§ [Relevant documents: Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill, Session 2002—03, HL Paper 184 & HC 1074; Seventh Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2002—03, HC 557 on the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill; Fifteenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2002—03, HL Paper 149 & HC 1005; and the Government's Response to the Reports of the Joint Committee and of the Defence Committee, Cm 6078.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.4.37 pm
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill is to be moved by a Minister of State in the Cabinet Office. It is clear from the Bill that its main powers will be conferred on the Prime Minister and Secretaries of State. It seems extraordinary that a Bill of such importance, which repeals the Emergency Powers Acts 1920 and 1964, should be introduced by a fairly junior Minister.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the Second Reading is to be moved by the Minister who presented the Bill to the House in the first place. It is therefore not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Alexander
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Following a wide-ranging process of consultation and discussion, the Bill was published on 7 January. The aim of the Bill and accompanying non-legislative measures is to deliver a single framework for civil protection in the United Kingdom—providing a framework to meet the challenges of the 21st century. That is an objective that we have been working towards, with the assistance of many both inside and outside the House, since the emergency planning review was launched in August 2001.
I will in turn set out for the House the background, principles and content of the Bill. In particular, I will set out an explanation of the legislation that we are replacing, and why we are doing so now; the open and consultative process by which we arrived at the Bill; a description of the wider context in which we introduced the legislation, considering both current and future risks and threats; and a description of the provisions, including the definition of "emergency", the new framework for local and regional response to emergencies, and the modernised approach to emergency powers.
Finally, I shall address some of the specific issues about which concern has been expressed by some hon. Members who have already had the opportunity to consider the published Bill.
The current framework for civil emergency planning was not designed with the needs of modern society in mind. Planning at local level is still governed by the Civil 1097 Defence Act 1948. Enacted at the start of the cold war, that Act was designed specifically to deal with the local contribution to national civil defence efforts; it focused solely on the threat of hostile attack and did not address the much wider range of civil emergencies. It is perhaps the final vestige of cold war civil defence architecture, much of the rest of which has already been dismantled.
Even older is our country's emergency powers framework. Most states have made provision for Governments to take emergency powers in a crisis to assist in managing national emergencies and to ensure a speedy return to normality. In Britain, the Emergency Powers Act 1920 was introduced after the end of the first world war and in the immediate aftermath of the 1919 police strike. Obviously, the 1920s were witness to a very different sort of society and economy from the one we know today: motor cars were still few and far between, much communication was still done by letter, computers were 40 years away and did not govern complex delivery systems, and television was yet to be invented.
Despite that, the basic rationale of the Emergency Powers Act holds good. In the UK, for more than 80 years, emergency powers have meant urgent specific new legislation in place temporarily to deal with the most serious emergencies. The Government hold to that approach and the Bill reflects that: it is a special legislative mechanism for abnormal situations. That is the UK approach to emergency powers that has served this country under Governments of all complexions for most of the past century.
The problem with the existing Acts is that they were drafted for a different time and different circumstances. The 1948 Act only requires local authorities to plan in preparation for hostile attack by a foreign power. The range of activities local authorities plan for far exceeds those set out in the Act and is therefore not adequately covered by legislation. In addition, the Act does not set out the specific types of activity, such as risk assessment and information sharing, that are vital to the success of local-level planning.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD)
The Minister mentions information sharing. A practitioner put it to me that one of the obstacles in the way of contingency planning is the classification of documents and information, which prevents an appropriate contingency from being arrived at because of the inability to discuss the intelligence or other information on which the contingency is based. Is there a case for reducing the level of restriction or for derestricting some information, so that a better dialogue is possible between the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and the civilian organisations on which we depend to develop the plans?
§ Mr. Alexander
Clearly, we would have to be mindful of concerns that such information might fall into the hands of those who do not share the best interests of the population of the UK. As I explain the rationale behind that part of the Bill that deals with regional resilience forums, it will become clear that we take seriously the need to make sure that the appropriate information is in the appropriate hands so that emergency planning can be progressed.
1098 The Emergency Powers Act is drafted in terms of services essential to the life of the community in 1920: fuel, light and locomotion. Although those remain essential today, there are new services not included in the definition the disruption of which may have a significant impact on human welfare, such as health services, communications and the supply of money. Both the Civil Defence Act and the Emergency Powers Act do not take account of the significant cultural, technological and constitutional changes that took place in the second half of the last century.
§ Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)
The Minister mentioned the role of local authorities. Will he discuss the planning role played by local authorities in today's world? I have often spoken with practitioners in the local authority who do not appear to be truly within the national loop and who are, in fact, not planning for much at all. My anxiety is that, in the event of a major national incident, the area that I represent—a constituency on the fringes of London—will be swamped by people moving out from the centre, without proper planning having taken place within the area.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before the Minister replies, may I say that we have had two fairly long interventions at the start of the debate? I hope that a pattern has not been set, as we have quite a long list of hon. Members who will seek to catch my eye during the debate.
§ Mr. Alexander
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about ensuring appropriate consultation with local authorities. That is why we are introducing this framework legislation, along with a number of other policy objectives that we have set for ourselves. I will be happy to address specific points about local authorities in the course of my remarks.
Over the past few years, we have witnessed a range of disruptive challenges to our country. As long ago as the Fennell inquiry into the King's Cross fire of 1987 there has been demand for improved co-ordination and liaison between organisations that prepare for and respond to emergencies. These concerns were still evident in the inquiries into the Southall and Ladbroke Grove rail crashes, the fuel crisis and foot and mouth, which have also shown where frameworks for handling challenges could be improved. Too much has had to be improvised when it could have been better planned for in a co-ordinated fashion. This has been a matter of growing concern for civil protection practitioners for well over a decade.
That is why it would be wrong to characterise the Bill as a single response to 11 September, important though those tragic events have proved in informing our work. In fact, the start of this process was a commitment to a review of emergency planning that was made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister in November 2000 following the serious flooding of that year. The Government carried out the promised emergency planning review in the second half of 2001, which initiated the work stream that has culminated in the Bill. There was wide consultation with practitioners 1099 on how we needed to change the structures that underpinned their work. The review was strongly focused on local emergency planning arrangements, and that is why such a significant part of the Bill is devoted to renewing those arrangements. The review was helpful in many ways and it confirmed one crucial fact: there is overwhelming demand from civil protection professionals for this new legislation.
Since that point we have been working hard with the fullest range of organisations to construct the right legislation. My Department, as well as working closely with many Whitehall Departments, Government agencies and the devolved Administrations, has built up close working relationships with key practitioners.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op)
My hon. Friend is doing splendidly in spite of the dreadful point of order that was made earlier. He mentioned the devolved Administrations. When I was Minister of State at the Scotland Office, I was a wee bit worried that there might be some problems because of a lack of clarity between devolved and reserved responsibilities, and also because of some rivalries. Will he address these matters as part of his considerations?
§ Mr. Alexander
I will he happy to address that specific point in the course of my remarks. I would merely make an observation as a Scottish Member to a fellow Scottish Member that the Deputy Justice Minister, who was responsible for overseeing this work on behalf of the Scottish Executive, happens to share a constituency with me. I can assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that many conversations took place both with the Deputy Justice Minister and the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales, who gave evidence before the Joint Committee of this place. We have been working hard to ensure that we had a dialogue with a range of organisations.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have been generous in giving way. I ask the hon. Gentleman to allow me to continue.
Frequent meetings have taken place to discuss the Bill's development with organisations such as the Emergency Planning Society, the Local Government Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association, the Ambulance Service Association, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and the Association of London Government. We have also maintained regular dialogue with civil liberties organisations, including Liberty and Justice.
§ Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)
The Minister will know that he has moved a long way on the definition of emergency and that there are still some concerns. Would he be prepared in Committee to look again at some of the issues such as whether disruption of an electronic system should amount to an emergency? Some of these detailed points are still troubling Justice, Liberty and many other organisations.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the view of Liberty. In response to the publication of the Bill earlier this month, it commented: 1100There may be further work to be done as the Bill goes through Parliament but there is cause to welcome it.I think that the tone of that remark is clear. There will be further discussions in Committee, but I think that there is a real opportunity for a genuine consensus to emerge on both sides of the House behind the Bill.
