§ 11.28 a.m.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COM M ITTES (Lord Brabazon of Tara) in the Chair.]
§ Clause 2 [Duty to assess, plan and advise]:
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 22:
§ Page 3, line 8, leave out subsection (2).
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 23, 25, 26, 38, 46 and 47.
Amendment No. 22 is tabled to seek to understand what subsection (2) means. It provides that
a duty under subsection (1) applies in relation to an emergency only",
in the circumstances set out in paragraphs (a) and (b). Under Clause 2(1), the responder has a duty to assess and plan. That has to be the first stage, which must be right. However, under Clause 2(2), the duties required to be undertaken to assess and plan apply only in certain circumstances. I am unclear on how the responder can know whether the circumstances apply unless the provisions are under subsection (1).
Amendments Nos. 23 and 25 suggest that there may be scope for a Minister to indicate which, of a number of bodies, should,
take the lead in exercising a function or coordinating the exercise of functions".
There may be services and circumstances in which it is necessary to know who takes the lead. The Minister and I are both veterans of the Fire and Rescue Services Act, in the passage of which there were discussions on the relationship between the fire and police authorities. The issue may be covered by other legislation; I simply do not know. The point may be quite technical. The draft regulations provide for protocols between responders, and perhaps who will take the lead will be covered in those, but I would be grateful if the Minister would assist.
Amendment No. 26 would leave out, from subsection (5)(a), "or is not". That would make the provision state that regulations could,
make provision about the kind of emergency in relation to which a specified person or body is to perform a duty".
I query whether regulations should provide whether a specified person or body is not to perform a duty. It is a bit puzzling that regulations could, in effect, say to a
body, "We have just given you a whole page that tells you what to do. Now we are telling you which of that list you are not to do".
§ An NHS trust may not be the body to assess a risk, for instance. I would accept that, but I am unclear about how the provision will work. Will the regulations provide that those who assess risks will disseminate their findings and evaluation to bodies such as an NHS trust that would not be required to assess it, if the regulations so provide? I hope that I have picked the right sort of example.
§ Amendment No. 38 would omit Clause 2(5)(o), which provides for regulations to confer functions on Ministers, the National Assembly for Wales and so on. I acknowledge that an affirmative resolution will be required but, constitutionally, it seems quite interesting that Ministers can acquire extra functions through a back-door route.
§ Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 question whether collaboration is to be prohibited, which is how I read the relevant parts of the Bill. I beg to move.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
I simply speak to Amendment No. 22, with which I have some difficulty. What the subsection means is important. It imposes a duty on someone in relation to an emergency only if, in one case, it is,likely seriously to obstruct the person or body in the performance of".their functions. Then, however, paragraph (b) states that,it is likely that the person or body … would consider it necessary or desirable to take action to prevent the emergency".If one can take action to prevent the emergency, it is not an emergency. There is a lack of clarity in the drafting.
If this is a Bill to deal with emergencies, we need to think very seriously about it being that. If it is a Bill to deal with emergency planning—another matter entirely—perhaps we ought to deal with that in the Title. Everyone has a duty to plan and think about what happens in the event of an emergency. I have looked at the end of the Bill at the list of repeals of existing emergency planning legislation, and I assume that it is complementary and has caught every emergency planning power that exists.
I come back to the fact that an emergency is an event. Planning for an emergency can be done, and it is very sensible. But if one can prevent an emergency, there is no emergency in the first place. It is a moot point how one makes the distinction between action to deal with an emergency and the planning stage. Conceivably, planning might prevent an emergency, but it seems to me that it would not. One thing that worries me about the Bill is that it gives people power to start taking all sorts of action before there is an emergency. I wonder whether that is correct. In many instances, it may well lead to inappropriate action.
394 To that extent, I support the noble Baroness in her question on this part of the Bill. My remarks are to try to persuade the Minister to explain with greater clarity than exists in the present wording exactly what is implied by the subsection.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their points and questions on this part of the Bill. I shall go very carefully through it, and can probably cover most of the points raised. In essence, the amendments probe the extent of civil protection duties in Part 1 and the scope for responders to enter into collaborative arrangements to fulfil those duties.
When we debated the Bill previously, I made it plain that we saw it very much as a civil protection framework developed in a very open way—in as consultative a way as one can—so that emergencies would he covered. We are working closely with all the stakeholder groups to ensure that that openness continues. We hope that that will inform the way in which guidance is produced, so that that guidance accurately reflects good practice.
The amendments raise interesting issues, and enable us to demonstrate that the Government have a sound approach. I shall deal first with Amendment No. 22. In our discussion on Amendments Nos. 1 to 6 about the definition of emergencies, I noted that we were striving to underpin the civil protection framework set out in Part 1, as it describes which events or situations will trigger the civil protection duties. Simply because an event or situation threatens serious damage to human welfare, the environment or security of a place in the United Kingdom to such an extent that it meets the definition of emergency in Clause 1 does not necessarily mean that the civil protection duties apply. There are a number of responders—in particular the "blue-light services"—who deal with emergencies every day. But the Bill is not about day-to-day events. For example, requiring the police to assess the risk of, and maintain plans to deal with, serious crime is not the job of the Bill, even though many incidents of serious crime will fall within the definition of an emergency. The police deal with crime on a daily basis. It is for police legislation to prescribe how the police should perform those ditties.
The Joint Committee indicated that it did not consider the definition of emergency to be a sufficient threshold for the duties. The Government agreed. That is why we have introduced Clause 2(2). Its effect is that the duties under the Bill should apply only to those events which are both emergencies within the meaning of Clause 1 and which stretch the capability of the responder. Clause 2(2) closely follows the existing definition of "major incident" used by responders and in the current guidance on civil protection, Dealing with disaster, which is a guidance document issued by the Cabinet Office. The test in Clause 2(2) makes sense, it is grounded in experience and it commands the support of the emergency planning community. For that reason, we intend keep it.
395 Amendments Nos. 23 and 25 would enable regulations under Clause 2 to provide which person or body should take the lead in exercising a function or co-ordinating the exercise of the functions. I agree that there is merit in regulations providing which responder in an area should take the lead in performing a particular duty. Rather than all responders in a particular area performing the same duty—for example, assessing the risk of a flood—it will often be appropriate for one responder to take the lead in assessing the risk of a flood—the Environment Agency in most instances—and sharing its work with others. Furthermore, it might be appropriate for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to take the lead in assessing the risk of maritime pollution and sharing the work with others—mostly local authorities and, perhaps, health service responders.
