HC Deb 24 May 2004 vol 421 cc1322-36

'(1) Where a person or body listed in Part 1 of Schedule 1 has a duty under section 2 or 4, the Scottish Ministers may make regulations—

  1. (a) permitting or requiring a person or body listed in Part 2 or 4 of that Schedule to co-operate, to such extent and in such manner as may be specified, with the person or body listed in Part 1 of that Schedule in connection with the performance of the duty;
  2. (b) permitting or requiring a person or body listed in Part 2 or 4 of that Schedule to provide information, either on request or in other specified circumstances, to the person or body listed in Part 1 of that Schedule in connection with the performance of the duty.

(2) The Scottish Ministers may issue guidance about a matter addressed in regulations under subsection (1).

Where a person or body listed in Part 2 of Schedule 1 has a duty under section 2 or 4, a Minister of the Crown may make regulations—

  1. (a) permitting or requiring a person or body listed in Part 1 or 3 of that Schedule to co-operate, to such extent and in such manner as may be specified, with the person or body listed in Part 2 of that Schedule in connection with the performance of the duty;
  2. (b) permitting or requiring a person or body listed in Part 1 or 3 of that Schedule to provide information, either on request or in other specified circumstances, to the person or body listed in Part 2 of that Schedule in connection with the performance of the duty.

(4) A Minister of the Crown may issue guidance about a matter addressed in regulations under subsection (3).

(5) If a Minister of the Crown makes an order under section 5(1) imposing a duty on a person or body listed in Part 1 of Schedule 1, the Scottish Ministers may make an order—

  1. (a) permitting or requiring a person or body listed in Part 2 or 4 of that Schedule to co-operate, to such extent and in such manner as may be specified, with the person or body listed in Part 1 of that Schedule in connection with the duty;
  2. (b) permitting or requiring a person or body listed in Part 2 or 4 of that Schedule to provide information, either on request or in other specified circumstances, to the person or body listed in Part 1 of that Schedule in connection with the duty.

(6) If the Scottish Ministers make an order under section 5(2) imposing a duty on a person or body listed in Part 2 of Schedule 1, a Minister of the Crown may make an order—

  1. (a) permitting or requiring a person or body listed in Part 1 or 3 of that Schedule to co-operate, to such extent and in such manner as may be specified, with the person or body listed in Part 2 of that Schedule in connection with the duty;
  2. (b) permitting or requiring a person or body listed in Part 1 or 3 of that Schedule to provide information, either on request or in other specified circumstances, to the person or body listed in Part 2 of that Schedule in connection with the duty.

(7) A person or body shall—

  1. (a) comply with regulations or an order under this section, and
  2. (b) have regard to guidance under this section.

(8) In this Act, except where the contrary intention appears—

  1. (a) a reference to regulations under section 2(3) includes a reference to regulations under subsection (3) above,
  2. (b) a reference to regulations under section 2(4) includes a reference to regulations under subsection (1) above,
  3. (c) a reference to regulations under section 4(2) includes a reference to regulations under subsection (3) above,
  4. (d) a reference to regulations under section 4(3) includes a reference to regulations under subsection (1) above,
  5. (e) a reference to an order under section 5(1) includes a reference to an order under subsection (6) above, and
  6. (f) a reference to an order under section 5(2) includes a reference to an order under subsection (5) above.'.—[Ms Blears.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.28 pm
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 82 to 89.

Ms Blears

I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in this debate. I want first to put on the record my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who cannot be with us this afternoon because he is on paternity leave as the proud father of a daughter, Eve, I think, born about 10 days ago. I am sure the House would wish to join me in that.

I am very much looking forward to the debate this afternoon. Having briefed myself fairly rapidly over the weekend, I know that the Bill has already undergone a huge amount of scrutiny, including pre-legislative scrutiny and two forms of public consultation. There is a plethora of information before us, but I am sure that we will have more extremely good scrutiny this afternoon.

