Emerton: My Lords, I rise to speak with regard to the Government's rejection of the Joint Committee's recommendation in relation to voluntary organisations, on which many noble Lords have spoken tonight. But I should first like to congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe, on their very interesting maiden speeches.
I declare an interest in that I have served St John Ambulance for 56 years and have had first-hand experience in emergency planning at local, county and national level. I am also a board member of the Order of St John and the British Red Cross Defence Medical Welfare Service. I crave the indulgence of your Lordships' House to reflect briefly on the history of the
I know that this time of night is not the time for history, but it is very interesting that the first Geneva Convention for the protection of war victims provided that personnel of national Red Cross societies and that of other voluntary aid societies, duly recognised and authorised by their governments, have special protection of medical personnel and chaplains attached to the armed forces, conferred by Article 24. The last confirmation for England by the Government was in January 2002 for British Red Cross, St John Ambulance and St Andrew's as voluntary aid societies.
"to the sick, wounded, disabled or suffering and the promotion of such permanent organisation during times of civil emergencies or war, including the training and provision of technical reserves for the medical services of the Armed forces or any Civil Defence Organisations".The Bill before the House is timely for many reasons that have been mentioned this evening, not least the range of emergencies that can and could occur. They have increased in number and the level of danger has increased. It is therefore imperative that adequate arrangements are in place to deal with a national emergency.
At the same time, volunteering has changed in many ways due to the Charities Act and the consequential governance arrangements. There is also the recent work led by the Government on Compact and Concordat, encouraging partnership working of voluntary organisations, in which I am privileged to have taken part. The spirit of volunteering is still alive and thriving in a vast number of voluntary organisations, many working in partnership arrangements and under service contracts with statutory agencies.
However, from my long involvement with the Voluntary Aid Societies, the key is to provide support to the statutory agencies as has been the experience in the Paddington train crash, the King's Cross fire and the Soho bomb, where St John has been called upon to use its modern fleet of ambulances to provide the day-to-day cover and cover 999 emergency calls, while the statutory ambulance service provides frontline cover. In addition, St John members are called upon to set up first aid posts to render first aid to rescuers and sometimes victims sent by the statutory services for treatment. As mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, they often stay on site for a long time. In the case of Paddington, they stayed for seven days.
Likewise, during the Gulf War, St John was involved in Operation Granby alongside the Red Cross. Members of St John Ambulance are trained to a high standard of first aid care and transport. However, it cannot be expected that the volunteers are trained to the level of the professionals in chemical and biological contamination. Therefore it is important
I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the inclusion of the Voluntary Aid Societies in the civil contingency planning as a statutory requirement and that flexibility be given to identify and consult the most relevant voluntary organisations in this area.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I thank the Minister, who no doubt will rush in in a moment or two, for her very clear introduction to the Bill. She—but more particularly the Bill—should have had prime time.
It is daunting for a political hack—which is how I count myself—to attempt a winding-up speech following so much expertise. I do not suppose that the maiden and near-maiden speakers—if there can be such a thing—expected to overawe us, not just with their speeches but with the content and background, but they did.
It also seemed to me that it was likely that by this stage much that could be said on the Bill itself, as distinct from its context and implementation, would have been said. But I thought that it would be a safe bet that no speaker would have taken refuge in Shakespeare, though I was not prepared for my noble friend's quotation from Robert Bolt. It is not just as a plug for the splendid production of Hamlet at the Old Vic, though I say to those in the public galleries that it is probably a better performance than here—
Noble Lords: Oh!
"If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all".
"since no man owes of aught he
I personalise this because I want to make the point that however good the plans are, the performance and the common sense of the individual are critical. The role of planning is to reduce the risks inherent in this. When the power supply in London went down last year shortly after many public figures had said on the media that the eastern seaboard of North America is one thing but it could never happen here, it seems that, had someone thought to pick up the phone and say that it was not a terrorist attack, London Underground would not have started the evacuation or detraining, the power on the Tube would have been switched back on after a few minutes and literally everything would have been back on track without huge disruption. I dare say that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, could add many examples of that kind of event.
I suspect, too, that the drive of individuals is significant. I am happy to pass on the comment from someone much involved in London Resilience matters regarding how effective and determined a role Nick Raynsford has played in that regard.