Indeed the Government propose, subject to consultation, to make regulations to provide for this. For example, the regulations relating to the duty to advise, warn and inform the public will ensure that for any emergency only a single body takes the lead in communicating with the public, with the other bodies acting in support. For most eventualities this "lead responder" will be established by agreement in advance, according to processes described in accompanying guidance. I agree with the thinking behind Amendments Nos. 23 and 25, but they are unnecessary as the Bill currently allows this. Clause 2(3)(b) allows provision to be made about the manner in which a duty is to be performed and that includes appointing lead responders". I hope that that is clear.
Amendment No. 26 has also raised some concerns. This Bill is an enabling Bill—I am sure that most noble Lords understand that—and is intended to provide Ministers with the flexibility to cut back and clarify the duties in the Bill. Clause 2(5)(a) currently provides that a Minister of the Crown may make regulations concerning the kind of emergency for which a local responder should and should not perform a duty. The amendments would remove the possibility to specify that a duty should not be performed in relation to an emergency. This is a sensible provision that the Government should retain. It is worth setting out how the Government will, or could, use this provision.
For example, the Bill requires responders to assess the risk of an emergency occurring—which means any emergency. The current draft of the regulations provides that responders need only assess the risk of an emergency occurring which will, or may, affect the geographical area for which the responder is responsible. The power to specify the kind of emergencies in relation to which the duties should be performed is not intended as a means of micro-managing local responders, but rather as a way of government offering clarification. Another example is where two or more responders were performing a duty in a way which overlapped or caused confusion through duplication. This provision could be used to specify who should and should not perform a duty in relation to a particular emergency. This need has not yet arisen, but it may in the future.
396 Amendment No. 38 would prevent regulations under Clause 2 conferring a function on a Minister or another person. I can understand why the possibility of a Minister conferring functions on himself in this area may cause concern, but the Government believe that this amendment would remove a useful area of flexibility, which we may need to have. For example, the Bill imposes a duty on local responders to assess risks. However, some risks—for example, terrorism or severe weather—are best assessed nationally. The draft regulations currently make use of that power by conferring a function on a Minister of the Crown of issuing risk assessments to local responders. This means that local responders do not have to duplicate unnecessarily risk assessment undertaken at the central or regional level. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which has just reported on the Bill, did not raise any concerns on this enabling provision, which is essentially a power to sub-delegate.
Clause 5 enables Ministers to make regulations requiring a responder to perform a function in relation to an emergency. Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 would prevent orders under Clause 5 prohibiting a responder collaborating with, or delegating functions to, another responder. While the situations in which it would be appropriate to bar collaboration or delegation are likely to be unusual, orders are more likely to require collaboration than prohibit it. But there may well be circumstances in which that would be appropriate. For example, where a uniform response is required, delegating a function to a third party may not be appropriate. Orders under Clause 5 must be approved by both Houses before being made; so Parliament would be able to consider any provision of this kind before it was made.
In conclusion, the Bill is intended to provide a flexible, long-term framework for civil contingency planning at the local level. The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness would undermine this and I hope that she will not press them. I apologise for examining the matter in some detail, but we must all try to understand how such matters work in practice and why flexibility is necessary in certain definitions that should be in place in particular circumstances. I hope that the detail has helped.
§ Baroness Hamwee
Indeed, it has. I will have to read the examples that the Minister has given to see whether there might be other examples that are less benign. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to an "emergency situation" as distinct from an "emergency event". Perhaps the answer to that lies in the definition of "emergency" in the first line of the Bill, which says,'emergency' means an event or situation".Perhaps that deals with noble Lord's concerns.
Regarding Amendment No. 26, the Minister referred to bodies taking responsibility for their own geographical areas but not other areas. That is sensible. But subsection (5)(a) refers to the "kind of 397 emergency", not the place where it is happening. I suppose that one would not be expecting one service necessarily to be able to perform the functions of another—although having said that, I remember the debates about whether defibrillators should be carried on all emergency vehicles. So the matter is not always straightforward.
On Amendments Nos. 46 and 47, the Minister talked about barring delegation. I understand that one might wish to prohibit delegation, but I wonder whether one would ever want to prohibit collaboration. There is much concern regarding this issue and I apologise to other noble Lords to whom all this might have seemed a bit opaque. I am grateful for the examples. I may wish to return to a couple of points at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 23 not moved.]
§ Lord Jopling moved Amendment No. 24:
Page 3, line 21, at end insert—
( ) Regulations under subsection (3) may, in particular, make provision—
- (a) requiring members of the emergency services as well as certain members of the relevant voluntary services to be vaccinated or injected against organisms which might be used by terrorists, notwithstanding existing health and safety, or other legislation,
- (b) requiring those authorities which control ports, airports or frontiers as well as local authorities to install special equipment to monitor the control of lorries, containers or other objects, for suspicious contents or persons,
- (c) requiring those authorities which control ports, airports or frontiers, as well as local authorities to install specified equipment designed to monitor persons, conveyances or other objects for radiological material, and
- (d) requiring local authorities to obtain specific static or mobile equipment which is designed to identify the presence of chemicals or biological material, which might be used in a terrorist attack."
§ The noble Lord said: The amendment follows remarks that I made at Second Reading expressing my serious concerns at the nation's lack of preparation for a serious terrorist attack. I said then and say again that I believe that the Government and the nation are severely unprepared for the kind of attack which could confront us at any time.
On 17 May, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, wrote a letter to my noble friend Lady Buscombe which I think sums it all up. He said that,
the Bill is not driven by urgent operational need; rather it is a timely modernisation of existing legislation".
I think that that says it all. To me, it takes little account of the remarks made some time ago by Eliza Manningham-Buller, Director General of the Security Service (MI5). She told the Royal United Services Institute:
My conclusion, based on the intelligence we have uncovered, is that we are faced with the realistic possibility of some form of unconventional attack. That could include a Chemical, Biological. Radiological or Nuclear attack. Sadly, given the widespread proliferation of the technical knowledge to construct these weapons, it will be only a matter of time before a crude version of a CBRN attack is launched at a major Western city".