As the House will be aware, the Government, working closely with the devolved Administrations, seek to ensure that civil protection is delivered in a coherent fashion throughout the United Kingdom. New clause 11 and Government amendments Nos. 82 to 89 seek to address the issue of cross-border co-operation and information sharing.

Co-operation and information sharing are absolutely fundamental to effective civil protection arrangements. Emergencies are no respecters of boundaries, and it is important that collaboration take place across borders as well as within them. The amendments that I now propose follow from further discussions that the Government have had with the Scottish Executive. We have looked again at the circumstances in which co-operation and exchange of information should take place, and have concluded that a number of changes to the Bill are required.

As a product of the devolution settlement, in this Bill, Scottish responders not exercising reserved functions come under the jurisdiction of Scottish Ministers. Local responders in England and Wales—and responders performing reserved functions in Scotland—come under the jurisdiction of UK Ministers. At present, Scottish Ministers can require Scottish responders to co- operate with other Scottish responders, and UK Ministers can require English, Welsh or UK-wide responders to cooperate with each other, but there is no power to require cross-border co-operation and information sharing.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) is not in his place today, as he highlighted the lacuna in the legislation in Committee. It would appear to be an important gap in our legislative armoury.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD)

I am grateful to the Minister for crediting my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) with having picked that point up in Committee on 29 January, with his typically detailed eye. Unfortunately, he had a constituency engagement today that he could not cancel, but he is devastated not to be here. I hope that the Minister will understand.

Ms Blears

I am sorry to hear that he is devastated, but we are grateful to him for his sharp and keen eye. I understand that proceedings on the Bill have been non-partisan, and I am happy to continue in that vein and give credit where it is due.

An example of the problem is that if the Maritime and Coastguard Agency required information held by a chief constable or a local authority in Scotland, there is currently no power for Ministers to require such disclosure. I understand that two other organisations that exercise reserved powers in Scotland—the Health and Safety Executive and the British Transport Police—could have similar problems. There is also currently no means of imposing an obligation on responders to collaborate across borders. When planning for any incident—not just a terrorist incident, but perhaps a plane crash or spread of an infectious disease—it is important that all relevant authorities be familiar with each other's plans, whether or not there is a national boundary separating them. There need to be clear powers to ensure that that happens.

New clause 11 and amendments Nos. 82 and 83 will allow Ministers to ensure that such collaboration takes place, thereby ensuring the coherence of the UK civil protection framework. Amendments Nos. 84 to 86 supplement these provisions by ensuring that the general provisions in the Bill relating to enforcement and information sharing apply to cross border situations.

Given their respective roles in managing the civil protection framework across the UK, it is also important to ensure that communication between the UK Government and the Scottish Executive works well. Amendments Nos. 87 to 89 are technical amendments intended to clarify the requirement to consult each other where that is appropriate. The effect of those amendments is to establish a clear requirement on UK Ministers to consult Scottish Ministers when making provisions affecting responders exercising functions in Scotland. There is also a clear requirement on Scottish Ministers to consult UK Ministers when making any order under part 1 of the Bill. That will ensure that, while the UK Government and the Scottish Executive have responsibilities in the Bill that rightly reflect the devolution settlement, they will exercise those responsibilities in a coherent and consistent fashion.

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

I associate the official Opposition with the good wishes to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and his wife and baby girl. I am sure that he will find this a busy time, although not, I hope, as noisy as it is in Parliament—although you never can tell with babies.

In Committee we had a detailed discussion of the relationships between the parts of the United Kingdom in connection with emergencies and the way in which they should be tackled under parts 1 and 2 of the Bill. The principle of reciprocity, and of ensuring that each part of the United Kingdom was capable of responding effectively, was discussed at considerable length by all members of the Committee, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who made a great deal of it, and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who has already been mentioned.