The Government have also been active in discussions with a range of organisations, as I have set out to the House, in talking directly to civil protection practitioners as we developed the policy underpinning the Bill. We have carried out two national seminar programmes attended by more than 2,000 local civil protection professionals and members of my Department have spoken at national conferences and local events. They kept practitioners updated both by website and by correspondence. We also took the unusual step of seconding an emergency planning professional from local government directly to the Bill team.
That open and consultative approach has been a consistent theme. When the Government's proposals were ready, we published them in a draft Bill last June and set two important processes in train, the first of which was public consultation. Notwithstanding our almost continuous contact with practitioners and their representatives, we wanted to maintain a high level of dialogue. The 12-week public consultation exercise included seminars in all the English regions, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to explain the content of the draft Bill and the policy behind it. The consultation elicited a wide range of responses from local authorities, the emergency services, the private and voluntary sectors and national lobby groups. We received about 400 responses.
§ Derek Conway
The Bill deals with human welfare, which is rightly the priority for the Government and the House. However, did the consultation involve animal welfare organisations, as many people are close to their pets, especially family pets? There could therefore be a practical difficulty, and the Minister will have to spend time on such difficulties in Committee—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Alexander
One of my colleagues observes from a sedentary position that no animals wrote to us during the consultation, and I certainly believe that that is the case. We must look at the definition of emergency in the Bill to understand what we were consulting on. Human welfare was uppermost in our minds throughout the 12-week consultation that concluded on 11 September last year.
We received about 400 responses, with about half of all local authorities and fire services commenting, along with a quarter of police and ambulance services. The message was clear—there was wide support for the overhaul and modernisation of the existing framework, but there was still work to be done on the detail of the proposals. Following the conclusion of the 12-week public consultation, we submitted the draft Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government invited a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at the draft Bill and work with us to refine its content. The Committee took evidence in six sittings in September and October, and heard from more than 30 witnesses, including local government emergency planning professionals, the 1101 private and voluntary sectors and civil liberties organisations. I was grateful for the opportunity to give the Government's evidence to the Committee in person.
As hon. Members on both sides of the House will be aware, pre-legislative scrutiny is a relatively new process. The Government and Parliament are committed to making it work, but we are still all finding our way. Nevertheless, in this instance, the process worked well and dialogue was constructive. I am grateful for the time and considerable effort contributed by the members of the Joint Committee to that process. Together, the public consultation and the pre-legislative scrutiny have made a genuine difference to the Bill, which is now stronger in a number of important ways than the draft Bill that was presented last summer. It has benefited significantly from further consultation and discussion, and the response of key individuals and organisations to the publication of the measure before us today is testament to that. My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie), who chaired the Joint Committee, said:The Government has gone a very long way to accepting the concerns we raised and I am well satisfied with the response.Indeed, the president of the Emergency Planning Society described the Bill asan excellent framework to help the United Kingdom to become robust and resilient when emergencies occur.The tone of the additional responses that we received from parliamentarians, Liberty—an organisation that I mentioned earlier—civil protection practitioners and the media is a testament to the open and careful path of policy development that we have pursued.
The legislative framework for civil contingencies that we are debating today sits within a wider effort to protect the United Kingdom from a series of potential disruptions, ranging from flooding to large-scale accidents, from e-viruses to epidemic disease. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has overall responsibility for the safety and security of the citizens of the United Kingdom. The Cabinet Office, for which I am responsible, co-ordinates activity across government and works with the Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator, Sir David Omand. Ministers or particular Departments have the lead on subjects that fall within their responsibilities. For example, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs leads on flooding and the Department of Health leads on epidemics in humans. The Home Secretary chairs the Cabinet committee that oversees both planning and response, bringing together key Government Departments along with external stakeholders, such as the emergency services, as necessary.
The Bill will support the main mechanisms for planning and response through which work is co-ordinated across government. Turning to planning, the Home Secretary's statement to the House on 3 March 2003 set out the background to the Government's capabilities programme. We are building 17 cross-governmental capabilities, including the supply of essential services such as food and fuel, and practical response capabilities for dealing with mass evacuation.