It is arguable that next week's announcement of the spending review 2004 will be at least as significant to contingency planning as this Bill. Much reference has been made to resources but no one has yet, in this House at any rate, mentioned the position as explained to us by the Local Government Association. It estimates that if the grant of £19 million a year, which is now available to local government for these purposes, had not been reduced in the 1990s—in 1991 it was £24.5 million—and allowing for inflation increases since, the total expenditure on the emergency planning service would have reached not £19 million but £36 million, which is the actual cost of the current service. The LGA makes the point that, unlike the emergency services, local authorities have received no extra funding to undertake additional anti-terrorism work which the Government, understandably, expect.
"negligible impact on public sector manpower".
Many of the criticisms made of the Bill concern resources and their application; in other words, implementation rather than the Bill itself. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Condon, were particularly telling.
The Local Government Association's briefing to your Lordships listed seven new duties on local authorities. That must mean new financial burdens in addition to the deficit—if I can use that term as shorthand—to which I have just referred. I hope that in responding the Minister can say rather more than the response that was given by the Government to the Joint Committee in which they said:
"We are committed to maintaining the right level of spending on local civil protection".
Local authorities are used to working in partnership, as the Bill in effect requires, but their partners have traditionally included the third sector—voluntary organisations, not least because of increasing reliance on them to perform so many functions. I take the point that the Government make in their response that different voluntary organisations have different resources but I hope that we can find the right balance between ensuring their involvement not just as a piece of cosmetics but because of their very real expertise, and inappropriate reliance on them. The right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, dealt thoroughly with these points, as did others. I had already sensed a cross-party amendment coming on, and when the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, started to speak, I wondered whether we really should not be saying to the Government, "Save time by conceding the point now".
The noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, mentioned the lack of reference to "community". I was struck in reading for today that the first time I saw the term "humanitarian" was in the briefing from the four major voluntary organisations that have been referred to. One such organisation on which there is particular reliance, but to which I have not seen any reference in this context, is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. I wonder whether anything might be said about its role. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, has given me a good deal of material for thought as to who the various respondents should be.
There is another balance to be struck, and that is between openness, transparency and accountability, and causing alarm. It is not just a matter for legislation. There has been reference to "scenario testing" and the awareness of the public, if they are aware at all. My noble friend Lord Garden referred to the lack of public involvement, and I take the point that that is quite separate from awareness. It is not clear to me how the Government would respond, and I hope we can hear it tonight, to the thoughtful point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. On Part 1 and the issues of transparency and accountability therein, I am really not clear. Maybe we can flush that out, and flesh it out, in Committee. Regulations can be made that will override, for instance, the normal provisions of data protection or freedom of information.
We will certainly spend time in Committee on the extent of the powers of the Secretary of State. I understand that draft guidance is on the way, along with regulations. There seem to be a lot of assumptions as to what will be in that guidance, even to the extent of references in Government publications to the "local resilience forums", which I do not think are referred to by that name in the Bill, but have already achieved the status of an acronym.
Outside London, resilience teams will not include a political element, so there will be issues there of reconciling the powers of the coordinators with those of local government. Such issues will be before us in spades on Part 2 of the Bill. I said it was daunting to follow the experts today, but it is also daunting to have one's colleagues in the House of Commons refer to the human rights expertise in this House. They are quite correct, but thank you, Richard Allan, for putting my noble friend and me on the spot. We will scrutinise those aspects of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, wants the input of the Law Lords. Quite so, but let us not deprecate the importance of the non-lawyers' instincts and concerns.
How appropriate is it to give such discretion to the Government? Will the role of Parliament provided by the Bill be adequate? The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, almost at the start of the debate, that civil and human rights will not be our concern at times of extreme emergency. To me, the issue is not about ignoring them—it is largely the definition of "emergency", and whether the Government can use their powers at a time for something that is less than a catastrophe. I guess, without having heard all the comments I wish he had found the time to make, that I would find myself much closer to the noble and
learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, on that issue. The balance between security and accountability has to be struck here.
It is clear that the House should be grateful to members of the Joint Committee for their scrutiny of the draft Bill, and to the stakeholders, although I hate the term, who have contributed. The Minister said that the consultation was wide and that one could not expect every response to be reflected, but I note that Liberty nevertheless felt the need to send your Lordships an eight-page briefing, despite the consultation. No doubt lessons about the process that go much wider than the Bill will be learnt, but pre-legislative scrutiny should be pursued.
Perhaps I should declare an interest as a Member of the London Assembly, sackable—I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—only by the electorate, although we have little direct role in these matters. However, from time to time we are briefed on London's resilience. On the last, occasion everyone present was impressed by the speed of reaction of those who gave the briefing—when there was a 61-gun salute in honour of something or other at the Tower of London, opposite City Hall, they were the quickest to dive under the table.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Jopling in saying that it is ludicrous that we are here at this late hour, responding to the Second Reading of this crucially important Bill. Indeed, it is disgraceful. On a more positive note, I congratulate the two maiden speakers—the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe. All noble Lords look forward to hearing much more from them.