Our particular concern was that in border areas there are, for example, hospitals, strategic health authorities and other authorities that provide services on both sides of the border. The Minister has mentioned one or two of the other authorities, such as maritime authorities and the Health and Safety Executive. We were keen that the Bill should make such arrangements more transparent than they originally were, and I am pleased that it has been possible, in consultation with the Scottish Parliament, to agree on more effective and better defined wording. I welcome the new clause and the amendments, but I hope that the Minister will be able to give a bit more detail about how the arrangements would work—with a hospital authority, for example.

Mr. Allan

I, too, associate myself with the good wishes that have been offered to the Minister for the Cabinet Office. We shall miss him today, and also my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), because in the good-humoured proceedings in Committee they traded lawyerly tales about places in Scotland of which I know nothing. It is a pleasure to be able to speak about the first group of amendments on a note of concord, rather than the discord that we often experience in the House.

The amendments are indeed welcome. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland had asked me to draft some amendments to pick up the issues that he raised in Committee; I am relieved that the Government have been able to do that, so that I did not have to tackle the job myself. We identified the problem, but the solution was clearly going to be complex in drafting terms, and the amendments before us deal adequately with that complexity.

I am pleased that the Minister cited word for word the example offered by my hon. Friend in Committee. There is a true spirit of cross-party co-operation when the Minister's speech quotes elements of Opposition Members' concerns when she responds to them. That reflects the fact that my hon. Friend precisely identified a difficulty with the original wording, and I am comforted by the Minister's assurance that her amendments seek to address that precise difficulty. There is no more to be said about this group of amendments. I welcome them.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)

The Minister said that there had been consultations with the Scottish Parliament. Were there similar consultations with the National Assembly for Wales? The Assembly says that the problem is that the Bill does not take into account the constitutional and practical implications of devolution in Wales and does not provide the National Assembly with adequate powers to ensure the proper preparation and implementation of emergency plans in Wales.

That is not a party view; it comes to the House from the appropriate Committee—the Local Government and Public Services Committee, chaired by the appropriate Minister. The Committee continues: The contradiction implicit in having political accountability for matters for which legal responsibility has not been devolved has since been recognised, with the Welsh Assembly Government requesting the transfer of animal health and welfare powers to the Assembly. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed that the UK Government does not expect to have difficulty with this proposal and the transfer of powers is now scheduled for autumn 2004."

A specific example of the constitutional contradiction that is written into the Bill appears in clause 9, which allows Ministers of the Crown to require category 1 and 2 responders to provide information on compliance with part 1 of the Bill and to specify how and when such information should be provided.

At present, however, the Bill does not require the UK Government even to notify the National Assembly that they are obtaining such information from agencies in Wales. Many such bodies obtain funding from the National Assembly, and work in partnership with it to deliver services in devolved areas. As a result, their performance in those areas is already monitored by the National Assembly.

The Local Government and Public Services Committee believes that the Bill should be amended to confirm that monitoring powers under clause 9 will be given to the National Assembly for Wales or at the very least to require the UK Government to consult the National Assembly before exercising those powers. The Committee recommends that part 1 should be amended to confirm that the powers of the National Assembly regarding Wales are roughly equivalent to those given to Scottish Ministers regarding Scotland. In turn, that would remove the need for clause 15, which requires the National Assembly to be consulted or give its consent before Ministers or the Crown act under certain provisions in part 1 relating to Wales.

Similarly, to ensure that practical issues arising from an emergency in Wales can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently, the Committee recommends that clause 19 be amended to allow the National Assembly to make emergency regulations concerning events or situations. I shall not deal with the matter at further length, because time is short, as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has pointed out. However, I wanted to put the issue on the record, as Ministers in Cardiff and the Committee have been asking for the change. If the Minister cannot give me a reply today, I should be grateful if she could write telling me what consideration and what meetings, if any, have taken place on those important issues.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) has disrupted what was becoming a cosy, consensual, self-congratulatory session all-round. I always become suspicious when Front Bench spokesmen congratulate one another on how marvellous everything has been, how productive their discussions have been, how wonderful the Committee debates were, and generally what a jolly good job they have all done. The hon. Gentleman has, in his inimitable way, put his finger on the downside of devolution. That is not what he meant to do, but he has done so none the less.

