§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord Roper rose to call attention to the need for more effective planning for emergencies between government departments, local government and the other bodies concerned; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said
My Lords, I apologise to the House for the relatively limited notice for this debate, but we on these Benches felt that the House should have an opportunity to consider the important issues of the arrangements for planning for civil emergencies and the liaison between Government departments, local government and the other bodies concerned.
We are enjoined each day at the beginning of our work here at Prayers to work for the "peace and stability of the realm". That requires us to consider the question of effective planning for emergencies—those occasions when the realm and its peace are disturbed. It is important for this House to have the opportunity to hear from the Government what has been done and to ask questions about the things that have not yet been done.
There is no doubt that the events that occurred in the United States 14 months ago on 11th September have transformed the range of emergencies that it is now necessary for our Government at all levels to plan for. There was an initial reaction of the need for a substantial change in the machinery of Government—perhaps the creation of a department with an overarching responsibility for these matters, which was perhaps parallel with the arrangements made in the United States in the department now headed by Governor Ridge. There are arguments for and against such a change.
But in this country the more one looks at the matter and the more one becomes aware of the range of departments of central government that are involved, of the important and central role of our local authorities, and, indeed, of many other bodies, the more one can understand why the Prime Minister has decided against such a change in the machinery of government. I do not feel that there is a great deal to be said for re-opening that question today.
However, it is necessary to point out that there are some drawbacks in the present situation. It is not altogether clear to noble Lords in this House or to people elsewhere where the responsibility for these matters lies. We are aware of the various committees, including, at the highest level, the War Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister, which have responsibilities for these matters and of the committees chaired by the Home Secretary. But no Minister gives his prime attention to these issues. There is always, therefore, the risk that these important issues—I shall return to this matter in terms of resources and legislation—may not get the priority that they deserve. That makes the question of parliamentary accountability difficult. When I tabled the Motion I was not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, or the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, would reply. The noble Lord, 1186 Lord Rooker, may have responsibility for the matters I am discussing given the range of departmental concerns involved.
In looking at what has been achieved over the past 14 months I am reminded of the story of a glass being half empty or half full. One feels that a number of matters have not yet been tackled but one should also be impressed by some of the matters which. have already been addressed by central government, by authorities in the London area and by some other local authorities. In its sixth report published in July the House of Commons Defence Committee drew attention to a number of problems. The Government outlined the position in their response to that report and in the Cabinet Office's useful progress report of 9th September entitled, The United Kingdom and the Campaign Against International Terrorism. It was, however, unfortunate that that progress report did not constitute a parliamentary paper. I shall want to return to the question of whether the Government should submit an annual report to Parliament detailing what they have achieved in this area, the resources they have spent and what their strategy is for the future.
The National Audit Office produced a report on 15th November on NHS emergency planning. I refer also to the report of my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew on the operation during 2001 of the Terrorism Act 2000. My noble friend commented on problems with regard to access to seaports and airports where he feels that there is a need for increased security activity.
All of that is encouraging. However, I fear that from time to time it is also discouraging. I am encouraged by the fact that much has been done. In some areas performance is good. However, there are also areas where there is room for considerable improvement. On a positive note, I very much welcome the appointment of Sir David Omand as the security and intelligence coordinator. Given his previous experience and qualities he is uniquely fitted to the post.
However, I am discouraged by the significant variations in performance between different areas. There are also real gaps in our preparedness, as _I shall indicate. I refer to a number of the issues raised in earlier studies. How much progress has been made on those issues? The Government's response to the House of Commons Defence Committee mentioned the need for mutual aid agreements between the emergency bodies and referred to the development of a national mutual aid agreement between the fire authorities which it was intended should be completed by the end of this year. I hope that in spite of the other incidents affecting the fire authorities the Minister will tell us that it will be possible to have such a mutual aid agreement in place by the end of this year.
I refer to a further question that needs to be answered. What resources are now being devoted to training those who have responsibilities in these areas? How far has Easingwold been given a new role as a college to train those involved in emergency planning—a new role in a new situation? What are the Government's targets as regards the number of people who will undertake training courses in the next two years?
1187 It seems to me that if one has such a complex structure, from time to time there is a need for the relevant personnel to undertake high-level exercises. That should be done not only in the various departments of state and, indeed, not only in London but throughout the country. I should be glad to know what plans there are for such exercises.
I quote from the Government's response to the House of Commons Defence Committee:The Government recognises the importance of keeping the public informed, reassured and engaged".That is an excellent sentiment but I should be glad to know what the Government's strategy has been to carry that into effect.
The Territorial Army will now be linked with the civil emergency authorities. I should be interested to know what progress has been made as regards the announcement made in another place on 31st October by the Minister, Mr Adam Ingram, who indicated,There will be some 280 new reserve posts in Army … headquarters to provide regional planning, liaison and command and control".—[Official Report, Commons, 31/10/02; col. 1026.]That link between our Territorial Army and our civil emergency services is essential. When do we expect the new arrangements to become operational?
The central issue behind a number of these detailed issues is that it is not clear, in the absence of specific ministerial responsibility, that the Government are giving enough priority to these questions. Unfortunately, there is a suspicion that there is more than a little truth in the remark of one senior official that his job was little more than "the management of complacency". The failure of the civil contingencies Bill to appear in the gracious Speech and the lack of any significant increase in resources for civil defence, as reflected in the Written Answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, in Hansard of 3rd December, suggest that perhaps we have not had the significant increases which are needed.
The Government were aware of the need for a new legislative framework before the terrorist attacks. The Cabinet Office progress report of 9th September states:Proposals for new legislation will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows".However, there is nothing in the gracious Speech about that. The most recent information that I have indicates that we are likely to have another framework document for consultation early in the New Year followed by a draft Bill by the summer of 2003. Almost two years will have passed between the attack on the United States and the new legislation. The Local Government Association believes that that legislation is essential.
I refer to resources. The figures announced today of only £19 million for all our local authorities means that effectively expenditure in this area will have been static for seven years. Emergency planners are convinced that that is not enough. It is a ridiculous amount. The 1188 increase for each local authority for next year will be all of £386. That does not seem to be a serious way to address the issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Healey, once described defence as the first form of social security. The preparations that we now have to make to meet the new challenges of international terrorism are certainly central to the security of our society. This House and the other place have therefore a responsibility to hold the Government to account in these critical fields.