The need to revise current civil contingencies legislation cannot be disputed. The existing statutory basis is ill-equipped to deal with the requirements of a modern social emergency. That said, many issues raised by the Bill will require substantive consideration during its passage through your Lordships' House. A draft Bill was published in June 2003. The Bill was subsequently allocated no more than the "standard minimum period of consultation" for scrutiny by the Defence Select Committee. While the core principles contained in this legislation were broadly welcomed by the committee, the Government faced considerable criticism on a number of issues, including the largely enabling nature of the draft Bill and its reliance on secondary legislation for implementation.
An additional and important concern expressed by the committee was the length of time taken by the Government to bring forward new emergency powers legislation. The emergency planning review was completed in February 2002, yet the legislation was not actually brought forward until a year and four months later. I echo those concerns. The Bill has been repeatedly delayed prior to reaching your Lordships' House. On 19 January the Bill received its Second
Reading in another place, completing its passage through Standing Committee by 10 February, while Report stage was delayed until 24 May. Could the Minister explain why, during the passage of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the usual parliamentary timings were suspended to allow the expedient progress of that Bill through Parliament, yet the progress of this Bill has been impeded repeatedly?
Moreover, the period of time allocated for parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill has been entirely inadequate considering its constitutionally significant provisions. To date, the Government have failed to consider six new clauses, one new schedule and 87 amendments. Why do the Government continue to treat the Bill as such a low priority? Here we are, debating the Bill at eleven o'clock.
The Bill is divided into two substantive parts. Part 1 contains the local arrangements for civil protection and identifies the persons and bodies that will be subject to any relevant duty imposed by virtue of Schedule 1. Most notably, Clause 1 defines what is meant by "emergency" for local purposes and it is broadly defined. I shall return to that issue shortly. The bodies classified as "Category 1 Responders" are identified by Schedule 1 and include local authorities and emergency services. The Bill also includes a mechanism to impose duties on other local bodies to assist category 1 responders in the event of an emergency.
I believe that the failure to include the voluntary sector on the face of the Bill is a particularly significant omission—almost all noble Lords have made a similar point. The contribution of the Red Cross, the WRVS, the Salvation Army and the St John Ambulance in the event of an emergency cannot be overlooked or underestimated.
"a statutory duty be placed on Category 1 Responders to consult with and involve relevant voluntary organisations in civil contingency planning",
"Category 1 Responders be given flexibility to identify and consult with the most relevant [voluntary] organisations in their area".
The Government will no doubt tell us that the involvement of the voluntary sector will be dealt with in guidance notes. That simply is not good enough. We are talking of an amazingly powerful force for good; many thousands of highly skilled, experienced and dedicated men and women ready for large-scale emergencies who should, we believe, be recognised on the face of the Bill. Indeed at present there are approximately 40,000 Red Cross volunteers in the UK; 23,000 St. John Ambulance in England alone; and a further 12,000 WRVS dedicated to emergency response, with a further 95,000 who can be called upon to assist in major incidents. Without the voluntary sector the Bill has no chance of working. It is a non-starter.
identified in primary legislation, so we shall seek to amend the Bill in a similar way. I also believe the Government should heed the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry that voluntary organisations carry out services in a very professional way, but that they go further in responding to the emotional and spiritual needs of those caught up in disasters. That was a truly important point to make.
I now return to the main provisions of the Bill. Part 2 repeals the existing emergency powers legislation and confers a new power to make regulations in the case of an emergency or an impending emergency. Part 2 contains the so-called "triple-lock" mechanism to safeguard the exercise of emergency powers by the Government. But I do not believe that this measure alone will provide the necessary safeguards to balance the vaguely defined and inconsistent term "emergency".
"an event or situation which threatens serious damage to . . . human welfare in the United Kingdom or in a Part or region . . . [or to] the environment . . . or . . . security of the United Kingdom or a Part or region".
Although the Government's move to define the term "emergency" more narrowly should be welcomed, there is still reason for concern. It appears that the emergency could be activated in relatively innocuous circumstances, a point raised by my noble friend Lord Kimball. I agree with Liberty on this point: the serious damage need only be threatened for the definition of an emergency to be satisfied. Thus the decision will be a subjective rather than evidence-based one.