We have been told all too often about the wonders of devolution and how our relatively small country will do so much better if it is broken up into its constituent parts. We have extra bureaucracies, additional Governments and Assemblies and so on, and for the first time, a statute has set out how difficult such an arrangement can be.

It is a great challenge in a genuinely integrated state to respond to the horrors of terrorism, but it is much more difficult to do so when we must deal with the multifarious bureaucracies that we have been crazy enough to set up in the United Kingdom. Proposed subsection (1)(a), for example, says that regulations may be made permitting or requiring a person or body listed in Part 2 or 4 of that Schedule to co-operate, to such extent and in such manner as may be specified, with the person or body listed in Part 1 of that Schedule in connection with the performance of the duty". That is just for starters, and sets the tone for pages of jargon that attempt to identify the ways in which we will achieve the laudable aims that the Minister set out at the beginning of our debate—collaboration, familiarity with each other's plans and so on. However, we must remember that we are discussing a complex set of organisations that, in normal circumstances, it would be difficult to encourage to co-operate with one another, including category 1 responders—local authorities, emergency services, health services and so on—and category 2 responders, including electricity, gas, and water and communications suppliers, railway and underground companies, airports, harbours and highways.

All these will be expected to share each other's plans and, no doubt, each other's aspirations, to collaborate and co-operate in what will inevitably be the most difficult imaginable circumstances—and that against a background of the fact that we have deliberately and gratuitously created, some would argue, artificial and unnecessary borders and lines of demarcation within this small country under the rubric of devolution.

4.45 pm

Here for the first time we have a very real problem created by devolution and, incidentally, some hidden costs, I suspect. In all the wallowing in mutual and self-congratulation that we heard a moment ago, I did not hear anybody mention costs. Does anybody imagine that the process will be cost free? Has the Minister given an estimate, or has she even been asked what the costs will be? Maybe one of those who spent such a delightful time in Committee teased that information out. I hope they did; it certainly was their duty to do so. If members of the Committee did not do any teasing, this is the time for us to do some teasing on Report.

We are entitled to know, albeit in general terms, the likely cost of all the collaboration and co-operation, given what we expect to emerge from the complex working not only of the schedule, but of the new clause and all that goes with it. Surely if the provisions are to be made to work properly, not only are the Scottish Executive and the relevant and parallel English ministries involved, but all the category 1 and category 2 responders, all of which are being asked to do something additional, over and above what they would have done before, if, as we are led to believe, the work of the Committee was so valuable in identifying the additional work that had to be done to make the collaboration and co-operation that much more effective.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)

There is a way of short-circuiting that. The Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 are not entrenched legislation—we do not have such a thing. All the consultations could be bypassed by making the Act a United Kingdom Act and giving the authority to the central authorities in Whitehall.

Mr. Forth

>: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is an intriguing thought. We could undevolve, if I might express it in that rather inelegant way, those functions that we considered essential to deal properly with the sort of contingencies that we fear might arise under the Bill. That at least would be a consideration. Just as an aside, my own favoured approach would be that from time to time we should offer people further referendums to ask them whether they still want what some of them, at least, voted for those years ago in terms of devolution. I am very keen that the people of London, for example, be offered a further referendum—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. That may well be of interest to the right hon. Gentleman, but we ought to be debating in a little more detail new clause 11—

Mr. Forth

More detail? Certainly, Madam Deputy Speaker. Delighted for your—

Madam Deputy Speaker

—rather than referendums.

Mr. Forth

I thought that might tease the House a little, Madam Deputy Speaker, but your instructions are for me to go into more detail. How can I possibly ignore that? Let us get on with the detail, shall we? Having just run round the course fairly briefly, we can now really get down to what it is all about.