§ My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord Hardy of Wath
My Lords, I do not propose to make a long speech. I look forward to hearing my noble friend's response to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, not least those relating to questions of relationship and links. I also want to offer a word of reassurance.
I believe most people recognise that the Government are right to give high priority to seeking to defeat terror and to maintain through positive action and by intelligence the means of defeating terror. But at the same time, even though that priority is maintained and devoted work proceeds, there can be no guarantee that there will not be an outrage or outrages in this country at some point. It is therefore right that we see adequate provision in all our areas for response to need.
Bearing in mind that local authorities, like all other human institutions, are not infallible, I said to my ward counsellor friend who is the mayor elect of Rotherham that I should like to see what arrangements have been made in my own local authority. Immediately, arrangements were made for me to go to the Rotherham emergency suite. I am not always impressed when I make visits in the area, but I left that meeting enormously impressed, not least because the authority had had the wit to appoint a very able man: Alan Matthews, who had just retired as regimental sergeant major for the Coldstream Guards.
It is perhaps unsurprising that we have a lean, efficient, well organised unit there. He has worked with neighbouring authorities and the emergency organisations and produced sheets of paper so that in my area there is every reasonable arrangement that can be made. I do not think they need more than another £396, but I leave that for the local authority to decide; it would probably like more.
Where authorities act wisely, local communities can sleep more safely in their beds. It is not likely to mean that we reduce the risk of an outrage or a disaster, but I think we have put the right people in place to respond, although I have one query.
Mr Matthews' appointment is significant because we do not make adequate use of people who retire from Her Majesty's Armed Forces. They have usually had high quality training; extremely relevant experience; and at a relatively early age they will have learned some of the arts of leadership and man management. We tend to forget that. People like Mr Matthews can be usefully employed in this area at 1189 no great cost; they nearly all have some sort of pension, even if military pensions are not as generous as they should be.
There need to be adequate links and relationships between the services and local authorities. In my area we have carried out exercises, sometimes only on paper, but they can also be valuable. We do not want everyone to be disturbed and subject to upheaval every five minutes.
I understand the arrangements are that if there is an outrage or a disaster, as soon as a police officer appears on the scene he takes command. That may be generally worth while. It may be useful and appropriate for a police officer to be in charge; he has authority in his uniform. But let us think of a situation in which the first officer on the scene is a police constable with only a few months' or weeks' service. He will be expected to take charge, and experienced local authority officers or people from the Territorial Army or the fire service—when it is functioning properly—will have to comply immediately with that police officer's commands.
If it is an officer with significant experience and weight, I see no problem; in most cases there would not be one. But there is always a difficulty in having a general rule which prevents us from applying the common sense and flexibility that should always be available in the situation. I await my noble friend's response to the noble Lord, Lord Roper. I hope that he is satisfied that the example I have seen in Rotherham in recent months is not an unusual one. We should ensure that local authorities are made aware of good practice in the whole area of local government.
I said to my noble friend Lord Bach when we were discussing the new chapter that he could come to see the practice in Rotherham. I hope that in their busy programmes Ministers can take time to carry out some visits in order to encourage the good and to be in a position to exhort more properly and effectively those who are not doing as well as they should be. There is no scope and there should be no place for failure. We must be well prepared. I am extremely pleased about the level of preparation I observed in my area.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Harris of Richmond
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Roper for securing the debate. My contribution will be from the perspective of local authority involvement.
During the 1970s and in the 1980s—when I was a very new county councillor—greater public awareness and cynicism painted a picture of civil defence activities as futile and vaguely ridiculous. I remember some local authorities decided to protect their citizens by declaring that they were "nuclear-free zones". I believe someone in the other place described that as being as potentially effective as someone declaring that their home was a burglar-free territory. In planning and training for civil defence, the danger from chemical agents was recognised, but then, to a large extent. treated with silence. The threat of biological agents was hardly even whispered.
1190 As a new county councillor in North Yorkshire, I was invited to attend a training course at what was then called the Civil Defence College—in Easingwold. It is still there today, just renamed. I had heard muttered remarks about the college; how secret Nfe the place was and how we should not talk about the information that we gleaned there. What utter rubbish! It was, indeed, a difficult place to get into—and almost as difficult to get out of. After one particularly difficult day of unremitting lectures and exercises I was deputed as a local to lead the escape committee to the nearest hostelry, where we ruminated on what we had learnt.
One exercise in particular stays in my memory. We were a disparate group of councillors and planners from all over the country. We were placed into roles and teams to deal with particular scenarios following a nuclear attack on a town—"Anytown", I think it was called. The reality of dealing with problem heaped on problem was immense and most of us realised pretty quickly that we were woefully inadequately prepared to shoulder any sort of responsibility during and after an attack.
That was 20 years ago. But at least there was some training for local authority members, and there was an implicit recognition—or at least, hope—that many of us would become community advisers. I became so fascinated by this that I got hold of the county manual which set out the duties and responsibilities on such an adviser in times of disaster. I rapidly came to the conclusion that, in fact, I had better keep out of the way; there was a clear line of responsibility and it did not include meddling councillors.
Today we face a different set of problems, where chemical or biological agents might be the weapon of choice of terrorists, but where the most sinister weapon is already amongst us. That weapon, I would suggest, is fear. We cannot use simplistic shelters like the fortified cupboard under the stairs that we used to advocate. We should, however, use common sense in recognising likely scenarios, some of which can be easily identified, but others need co-ordinated and structured examination by those who deal with emergencies on a day-to-day basis. They need to identify potential risks and also the effects arising from risk.
Our communities need to know that government departments, local authorities, voluntary organisations, emergency services and relevant sections of the armed services are not only meeting together and creating coordinated plans, but are training together and are being given the resources they need to protect the public.
Look as I might in the Government's new proposals for a civil contingencies Bill, I see no reference to elected representation and so I must assume that we will have to trust our lives to chief executives, chief constables, chief fire officers and such people—just as we have always done.
I am indebted to my local county council, North Yorkshire, which has sent me a copy of the proposals in the Bill. I note that it is at a very early stage of development, as we have already heard. However, I 1191 also know how magnificently the county leaders of the local authorities, police—and I declare an interest as I used to chair the North Yorkshire Police Authority—ambulance service and hospital trusts have worked tirelessly together to organise appropriate responses to emergencies.