§ The Government say that this matter is not urgent. I am sorry, my Lords, but I believe that it is very urgent indeed. It is made all the more urgent because of our association with the United States 18 months ago in attacking Iraq. I made a speech to your Lordships on the eve of that attack, when I dissociated myself from both my own Front Bench and the Government because I thought that it was a mistake. I shall not get into all that, but that attack has made us very much more exposed to a terrorist attack than we would otherwise have been.
§ The Bill deals largely with an emergency. An emergency is defined in one part of the Bill as a situation which is about to occur, is occurring or has occurred. My belief is that this is all far too late. The Government should have powers to take firm measures in certain directions long before an emergency is about to occur, In addition, in many cases where an emergency is about to occur, it is then far too late to deal with many of the things that should have been dealt with.
When he first wrote a letter to many noble Lords following Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, made no reference whatever to the comments that I made at that stage of the Bill. When I protested about that, he was kind enough to write to me again on 7 September at some length, but he said in that letter that my comments were "outwith the Bill". However, the Long Title states that this is a Bill:
To make provision about civil contingencies".
§ I should be very surprised indeed if he seeks to argue today that the amendment that we are now discussing is not entirely a provision about civil contingencies. Therefore, I reject that part of his comment entirely.
I come now to the specifics of my amendment. In paragraph (a), I have sought to give the Government powers to require certain members of the emergency services to be vaccinated as a precaution against various bacteriological or virus bodies which could be used in a terrorist attack. I should have thought that it would be basic common sense that a large number of people in the emergency services must be prepared to deal with anyone who becomes ill as a consequence of a biological terrorist attack. I agree very much with the attitude of the Government as expressed in the letter which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, sent me on 7 September. He told me that it was the Government's view that,
it would be prudent to have a small cohort of key health personnel in each Region vaccinated in advance of an outbreak of smallpox [so that any initial or suspect cases could be dealt with safely], a limited vaccination programme of key healthcare staff who form the basis of the Regional Response Teams has been undertaken and vaccination of a number of ambulance workers in each Region is underway".
§ I approve of that. I consider it prudent and sensible that emergency workers should be vaccinated against various conditions which might form the basis of a bacteriological attack.
§ But let us look at the result of that programme. Back in March, I asked how many doctors, nurses and so on had been vaccinated. I was told that the answer was: 140 doctors over the whole country and 123 nurses. I 399 asked the same Question in July. I was told that the number of doctors had gone up by one to 141, that the number of nurses over that four-month period had gone up by three to 126, and that now, if you please, over the whole country only six ambulance workers have been vaccinated against smallpox. I am talking about smallpox but everything that I said applies equally to anthrax and other medical situations.
§ I believe I told your Lordships at Second Reading about a visit that I made to the United States earlier this year with the Civilian Affairs Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, on which I represent your Lordships. I was in California discussing these matters with one of the premier scientific organisations which make it their business to find technical ways of combating a terrorist attack of all kinds. I was told that at present in the United States 40,000 doctors, nurses and ambulance workers are vaccinated against smallpox, compared with our miserable figure of 270 or so emergency health workers.
If we do have an attack of this sort, it could come totally out of the blue, without any warning. For some days, we might not even know that an attack had taken place until clinical symptoms began to appear among those unfortunate enough to contract whichever disease. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, wrote to me saying:
There is no evidence of a specific threat of smallpox at present".
§ Of course there is not. I know that. We all know that. But cultures exist, although there are no cases of smallpox in the world at present and there have not been for many years, thank goodness. But, of course, cultures exist, some in fairly doubtful security conditions. It is perfectly clear—and it is understood by anyone who has studied this matter—that there is a real possibility of an attack of smallpox, anthrax or a similar dreadful disease.
If the threat exists, one has to ask why the United States has reacted as it has and on the scale that it has, whereas here we seem to have done very little indeed. I know that privately the Government are very concerned that the scheme has not been much more widely taken up. That is a concern. There have been some stories about the effects of a smallpox vaccination. I note that in that letter of 7 September the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said:
Smallpox vaccine contains live vaccinia virus that can cause disease in those vaccinated, particularly those with reduced immunity".
I was puzzled about that, so I asked a question of the Government about what evidence they have quantifying the risk of acquiring smallpox as a result of vaccination with live smallpox vaccine. On 11 October—this very week—I received a reply from the noble Lord, Lord Warner, to a Written Question—HL4154—that I asked, in which he said:
There is no risk of acquiring smallpox as a consequence of being vaccinated with smallpox vaccine".—[Official Report, 11/10/04; col. WA 33]
I do not follow why I am told on the one hand that there is a risk and on the other hand that there is no risk.
I am sorry to burden the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, with his own letter, but it is important in relation to this highly difficult and urgent matter. He said to me—this astonished me—in that same letter of 7 September:
It should be noted that even in an outbreak situation compulsory vaccination will not be permissible for emergency service personnel".
I am bound to say that if that is true, that is an idiotic situation. If we have an outbreak and we have only 270 doctors, nurses and ambulance workers who have been prepared in advance for a smallpox attack, and it is not possible to undertake compulsory vaccination, we are living in a totally mad situation. Therefore, it is all the more important that the Government should have the power to require emergency service workers to be vaccinated against smallpox.
§ I do not know what all the fuss and talk of risk is about, because I suspect that there are very few people sitting in your Lordships' House at the moment who have not, at some time in their lives, been vaccinated—many of us on frequent occasions—against smallpox. I do not understand. Only a relatively few years ago, if one went to various countries where there may have been a possibility of a smallpox outbreak, it was standard procedure. Many of us as children were vaccinated against smallpox as a routine so I cannot see why the Government sit back and say that there are all kinds of risks with regard to vaccination.
§ I believe that, if the situation worsened, the Government should be able, at once and if necessary, to say, "We believe that the danger has escalated", and to use the necessary powers. I am not saying that immediately everyone in the emergency services should be vaccinated, but I believe that the Government should have the power. That does not mean that an emergency is about to occur, but the power should be available to the Government now.
§ I turn to paragraph (b)—the final three paragraphs deal with more technical matters. As I have told your Lordships, I visited California earlier this year with a NATO group. We visited a remarkable company called SAIC in San Diego, southern California, where 40,000 people are employed in the production of items concerned with the protection of the civilian population, among a good many other things. There we saw a piece of equipment that was demonstrated to us, under the name of Vacis—I am sure that there are other similar technical systems in the world. A lorry or a container is put through a monitoring arch and one can see whether there are people or suspicious objects inside.