Under "Category 1 Responders: General"—this is the detail of the schedule that is referred to in the new clause—the local authorities enumerated in relation to England are county councils, district councils, borough councils—at least, the schedule states "a London borough council". I wonder whether the other unitary authorities have been missed out. The schedule does not mention them. We have county councils, district councils and a London borough council, the common council of the City of London and the council of the Isles of Scilly. We then come, in relation to Wales, to county councils and a county borough council. Presumably that subsumes the others as well.

Already it is clear that there is a complex of local authorities at various levels that are tasked as category 1 responders to participate in the process that the new clause envisages. We now have the potential to begin to see—this is the point I was making before I got side-tracked into referendums, which I will leave for another day—what the real cost could be.

With regard to costs, I always stand to be corrected by those who spent so much time in Committee doing such useful work in collaboration with one another, as we have been told. Perhaps they know or have some idea of the additional costs of the tasks identified by the new clause.

Mr. Llwyd

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the key to whether the Bill will work is extra resources. Questions were asked many times about that issue. During pre-legislative scrutiny, approximately 200 responders made the same point, and answer there was none.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have always had my suspicions of pre-legislative scrutiny. I know that we are all supposed to say that it is a wonderful thing and that we should have lots more of it, but one sometimes wonders about it. Sometimes it identifies more questions than answers, and this is a very good case in point. It should be possible to pursue those questions during the parliamentary process, but given the time restrictions, there may not be the opportunity to do so. None the less, we have plenty of time to consider the amendments before us. That is why this is a very appropriate point for us to rehearse yet again the question of costs.

Mr. Shepherd

On inquiry as to whether Walsall metropolitan borough council had made an assessment of the cost implications, my emergency planning officer said: The full impact of the Act will not be fully assessed until the regulations come out—the detail. The regulations will give a clear idea of the impact on local authorities. I do not think that the Government are in a position to give any indication of the cost.

Mr. Forth

Oh dear; it is worse than I thought. We are being asked yet again to sign a blank cheque.

Mr. Heald


Mr. Forth

It appears that my hon. Friend is about to give us the details of that cheque.

Mr. Heald

My right hon. Friend is making an important point about money. The Government say that they are not increasing the funding and that the civil grant, which deals with civil contingencies, will remain at the same level this year as last. It is hard to reconcile that position, however, with the extra duties that are being imposed on councils in the new clause.

Mr. Forth

Should we be allowing the Bill to proceed if we are completely ignorant of the likely costs? Would we not be failing in our duty as the custodians of the taxpayer's interests if we were to pass the Bill, admirable though its intent may be, without any idea of what it will cost either at local authority level, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) pointed out, or at a broader level, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) implies? Furthermore, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) indicated, we do not have any idea about the National Assembly for Wales or his local authorities.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)

I believe that councils throughout the country are holding staged events to put the procedures to the test, so the costs will probably become a lot more apparent over coming months. My right hon. Friend may therefore have a very good point in saying that we are looking at the issues too early, as the costings will not be available until the councils have carried out those procedures.

Mr. Forth

In that case, this is a bit like horses and carts. We are apparently producing some very complex legislation. Let us be in no doubt that the new clause is extremely complicated and ambitious in what it seeks to do. The Minister outlined what it seeks to achieve in terms of collaboration, mutual exchange of information, co-operation across borders and the like. All those intentions are admirable—let us hope that the arrangements will work effectively—but there must be a cost. Training must be required and channels of communication must be opened up. No doubt, that will be complicated—I mention this only in passing—by the different legal systems in England and Scotland, which may well be relevant.

Mr. Heald

But is not the dilemma that my right hon. Friend faces, and we all face, that it is vital that we have a proper structure for civil contingencies? The structure in part 1 cannot work without new clause 11, and given the urgency of the situation and the need for the action, surely it has to go ahead?

Mr. Forth

That may or may not be the case. I must confess that the proposition that something "has to go ahead" always worries me, because I like to know a little more about the facilitation or underpinning involved in doing so.