In the past few years we have had our fair share of emergencies in North Yorkshire—terrible floods, a disastrous rail crash and an air crash. I was particularly involved in the aftermath of the air crash, in visiting the major incident room and watching the co-ordination of help, undertaken on this occasion by the police.
During the Great Heck train disaster, excellent multi-agency ties and arrangements were in place, involving seven police forces, four ambulance services and four fire services. That could only have been achieved by everyone working to the same national standards of multi-agency resolution, underpinned by regular talking and exercising together locally.
A concern expressed at the time of that disaster, however, was that the role of regional government was an irritation and was not really a helpful channel of advice or support. Duplicate information to that given centrally was required. One participant told me:It was as though they [regional government] wanted a role but didn't know what it was".That is clearly stated in the Government's consultative document, which states:The role of the regions, either through Government Offices or any future regional assemblies, has not been clearly established".Can the Minister enlighten me as to what he thinks that role might be in the new structure? Can he further assure me that it will not simply be another layer of bureaucracy getting in the way of local determination of emergencies?
The website provided with national guidance documents—www.ukresilience.org—also has a useful icon link to "terrorism" and appears to have helpful advice to terrorists, such as outlining our response to an attack and offering safety advice. Will the proposed community risk register reiterate these helpful suggestions and will the Minister undertake to look at that website and review it if necessary?
If we faced a major chemical or biological threat, could we, as a nation, cope? Is anyone checking whether emergency supplies, communications facilities, evacuation procedures or emergency accommodation would be available in the event of a national emergency?
My final query is about the adequate resources that will be provided to enable those responsible to undertake their duties. My noble friend Lord Roper referred in depth to this concern, although, those resources must do more than create glossy plans, distribute newsletters and organise committee meetings.
It will take some very expensive, sophisticated equipment to "join up" those who will be in charge of the emergency and who will be formulating and 1192 working to the new plans. I know how much it cost our police authority simply to purchase new radios for police officers. Presumably an issue resolution team is looking at this? A lead in time however would be lengthy, and that, too, needs to be taken into account. Also, how will emergency services be compensated for dealing with disproportionate calls on their resources?
Perhaps the message that I should like to give, however, would be for the Government to get on with the completion of the review and re-issue Dealing with Disaster to reflect any new structure and significantly update its advice in the light of present knowledge of possible threats.
The management of incidents must be left to local people who are familiar with the geography, location, politics and sensitivities of their communities. By all means offer help and guidance from the centre, either nationally or regionally, but please do not inflict a "task force of experts" on what is already a well-tried and tested response to emergencies. As the Government's consultative document suggests:Where a duty to prepare plans currently exists, the object would be to ensure greater coherence and complementarity between the planning arrangements of different responder organisations rather than to replace the current obligations".I could not agree more.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Lord Hunt of Chesterton
My Lords, I welcome the introduction of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, on this important debate. There are many interrelated aspects of civil emergencies—terrorism, war, accidents and natural disasters. The way that a government deal with these situations also involves many aspects—the operational, the administrative, the international, the technical, the financial and communication.
My experience of this was as chief executive of the Meteorological Office, which is involved in many of these issues. I was also chairman of the committee dealing with science and technology aspects of the UK National Co-ordination Committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction on science and technology aspects. Currently, there is a new committee involving many academic and governmental departments. There are also many aspects of research involved in these questions. I shall return to that in a moment. Finally, there is the role of the private sector. I am chairman of a small company that provides software to help government deal with some of these issues. That indicates the range and complexity of the issue.
The Government's administrative arrangements involve a complex set of plans encompassing central, regional and local government. Ministerial responsibility on committees is necessary to ensure that the arrangements are in place but not of course to act in an actual emergency. It is important to realise that an actual emergency requires an active cell of operational staff. It must be formed as appropriate to the particular emergency. There are arrangements in Whitehall and around the country to deal with that.
1193 The operation of these active units is based on clear agreements and contracts. Interestingly, there are financial arrangements between the different branches of government underlying these contracts. I can tell noble Lords that that focuses the mind considerably on ensuring that they are efficient.
Equally, as again noble Lords have pointed out, it is vital that these contractual arrangements are kept alive and operational by considerable exercises. As a recently retired senior official remarked to me before this debate, these exercises are extremely important in ensuring that everyone knows who will be at the end of a telephone during an emergency. The human side of it cannot be overemphasised.
However, there is a rather British aspect to all this, which was recently discussed on American television, as a friend of mine commented. In Britain we have these exercises but we do not tell everyone about them. Our American colleagues are much impressed by the fact that they are very effective, they are widespread and there is not much publicity. This is one example when British non-communication is much admired.
What is the record of the UK emergency services? We have heard about the area of Yorkshire and the East Midlands, but it is worth commenting that the emergency services during the IRA bombing campaign worked extraordinarily effectively. But we have been taken by surprise by natural and accidental disasters. The British way—quite rightly—is always to look at these individual events and to learn lessons from them. We had the example of Chernobyl in 1985; the King's Cross fire in 1988; so too were lessons learnt in the Channel Tunnel fire; we had the floods of 1998 and 2000, and lessons are being learnt from those disasters. In addition, a number of lessons learnt earlier have certainly averted potential UK shipping disasters in recent years.
The point is that technology and planning have played a great role in getting us to where we are and in taking us forward. Therefore, it is important to keep up to date with technology, especially for prediction and communication. A quantitive example is the hugely reduced number of deaths in countries which use technology and which are subject to large natural disasters; for example, hurricanes and tornadoes in the United States.
With scientific information becoming ever more available, it is even more necessary to have a coordinated network of prediction centres. In some countries there is a single centre, such as one sees in Japan. That is not practical in Britain, but a strong network should be part of the arrangements for emergencies.
Will the Minister reflect in the fact that under the new scheme we must have arrangements that make clearly visible how all the organisations in Britain which contribute to emergency response can do so? How will the Government ensure that all the relevant government agencies are involved? I am afraid to say that they are often ignored—if one is more than three miles from Whitehall, one can be ignored. In other countries, many emergency departments are involved. Some government 1194 departments are responsible for nuclear radiation leaving these shores; other departments are responsible for nuclear radiation corning into the country. There are reasons for that, but they must be understood. We need clear arrangements involving non-governmental organisations and the academic community.