§ I believe that the Government should have the power to insist that the authorities that control entry points into the United Kingdom should install equipment of that kind. The Government may already have such a power, but if not, I believe that they should have. Likewise, under paragraph (c) of the amendment, well known, well authenticated equipment is mentioned.
§ I have here a file with definitions and specifications of all kinds of such equipment that are increasingly and widely used in the United States as precautionary 401 measures. I am not talking about science fiction. It is possible to install equipment that will detect radiological material. I also believe that the Government should have the power to require authorities to install that equipment to discover whether radiological material is being brought into the country.
§ Finally, on paragraph (d), the Government should have the power to require local authorities to install the kind of equipment—some static and some mobile—that can very quickly tell whether there are chemical substances in the environment that could be from a terrorist attack, such as nerve gas and other dreadful chemical substances about which we have been learning a good deal recently. Some of the equipment is hand held and some is static, but it can detect both chemical and biological substances.
§ The important point about an attack, which could come out of the blue, is that one should know as quickly as possible what is being used and where, and whether it exists at all. That is the purpose of my amendment. As I said just now, perhaps some of these powers exist already. If they do, we can only hope that we shall be told so by the Minister today. It is very important that we know whether such powers exist.
§ I am not asking the Minister to tell us specifically what technical equipment is in use in this country. It would perhaps be foolish of him to tell us. But privately I know that there is nowhere near as much equipment as there ought to be. Therefore, in preparation for the Report stage I hope he will tell us what powers exist in the hands of government to provide such things. If there are none—I suspect that there are not as many as there should be—we can reconsider the matter on Report.
§ I am sorry to have gone on for so long but I feel passionately about this issue. I think it is essential to sound the warning. I have said before—and I say it again—if something dreadful were to happen, I am convinced that the Government would be open to the most tremendous criticism. Far be it from me to protect this Government from criticism, but in this case I think that it is essential to do so. I beg to move.
§ Lord Monson
I understand the reasoning and the good intentions behind this amendment. I suggest that paragraph (a) goes too far, although I am sure that there is much merit in paragraphs (b) (c) and (d). We are, after all, talking about civilians, who, by definition, are not subject to military discipline; and some of them are volunteers.
Of course it is highly desirable that key personnel should volunteer to be vaccinated against smallpox, and I am sure that most would if they were encouraged to do so. But what about those with religious objections or those who on medical grounds may be sensitive to some of a vaccine's components? The noble Lord's amendment does not confine itself to smallpox vaccine; it could extend to some of the vaccines used in the Gulf War which can have much more serious side effects.
402 What would happen if the noble Lord's amendment were agreed to as it stands and people refused to be vaccinated? Would they be compulsorily held down and vaccinated, would they be sacked if they were in paid employment, or would they be arrested and put on trial if they were volunteers? There is a lot of merit in part of the noble Lord's amendment, but not in paragraph (a).
§ Lord Elton
I rise because people may possibly think that my noble friend is a solitary alarmist. I think that he is much less than an alarmist, and I would go further than he does in two respects. First, I was sorry to hear him say that these steps were not needed immediately on the assumption that it would be possible to forecast when the risk of certain events became acute; but, as he said, they are quite likely to arrive out of a clear blue sky. I am certain that some of them are in preparation at this moment. Therefore, there is a degree of urgency about this, which needs to be borne in mind and reacted to.
Secondly, in paragraphs (c) and (d) the list of possible noxious substances is incomplete. Paragraph (c) requires means of monitoring persons and so on for radiological material but not for chemical and biological, and in paragraph (d) my noble friend has left out radiological. There may be reasons for that, but it seems to me that this is an acutely important question. If the risk is real—and I think it is—the answer to it cannot be partial. That hears on what the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has just said. Those who are professionally in jobs that protect the public must be fully protected in order to qualify. Therefore, it seems necessary that there must be some compulsion.
The question is different where the agency is voluntary. But again it is a question of whether an unprotected person who is required to deal with a chemical, or more particularly a biological, attack is qualified to carry out the function as a volunteer. But I am wholeheartedly behind my noble friend. I would say that the risk only diminishes in proportion to our preparedness to meet it. At the moment it is very great.
§ Lord Garden
I share the sense of urgency of the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Elton, about the need for measures. We do not know when or if there will be a CBRN terrorist attack. But it is obviously a possibility in the new situation in which we find ourselves and we need to take precautions urgently.
However, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Joping, breaks into two completely different sorts. One puts action on authorities to do things, which I totally support; the other makes a very difficult judgment about how much we should compel people in employment or even the voluntary services, and, if necessary, counter to health and safety regulations.
I deal first with paragraphs (b) (c) and (d), which I support totally. I assume that the Government will go ahead with paragraphs (b) and (c) with all urgency. I hope that that is true, so that, as the technology becomes available, we can control the points of access for the various noxious materials that might come. Paragraph (d) is vital. We need to give guidance to 403 local authorities on what scale of equipment they need. Some detection systems are still in their infancy. As the technologies come along, we shall get better detection systems. We need to make sure that local authorities are kept up to date with what they need to have as we improve this. So I support paragraphs (b), (c) and (d), but would very much emphasise the need to task local authorities with the sorts of scales of equipment needed.
On paragraph (a) I think we are in very difficult territory. I take the case, for example, of when we sent our military off to fight a war in Iraq—in which at least the Prime Minister believed they would be exposed to biological and chemical weapons perhaps. We failed to give them the protection of air filters in their vehicles because we did not give enough equipment. Even then we left the administration of the various vaccines to informed consent. That was to a military force. I think that is right. In the end we must get the balance between the risks, and there are risks associated with taking vaccines and particularly with taking lots of vaccines.
We have talked a lot about smallpox, but there are a whole range of potential biological warfare agents, some of which do not have vaccines which would give one much more than partial protection and some no protection at all. So, we would have a difficult decision as to which vaccines. We would have questions on what the ill effects might be and the consequences against the balance of risk if we are going to be attacked by that substance.
It would be an enormous step against liberties to turn around to emergency services that we depend upon, and particularly volunteers, and say, "You are compelled and you become a criminal unless you accept this vaccine against a threat that one cannot be certain about". So I would support paragraphs (b), (c) and (d) of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, but not paragraph (a).