Mr. Allan

I have every sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman's general point about the overall cost of the legislation, about which we, too, have expressed concern, but I suggest to him that the new clause will be a cost-saving measure. Under the Bill as originally drafted, the problem was that no Scottish local authority could be empowered to give information to a body such as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which would have had to go and get it for itself. Although we have concerns about the general scope of the Bill, I think that the new clause will be a net cost saver.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, as far as it goes. "Empowerment" is a wonderful word—a very Liberal Democrat word—that sounds good when one says it, but that is not what new clause 11 is about. It is about "permitting"—a good old-fashioned word that is far better than "empowerment"—or "requiring". I am focusing on the "requiring" part because that usually means additional effort, which usually means additional cost. Empowerment or permitting could be cost-free, I suppose—although even then, it is conceivable that additional costs might be involved in empowering a body that desperately wants to share information with another, but is otherwise unable to do so.

Let us consider the matter from a different angle. The other day, we heard that the new Home Office headquarters that is rising magnificently before our eyes in Marsham street is no longer big enough because the number of Home Office bureaucrats has increased so much over the past few years that that brand-new, state-of-the-art building, which is not yet completed, cannot house them all.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will address his remarks to the new clause under discussion.

Mr. Forth

I was about to suggest, Madam Deputy Speaker, that perhaps the Home Office could second some of its bureaucrats to the authorities that will be required under new clause 11 to produce collaboration, co-operation and communication. Having probed a little on the surface the problems that could arise from the new clause, I am trying, in my usual way, to be helpful. Instead of putting the cost burden on to these hapless category 1 and category 2 responders, why does not the Home Office release, on secondment or permanently, some of its burgeoning numbers of bureaucrats to assist in the process that new clause 11 requires of those responders? That is an idea to conjure with. Without going into what on earth they are all doing and why they will not fit into the new building—that is a matter for another occasion, Madam Deputy Speaker—it gives one pause for thought.

All in all, I find this rather unsatisfactory. Fine words and fine aspirations give us all pleasure, but surely we are here to satisfy ourselves, on behalf of the taxpayer, that what is being done is proper and appropriate, of reasonable cost, and justified in terms of burdens on the taxpayer. I should have thought that all those things normally go together. Frankly, I am rather shocked to find that the Bill has reached this advanced stage without our being given any idea whatsoever of what its true cost will be. As the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy helpfully pointed out, even the much vaunted pre-legislative scrutiny process did not elicit that information. Throughout the pre-legislative process and the legislative process—in Standing Committee and, now, on Report—we have been unable to extract from the Government any idea of the likely additional cost to the taxpayer.

It may not only be the taxpayer but the consumer, because the category 2 responders include utilities, transport and so on. One would imagine that, unless the Government were going to give them some sort of grant—I very much doubt that—the burden was likely to fall on the consumer, who is one and the same as the taxpayer. The costs may therefore come under a different, more stealthy heading.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman once again strays rather wide of the new clause. Discussion of the Bill's overall provisions, including cost, may be raised on Third Reading.

Mr. Forth

I am always delighted to follow your guidance, Madame Deputy Speaker. I like to keep some ammunition for later—I do not like to use it all at once. Given that many groups of amendments remain to be considered and that we have some four hours in which to do that, I will follow your guidance. I hope that the Minister can help us with some of the questions that I have asked. I am sure that we all look forward to probing much more deeply into these matters as our proceedings continue.