Our efforts in response to civil contingencies are guided by the lead Government Department principle, as outlined again by my right hon. Friend the Home 1102 Secretary in his statement to the House on 23 July 2002. Most emergencies are handled at a local level by the emergency services and by the appropriate local authorities, with no direct involvement by central Government. Where central Government do become involved because the incident is of such a scale or complexity as to require central co-ordination or support, it is essential that we are clear in advance which Department will be in the lead. Each Department takes responsibility for dealing with emergencies that arise in the sectors for which it is responsible. There are three clear principles: clear leadership at Cabinet level, exercised by the Home Secretary; clear structures to co-ordinate efforts across Government for both planning and response; and clear responsibilities for all Departments to play their part.
Hon. Members will be aware that it is inevitable that the Bill will be considered in the light of current circumstances. We face new threats and risks and it is important that we respond to them. The Bill is not, however, driven by short-term concerns. It is designed to be a long-standing framework, but it is right that we reflect on the current context as a useful illustration of why civil contingencies legislation should be kept up to date.
Many hon. Members have experience of the effects of flooding in their own constituencies over recent years. The water shortages over recent years and last summer's heat wave demonstrate some of the risks of being unprepared. Perhaps the best example is flooding. Environment Agency research indicates that the risk of flooding is increasing and we are seeing more frequent instances of severe weather that could cause serious flooding. The response to flooding is often regarded as the benchmark for effective planning and multi-agency co-operation at the local level—the activities that the Bill will strengthen.
Just as the climate may be changing, so are the economy and society. We have to cope with the demands of modern networked societies, in which disruption can grow quickly and in unpredictable directions. The definition of "emergency" in the current Emergency Powers Act does not include IT networks or telecommunications, yet from local to global networks boundaries have become far more permeable. The modern reliance on new technology and interconnectedness brings with it vulnerabilities, as the millennium bug problems, for example, demonstrated.
§ Mr. Heald
All this is well and good, and the Minister is setting out high principles, but when it comes to action on the ground, bodies will need to know what to do. Who will provide, for example, hazardous material support? Is there not a case for a national emergency volunteer reserve that brings together people with particular skills who can support the forces in emergencies?
§ Mr. Alexander
I always find it revealing when Opposition spokesmen suggest that principles should not underpin legislation. That tells us something about the legislation that they introduced. On the substantive point that the hon. Gentleman sought to make, there would be questions as to whether volunteers would be best equipped to cope with a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incident, as he described.
1103 We recognise the valuable contribution made by voluntary organisations to the resilience capability of the United Kingdom. That is why we have been in discussion with a range of those organisations. However, we need to be clear-headed and keep a clear eye on the challenges that we face as a country. Our country is used to dealing with the threat of terrorist challenge over a number of years. We have lived with the heightened threat from Irish republican terrorism for more than 30 years. More recently, the threat from international terrorism has increased, noticeably since the events of 11 September.
In the new environment we must remain vigilant to new types of threat, including that from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, and also from attacks on IT and computer systems. Events in Bali in October, in Mombassa in November, and in Riyadh and Casablanca in May show that terrorists are often prepared to attack the least well-protected targets. The threat now comes not only from established groups with clearly defined targets, but from unaffiliated loose-knit networks of individuals with a much broader agenda.
§ David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)
Is my hon. Friend aware that what he is now saying is the real justification, unfortunately, for the measure to be part of our law? If it were not for the ongoing terrorist threat, I would not see any reason to support the Bill.
§ Mr. Alexander
My hon. Friend raises an important point in recognising that we face two challenges. One is to strengthen our capacity for national security after the events of 11 September, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already legislated on that matter and brought forward a range of work across government to ensure that our national security is strengthened. But we also need to bear in mind the need for national resilience, and it is to that that this legislation directs itself.
The threat, as I have already described, comes from a range of different organisations. We must, therefore, remain ever vigilant to ensure that both preparation and powers at our disposal are equal to the full range of possible eventualities, whether they are the result of terrorist action, an accident or a non-terrorist emergency. We keep all such matters under continuous review—in particular, the arrangements for dealing with CBRN terrorism and other hazards. We will take all appropriate steps that we judge necessary to respond to these potential threats.
The Home Secretary will of course continue to keep under close review any threats to our national security wherever they come from, and will take whatever action is necessary to protect the British public. This is best achieved by a range of measures that accurately targets those individuals and groups that pose such a threat.