The new role is that of the private sector. The mobile telephone is with us now. Many people—particularly young people—have mobile telephones. Imagine any kind of emergency event with the effect spreading out in a particular direction. What arrangements do the Government have to work with the mobile telephone companies to ensure that everybody can get the necessary information in the most convenient way possible? In the United States, there is a radio service especially for emergencies. In the UK, we have the BBC. All those are arrangements that are extremely important. There are clear targets for how warnings will be issued and in what timescale. In the past, we had an eight-minute warning for a tornado. Now we have a 15-minute warning. That is an example of what is needed. There is much deprecation in this House of targets. They are a painful process for civil servants. However, I believe that they are necessary and that we should have clear targets for a number of those emergencies.
Finally, it is important to educate the public. Now we ensure that weather forecasts—I was involved in this myself—include flood warnings, and there is a flood helpline. However, there was total confusion recently during an earthquake. I do not know whether we shall experience more earthquakes. Earthquake specialists can never tell whether there will be more. Nevertheless, there was great confusion as to what to do during an earthquake. That is a situation that people need to be told about.
A colleague at the University of Portsmouth commented to me that when one hears on a weather forecast that there will be winds that will cause structural damage, nobody is told what to do. Are people meant to rush outside and look at their roof tiles? Who do people consult? There is no helpline for that.
In the United States and a number of other countries schoolchildren are taught about natural disasters. My daughter, when she was in Colorado, was told to climb under the desk during an earthquake. In the UK we received effective door-to-door information during the AIDS campaigns. As other noble Lords have mentioned, I believe that we are in a situation where we need comparable levels of sustained campaigning—individually and through posters on the Underground and buses, and so forth. Those must be co-ordinated with local government, national government and, as I have mentioned already, perhaps with the private sector, such as insurance and communications companies.
The new dimension is the danger of bio-weapons and bio-terrorism. A clear and well structured warning should be worked out. The UK science in that area is extremely highly regarded. In the past two years there were meetings between the Royal Society and the 1195 American and French academies, working out exactly how those processes should happen. The Government can be sure that there is excellent advice available to them.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I thank most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Roper. This might be a short debate, but it is an extremely important one and very timely. The Prime Minister once said that everything changed after the September 11th attack in the United States. I think we would all agree with that. He was right. One area of activity that really should have changed is that of civil protection. We are now in a very different league from before September 11th.
I declare an interest. I have been approached to become president of the National Council for Civil Protection. No decision has yet been made. My point is that whether or not I do, I declare a personal interest in civil defence matters. Hansard is littered with Questions that I have asked on that subject.
I first became interested as a county councillor—rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond—in Cambridgeshire back in the nuclear-free-zone days. At that time my county was not a nuclear-free zone but Cambridge city was. That made life very difficult when it came to co-ordinating civil defence and, at that time, wartime defence planning.
Therefore, I believe that we were one of the first authorities to develop an all-hazards approach. In emergency planning, an emergency is an emergency is an emergency; it does not matter whether it is a wartime or peacetime emergency. Many of the procedures followed and actions taken are the same—whether it is a massive chemical plant explosion, gas leaks, major train crashes, or terrorist or wartime attack.
As a councillor, and from 1981 leader of my council, together with other councillors and many civil servants—and, again, like the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond—I attended courses at Easingwold. Different councillors went frequently in those days because there was a constant raising of awareness in local government of the importance of emergency planning. Issues of preparedness for disasters were discussed with experts in the field. Initially, I was sceptical, but I found them extremely illuminating and very helpful when it came to working alongside our own emergency planning officers.
Does that level of training still take place? Do civil servants still go with the same frequency? Do local authorities go for training? I suspect that there is a resource issue there somewhere. During that time, and subsequently when I came to serve in this House, emergency plans were developed and, more importantly, they were physically validated by exercises. I know that in Whitehall there were cross-Whitehall departmental exercises as well to validate emergency plans. When was the last cross-Whitehall full emergency planning exercise undertaken? What lessons were learnt from it?
1196 Some publicity has been given to a memo that went from government offices to all emergency planning officers around the country. I found it unbelievable—as did many of the emergency planning officers—that they were asked only a matter of four or five weeks ago to tell the Government, through the government offices, whether they had plans in place to deal with large masses of debris or rubble, and so forth. There was no mention of whether it was radioactive debris or toxic debris, but just debris—they were merely asked whether they had plans. The emergency planning officers were also asked whether they had identified disposal routes—presumably landfill sites—that could take large masses of debris. Had they identified contractors that could move the debris? Were there plans in place for mass evacuation from major centres of population? What areas were covered by those plans? Had those plans been reviewed since September 11th last year?
They are asked only those questions, but those are fundamental basic data that the Government should know anyway. I understand the tailpiece of the memo was to the effect, "Please can we have this information quickly because there is going to be a meeting on 2nd December and the Government would like to know what it was?" I should like to know what were the responses to that memo. I have seen three responses and can say that the common view is that there is a lack of co-ordination, a lack of resources, and a clear lack of overall policy direction from the Government.
The noble Baroness raised an interesting point when she referred to the role of the regions and the government offices. I have a document. I shall not reveal the source of the document but it is very detailed about this matter. I read from the first paragraph:For this purpose, we [the Government Offices] are bidding for resources which would permit the recruitment of additional staff in the Regional Co-Ordination Unit and GOs and allow them to play an active role in contingency planning, regional preparedness, communications, training and manpower planning".What is the role of county planning emergency departments in all this? I now read from another paragraph:The Emergency Planning Review"—Which review?uncovered a gap in arrangements between local and central tiers of government. The consultation exercise undertaken as part of the Review pointed to a significant lack of clarity about central government planning as it impacted on the Regions and about roles and responsibilities at a regional level".Many of the respondents to the consultation apparently decided that their should be more powers at regional level.
The final quotation from the document states,An enhanced regional capacity, as part of the national resilience framework, was one of the key recommendations of the Emergency Planning Review. This recommended significantly enhanced co-ordination, planning and responsiveness at regional level. In fulfilling this role we envisage that Government Offices would chair a regional group … manage those key relationships communicating between with regional partners … provide improved information gathering … develop improved 1197 contingency planning. We are planning for each GO to have a small team led by a Grade 5 with Grade 7 support, able to work authoritatively with key local partners, bring critical insight to bear in examining the roles and relationships of regional players, exert a strong influence in co-ordinating strategies and plans and represent the centre effectively in the regions".We need some answers to that and certainly the county council planning officers will also want some answers. Since the Government came into office in 1997 I have asked endlessly as to who is in charge. We have heard that the Home Secretary, the Minister for London, the police and the Mayor of London each have a role. There are 33 separate emergency services in London.