5 pm

Ms Blears

I was about to say to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) that there was a danger of a little too much consensus, so I am delighted that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has brought us down to earth with a bump.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) asked about the way in which, for example, hospital authorities might collaborate across borders. I am sure that he knows that well established mutual aid arrangements already exist everywhere in the United Kingdom. In the health service, there is often a great deal of cross-referral from primary to secondary and tertiary care. That is as true in the border areas as in the rest of the country. There are well established schemes between local responders. The new clause helps to clarify the position even better than the custom and practice that already existed. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) raised issues about Wales. Obviously, discussions have taken place with both devolved authorities to get the Bill right. It is important that the relationships between England and Scotland and England and Wales and, indeed, throughout the United Kingdom, are appropriate and that people play their appropriate role. As I said, a fundamental part of the Bill is about coherence, consistency, collaboration and information sharing. There is a proposal to draw up a concordat with the National Assembly for Wales and with the Scottish Executive to set out the way in which that might work in practice. The hon. Gentleman's point about information sharing could properly be considered in that concordat. A proposal to amend the Bill at this stage is probably disproportionate. The issue that he properly raised can be tackled in regulations, guidance and the concordat between the relevant parties.

The hon. Gentleman obviously knows that to have that communication between Her Majesty's Government and the National Assembly, whereby regulations are made that apply to bodies within the Assembly's jurisdiction, a Minister of the Crown has to seek the Assembly's consent. In other cases, in which a UK Minister legislates for Wales, consultation must take place between the two bodies. Clearly, there is a framework for dialogue and exchange of views. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that, provided those channels of communication are kept open and we have a proper concordat to which reference can be made openly and transparently, people will be assured that the Welsh position is properly protected.

I take it that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst does not seek at this point to reopen the devolution settlement. Clearly, it is important that we get the right balance between the decisions that Her Majesty's Government make and those that are the proper province of the devolved Administrations. We have tried to achieve that in new clause 11 and amendments Nos. 82 to 89. We want to ensure that, where we have devolution—we clearly have devolution, which was the will of the people—Scottish Ministers can take the necessary actions, Ministers in England and Wales can take the necessary actions and there is a proper meeting of minds and consent. It is not beyond our wit to work together. We must do that in different regions, even of this country. In many cases, there is a need for cross-regional collaboration and information sharing. We must also ensure that the plans mesh well together. It is right to do the same thing in Scotland and Wales.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the costs of collaboration. Often, the most cost-effective thing to do is to work together to share information. Insufficient collaboration or consistency can be extremely costly in financial and human terms. Indeed, I am sure that we would all express concern if different people were doing a series of different things that did not join up. This is about working smarter, and using our imagination to ensure that we get this absolutely right.

Significant extra funds have been put into the civil defence grant in recent years, and before coming to this debate I asked for a couple of figures that might prove illuminating. In the past seven years, the grant has risen by 31 per cent., whereas in the last seven years of the previous Conservative Administration it fell by 42 per cent. I am not keen to make partisan points, but it is important for the House to have that information.

Mr. Heald

Does the hon. Lady accept that people are concerned that the grant has not increased since 2002, and that it is not set to increase because the Government's plan is to keep it at its present level? People are worried about how councils will do their work—with all the extra burdens, including the seven new duties imposed on them by the Bill—if they do not have the money.

Ms Blears

I note that the hon. Gentleman is concentrating on this last year, as opposed to the previous years that I mentioned. He will know, however, that local authorities have always supplemented the civil defence grant because they see it as part of their responsibility to lead their communities and to take care of them. This has never been simply a ring-fenced grant to which local authorities make no contribution. Furthermore, the Bill deals with an organisational framework, rather than with the specific duties placed on authorities. Several Conservative Members suggested that we needed to work through the guidance and regulations. We are talking about events that are difficult to predict, so we need to work through what some of the costs might be.

Mr. Llwyd

I mentioned earlier that about 200 responders had mentioned this issue. The Minister might say of local government, "Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?" However, when faced with a decision to cut either their social services budget head or the civil defence one, many local authorities cut the civil defence budget. It has been the Cinderella service in local government. If we are going to get local authorities up to speed and to change the culture by putting in place a proper civil defence structure, the resources will have to follow.

Ms Blears

The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that this is an area of increasing salience, particularly in the light of the threats that we face in this very changed world environment. However, local government in general has had significant real-terms increases in its settlement, certainly over the past few years. He postulates an argument about decisions to make cuts in social services, education or civil defence, but local authorities have, for the first time in a long time, received significant increases in the grant available to them. They ought, therefore, to be able to take on these responsibilities. He will know from his own area that local government services are improving across the piece, whether in education, social services or housing. It is important that local authorities continue to be able to fund those services.