I do not offer these risks as the sole justification for the Bill; circumstances change and the unpredictability of emergencies is often their defining characteristic. It is, however, necessary to remain vigilant in the face of risk, and what we need are proper frameworks for preparing for and dealing with disruptive challenges.
1104 The common thread that runs through the Bill is a clear definition of emergency. The message that we took from our discussions with practitioners was the need to define what we were legislating to deal with, and achieve a common understanding of that right across the board.
We considered that question carefully. We looked at the definitions of emergency in the legislation that we are now seeking to replace, but ruled them out as unsuitable. The Civil Defence Act 1948 refers toany measures not amounting to actual combat for affording defence against any form of hostile attack by a foreign power or for depriving any form of hostile attack by a foreign power of the whole or part of its effect, whether the measures are taken before, at or after the time of the attack".The definition of emergency in the Emergency Powers Act 1920 is set out as eventsof such a nature…as to be calculated, by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel…or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life.Those are definitions right for their time, but ones that do not cover the full range of threats and risks that we now face as a nation, and so fail to reflect the full realities of the current era.
We looked at the international examples, many of which were too imprecise or reflected the unique demography or geography of the nation in question. For example, the definition in the South African emergency powers legislation focuses on threats of war and disorder, and the French equivalent centres on the functioning of the institutions of government.
We also took the views of practitioners on the appropriate definition of emergency to capture in the Bill before the House today. The emergency planning review provided the Government with a wide range of opinion from civil protection professionals on how a definition of emergency should be framed. The result of that consultation and discussion was the definition of emergency in the draft Bill that was published last summer. The definition was based on threats to four elements—human welfare, the environment, political, administrative and economic stability and national security.
The definition attracted considerable comment throughout the process of public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny. In many respects, it was welcomed. The Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association described it as "comprehensive and clear". The Ambulance Service Association noted that it providedsufficient width to cover all those events which could reasonably be foreseen".The Emergency Planning Society described its "broad agreement".
But the Government also received powerful representations arguing against elements of the definition. The Joint Committee hadgrave reservations about allowing…the government of the day the power to protects its own existence when there may be no other threat to human welfare".Civil liberties groups such as Liberty and Justice also voiced concern at the breadth of the definition.
That is why the definition included in the Bill has been revised and reviewed. On the Joint Committee's advice, we removed 1105political, administrative and economic stabilityfrom the definition. We had originally been concerned to make sure that we could protect the workings of Parliament, government and the economy. There are certainly international precedents, as I have suggested. The French definition of emergency refers to situations in whichthe institutions of the Republic or the proper functioning of the constitutional governmental authorities are interrupted".The Irish definition refers topreservation of the State…the maintenance of public order".Having listened to the Joint Committee and civil liberties organisations, however, the Government have concluded that while political, administrative and economic stability is a means to an end, it should not be an end in itself in the Bill. The purpose of such stability is to secure human welfare, protect the environment and maintain national security.
We have met the concerns of local responders, many of whom asked for a caveat to be issued in relation to the definition in part 1 by making reference to the definition of an emergency in the Government's publication, "Dealing with Disaster"—namely, that it is a situation that requires special procedures or arrangements to be put in place. Clause 2(2) provides for that. The definition before the House has been weighed carefully and its scope narrowed as far as is prudent, and we now have a definition that we believe to be right. The Bill defines an emergency as an event or situation that threatens serious damage to human welfare, the environment or national security. That definition applies to both substantive parts of the Bill, to which I now turn.
Part 1 establishes clear roles and responsibilities at the local level. The local response capability is the foundation of our response to all emergencies, and the Bill reflects that. It will ensure that local responders are prepared to deal effectively with the full range of emergencies, from localised major incidents to catastrophic emergencies. We start from a strong base. The United Kingdom has substantial experience of major emergencies occurring within the bounds of relatively small areas, and we have highly professional and dedicated emergency services. However, just as our dependence on the various response organisations, the emergency services and local and central Government is understood, we also acknowledge—now, more than ever—the importance of coherent strategies and systems for the harmonisation of contingency plans and procedure.