I shall repeat one of the questions which was asked by my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. He asked what was the role in London of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority whose powers are set out in the Civil Defence Act 1948. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said that the plans of all the emergency planning officers are being reviewed at the moment. He said that in 2001. Can we be told the outcome of the review, please?
I mentioned the National Council for Civil Protection. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, mentioned the issue of resources for local authorities. It is a really vexed issue. I believe that a figure of £19 million was mentioned. My understanding is that the Local Government Association believes that nearer £70 million is required. The NCCP said that it was concerned about the timing of information given to local authorities in order that they may plan.
At a time when the Government claim to recognise the need for effective emergency planning as vital, some local authorities are still going to receive smaller grants than last year. But more importantly, the grant is still being handed out without any clear idea as to what level of funding is necessary. There is so much difficulty at local level. How can one possibly work out what it costs to deliver a service if one does not know what it means? I support the NCCP and the local authorities in saying that there is urgency about revisiting the 1948 Act.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, as regards the role of our county planning departments. They are magnificent. In any local emergency they mobilise the voluntary and business communities. I have a great deal of time for them. But they are underresourced and are now very confused as to their role.
A man called Eric Alley spent 50 years as an emergency planning officer. He was an adviser to the Home Office for three years. He is President Emeritus of the Institute of Civil Defence and Disaster Studies. He says that inadequate preparation, training, coordination and direction is evident now. He speaks about inertia in the Cabinet Office. He questions why it is that the United Kingdom is spending less per head of population on civil protection.
1198 While on this subject I ask this question out of interest. Does the Home Office disaster planning advisory post, which was filled in a most excellent way by Admiral Bawtree, still exist? If it does, who now holds that post?
Is the National Attack Warning System now in place? We were told in July 1999 by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, in answer to a question from me:We remain committed to the implementation of the final elements of the system in the current financial year".—[Official Report, 20/7/99: col. WA 97.]It will be helpful to know whether that has been put in place.
The Government appear to be in denial about this. Local authorities, the National Council for Civil Protection and experts such as Eric Alley and Members of both Houses are concerned about what is happening. I make one plea. We do not want an emergency planning czar. That would really be a disaster.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, we have had some very interesting and informative contributions to the debate today. We on these Benches are particularly glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, here, given his important role in this matter. Although he is not speaking I am very pleased that he is here to listen to this debate which we believe is very important.
We have become very aware of concerns outside the House on this issue held by people throughout Britain. According to opinion polls, people in Britain are much more concerned about these kinds of issues. It is a very long time since the average Briton believed that he or she lived in a dangerous place despite the fact that we lived through IRA terrorism. Even immediately after 11th September it did not always hit home to people.
But now people are changing their patterns of behaviour. We can see that people are really concerned. There is quite a reduction in the number of tourists coming to Britain. People become a little twitchy about travelling on the Underground. We who live in London some of the time are perhaps not so nervous as people from outside. People become concerned when their children are away. It is important that we try to reassure people as much as we can that we are doing whatever we can.
There are also specialists. A defence Select Committee report showed a great deal of concern. Concern has been shown by those looking at how the National Health Service is preparing. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, mentioned some of these matters. In recent weeks there have been further worries because of what has happened during the firefighters' strike. People are concerned as to whether we have enough troops to cover for the fire service. Anything might happen: the soldiers may be sent off to war.
1199 People also remember the worries that they had over Government strategies in the past, particularly when we were trying to deal with other national emergencies such as the foot-and-mouth epidemic. Then we found that trying to co-ordinate events across the country from the centre is very difficult. Many people did not have the right systems in place and certainly did not understand how to procure supplies in an emergency.
One of the other concerns of those who have a particular interest in this matter is in seeing reports on how we are going to deal with Army reserves and how many we have. They also want to know how we are going to train and equip those available. One of the reports suggested that we had about 500 per region and they receive five or six days' training a year. When people read things like that they are concerned.
As has been said, we have a problem with information. We do not want to alarm people unnecessarily, but we do want to make people aware of what is happening. In that respect, the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, on non-communication were relevant. It is a difficult area, as the Prime Minister has recognised. We need to take preventive measures, but we do not want to destroy normal life. It is a feature of Britain that during the course of many disasters, during the war and the IRA terrorist problems, we have been very good at not letting them totally destroy our everyday lives.
Communication can go wrong, as we have seen. One unfortunate instance of that was the information about safety in the Underground that was given out and then changed. That is the kind of thing that does not inspire confidence. We on these Benches believe that the Government were right to put Sir David Omand in charge as senior co-ordinating officer, because we need someone to make effective links across departments. We also need someone to inspire a sense of urgency, given some of the issues that have been raised today. In addition, as many noble Lords have said, we need someone checking to see that we have the funds and the essential equipment.
We certainly need to co-ordinate levels of preparedness in local authorities. We have heard good contributions about the important role of local authorities. We were all pleased to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, that all is well in Rotherham. He also made the valid point, at which I saw many heads nodding, that Ministers should be going around the country and looking at what is happening.
We heard various comments about how civil defence used to be organised, especially from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond. We all have our little stories on that subject. I remember an occasion in which I was involved not at local government level but when I was still at school aged 17. I wonder how many noble Lords remember the "one in 10 presentation" about what to do in the event of a nuclear war. It had something to do with brown paper and whitewash on windows, which it turns out would not have been a 1200 great deal of help if we had been near radiation. We all remember that and, although I am making fun of it, civil defence locally was much more of a priority than it is now. We have heard some good evidence on that subject today.
Some have called for a whole new bureaucracy to deal with the problem, but I do not think that we should follow along the lines of America. This country is organised in a different way from the United States, which has a much more disparate system. However, in calling for that kind of operation, an important question is raised. Much of the work that we are discussing takes place on the boundaries between the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence. As has been said, we need better lines of parliamentary accountability, because people feel that they do not quite have a handle on that. As my noble friend Lord Roper said, we were not sure who would respond to this debate today. That point needs consideration.
