HC Deb 27 October 2003 vol 412 cc4-5
2. Patrick Mercer (Newark)

What progress has been made in promulgating the lessons learned from exercise OSIRIS II to other (a) regions and (b) local authorities. [134159]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes)

Our early view is that the elements that we planned to test in this exercise worked well, but of course there are lessons to be learned from it for all the people and agencies involved. We aim to make the key findings public before Christmas.

Patrick Mercer

I am grateful for that answer, as far as it went. It took the Government 104 weeks after 11 September to try such an exercise, and clearly it took place only in London. When will similar exercises be planned and implemented in places such as Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham?

Beverley Hughes

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to be very well informed about what was going on prior to that exercise. There have been five major exercises since 2000—before the events of 11 September—as well as a raft of table-top and middle-level exercises. The exercise programme for both the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear resilience programme and the counter-terrorist strategy includes a wide range of exercises; there will be another seven over the next six months on the CBRN element alone. I am confident that the agencies, the private sector and other Departments are being brought together both frequently and effectively to test the various elements of our extensive programmes.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Do any of those future exercises include a simulated biological threat attack; and if not, why not?

Beverley Hughes

There are certainly exercises designed to test the planning and framework arrangements for biological attacks. One of the seven exercises that I have just referred to tests the plan for a specific biological attack involving smallpox, as well as a range of other chemical agents.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

The Minister will be aware that I represent a constituency on the fringes of London. One of my great concerns is that, when I talk to local authority chief executives, they seem to have little real, detailed understanding of how they would have to respond in the event of a major incident. What steps have the Government taken to ensure that those who might be on the fringes of a major incident, and might therefore suffer overspill effects such as the movement of people, are brought into the loop and well versed in what they might have to do in such circumstances?

Beverley Hughes

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point because, as he rightly implies, it is not sufficient simply to have well co-ordinated arrangements at the centre for Departments and major national Government agencies; it is extremely important to make sure that there is linkage and coordination at regional and local levels. He is right: on the scene, it will largely be local authorities and their counterparts who will respond first.

There is a detailed structure at regional level to ensure that that co-ordination takes place, and local authorities are engaged with us in a series of exercises. An exercise called "Counterbalance" brings together local authorities and their regional and national counterparts to go through those issues. We have also issued guidance to local authorities, and we are now consulting them on a revision of the existing guidance on the CBRN programme. Finally, we are undertaking a mapping exercise with local authorities, through the regional structures, to assess exactly what progress they have made towards implementing the plans that we are helping them to institute.