HC Deb 04 December 2002 vol 395 cc892-3
4. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

What discussions he has had with ministerial and National Assembly colleagues about contingency planning for national emergencies. [83070]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain)

I have regular meetings with ministerial and National Assembly colleagues in which we discuss a range of topics including contingency planning.

Miss McIntosh

I am delighted that the Secretary of State has found his place. Will he join me in expressing concern about who has responsibility in the event of a national emergency in Wales? The National Audit Office has said that the health service across Britain would struggle to cope. This place is responsible for security, defence and foreign policy. The First Minister is responsible for the side effects. Who is ultimately responsible?

Peter Hain

I should first acknowledge that the hon. Lady has the civil contingencies college in her constituency, which helps to train people to deal with national emergencies. The idea that the preparations for national emergencies—be they attacks by al-Qaeda or other threats—are not full and comprehensive is simply nonsense. At a time when we face the threat of attack, is the hon. Lady really suggesting that a time-consuming and costly wholesale reorganisation of Whitehall is the way forward, as the Conservatives have suggested? The truth is that the National Assembly and the Government are well prepared and ready to take on any threat, should it arise.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that the National Audit Office report that was just referred to revealed that, in England, there is incredible variability in the state of preparedness in the health service for a national emergency, particularly a terrorist attack? Will he draw the NAO report to the attention of our colleagues in Wales? Will he also ask them to ensure, given the restructuring that is going on in the health service in Wales, that we will still be able to maintain focused, coordinated preparations to protect the people of Wales?

Peter Hain

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's question. I assure him that we have a United Kingdom national reserve stock of pharmaceuticals and equipment ready for rapid deployment in the event of any such attack. In Wales, there is a rapid response team to manage, for example, cases of smallpox, in the event of a biological attack being waged. The National Assembly has undoubtedly made preparations, but my right hon. Friend's point will be well taken.