I hope that the Minister will be able to answer the many good questions that have been asked. I have one extra question, relating to the health service, to which few noble Lords referred. I have only just considered the matter, but people in the health service will he important in a major disaster. Particularly with regard to bioterrorism, have we ensured that workers in the health service have had the right inoculations and will still be able to serve as frontline workers in such an event?
Two key areas that noble Lords have mentioned are legislation and the very slow progress in that regard. It has been stop, start. That point was raised by my noble friends Lord Roper and Lady Harris. On the question of resources, the figure of £19 million was mentioned. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to the sum that the regional offices were hoping they would receive, which seemed to be quite a lot more than £19 million. Will the Minister enlighten us on that matter? The level of support for local authorities is worrying, given what we perceive—rightly, I believe—to be the rundown of civil defence activities in local authorities.
I hope that the Minister will assure us that the Government have a sense of urgency in helping all the bodies to be prepared. We need reassurance on detailed points. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, raised the issue that I wanted to end on, which is the importance of funds not only to local authorities but to ensure that we have the right equipment, that we can employ people with expertise and that we can carry out tasks effectively when required to do so. I thank everybody for their contribution and look forward to the Minister's reply.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, the subject of the Motion rightly concerns us all, and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for introducing the debate. The destruction of the twin towers in New York provoked shock in the world, and we were quickly aware that there was a new powerful and ruthless terrorist force with which people throughout 1201 the world had to contend. Preceding and subsequent events have shown that the A1'Qaeda network recognises no boundaries and can strike anywhere at any time without warning. We in this country would be foolish to exclude ourselves as a possible target, and we are not being unduly alarmist when we say so.
Such an attack would result in a dire emergency. That is the kind of emergency on which I shall concentrate. We can imagine that it might be on a large scale and of a kind that we have not experienced before, involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. Those are the very weapons or mass destruction that the United Nations is so anxious to ensure that Iraq does not have in its arsenal.
Planning against such eventualities is the prime duty of the state and a key line of defence. We are not without experience in this field, as various noble Baronesses have reminded us. We have dealt with terrorist acts and threats of serious destruction before. I recall that during my 15 years in government I attended meetings of the Civil Contingencies Unit on several occasions. They were small and compact meetings of relevant Ministers and civil servants, usually chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, the late Lord Whitelaw. Decisions taken by the unit were quickly conveyed down the line and implemented by the various authorities concerned. The line of command was clear and effective.
After the previous election, the Cabinet Office briefing room and the Civil Contingencies Committee, headed by the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary, took over. I was not privy to that process, but that is what I understand happened. What surprises me is the sheer complexity of the new arrangements. The CCC operates at two levels—ministerial and official—and comprises 71 representatives from all interested departments and agencies. I should not have thought that the Whitehall bunker could hold them all.
Since November last year, three substantial subcommittees have been established—one dealing with the effects of a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction; another dealing specifically with London; and the third with the United Kingdom as a whole. The theme of the last two is resilience. The entire organisation is serviced by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, which has other responsibilities as well.
The complexity of the new set-up does not end there, but this is an appropriate point at which to note the comment in the Defence Select Committee's report of July this year that the Government had:confused activity with achievement",and that there was a lack of grip and direction. That was the verdict of the Select Committee and it is a Labourdomina ted committee. The verdict of Mr Ian Hoult, the general secretary of the Emergency Planning Society, writing in the Guardian, on 21st September, was more forthright still.Our emergency planning is a shambles",he said.
1202 The Select Committee was particularly scathing about the Civil Contingencies Secretariat and reported:It is a matter of regret that the CCS was not able to respond more positively and energetically to the events of 11 September. Instead of using its unique position at the heart of Government to lead a strategic response it seems to have become bogged down in the details of the plans of individual departments".In their response, the Government stated that the CCS had improved the country's state of readiness by. for example, creating a dedicated co-ordination centre so that there can be a seamless transition under the Home Secretary's chairmanship from the preventative phase of a potential terrorist threat to the management of the consequences of an actual event. Therefore, the Home Secretary will not even have to change chairs between one phase and the next.
Clearly, the whole business of preventing terrorism has become entwined in the business of dealing with the consequences. That is implicit in the emergency planning strategy, which is based on a logical sequence of assessment, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. Of course that requires a high degree of coordination and co-operation—so much so, indeed, as to make one wonder whether it is achievable and whether it would not be wiser to have some degree of separation and concentration.
Curiously the Government have recognised that to some extent in the upper echelons of' the Civil Service. In June this year, the Prime Minister created a new post of Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator at Permanent Secretary level in the Cabinet Office—a post held by Sir David Omand. We were told that it was being created to enhance the capacity at the centre of government to co-ordinate security, intelligence and consequence management matters. But the interesting point to me is that Sir David takes over certain specific responsibilities from the Cabinet Secretary. That surely implies that a degree of separation and concentration is accepted as necessary within government. I am all for joined-up government but we must be careful to avoid confusion and ensure clarity.
That was part of the background that led my right honourable friend in the other place, the Shadow Home Secretary, Mr Oliver Letwin, to ask the Prime Minister to consider appointing a senior political figure in overall charge of preparations for any future terrorist attack. I know that my noble friend Lady Blatch fully supports his plea. The Defence Select Committee report had already called for,strong and dedicated political leadership".It added:We are not convinced that the Home Secretary, given his many other responsibilities, is best placed to deliver it".A separate, dedicated ministerial role was its keynote recommendation, and subsequent events have justified my right honourable friend's call.
The National Audit Office report on NHS emergency planning in England showed that the NHS was ill-prepared to cope with a terrorist attack or major disaster involving 500 or more casualties or chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Few of us will 1203 forget the extreme concern expressed on 20th November by the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Michael Boyce, about the impact on military effectiveness of having 19,000 troops on stand-by for fire-fighting during the recent eight-day strike. We should face the fact that the possibility of war is sufficiently imminent for the Chancellor to have announced last week that he would borrow £1 billion pounds against that eventuality.