The Bill identifies the range of bodies at the local level that have an interest in local civil protection, which it describes as local responders. Irrespective of the particular responsibilities of organisations and agencies that may be involved with the emergency response, they will all work to the following common objectives at the local level: saving and protecting life; relieving suffering; protecting property; providing the public with information; containing the emergency by limiting its escalation or spread; maintaining critical services; maintaining normal services at an appropriate level; protecting the health and safety of personnel; safeguarding the environment; facilitating investigations 1106 and inquiries; promoting self-help and recovery; restoring normality as soon as possible; and evaluating the response and identifying lessons to be learned.
§ Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD)
Nobody would resist the duties that the Minister properly sets out, but they come at a price. The notes to the Bill suggest that the Government's current spend provides £19 million to local government. Can the Minister tell us whether the new duties that the Bill imposes on local authorities will be fully funded; and, if not, how much they will be expected to raise to fulfil them?
§ Mr. Alexander
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, the explanatory notes state, if I recollect clearly, that the figure of £19 million relates to planning for emergencies at local authority level. There is a key distinction to be drawn between planning work that currently takes place across local government and the very wide range of support that has been provided to local emergency services—and, indeed, to local government—through other initiatives that I will cover in the course of my remarks.
The Bill defines category 1 responders as the "core" organisations that are more likely to be closely involved in preparing for most incidents. They include the emergency services; local NHS bodies and the Health Protection Agency; local authorities; the Maritime and Coastguard Agency; and the Environment Agency. They can be characterised by their central role in coordinating response and delivering its main elements. Category 1 is subject to more significant duties than is category 2. They include: a duty to assess the risk of emergencies occurring and to use that to inform emergency planning; a duty to put in place planning arrangements; and a duty to put in place arrangements for business continuity management. Category 1 responders are also subject to a duty to put in place arrangements for warning and informing the public in the event of an emergency, in so far as that helps to prevent, reduce, control or mitigate its effects. They will also be obliged to co-operate with each other through local resilience forums. That will place the existing network of multi-agency groups on a sounder footing, delivering improved co-ordination and communication.
Category 2 responders are "co-operating bodies" that are less likely to be involved in the heart of planning work, but will be heavily involved in incidents that affect their sector. They have direct responsibility to the public, either for their safety or for the provision of certain essential services; and, in most cases, they are already subject to a range of specific civil protection duties by virtue of their licensing or regulatory regimes. They include: utilities such as water, gas, electricity and telecommunications; transport companies and infrastructure providers; and the Health and Safety Executive. Category 2 responders will take on two activities that mirror the final obligations on category 1 bodies. First, they too will be obliged to share information, which will allow them to support the development of effective multi-agency plans through their knowledge of risks and essential services. Secondly, category 2 bodies, like those in category 1, will be obliged to co-operate with each other through local resilience forums. While most category 1 bodies already 1107 sit on the current equivalent of local resilience forums, the inconsistencies of participation are perhaps greatest for category 2 bodies.
One duty—the promotion of business continuity management in the community—falls on local authorities alone. In the event of a serious disruptive challenge, local responders will offer assistance, but there are many advantages if businesses are also able to help themselves: the economic impact of emergencies is reduced, and local responders can target resources at the most vulnerable. Many local authorities already take on something akin to that role, particularly in urban areas. For example, in the immediate aftermath of the IRA bomb that devastated Manchester in 1996, the city council worked tirelessly with local businesses to mitigate the effects of disruption and keep affected businesses going. That was very successful, and Manchester has built on that approach, fostering links with the business community to share awareness of business continuity issues through briefings, written materials and advice. Should the city face similar challenges in future, businesses in the Manchester area will be better prepared to face them.
§ Mr. Heald
On that point, has the Minister seen details of Project Unicorn from Scotland Yard? It identified five significant themes: a lack of co-ordinated and structured Government counter-terrorist communications policy; the absence of an identifiable and publicised centre for counter-terrorism in London; the non-use of the potential of the private security industry as part of a wider police family; a need for better understanding of the chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threat; and the application of corporate governance to counter-terrorism. Why are the Government not doing anything about all that?
§ Mr. Alexander
A range of work is being done across Government to address exactly those issues. I got up feeling some scepticism yesterday morning when I read newspaper observations about a 60-page report, which, I must point out, was a report to the police, not by them. In that sense, I would be cautious about interpreting the lessons of the report at this stage. Work is being taken forward by the Home Secretary on exactly the issues identified.