I know that local government has concerns about these issues, and the hon. Gentleman mentioned the 200 respondents who raised them with him. It is absolutely right that we should continue to talk to the Local Government Association and, when we see what the increased burdens might be, that we seek to address them. That will be a fundamental part of the spending review 2004 process.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD)

Is it the Government's position that these new statutory obligations on local authorities will result in cost neutrality? Or will they result in increased costs, which the Government will have to look at new ways of funding?

Ms Blears

Yes, we accept that extra pressures might well occur if we ask local authorities and other responders to work differently, to collaborate and plan together and to raise their games on civil contingencies, and we are in discussions with the Local Government Association to establish what those additional pressures might be. It would take a robust business case for the Government to acknowledge such additional pressures, which the spending review process would address. As I said to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), it is not a matter of making cuts in one department or another, because the issue must be considered in the context of the significant real-terms increases for local government as a whole.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con)

I have listened to the Minister's remarks about local authorities' preparations to deal with the Bill's strictures with interest. A number of emergency planning officers to whom I have spoken tell me that the civil defence grant will barely cover the exercises, to which we shall undoubtedly return, for this financial year. Unless they are allowed to conduct the exercises, they cannot implement suitable measures when an emergency occurs. They are even more concerned that next year's civil defence grant is being frozen at this year's level, which is, in other words, a real-terms cut. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that she has heard similar views and that she is addressing them in a practical way, rather than a theoretical way.

Ms Blears

I have already indicated that discussions are ongoing between representatives of those organisations, and I am sure that the excellent exercises that are taking place with local government and a range of responders will continue. Local government is keen to make sure that communities are properly protected and that preparations are made, and I therefore have no doubt that those discussions will continue. We will seek to address those pressures where the business case is robust and where the increase is identifiable.

I am sure that the figures for 2002–03 were repeatedly quoted to the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) in Committee: an extra £330 million provided for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office to examine civil contingencies; an extra £56 million provided for the new dimension project in the fire service; an extra £85 million provided for the Department of Health to consider chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear issues; and an extra £84 million provided for the police. I am not saying that those figures are the be all and end all of financial pressures, but it is hard to make the case that the Government have been slow to provide extra resources, given that in the past seven years of this Administration funding for civil contingencies has increased by 31 per cent., compared with the 42 per cent. decrease in the last seven years of previous Administration.

Mr. Djanogly

The Minister discusses increased funding, but she does not mention local authorities—in her earlier comments, she mentioned the Government's generosity to local authorities. It is important to make the point that funding for local authorities to cover civil contingencies has increased from £14.4 million to £19 million. Starting from a low base, funding has gone from peanuts to that paltry figure, and it must be increased yet again.

Ms Blears

I hope that this debate does not turn into an auction, because I shall be forced to refer to the shadow Chancellor's plans to cut public expenditure, and I do not want to enter that territory today. Whether the shadow Chancellor plans to cut £18 billion or £180 billion—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I have allowed some latitude in the debate, but we should return to new clause 11.

Ms Blears

I am delighted to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I addressed the issues relating to funding raised by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

Mr. Shepherd

On the cost to local authorities, Mr. Boyd, the emergency planning officer in Walsall, attends briefing sessions for the emergency services on CBRN issues and terrorist attack, and is concerned that the emergency services have received more than £100 million to spend on decontamination equipment and training for its officers, but the local authority has received nothing. The emergency services expect local authority staff to attend the scene of such an incident.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. New clause 11 concerns cross-border collaboration with Scotland, and I ask hon. Members to refer to it in their deliberations.

5.15 pm
Ms Blears

I do not have anything to add, except to commend new clause 11 and amendments Nos. 82 to 89 to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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