I am sorry that the Conservative Opposition did not receive the wholehearted support of the Liberal Democrats for Oliver Letwin's plea to the Prime Minister. I gather that Mr Simon Hughes dismissed it as a "back-of-an-envelope idea". Perhaps I may point out to the Liberal Democrat Benches in this House that that was surprising considering that the Liberal Party conference at Bournemouth last year passed a motion on defence and security which favoured giving a Cabinet Minister responsibility for all aspects of defence against international terrorism in the UK. Of course, that could be interpreted in different ways, but surely the thrust was towards a concentration of ministerial control and responsibility in line with the Defence Select Committee's unambiguous recommendation.
Finally, there is the American decision to appoint a heartland Minister. Of course, the United States is different; the federal government must galvanise the States to protect itself. But we, too, have devolved government: Scotland carries a great deal of responsibility in this area through its Parliament—so far as I know, anti-terrorism is not a reserved matter; and Wales has rather less responsibility through the Assembly.
But we must not forget that the impact of any terrorist attack is local in the first instance and that the local authorities and the three "blue light" services will bear the first brunt. In his reply, will the noble Lord confirm that the effect of the Civil Defence (Grant) Act has been to cut emergency planning resources by 5 per cent in cash terms and 7 per cent in real terms? What has been the cut to local authorities? The Local Government Association claims a 55 per cent cut in civil defence grant in real terms since 1990. No wonder it complains bitterly.
Reviews have taken place of local authorities' and other services' emergency plans. Various weaknesses have been identified. I am particularly concerned about the communication networks, which may be subject to disruption. Of course, it is vital that command and control centres continue to function. Again, assurances are required. The local authorities are deeply concerned. It is hoped that the Government have ensured that nuclear and other major installations have been secured against attack. The thought of an aerial attack on Sellafield, as outlined in evidence to the Defence Select Committee, would make the bravest of us blanch.
1204 After the emergency planning review, which I can tell my noble friend Lady Blatch was carried out by the CCS—
§ Baroness Crawley
My Lords, I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but he is four minutes over the agreed time for Front Bench speakers.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, I understood that I would be allowed 10 minutes at least, which was the amount allowed to Back Benchers. We have some time in hand.
I conclude by saying that the emergency planning review was held by the CCS, and the Defence Select Committee concluded that there was an urgent need to replace the Civil Defence Act 1948, but we have seen no sign of that.
We all fervently hope that the dreadful events that have been on our minds in this debate never occur, but we must be ever-watchful and fully prepared. I hazard a guess that we are not fully prepared as yet.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin)
My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken, especially the noble Lord, Lord Roper, who proposed the debate, because it is such an important issue that it benefits from an opportunity for us to consider it. I shall try to speak rapidly to say as much as I can in my limited time.
First, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, was absolutely right to say that the nature of our perception of threat has gone through a scale shift in the past 12 months. This debate concerns not just terrorism but emergencies such as a cessation of fuel supplies or disasters, natural or otherwise. We are also discussing activities that may occur at a whole range of levels. They can be solely local, across a number of authorities at a regional level or national. In practice, they almost always have an impact locally and can therefore require planning at different levels, which is one of the challenges to the responsible authorities.
There is clearly an element of prevention involved as well—considering to what extent by improving intelligence one can reduce risk. That is crucial; the Government are putting more resources into it; but no one should be sanguine that that will automatically succeed. That is part of the picture, but I shall say no more on that.
I turn next to the key questions that I shall address: who is responsible; are they ready and prepared; and what more do we think we need to do? I shall try to keep to that plot as I wind up the debate.
First, on the question of who is responsible, all that we know about coping with emergencies tells us that clarity of command and responsibility is fundamental. The Government have spent some time considering that during the past 12 months, and the position is clear. At the local level, if there is a disaster or emergency, in the first instance the police are undoubtedly responsible. Let me give a clear, strong example of that. In London, if there is a major 1205 incident, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is in charge with a committee, a group, under him consisting of all the other bodies. We must have that clarity of command if we are to deal effectively with the first phase of problems.
Secondly, as one would expect, the Government have also looked across government to see whether there is clarity of command within government itself. We have considered the structures at the centre. The Home Secretary has the clear leadership role, accountable to the Prime Minister, and under that is a structure of relevant committees considering the issues. Effectively, there are three committees: one considering terrorism risk; one considering how we increase our resilience to cope; and one considering how in practice we would handle a problem as it occurred. I shall not bore your Lordships with the detail or their technical names.
The second aspect of considering the clarity of command is ensuring that there is a clear statement of which government department will lead on each type of situation. That is clear and precise, and there are also default operations for when there is any doubt. Over and above that, as no doubt noble Lords would tell me, there may be a range of incidents. In such situations, the centre will take clear command and where there is any doubt, the centre will act early and downscale afterwards, rather than acting late and upscaling. In other words, we have learnt from testing during the past few years that it is better, if anything, to go over the top rather than under in terms of pulling the response to the centre and responding powerfully.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and shall be brief. If that is so clear and well understood across Whitehall, why, only one week ago, when I asked who was in charge for the Government as the health spokesman in this House, did I receive the response, "I do not know"?
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath is the health spokesman in this House.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the Minister whom I asked was Lord Rooker, and he said that he did not know.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, be that as it may, I can only answer that the position is clear. The Government have made sure of that within government, as I sought to explain. That has been reinforced by the appointment of Sir David Omand. He has been given that responsibility by Andrew Turnbull for the best of reasons: to give someone with his weight of experience—of course, he is ultimately accountable within the Civil Service to Andrew Turnbull—the time and attention to focus on the matter as a priority, as he is doing. The reason there is a large number of people potentially on the Civil Contingencies Committee is that government is big. They do not all sit around the table at once but come in at various times as and when there is a need.
1206 The next issue that we have identified during the past few years is that we are now aware that a disaster could take place not just in the area of an individual local authority. It could easily occur in several local authorities at once or across several local authorities. The Government, through my right honourable friend Nick Raynsford, London local authorities, the Metropolitan Police and others, have expended much effort on considering the arrangements in London—the capital—which is obviously a potential prime target.
A considerable amount of detailed work has been done to consider how we need to strengthen our preparedness. That has led us to the conclusion that, above all, we need to reinforce the role of the commissioner of police, clarify the local government lead role at chief executive level and recognise that we need robust cross-local government arrangements to deal with potential incidents.