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
Perhaps I may suggest that, having observed the Gulf War syndrome over many years, what went wrong, at least partly, was the need for haste in a very last minute decision. We are talking basically about the training and capacity of people to do their jobs who would be in the front line of the ambulance and fire services. We would not dream of sending them into battle without a gun, so why are we not prepared to say to them, "If you wish to do this, and be responsible and able when the time comes, you will have to decide now whether it is compatible with your conscience to accept this. If not, then we are very sorry you will not be very much use to us. We must find people who will".
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, on bringing up this very serious matter today. Some of your Lordships may have watched the television programme a few weeks ago about the City of London which was not able to cope with decontamination. Because terrorism is a world problem, I should like to ask the Minister about the World Health Organisation's views on vaccination. 404 There are such horrible things as plague and the new problem of severe acute respiratory syndrome, for which the vaccines are in laboratories and can escape, or people could manufacture them. So that is a real and serious problem. A few weeks ago, with the purple condoms in the other place, all the wrong things happened. People were supposed to stay in the Chamber; they rushed out. So we are not prepared. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is doing a service to the country, but I should like to know the view of the World Health Organisation on the matter.
§ Lord Hylton
I appreciate the thought and care that has gone into preparing this amendment. I just query whether paragraphs (c) and (d) may go a fraction too far by requiring every port and every local authority to have equipment of the kind mentioned. I urge the Government carefully to consider whether such equipment should he held centrally or regionally and to what extent it should be localised.
§ Lord Lucas
I very much support my noble friend, especially concerning biological terrorism. Chemical and nuclear attacks, although they can be exceptionally nasty to be subjected to, are essentially local. If someone took out the whole of London, that would just make a large hole in the map and the rest of the country would be able to carry on and repair the damage. If we have an outbreak of a serious infectious disease, our ports and airports will be closed against all traffic and incoming goods, because no one else will want us to export this stuff to them. That could be very hard for the nation to fight.
So we have to be in tip-top condition to tackle an outbreak of a serious infectious disease and be able to master it in a short timescale. The only recent example of this that we have is foot and mouth disease and, because we were not prepared, the outbreak escalated and went on for a great deal longer than it should have. If that had been a human disease, given that culling is not an option—although it might be under Part 2, not in the form of a criminal penalty, but there does not seem to be anything to stop people being dropped into mass graves if they were suspected of having a disease—and we were cut off from supplies from outside, it would not be long before we became the equivalent of a house with a cross marked on the door in the days of the plague. We would be left to die or survive and someone might come round in a year's time to see if there was anything worth rescuing.
So we must be able to react quickly. I think it is reasonable to expect that anyone who is going to make a serious attempt at biological terrorism will use an existing disease. It is difficult to create something that will propagate effectively in the human body that will have the desired effect in the right sort of timescale, which will transmit properly between one human and another, de novo and hope that it will work. It is much easier to start with something that you know transmits and develops properly in the human body and just give it a twist. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the experiment that was performed with mouse pox in Australia to make it much more virulent and resistant to vaccine.
405 So it is not beyond the capabilities of an ordinary biological laboratory to create something that is seriously damaging. We should not think that well financed terrorists, such as Al'Qaeda, are incapable of doing that. There is no great control over the machinery or material needed to do it; the knowledge is spread very wide; and we already know that they are well equipped with people who were prepared to sacrifice their own lives to spread disease.
We have to be able to react quickly, should such a thing hit us. If they choose a vector that is spread relatively slowly—if it is a water-borne disease, such as cholera, a food-borne disease or something such as anthrax, which essentially requires special conditions to spread in the human population—it will be containable. But if they use an airborne vector, such as smallpox or the flu, we are in real trouble. The only way to control that is to have a sufficient mass of people who are likely to be immune to the disease, trained to treat it and sufficiently close to the outbreak to be able to swamp it early. We would have to be lucky to do that. It should not involve a few hundred doctors: it ought to involve at least half of the doctor and nursing population.
I agree with what other Members of the Committee have said: compulsion is probably inappropriate. But we absolutely ought to be aiming for any hospital to be able to put together a team effectively to isolate any of the common, well known infectious diseases very fast. That means having that level of immunity present and ready. Smallpox is the obvious example; there are others. We do not need to go to the extent that we do for battlefield protection, because in battles, there is the prospect of using organisms that essentially have a local or limited effect and are just debilitating, rather than fatal. We can probably deal with that in the ordinary course of events. We do not have to consider that many diseases, but we must protect against those that we know could be used against us and are the obvious vectors. We need to take the matter seriously and give ourselves the level of protection that we need, along the lines of my noble friend's amendment.
§ Lord Swinfen
I also support my noble friend's amendment. Can the Minister tell us whether these 200 or so medical personnel who are inoculated against smallpox are already in teams, so that they can deal with the problem together, or are they a group of individuals scattered loosely throughout the country? If they are the latter, they are of no real use at all. They need to be in teams to work together to control the disease and deal with those who are unfortunate enough to contract the disease themselves.
§ Baroness Buscombe
I want to be brief as there has been a very good debate on this excellent amendment. Indeed, I hope that the Minister has been listening hard, especially to my noble friend Lord Jopling, who is endeavouring to inject some realism into the Bill. These emergency powers are to be introduced into the world that we live in now. The amendment accurately reflects some of the real concerns that many people 406 beyond your Lordships' House have because yes, the Bill is an enabling Bill, but it is not clear about what is now a vital response to prepare for real risks.
I am especially pleased that my noble friend did not, as I was inclined to do, accept at face value the content of the letter dated 7 September, addressed to my noble friend, responding to the various important points raised by him on Second Reading. Indeed, I had been disinclined too strongly to support this amendment in the light of that letter, which mentioned the real difficulty of requiring individuals to be vaccinated against viruses, especially because the letter expressed concern about side-effects ranging from mild to fatal. So I am really pleased that my noble friend went further in his research and has now received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Warner, making clear that there is no risk of acquiring smallpox as a consequence of vaccination.
Clearly, there are risks, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said; I am not saying that there are not. However, I refer again to the need to inject some realism. I hope also that the noble Lord listened to my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth. As always, she showed a great deal of common sense.
We face a difficult situation. The letter of 7 September says that there is no clear possibility of an outbreak at the moment: how does anybody know? As my noble friend said, an attack could come out of the blue. We must be prepared, and we must do all that we can to be prepared, in a proportionate way. My concern is that the Bill is not injecting—if I can use that pun—enough insistence that we are preparing sufficiently for a possible emergency. I hope that the excellent comments that have been made by noble Lords around the Committee will be taken on board by the Minister.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
For the past 40-odd minutes, I have listened carefully to the comments made by all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. It has been an important, serious and thoughtful debate, and there have been some useful, not to say valuable, contributions.