This policy of subjectivity is again illustrated by the terminology in Clause 7, where the provision will apply only where the Minister "thinks" there is an urgent need to make a provision, or "thinks" that there is insufficient time for the regulations or an order to be made. This criterion of subjectivity is inappropriate, and we believe that an objective threshold is necessary.
Due to the immediate nature of powers conferred by the Bill, little time will be available for parliamentary scrutiny of any regulations or orders made. The powers employed by the Queen or a Minister in an emergency are extensive and must be more clearly defined. This is noticeably illustrated by the scope of the emergency regulation provisions defined in Clause 22. As currently drafted, the Government have asked for more power from Parliament than any other government in modern history. It cannot be denied that the Government consider these powers to be necessary. However, we on these Benches are also aware that in giving the Government such draconian powers, the rights of the individual may be considerably compromised, in which case we believe it is important to amend the Bill to allow any such decisions to be judicially reviewable.
I am not sure how the Government will respond to such an amendment, given their capricious treatment of the judicial review provisions in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill. Moreover, the fourth report in this Session of the Joint
Committee on Human Rights recommended that express protection be afforded to Acts of Parliament containing substantive human rights and constitutional provisions. Clause 22(3)(j) permits the disapplication or modification of,
"an enactment . . . or a provision made under or by virtue of an enactment".
The Government have conceded that the Civil Contingencies Bill will not be subject to the disapplication provision and that it would be inappropriate for the Bill to be amended by regulations. But I question the failure of the Government to extend this prohibition to the Human Rights Act, and I urge the Minister to reconsider its application. Indeed, Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights allows a nation to derogate from particular convention obligations where a state of war or public emergency threatening the life of a nation has been declared. Therefore, I urge the Government to include the Human Rights Act in this prohibition, and we shall table amendments in Committee to address that omission.
We shall also seek to amend the provision that states that emergency regulations may not prohibit or enable the prohibition of participation in any activity in connection with a strike or industrial action. I find it extraordinary that this legislation effectively allows the government of the day significantly to compromise the rights of an individual but not those of a trade union.
Let us take last Wednesday as an example. The streets of London were in chaos as a result of strike action by the RMT. If there had been a terrorist attack and this legislation had been implemented, members of the RMT could have sat on their hands and continued with their industrial action. How can that be right? The recent events of 21 June provide a further example. The London Fire Brigades Union chose to hold industrial action on grounds of "health and safety". The resultant consequence was that only two out of 10 of the immediate response units remained active. Why, therefore, does the Bill protect the right to industrial action but not an individual's basic liberties?
Our aim throughout the Bill is to focus on not only the theoretical but also the practical effect that the Bill will have. It must be workable in practice and provide an effective framework for response in a civil emergency. To illustrate the case in point, I telephoned the Civil Contingencies Secretariat on 24 June to obtain information on emergency procedures. I called three different people, from two of whom there was no reply and the third response was a voice-mail informing me that they were out of the office. Is that really an effective response to our need for a cohesive emergency reaction strategy?
That said, initiatives such as Project Unicorn should be welcomed. The remit of Project Unicorn—a privately funded, independent research project funded by donations from the business community—was to assess the effectiveness of communication between the
police and the public sector in the event of a terrorist attack. The report, delivered in December 2003, has been well received and has, to date, been part-implemented. An example is the private security briefings that the police now regularly undertake. Although not a formal training exercise, officers are engaged to address private security firms on aspects of terrorism awareness. Recent events clearly demonstrate the need for an effective public information and training campaign. It is crucial that the public know how they should react in the event of an emergency—a point made very eloquently by my noble friends Lord Jopling and Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Garden.
Members of the House of Commons recently illustrated how dangerous having little or no knowledge can be in an emergency. Members of Parliament are in an extremely privileged position, surrounded by the machinery of government to provide information when needed. Yet they were still unsure how best to react when the powder was thrown from the Gallery. Indeed, I think that they all got it wrong. Moreover, they reacted in a way that was detrimental to both their own safety and that of everyone in both Houses of Parliament. That really is unacceptable and proof that no one seems to know how to react.
An additional area of ambiguity is the role of the Civil Contingencies Reaction Force. At present, approximately 30 per cent of the total force is stationed elsewhere in the world. Surely the force's function is to protect Birmingham and Blackpool and not Basra and Baghdad. I also hope that the Government will respond to the concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Kimball with regard to the part that the Territorial Army should play in response to a disaster.
I turn to the local government provisions. It is clear that with this Bill the Government are imposing statutory obligations, particularly on local authorities and emergency services, while being unwilling to see any imposed on themselves. The Government stance on this omission is that
"No reference to the role of central government is needed within the Bill for the government to engage in the full range of civil protection duties".