Our conclusion from that is that we need a strengthening of regional capacity across the country. That is why we are signalling that it is important that, in the first instance, the government offices for the region are strengthened with an additional team capable of giving leadership and testing that capacity.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, shakes her head. But in the first instance, we need capacity within the Civil Service to hold the ring and pull the issues together to ensure that the respective authorities are considering contingency planning and their preparedness to cope with a wide range of civil emergencies at a level wider than that of the individual local authority.
None of that takes away for a second from the importance of local authorities. The county emergency service is crucial in that respect, but it will not be able to deal with issues that span wider than an individual county, nor would we expect it to do so.
I turn to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, which is a good one, about the role of elected members. I think that we have all experienced a local emergency. The key role for elected members, both now and in future, will be to put pressure on the paid executive to ensure that proper preparation and planning are in place, that it is a significant issue on the authority's agenda—whether it is a police authority or a local authority—and that it has proper plans.
That is not always the case in every local authority. In a fair number, that does not sit on the agenda as a serious issue. That may be surprising—it surprises me—post-September 11th. It is crucial that elected members give leadership on that issue at local authority level and do not accept excuses from officers.
Let me leave aside the issue of who is responsible, the detailed structure of government and what is happening in London. Time will not allow me to go into more detail. I turn to an equally important question. If responsibilities are clear, as I believe that they are, recognising that such situations may be highly complex, are the authorities prepared? The short answer is: we can never be adequately prepared.
1207 But we have certainly raised our perception of the need for a deeper level of preparedness than would have been possible 15 months or so ago.
The problem is that we cannot predict everything that may happen. As part of horizon scanning and risk assessment, central government, local government and the Police Service must try to make an estimate and think the unthinkable. The big shift since September 11th is that we now know that we ought to prepare for things for which we would not previously have dreamt about preparing. The previously unthinkable is now much more thinkable. So, there is a need for a shift of scale in recognising the potential risks to which we could be exposed.
Central government is doing a range of things. First, it recognises that we need some form of performance management testing for central government itself, for the emergency services and for local government. In a sense, it is trying to identify the capabilities that ought to be in place in any organisation that has responsibilities in such a situation and test its preparedness by considering whether it has a strong capacity at the centre to respond; whether it has a supply of essential services; whether there is a local response capacity and the capacity to deal with decontamination and site clearance; whether it has vaccination and treatment facilities; whether it can deal with mass casualties and mass evacuation and identify and detect risks; and whether it has communication capabilities in place. That is the diagnostic against which any organisation should be tested.
The second stage is that we may need to develop national standards for what we might expect to have in place to test those capabilities. We are considering that. The third element is a process for auditing and testing—be it a central government department, a local authority or a police force—that those standards have been put in place and can be met. In other words, we cannot test for every eventuality, because we do not know every eventuality. We must consider what portfolio of capabilities we might require and seek to have clear standards for what should be there and test it.
The next element is to get as close to reality testing as possible. Exercises are a crucial part of that process. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked when the last cross-government exercise was undertaken: it was "Capital Response", which took place between 18th and 19th October 2002. In addition, the Home Office supports three full-scale live exercises each year. They are held over a weekend and test specific parts of the counter-terrorism plans. There has been a growing trend towards involving the whole range of responding agencies in the exercises to validate the arrangements. Between 600 and 1,000 people take part in those exercises. Over and above that, between 15 and 20 seminar-style exercises are held each year on elements of counter-terrorism.
In recent years, the following exercises have taken place: a test of a national gas supply shortage; a test of the availability of telecommunications in a crisis; a 1208 series of classified contingency plans for responding to a range of terrorist threats, including those that might involve threatened or actual use of CBRN weapons; and tests of command control and communications procedures in the event of a catastrophic incident in London, as I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. There will be further exercises, but I cannot, given the time, go into detail.
At one level, we might hope that we would not have to ask local authorities whether they had the capacity to remove rubble or to deal with mass evacuation. However, it was demonstrated that it was necessary to ask that question. There was a mixed response, which will he no surprise. Some such measures seemed to be in place; others did not. That is part of reality testing.
I was also asked about medical supplies. Time is tight, but I can say that noble Lords will have seen recently in the media that the Department of Health is taking a range of actions, as one of the departments with a lead role in many contingencies. A procurement exercise is under way, which will put in place digital radio communications for the police. That could roll on to the ambulance service, so that we would have intercommunication between the emergency services. The intention is to have a fully manned, equipped and trained reserve reaction force in place by the summer of next year.
I noted the comment about the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. An enormous amount of good work is being done by the secretariat; that is not a ground for complacency. My judgment—I have spent some time at weekends there—and that of others is that, after testing in the recent fire dispute, it has coped well. There has been the capacity to run things from the centre effectively and well.
Time is too tight to give all the figures for funding. No local authority has less than it had in the past. Part of the Bill will consider whether we need a new grant system for dealing with civil emergencies. We will consider that, but I cannot believe that any local authority would use the hoary old chestnut that it will not do anything because there is not enough central government grant. Unless a local authority has a guarantee from somewhere that it is in a disaster-free zone, that would be irresponsible.
What more and what next? In a sense, the civil contingencies Bill is important. We expect to publish it in draft form in the spring. Early in 2003, we will publish an update on Dealing with Disaster, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, asked. The Bill should be the culmination of a process that is already under way. All that it will do is to put in place for anybody who is in any doubt explicit statutory responsibilities for the relevant emergency services and a process for auditing whether they are meeting them. I would expect that any good local authority already does all those things. There is a leadership issue for local authority members and chief executives and the LGA itself. They should not wait for the Bill to tell them to prepare effective plans—by themselves and with others. They should be doing so. It is as plain as the nose on one's face that the world is 1209 different from what it was two years ago, and they should act in that context. I cannot cover more. My time is up.
On some issues, it is impossible to divulge information to Parliament on, for example, terrorist threats. I know that the House recognises that. However, we should not be so shy about whether government—national or local—is prepared to deal with the consequences of a disaster. In other words, there is nothing wrong with parliamentary testing and accountability on such issues; it is part of what we believe in. There may be some doubt about whom to ask. In this House, it is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and I, as the Home Office representatives. In the other place, people should, if in doubt, ask the Home Secretary. He has the overall responsibility. That is, I think, clear. We would not wish questions to be impeded by any doubt—
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Elton)
My Lords, the time allotted to this debate has elapsed. Does the noble Lord wish to withdraw the Motion?
§ Lord Roper
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in the debate, particularly the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.