The Bill is, of course, an enabling Bill. That is consistent with existing legislation and reflects the technical and unpredictable nature of emergency planning and response.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have been generous in giving way, and given Mr. Deputy Speaker's observations about the number of Members who want to speak, I had better make some progress.
The Bill does not itself place a heavy burden. Rather, it is an overarching framework for local response. It places an emphasis on regulations and guidance that will accompany it. The Government have published the regulations in draft for part 1, and their development will be informed by the Bill's passage through Parliament. Before the Government seek to finalise the regulations and guidance, we will again consult publicly, 1108 working with the public on the regulations and guidance and their implementation. We will issue a consultation document to accompany the regulations and will ensure that all interested parties have the chance to make their comments. We will hold a further national series of seminars and offer direct opportunities for contact with all local civil protection professionals who want to take up the invitation.
The final piece of the new local response framework will be effective performance management to ensure that we deliver and maintain effective civil protection. The consultation contained a specific element on how best to achieve that. Over three quarters of responses to the consultation supported the suggestion that the most effective route would be to use existing audit mechanisms. For example, the Audit Commission would add civil protection to the list of factors that it reviews when it audits the performance of local authorities.
Proposals from the Joint Committee that a new inspectorate body should be considered have also been examined, but the Government concluded that we should press forward with our original proposal. For a dedicated inspectorate to be effective, the costs of setting it up and maintaining it would be likely to be disproportionate to the benefits. That view has been formed in discussion with organisations such as the Audit Commission, and they share it.
In part 1 as a whole, the Bill sets out a new framework for local civil protection that builds on many years of good practice and experience. It contains duties that reflect the wishes of practitioners, and it sets in place structures to ensure that standards of performance are maintained. Those features in part explain why the proposals command widespread support among civil protection professionals.
§ Simon Hughes
Now that the Minister has finished his description of part 1, what does he expect to be the total cost of the part 1 measures to be implemented across local government, and how much of it will Government fund?
§ Mr. Alexander
The hon. Gentleman anticipates me. I intended to deal with some of the specific anxieties that hon. Members raised. I appreciate that there is concern about funding and, with permission, I shall address that point later.
Part 2 essentially updates the Emergency Powers Act 1920. It retains as its foundation the ability to make rapid temporary legislation to deal with the most serious emergencies. The 1920 Act was last used more than a quarter of a century ago. In subsequent years, considerable sector-specific emergency legislation has been introduced and reduced the need to resort to emergency powers, partly through a recognition of the weakness of existing emergency powers legislation. For example, the Energy Act 1976, the Electricity Act 1989, the Water Industry Act 1991, the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 and the Environment Act 1995 contain provisions that relate specifically to powers that are available in emergencies.
A need remains for a latent capacity to make new, temporary statutory provision rapidly when that is the most effective way of enabling the resolution of an 1109 emergency. Existing emergency powers legislation allows that only in an outdated range of scenarios. That means that it cannot currently be used to respond to serious emergencies in cases when other legislation is insufficient.
The Bill repeals the Emergency Powers Act 1920 and the Emergency Powers Act (Northern Ireland) 1926 and will apply to the United Kingdom. It sets out a new definition of what constitutes an emergency, appropriate to the times in which we live, and incorporates new risks and threats, which were not anticipated in the 1920s. They include contamination after a biological or chemical terrorist act and loss of electronic or other communications systems on which we now depend.
As in the 1920 Act, the Bill places the Head of State at the centre of the process for making temporary special legislation. The Government have been in discussions with the palace about the existing procedure and how best to update the approach. Following discussions, we have agreed that the current process of royal proclamation might lead to unacceptable delay. The Government and the palace have also considered and agreed that, should emergency powers be needed and the Queen be, for whatever reason, unable to act without serious delay, the Bill should allow for a senior Minister or the Prime Minister to make the regulations. Such a power would be used rarely, if ever. The Queen, as Head of State, will in almost every case formally indicate that emergency powers are necessary. However, she will do that as part of the Order in Council that makes the regulations. That improved process was determined in discussion with the palace and reflects the centrality of the Queen's role and the need for practical arrangements in such circumstances.