Over the past few days, in preparing for today, I have thought quite a lot about smallpox. I can remember my stepfather telling me, when I was a child, a fairly awful story. He was a soldier in the First World War and fought in the trenches and in north Africa. He told me how he had contracted smallpox during his time as a serviceman. As a child, I was horrified by his description. I can also recall being inoculated against smallpox as a child, in one of those mass immunisation programmes. Fortunately, my stepfather survived the experience—he was a strong man and enjoyed good health almost until the end but I am well aware of the horror that lies behind the amendment. It resonates with me.
Serious issues were raised in the debate. I hope to offer some reassurance to noble Lords who are concerned about the issue. I hope also to set the record straight with regard to some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, although I think that some of the issues that he raised are important and require further thought and clarification.
407 I cannot accept the noble Lord's opening comments about how the United Kingdom is severely unprepared. I cannot identify with his suggestion that we focus our interest on civil contingencies and emergencies only in the Bill. The Bill is but one part of the activity that the Government have been urgently involved in over many years, particularly in the past four or five years. We have been thinking through the implications of various emergency scenarios and contingencies. It is not that we have been idle; we have not. I have statistics that suggest a high level of investment and increased thought about the urgent preparations necessary to counter the serious threat of the things that could be visited on us by terrorism or other means.
I share wholeheartedly the sense that the noble Lord, Lord Garden, has that there must be urgency about such issues. The Government are and have been seized of that, but in this difficult area, which involves civil liberties, we must strike a balance and ensure that our response is proportionate in the circumstances. I would argue that that is where we are.
The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, probe us on our preparations for dealing with chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack. As the noble Lord said, he raised the issue—rightly—at Second Reading, and we have had some correspondence on it. I hope that, latterly, some of the points that I made—certainly those in my second letter to him—have reassured him on some points, at least, if not all.
The Government cannot accept the amendment, and I shall set out the reasons why. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, suggests that we amend the Bill to enable Ministers to require local responders to give compulsory smallpox vaccinations to staff. The noble Lord also suggests overriding health and safety and, potentially, human rights legislation, if it proves necessary. As I said, I have set out in correspondence the reasons why the Government have chosen not to go down that road. I shall run through those arguments for the benefit of the Committee.
Smallpox has been declared eradicated by the World Health Organisation, which advises that vaccination against smallpox should cease. The side-effects of the vaccine are well known, and, in the absence of the disease, it is argued that the risks outweigh any potential health benefits. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, an independent expert committee that advises the Secretary of State for Health, emphasised the need for the response to any threat of the deliberate release of smallpox to be proportionate. The Government have acted on the advice that a small cohort of healthcare workers in each region should be vaccinated in advance of an outbreak of smallpox.
§ Lord Elton
Can the Minister be more specific? What were the terms of reference within which the committee that advised the Government that only a small cohort should be vaccinated tendered that advice? What was it told about the purpose of the vaccination? Was it told that it was a question of maintaining the National 408 Health Service in the face of a full-scale attack, or was it asked for what it thought would be a modest insurance against the accidental release of the disease?
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
The noble Lord will appreciate that, as I speak across the Dispatch Box today, I do not have access to the terms in which those questions were asked. However, I am happy to try to find some more background information, so that I can satisfy the noble Lord. He raises an important point.
Owing to the health risks, we believe that the measures can be carried out only on a voluntary basis; the noble Lord, Lord Garden, used the phrase "informed consent". Volunteers underwent rigorous screening to minimise the risk of an adverse reaction, and restrictions were put on their work for a period after the vaccination, to prevent live transmission of the virus used in the vaccine.
§ Lord Swinfen
How long after vaccination does it take effect, so that the individual is protected? If there is an outbreak and it takes time for the vaccination to become effective, a larger number of people must be vaccinated in advance. If it takes a week or a fortnight, there could be serious consequences.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
That is a good technical question, which I cannot answer today. I am happy to ensure that we undertake some further research on that point. Earlier, the noble Lord asked about the distribution throughout the UK of the teams that have had the vaccination. I shall write to the noble Lord on that matter too.
There is, at present, no evidence of a specific threat of smallpox. The Department of Health's national smallpox plan envisages only "blue light" emergency service cover, so that vaccination would be offered only if the threat increased. We take the view that it is not desirable or perhaps necessary to make the vaccination of emergency service workers obligatory at present.
§ Lord Lucas
What exercise have the Government undertaken to simulate a smallpox outbreak and establish the number of staff required by a hospital to contain it—presuming that the first vector was hostile and therefore determined not to be found, so that all one started finding was the people who had been infected, who might be numerous? I am surprised that there are only 200 such people scattered around the country. Since we have around 10 regions, presumably the Government think that we can contain it with 20 personnel at any one time. That seems a very small number for dealing with an infected population which may number some hundreds.
Secondly, can the noble Lord quantify the risks attendant on the smallpox vaccination? So far the only figure that we have is the one provided by my noble friend, courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, when he says that the risk is zero. The noble Lord keeps saying that there are these risks but he has not 409 provided any figures, proportions or statistics on which we can base our understanding. Could we have a full answer on that?
§ Lord Swinfen
I am sorry to bother the noble Lord. Theoretically, smallpox has been eradicated from the world but anthrax has not. Anthrax is a far more likely method of attack. Will the noble Lord also include in his answers on smallpox the same answers on anthrax?
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
I am obliged to noble Lords for their questions.
The Department of Health has undertaken—
§ The Earl of Onslow
I was fascinated to see that, on being asked two questions, the noble Lord put his head down and continued to read from his brief as if nothing had happened in the Chamber. I am sorry if my astonishment was so noticeable; I did not mean to make it public.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
I thought that I would provide the noble Earl with an opportunity to ask his question from a non-sedentary position.
I was about to respond to the point on exercises for smallpox scenarios. There is an active exercise plan through live and tabletop exercises. For example, my understanding is that the Global Mercury exercise tested international communications in the case of a smallpox outbreak. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked me about the health risks following a vaccination programme. I shall try to provide as much information as possible.