It is however noteworthy that the revised communication and liaison methods introduced following the fuel crisis have never been tested by exercises and only very recently has Defra engaged with local government in discussion of revised arrangements for handling a recurrence of foot and mouth. Yet on closer examination of the Bill, it appears that the Government are guilty of contradicting their own stated position. Paragraph 12 in Part 1 of Schedule 1 gives category 1 duties to
"The Secretary of State, in so far as his functions include responding to maritime and coastal emergencies".
"in so far as his functions relate to matters for which he is responsible by virtue of section 1 of the Highways Act 1980".
If the Secretary of State, and by inference his department, can have duties imposed in these specific areas, then why not in general?
To compound this weakness, there are a number of striking omissions from the Bill. These include broadcasters and bus and coach companies—a vital component of most evacuation plans. Neither the food distribution and sales industry nor the petrol and diesel distribution industry are included. The national chemical and radiological hazard identification and response schemes are missing.
In addition, in any specific locality there are likely to be particular organisations whose co-operation may be vital to comprehensive planning, such as the operators of major shopping, leisure and sporting complexes—again, these are missing. I cannot help but feel that it would have been better to have built upon the existing community safety legislation, which enables the local authority to require the co-operation of any organisation which it considers has a role to play. The Government's objection to such a solution is that it seeks uniformity. However, this does not stand up in the face of the flexibility that they appear to be extending in respect of other aspects of the Bill and their insistence, for example, that risk assessments are performed locally to suit local conditions.
Even with this Bill it is still not clear that the Government's response to a disaster would not be as confused and unco-ordinated as it was during the flooding and fuel crisis of 2000 and the foot and mouth crisis of 2001. Any Government contribution to the response to an emergency must be well co-ordinated with clear leadership and well tested plans.
Although the Bill would go some way to clarify what responders are required to do, the UK's resilience will still be highly dependent on the co-operation, determination and flexibility of all agencies to work together, using the resources they have for their day-to-day tasks. These agencies are already working at full capacity, and barely have enough resources to do these tasks. Indeed, unlike the Civil Defence Act 1948, neither the Bill nor the draft regulations make any explicit commitment to the funding of these new functions within local authorities.
Funding is a key issue, a point raised by almost all noble Lords. Without adequate funding the intent and duties of the Bill will become meaningless. A survey conducted by the Local Government Association of its members in 2003 established that the emergency planning service was already severely underfunded. The Government's current funding level, ring-fenced through the civil defence grant and totalling just over £19 million per annum, is woefully inadequate to meet existing responsibilities. The grant to the emergency services for emergency planning has been cut completely and in real terms the grant to local authorities has been cut by 50 per cent in real terms since 1983.
It is estimated that an additional £92 million—the source is the LGA—would be required to meet the additional duties contained in the Bill. With little investment from the Government it is difficult to see
how significant improvements can be made. Unlike the emergency services, local authorities have received no extra funding to undertake additional anti-terrorism work expected of them by Government as a result of 9/11.
Furthermore, it is crucial that a robust mechanism is put in place to ensure that funding made available is actually spent on the function and is not diverted to other services. Can the Minister, therefore, give a firm pledge tonight that the costs of the new responsibilities contained within the Bill will be fully met?
I would also like to touch on the very real concern within local government about the ongoing introduction of a regional tier of emergency planning without a proper statutory basis. The lack of clarity regarding respective roles and responsibilities between the regional and local levels creates the possibility of an increase in centralisation and direction, moving responsibility towards the Government Offices for the Regions and away from local responders. I must report that there are already examples of unwarranted interference by the regional tier in dealing with emergencies that should be dealt with at the local level.
It is also clear that the appointment of regional nominated co-ordinators risks repeating the problems caused by the adoption of lead government departments. What assurance can the Minister provide that the creation of what many professionals who are experienced in emergency planning believe will simply be an unwelcome regional bureaucratic tier?
The Bill will place on all category 1 responders a duty to warn and to inform the public. However, the National Council for Civil Protection, alongside the entire professional emergency planning community are clear that the primary responsibility for providing a clear programme of education, consistent across the nation, on what the general public can expect during an emergency and what is expected of them, rests with central government.
As the NCCP has suggested that central government should implement a 21st century warning system to alert the general public to actual emergencies, I would welcome the Minister's thoughts on this important issue.
