HC Deb 18 May 2004 vol 421 cc818-20
21. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD)

What the civil contingencies grant for emergency planning was for Greater London, (a) in total and (b) broken down by borough, in each year since 2000. [173513]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas)

With leave, Mr. Speaker, I have been asked to reply. I wish to pass on the apologies of my hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office who—I am delighted to inform the House—is taking paternity leave because of the birth of his daughter. I am sure the whole House will wish to pass on their good wishes to him and his family.

The civil defence grant is paid as a contribution to the emergency planning function of those local authorities that have a statutory duty of civil defence, which in London is the 32 boroughs, the Corporation of London, and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. The total payments to those authorities have increased from £1.75 million in 2000–01, to £2.8 million in 2004–05.

Simon Hughes

I should be grateful if the Minister would pass on our best wishes to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and his family.

Does the Minister accept that all those authorities have told the Government that they have not been given enough? Does he accept that the money that they have been told they may get this year they still have not received? When will the negotiations, which are apparently still continuing, about the money London needs for civil defence and emergency planning be completed so that there can be certainty about the services available to this city and its citizens to protect against an undesirable and obviously unwished for terrorist attack?

Mr. Woolas

I thank the hon. Gentleman for an important question. I accept that local authorities say that they do not get enough money and they are within their rights to do so. However, I have checked the situation and I can tell the House that the amount of civil defence grants paid to the boroughs has increased from £1.74 million in 2000–01 to £2.8 million now. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that while local authorities play a key role in civil defence, they are not the only agency involved. Discussions are indeed continuing between my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local and Regional Government and the representatives of London authorities.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab)

Could my hon. Friend explain to my constituents in provincial England how the balance of funding for civil contingencies is decided and, in particular, address the concerns of some of them that most of the money is going to London, which may not adequately reflect the real balance of risk in the UK?

Mr. Woolas

I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. What is referred to as resilience work is important throughout the UK. The Government have provided an extra £330 million for that purpose, in addition to the loca1 authority money. That sum was earmarked before the tragedy of 9/11. Of course, the regional resilience teams have been established in the devolved authorities and throughout each English region, and they are being provided with the resources that they need to do that important job.

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

But surely the Minister is aware that since 2002 the grant has been frozen and that the Government's intention is to continue that freeze? How are London's councils to manage the new duties imposed on them under the Civil Contingencies Bill and how can the Government claim to be increasing London's security when they have frozen that important grant? Does that not confirm what the Metropolitan police said in the Project

Unicorn report that Government policy is "outdated"? Is not that yet another, more serious example of Labour letting London down?

Mr. Woolas

It is not: the contrary is the case. The Project Unicorn report was commissioned by the Metropolitan police and there has been press speculation about it, but that simply goes to show the important point that in looking at such reports the Government are taking their responsibility extremely seriously.

Mr. Heald


Mr. Woolas

The hon. Gentleman says that the policy is outdated, but I put it to him that the robust policies already being co-ordinated across all Government agencies, as well as local authorities—which is obviously important—are being put into an even more robust framework through the Civil Contingencies Bill, which the House will debate next week. We are far from not taking our responsibilities seriously and far from not providing the necessary resources; whereas his party would reduce public expenditure in that area.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

Some of my constituents have told me that they are nervous about their children coming to London on school trips, especially to visit the House of Commons, owing to concerns about security on the London underground and in London generally. What reassurance can the Minister give my constituents? Does he believe that the exorbitant headlines in some national newspapers, which make people more nervous about visiting London, are winning the terrorists' battle for them?

Mr. Woolas

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. There is always a danger that scaremongering will achieve by propaganda what terrorists want to achieve by violence. However, when researching this portfolio, I was very, very pleased by the amount of effort that is going into London. The fundamental review of London's resilience arrangements has been carried out and there is a new London-wide strategic emergency-planning regime. Enhanced command and control centres are in place and there are specific plans to deal with different types of possible terrorist attack. The Mayor—the very excellent London Mayor—has provided for 100 extra British Transport police officers. I can also inform the House that the closed-circuit television network on the London underground system is the most extensive anywhere in the world.

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