Even if those with known contraindications to vaccination are excluded from a mass vaccination programme, it is still predicted that one per million of those not previously vaccinated might die as a result of the vaccine, with a further 20,000 suffering severe complications. Also, because of the disruptive effect on the blood supply, those vaccinated must be excluded from giving blood for a defined period. Post-vaccination, additional deaths could also be expected due to a shortage of blood. That is the best information that I can provide the noble Lord with today. I shall have to include a response on anthrax, about which the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, asked, in the body of correspondence to which I have already committed myself. It would be unwise of me to do otherwise.
I shall return to the noble Lord's concern about the United Kingdom civil authorities' capability to detect and deal with chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) incidents. As the noble Lord explained, his amendments would enable Ministers to require local responders to purchase equipment designed to identify the presence of CBRN material and to deploy that equipment at ports and airports.
At Second Reading, the noble Lord made clear his view that the Government were being complacent about the threats we face. I do not accept that, but I think that I can offer some assurance that this is not the case. We 410 have undertaken a very busy key capabilities programme, which identifies the generic capabilities that underpin the UK's resilience to disruptive challenges, however they are caused, and ensures that those capabilities are developed. There are 17 such capabilities, including dealing with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material. The United Kingdom counter-terrorism framework has been enhanced through increased investment in operational activity and new legislative measures. However, the Home Office leads a programme of work to ensure that we continue to build our capacity to deal with CBRN events, should they occur.
The emergency services have the best detection equipment currently available, and the Government are working with them to develop that capability still further in line with their specific needs. The police service has a well developed capability in this area, which is being strengthened through specialist training at the National Police Training Centre. The fire service has the New Dimension programme for the fire and rescue services. It incorporates the procurement of radiation monitoring equipment for deployment at incidents involving radiation to give an early on-site indication of the release of hazardous radioactive material or radioactivity.
The Government have put in place Programme Cyclamen, which is designed to screen for the illicit movement of radioactive materials by traffic entering the United Kingdom by sea, air or through the Channel Tunnel. The screening programme includes container and road freight, post and fast parcels, vehicles and passengers, and makes use of fixed and mobile detection units. The Government are not complacent at all about the threat of CBRN terrorism. They are committed to continue to invest in the capabilities that our assessment of risk shows we need.
I have dealt with the point about the risk from vaccination, but it is worth dwelling on some of the observations made about our preparedness. To offer some reassurance, I wish to quote the director-general of MI5, who in June 2003 said:Our systems for terrorist protection are the envy of the world".Kelvin Laybourne, the chair of the CBRN professional-issues group of the Emergency Planning Society wrote in the Guardian in February last year:It is important to realise that … [CBRN attacks] are extreme scenarios and the likelihood of this happening to you is probably very low".One can never be complacent about these issues. It is vital that the Government have not only the powers but also the will to tackle them. The measures that we have put in place over the past few years and the added investment that we have made, not just through the distribution of new grants to local government in our previous spending-round assessment, but in the daily 411 accretion of expertise within all the emergency services and the training that we have put in place, demonstrate our commitment to deal with these issues.
I certainly support the intent behind the amendment: to ensure that we get it right and that we go on working and investing in this area to offer the maximum reassurance and capability. We will need to have that to protect against some of the threats that may confront the country in the future.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
Before the Minister sits down, perhaps he could answer my question about the views of the World Health Organisation.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
As I recall, I observed that the World Health Organisation had advised that vaccination against smallpox should cease because of its eradication. I am not sure whether that matches entirely the noble Baroness's question but if it does not we shall have another look for any useful or valuable information.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
I am interested in the much wider aspect, including plague, SARS, anthrax and other issues apart from smallpox.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
I appreciate that. I will go back over the question to see what further information we can provide.
§ Viscount Goschen
Before my noble friend Lord Jopling responds, it would be extremely helpful if the Minister could clarify whether he really feels that the small cohort of 140-odd doctors and 140-odd nurses is the right number of people. Is it just difficult to get more people vaccinated? This really comes to the crux of the issue about whether people should be forced to be vaccinated or whether it should be done on a voluntary basis. Would the noble Lord like to see more doctors and nurses vaccinated than are currently, or not? Have the Government tried as hard as they can to increase that number, or is the Minister really saying, "No, 140 doctors and nurses is approximately the right number"? If the noble Lord could be clear about that, we could have a much clearer discussion about whether or not compulsion was required.
§ Lord Lucas
I was puzzled by the figures that the noble Lord gave me in response to the dangers of the smallpox vaccine. Is he really saying that in the days when all of us received this vaccine 50 children were dying a year from getting it and that one child in 50 who was given it had some kind of serious damage as a result? By serious damage, I am assuming something like blindness or bits dropping off rather than just an odd upset tummy.
I would like the historical data on the damage done by the smallpox vaccination to which we were all submitted. I would very much like to have the details of what the Minister means by "serious complications". Those words can get twisted one way or the other, which we will come on to later in another context.
412 I am also fascinated by the remark made by, I think, the head of MI5 that our systems for protecting against a CBRN attack are the envy of the world. Besides the fact that they sound remarkably like the boasts of the builders of the "Titanic", I am puzzled as to how they can be the envy of the world when no one in England, let alone the world, knows what they are.
§ Lord Swinfen
With the supposed eradication of smallpox, are medical students and junior doctors still taught how to diagnose and treat that disease?
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
I have a very minor point. In the days when I was serving in Africa, every time one went to the Congo one was required by the authorities to have a smallpox vaccination: so I must have had about eight, quite apart from those that I had as a child. I can assure noble Lords that I got nothing from it but a sore arm.
§ Lord Elton
The Minister's job, of course, is to be reassuring. He has a public duty not to cause general alarm; he has a political duty to show the Government in a good light. But that is a very dangerous position to be in. The most chilling words that the noble Lord uttered were, "Well, there is no risk" of various things, particularly a smallpox attack.
How does he know that there is no risk? We know that live vaccine exists. We know that the World Health Organisation has said that the disease has been eradicated, but that is only on the hypothesis that no one wishes it to be revived. The fact is that there are people who wish it to be revived.