In conclusion, the hour is very late, but I urge Ministers to consider and to heed the words particularly of my noble friends Lord Jopling, Lord Lucas and Lord Kimball and to consider what would happen in the event of an emergency. What would this Bill allow and enable all those outside who are able to take part to do? We can all look forward to some very lively debate in the remaining stages of the Bill.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, the hour is late. I have a vast sheath of notes and responses with which I could regale your Lordships' House at some length. If I responded only to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady
Buscombe, I would well exceed the time that she spent in setting out the Opposition party's approach to the Bill.
Before I begin my response, I congratulate all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, because it has been wide-ranging and intense in its concentration on a range of issues. I also want to add my general congratulations to the noble Lords who made their maiden speeches today—my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe. In the comments of my noble friend Lord Rosser, I felt an echo of something that was said about me. He reported that he had been described as a lower profile figure in one national newspaper. When I was made a Peer, one local newspaper described me as a sub-regional minor celebrity. At the time I was flattered—I thought it was rather good.
Of course, the House will greatly benefit not only from the contributions of my noble friend Lord Rosser but also from those of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, who has practical experience in dealing with major emergencies during his time in charge of London Underground and in some of his other interesting roles and capacities before joining your Lordships' House.
I said that the debate had been wide-ranging in its intent. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, told us that we were dealing with a rather elderly law, which was a very true comment. There was a general welcome, along with many points of criticism, for the modernising effect of this piece of legislation. I cannot subscribe to the doomsday diction that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, visited upon us, during his very powerful contribution on the issues in the Bill. However, I certainly recognise the strength of view he has on this set of issues, and I have no doubt that strength of view will be echoed throughout what promise to be very interesting Committee, Report and Third Reading stages.
I did not recognise in the legislation the sort of excuse that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, regaled us with in his democratic doomsday scenario and its widespread threat to civil liberties, which he said the Bill anticipated. No doubt, however, we will have some very thoughtful debates on the issues the noble Lord touched upon in his interesting contribution.
I hope that, in the time I have, I can touch on some of the issues raised, because there are clearly some very important points that emerged during the debate. I will not be able to answer all the points: I can respond to some of them through correspondence, and no doubt we will touch on many of the other issues in Committee; that is probably best way to leave it.
This evening's debate and the passage of the Bill in another place have demonstrated that this is, in the end, not a party political issue. We are all very determined to try to get to grips with the fundamentals of modernising this elderly legislation. Whichever party was in power—or on watch, as it were—would have to bring forward a similar package of measures. I fully accept, in saying that, that the package would not be exactly the same, because I am sure there would be a different emphasis.
I am aware that the Bill has elicited a very strong response from all sides of the Chamber. But where there are differences between the Government and noble Lords, these have tended to be on matters of details rather than the principles underpinning the Bill. This Bill is, in my view, an excellent opportunity to build on the effectiveness of civil protection arrangements in the United Kingdom, and it is therefore crucial that we get the provisions of the Bill right. I was much encouraged by contributions from all sides of the Chamber that were determined to achieve that objective. I have enjoyed the dialogue that has begun this evening, and am looking forward to what should be a very constructive challenge during the later stages of the Bill process.
The UK's resilience to disruptive challenges is already high. There is a strong tradition of effective planning and response at a local level, and many of your Lordships made reference to that during the debate. After all, there are some 30 years of Northern Irish terrorism, and the effect of that has been to establish within government a capability, and awareness amongst businesses and the public, which puts the United Kingdom in a comparatively strong position.
I challenge the accusation that has been made: this Government are not complacent, and I rather resent the suggestion that we have been. Flooding, the fuel crisis in 2000 and the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 exposed weaknesses in our system. We think we have learned the lessons of these challenges, and there is good evidence to suggest that we have. The Bill is, after all, only one aspect of the Government's wider efforts to improve the United Kingdom's resilience to disruptive challenges. We have made massive and considered investment in civil protection and counter-terrorism over the last few years. We will continue to take steps to build the capabilities that we need. The Bill is a crucial aspect of this wider programme of work.
The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, made the strongest attack on the range of preparations. I would argue that the whole of Part 1 of the Bill is about preparation, and we have been making very substantial progress through our capabilities programme to build the resilience that all Members of the House see as being essential. Our whole counter-terrorism strategy is designed, after all, to protect, pursue, prevent and prepare for emergency challenges.
The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said that we were not ready for a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident. The emergency services have been training, and are equipped, to enable them to respond effectively to such incidents. In any incident of that sort, the emergency services would be on the scene in minutes. They would give instructions and advice, explain the situation to the public and carry out the necessary decontamination programmes, using mobile units if required. The Bill places the police at the core of response to emergencies by designating them as a
category 1 responder. This is entirely consistent with their current role in emergencies and provides a strong basis for their emergency planning work.
