HC Deb 03 February 2004 vol 417 cc621-2
23. Bob Spink(Con) (Castle Point)

What recent representations he has received on civil contingency planning. [152265]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Alexander)

The Government maintain a close dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders in their civil contingency planning work. The Government consulted publicly on the draft Civil Contingencies Bill between June and September 2003 and received 379 responses from civil protection professionals, representative organisations, lobby groups and interested individuals. We published a report of the results of the public consultation on 7 January this year. Engagement with a wide range of stakeholders continues with the development of the regulations and guidance under the Bill.

Bob Spink

Is the Minister aware that the Thames gateway area is a flood risk area? Will he explain it to his right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who wants to build on ground there that is at risk from flooding? That will cause serious difficulties for civil contingency planning in that region.

Mr. Alexander

I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman's concerns directly to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I would, however, point out that he raises an important point in recognising that the Civil Contingencies Bill before the House at this stage does address the issue of flooding and will afford greater security to those affected by flooding in future by putting in place an appropriate framework of civil protection in this country.

Mr. Barry Gardiner(Lab) (Brent, North)

Has my hon. Friend identified the need for an isolation unit in the region of Heathrow airport and the Greater London area to deal with a potential outbreak of, say, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or a bio-terrorist alert? Will he specifically consider the case for the Lister unit at the Northwick Park site as a suitable place for dealing such contingencies?

Mr. Alexander

I recognise my hon. Friend as a fearless champion of local interests in his own constituency. I can assure him that, consistent with the lead Government Department principle, the Department of Health continues to review the Government's approach to exactly the sort of issues that he has identified. I will ensure that my hon. Friend's comments are passed directly to the Department of Health.

Mr. Oliver Heald(Con) (North-East Hertfordshire)

Does the Minister realise that the police are so stretched that they have hail to reach a gentleman's agreement with Group 4 to back them up in an emergency? Why does he continue to reject our idea of setting up an emergency volunteer reserve to call on the skills of our people, and when will the Government take civil contingencies seriously?

Mr. Alexander

I would, of course, point out that there are more police on the streets of Britain now than under the previous Administration. I would also point out that, if we look back to the last Budget of April 2003, we will find that an additional £330 million was awarded over three years for counter-terrorism projects in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Cabinet Office and the Home Office. The Government clearly take civil contingencies planning seriously, which is why we introduced the Bill and why the extra resources were committed.