In 1939 when the war began, there was a period that I well remember—perhaps the noble Lord does too—which we came to call the "phoney war" because not very much seemed to affect us. I have a nasty feeling that people are expecting that to happen again. We are in the phoney war now. The war has been started: it just has not hit us. Therefore, if the Government really think that there is no risk, I think that the risk is very much greater than it need be. I hope that my noble friend will come back at the next stage with his amendment, perhaps separating the issue of vaccination from the other issues which are equally, but differently, important.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
I will try as best I can to answer the various questions that noble Lords have asked because they deserve a serious response. On the question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, obviously it would be desirable if we could ensure that we have greater capability with the numbers of those who are vaccinated to perform their role within the teams. I shall go back and check more precisely the data that exist on that issue. I want to ensure that everyone is well advised on that particular point.
I quoted from, I think, Kelvin Laybourne, with regard to CBRN attacks and extreme scenarios. My point was that this risk was—I quote—"probably very low". I quoted also the World Health Organisation 413 with regard to the level of smallpox internationally, which says that it has been declared eradicated. I accept the point that it is possible for people to develop the cultures and to hold the virus and so on, and for it to be exercised in the way in which noble Lords have described.
In the absence of the disease in society, obviously the risk is of a lower order. Any assessment in that field has to be about risk and hierarchy of risk. It is thought that this is of a lower order of threat and risk, although, of course, we must guard against it.
§ Lord Lucas
The question of risk is rather like the difference between coal-fired power stations and nuclear-fired power stations. Yes, nuclear-fired power stations are much less risky than coal ones in the ordinary day-to-day damage that they do to people. But if they are going to do someone some damage, they are going to do a lot of people some very serious damage. That is rather the situation that we are in now.
We impose much stricter controls on nuclear power stations than we do on coal ones. That is not because we are worried about the day-to-day level of damage, but because we want to make sure that nothing catastrophic happens. The same ought to apply here. Yes, it is a very low risk, but it is a very low risk of a very nasty event.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
Of course, the noble Lord is right: it is. I might be able to help your Lordships' House by providing some more details with regard to emergency services preparedness. We have some 360 mobile decontamination units around the country for use by ambulance service and hospital accident and emergency departments. As part of our programme, we have distributed some 7,250 personal protection suits to key health workers. To improve stocks held by hospitals, some 2,500 additional suits have been stockpiled. Some 5,000 police officers are now CBRN trained. There are 80 new fire service vehicles and 190 purpose-built decontamination units, each capable of handling some 200 people an hour for England and Wales. We have distributed some 4,400 new gastight suits for firefighters. That is all part of our resilience programme.
As I said, we have invested much in counter measures and have enhanced our preparedness. I accept that there is clearly more to do. Over the next few years our programmes will ensure that that work is undertaken. It is perhaps worth mentioning that following the April 2003 Budget we invested some £330 million for the next three years for counter-terrorism measures; some £85 million was allocated in 2002–03 to the NHS for medical counter measures and equipment, including personal protective equipment; and some £56 million has been made available to the fire and rescue services for the mass decontamination phase of the New Dimension programme in which they are performing an important part.
That gives some figures and some indication of the types of activities that are being undertaken as part of our resilience, preparedness and hardening in this 414 particular and difficult field. I have tried to provide as much information as I can during this debate. I am grateful for all of the questions, even the more awkward ones to which I have not been able to provide an immediate response. I shall try to pick up in further correspondence those issues that noble Lords have found particularly telling in order to elucidate and illuminate on them.
§ Lord Jopling
This matter has taken up about one hour of our time. I hope very much that it is time well spent. I hope that the Government have taken on board the wide concerns caused by what I still believe are the very wide gaps in preparation for a terrorist attack. I think that we are all grateful to the Minister for his responses in as far as they went. He has promised that he will respond to the concerns expressed. It is very important that we see the responses to all the questions in good time before Report so that we can reflect on both what he said today and his response to the questions that he has been unable to answer.
I had hoped to be able to help my noble friend in providing the answer that the Minister could not give regarding the time lag before a vaccination becomes effective, but unfortunately I have left the paper with the information on it up in my room and I have not had a chance to go and get it. None the less, my noble friend has made a very good point.
§ 1 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
I thank my noble friend, but I think that the whole Committee ought to be given the answer rather than just myself.
§ Lord Jopling
That is right, because he has raised an immensely important issue. If, let us say, an anthrax or smallpox attack did take place, there would be a lag before anyone knew it had even happened and another lag during which people are vaccinated and their resistance becomes effective, by which time we could have a major epidemic on our hands. I repeat, this is a very important issue.
The last point I want to make to the Minister is that I have heard a rumour in the corridors that because of the time to be taken up by consideration of the Hunting Bill over the next few weeks, it could be that this Bill will be withdrawn. I most passionately urge the Government not to withdraw the Bill. I have criticised the Government before over the long delay between the original Second Reading and this stage. It is urgent that these matters are dealt with. Most of the measures in the Bill are welcome and acceptable and I certainly support most of them. However, we have not yet dealt properly with these matters.
We must reflect on what the Minister has said in response and consider his further answers. We can then come back to the matter on Report. My noble friend Lord Elton suggested that it might be wise to separate paragraph (a) of my amendment from what is set out in the other three paragraphs, and I think I might do that. 415 I hope that I will be able to have discussions with those of my colleagues who have spoken. I am most grateful to them for what they have said. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 25 to 38 not moved.]
§ On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Elton
I thought that we were about to hold a debate on clause stand part, and I wanted to come in at the end of it with a point about the drafting of this clause, in particular the last subsection which I find quite extraordinary. In effect it applies to Scottish Ministers' particular requirements which otherwise apply to a Minister of the Crown. It states:Subsection (5) shall have effect in relation to subsection (4) as it has effect in relation to subsection (3), but as if—".What that means is that the Scots shall do the same as the British Minister except for the following, and then you have to trace back through a whole series of subsections and paragraphs.
Surely it would be much simpler for the user of this Bill to have a subsection setting out directly the requirements placed on Scottish Ministers? This is internal legislation by reference. Normally legislation by reference states that a part of another Act shall apply in certain circumstances, modified in some way. You have to have the two Acts to hand to work it out. This is easier because you need only two subsections, but it is totally unnecessary and, I should have thought, rather difficult to draft.
If the Minister has time between now and Report, and if the parliamentary draftsmen are not at quite their usual full stretch, will they consider redrafting subsection (6) so that it is more user-friendly? This is a small request, but if it suggests an approach to drafting that could be imported into all our legislation, life for many people would be a great deal easier.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
I shall not make any promises, but I will ask the question. It is quite right that it has been put to me.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 39:
§ After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:—