Responses to incidents including terrorism are well practiced and well rehearsed through regular programmes of exercises. During the debate this evening much has been made of our spending in dealing with the sorts of incidents that noble Lords have mentioned.
The Government believe that the expenditure on this should be as transparent as possible. We will continue to announce counter-terrorism allocations subject to security considerations, as we did when the Chancellor allocated an additional £330 million of dedicated funding to counter-terrorism in the 2003 Budget.
Headline spending figures specifically for CBRN incidents are difficult to distinguish in a standard budgeting process. For example, medical counter-measures purchased by the Department of Health are not specifically for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents in the same way that gas-tight suits for the fire service are not purchased only to be used in a chemical incident.
I would like to give some examples of investment because much has been made of this. As I have said, in the 2003 Budget we awarded £330 million over three years to counter-terrorism projects. There was £85 million allocated in 2002–03 to the NHS for medical counter-measures and equipment, including personal protective equipment and £56 million to the fire service for the mass decontamination phase of the new dimension programme. Those are examples of where we have been putting our investment as part of our measures to build up resilience over the past few years. I could go through where that money has been spent, but my time will be better spent if I go through some of the other issues that were raised during the discussion.
We have learned the lessons of previous emergencies, including the fuel crisis and the foot and mouth outbreak. The review that we launched following these crises reinforced the Government's conclusion that existing legislation no longer provided an adequate framework for modern civil protection efforts and that new legislation was needed. That is an opinion that is widely shared in your Lordships' House.
Disruptive challenges exist along a spectrum of severity from localised flooding to a massive terrorist attack. While the threat of terrorism remains real, we should not lose sight of the smaller-scale emergencies that can and do have an equally devastating impact on local communities—for example, flooding or industrial accidents. The challenge is to ensure that arrangements are robust and flexible enough to manage all of those risks.
The Government have also strived to strike the right balance between safeguarding security and the welfare of the community and protecting the rights of individuals. We heard wide-ranging views on that subject during the debate this evening. They were expressed very robustly by the noble Lord, Lord
Jopling, regarding the need to protect civil liberties—or, as he was arguing, to set them to one side; whereas the noble Lord, Lord McNally, made a strong plea for civil liberties to be protected even in legislation such as this which deals with emergencies and very challenging circumstances for the Government.
The Government must be ready and able to protect citizens from the effects of a catastrophic incident, but without unnecessarily threatening civil liberties. We have worked with the fullest range of organisations to construct the right legislation, and the quality of the legislation that we have delivered is due in large part to the willingness of stakeholder groups to contribute to it. These have been as diverse as those involved in emergency planning at a local level through to national organisations like Liberty.
The public consultation and beneficial pre-legislative scrutiny have made a real difference to the Bill. We will continue to work closely with practitioners to ensure that the regulations under Part 1 of the Bill pitch the duties at the right level, and that we make available helpful, practical guidance.
We have established a series of practitioner-led working groups to help us achieve this. We will also issue a public consultation on the regulations shortly after Royal Assent. Getting the balance right in this field of consultation is difficult. We have been criticised for slowness in taking the legislation through the parliamentary process and getting it here. We have also been criticised in the past for failing to listen. I think we have the mix about as right as one can get it.
Local responders are the building blocks of our ability to deal with emergencies. Our fire, police and ambulance services are among the best in the world, and they have unquestionable expertise in emergency planning and response. The Government recognise the long-standing demand for legislation in this area, and practitioners have in general welcomed the proposals we have brought forward. For the first time, this legislation identifies the roles and responsibilities of responder bodies at the local level, establishing clearly what the Government expect of them.
The Bill will make the United Kingdom more resilient by ensuring greater consistency of civil protection activity across the country, delivering improvements in the performance of individual bodies and improvements in communication between them. This clear and consistent framework of roles and responsibilities will also facilitate better performance management of multi-agency arrangements, allowing more effective benchmarking and best practice sharing.
The lead government department principle places clear responsibilities on all departments. This is reinforced by the key capabilities programme, which establishes clear ownership for developing the capabilities that underpin the response to emergencies. The structures are to be reinforced by a new standards and audit regime. The noble Lord, Lord Condon, made particular reference to the need for resource management and effective audit, and we agree with that. This will be overseen by the Cabinet Office as part
of its co-ordination responsibilities. It will make sure that departments are planning properly and can respond effectively in emergencies. Details of the regime were published earlier this year.
We also recognise the need to modernise the tools available to the Government to deal with the most serious emergencies. Some disruptive challenges are of such a scale or nature that they may require extraordinary measures which would not be appropriate in normal circumstances. Temporary changes to legislation may be required in order to deliver an effective response.
Emergency powers are a necessary safety net to ensure that we can deal with even the most serious and unpredictable situations. Such potentially wide-ranging powers must be accompanied by robust safeguards to ensure that they are not abused. Many contributors to the debate, including the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, referred to their concerns for the protection of civil rights and civil liberties. We share that concern, which is why we have worked very closely with stakeholders to ensure that the legislation reflects that. I think we will be able to argue during the course of the Bill that the safeguards are a huge improvement on those contained in the existing legislation. We could make out a case that those safeguards are not properly there. We recognise the importance of that issue, and I will pay particular and close attention to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. We will no doubt come back to those during our debates on the Bill.Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I am sorry to spring this question on him so suddenly, and I will fully understand if he prefers to answer it at a subsequent stage. Clause 22, which provides the power to make the regulations, states:
"Emergency regulations may make any provision which the person making the regulations thinks is for the purpose of"various activities, which are then set out. Surely the person making the regulations must know for what purpose he is making them. If my noble friend cannot answer that now, I will be perfectly happy to have my puzzlement resolved later.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I think that I will take the easy way out; I will advise my noble and learned friend later and ensure that his puzzlement is put to rest. I think that we can probably deal with that point during later debates.
As I indicated at the beginning, I have a sheaf of responses to the very proper points that were raised this evening. I wanted particularly to pick up on the role of the voluntary sector, because so many speakers raised it in their contributions.
We of course recognise the important role that the voluntary sector already plays in local civil protection arrangements, particularly in the field of humanitarian support. The noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry referred to
We acknowledge the role of the voluntary sector in dealing with disaster. The Government's key guidance to local responders recommends joint planning with voluntary groups. The setting-up of voluntary sector co-ordinating groups at a local level is very important. As many noble Lords have said very clearly, voluntary organisations will be involved in local multi-agency planning and response. They will not have any legal duties under the Bill, but they will remain free to continue in that existing and important set of relationships with organisations that are covered by the Bill and play an important and appropriate role in civil protection efforts.
It is worth putting on record that the Bill team has worked closely with practitioners and voluntary sector representatives to ensure that the contribution of voluntary organisations and their role can be captured fully in the guidance which will support the Bill. I know that there is an argument about whether it is best to spell out the role of the voluntary sector in the Bill or to leave it to guidance. We take the view that the latter approach is the most valuable, because it provides flexibility. That is not to say that we do not value the work of the voluntary sector. We will continue in our efforts to ensure that it plays a full role, which is fully respected and understood at a local level.
Because of the range of points that were made, it is probably better to deal with them as we work through the Bill in Committee. If specific questions have been asked this evening, which I know I have not covered because of the breadth of them, I shall be more than happy to respond to them in correspondence. As there were so many questions, I would not be doing justice at this late hour to the individual issues that were raised. I have already spoken for 20 minutes. If there were time, I would like to spend more time on those points.
I shall re-emphasise to the House a number of the key points which the Minister of State underlined earlier. First, the Bill is a necessary addition to the statute book. I am sure that we can all agree that a robust framework for civil protection is vital for managing the threats that we face in the 21st century. Secondly, I think that we can all agree that the Bill is timely. As many noble Lords have observed, existing legislation in this area was designed for a different era and modernisation of the measures for dealing with civil protection is long overdue. Thirdly, although there will be powerful differences between us during the passage of the Bill, we have already built up a strong consensus behind the proposals that are in the legislation. We have also listened carefully to the needs of stakeholders and secured a degree of support from a wide range of groups. There is now a strong expectation that the Government should deliver.
In conclusion, this package of measures is necessary; it is timely; and it has the support of a wide range of practitioners. As the noble Lord, Lord Condon, pointed out, it is a coherent and well thought out Bill, which will be fit for purpose for many years to come. For those reasons, I commend it to the House.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he reassure me that, if he is unable to do so tonight, he will write to me as soon as possible to answer the point that I raised about trade unions? Why does Clause 23 allow the rights of individuals to be so compromised, but not those of trade unions? That point deserves a considerable response.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as I said earlier, I am happy to respond to the individual points that were raised during the debate. In fairness to your Lordships, there were so many that it would not do them justice if I went through each of them or provided a hierarchy. Of course, we will respond to the noble Baroness's point in correspondence and share it with all those who have participated in the debate.
House adjourned at nineteen minutes before midnight.