In discharging that responsibility, the Queen would act on the advice of her Ministers—principally the Home Secretary as the Cabinet member with responsibility for domestic security and resilience. That reflects long-standing practice in the current emergency powers framework. Should the Home Secretary be unable to take on the role, or if the emergency is focused on a specific sector that is outwith his responsibilities—for example, an emergency that relates solely to animal health—it may be appropriate for the lead responsibility to pass to another Cabinet Minister.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
I note a reference under "senior Minister" to Commissioners of the Treasury. I understand that they are senior Whips. What possible role have they to play in the matter?
§ Mr. Alexander
Parliamentary counsel's advice has been sought about that. The description of the Treasury that appears in most legislation is replicated accurately in the Bill. It therefore reflects common practice in describing the Treasury in legislation.
The Bill overhauls the safeguards against misuse in the 1920 Act. By and large, they were express limitations such as prohibiting emergency regulations from providing for military conscription or interfering with criminal procedure. The measure significantly 1110 strengthens the protections in the 1920 Act and creates much greater transparency. It introduces new features, many of which are designed to ensure that emergency powers cannot be misused and that, when they are required, they can be used in a more targeted and proportionate manner.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have been generous and I fear that other hon. Members will not be able to make their contributions unless I press on.
The triple lock is the foundation of the safeguards, but we have also replicated and enhanced the express limitations of the 1920 Act. Emergency powers cannot prohibit or enable the prohibition of participation in or activity connected with a strike or other industrial action. That limitation existed in the 1920 Act but has been strengthened. The effect of the new wording is broader than that in the 1920 Act.
§ Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab)
Before the Minister passes on from clause 21, I would be grateful he dealt with subsection (3)(j). It apparently enables the regulations todisapply or modify an enactment".That means that the regulations can disapply any Act of Parliament.
Does that include the Human Rights Act 1998? I appreciate that the explanatory notes say that it does not, and mention parliamentary counsel. but I can see nothing in the Bill that precludes the making of regulations that do away with the 1998 Act. Will my hon. Friend let us know the reasoning behind any opinion that he has been given on that?
§ Mr. Alexander
My hon. and learned Friend refers to the safeguards on the powers created in the Bill. We have sought parliamentary counsel's advice on exactly that point and are assured that, in the triple lock that I was about to describe, the necessary precautions are in place. It was put to us that we should consider including a specific debarment of any change to legislation of a constitutional nature and, again, advice was sought from parliamentary counsel on that. However, because of the unwritten nature of the British constitution, there are considerable difficulties in defining in such a Bill exactly what constitutional legislation is. We are confident that the safeguards that are in place through the triple lock address that point adequately, and that they should be sufficient for hon. Members who are concerned on that point.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
Clause 10 of the Government's Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill contains a provision that makes the remedial part of section 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998 subject to certain provisions in that Bill. There is no reason, therefore, why there could not be such a provision in this Bill.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have of course signed a certificate to the effect that the Bill is compatible with the European 1111 convention on human rights, and we are concerned to ensure that the safeguards are in place. However, that is the specific reason why we took on board the deliberations and discussions of the Joint Committee, and why we have strengthened the triple lock that is the foundation of the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a little more progress, perhaps I can assure him on exactly that point. As I was saying, the triple lock is the key safeguard in the Bill, and we believe that it addresses his point.
As I have just described, the Bill is compatible with the ECHR, and, as the Minister responsible, I have signed the certificate to that effect. If the Government made emergency regulations that did not comply with the ECHR, we would be committing an unlawful act and the regulations, and action taken under them, could be challenged by the courts. Although some sections of the press may have speculated that emergency powers could breach or suspend the Human Rights Act, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) has just suggested, that is simply not the case. The Bill must operate within the confines placed upon it by that Act.
Under the Bill's provisions, it will be possible for the first time to use emergency powers on a regional or devolved Administration basis. That will ensure that any special temporary legislation will apply only in the part of the United Kingdom affected by the emergency, leaving other areas unaffected.
§ Mr. Alexander
I will not, because I have been generous to hon. Members on both sides and I must make my concluding remarks so as not to prevent others from contributing.
I turn to parliamentary scrutiny. Clause 26 sets out that emergency regulations, once made, must be laid before Parliament as soon as is practicable. Parliament will then have seven days to approve them, with or without amendment, or they will fall. Senior Ministers will answer in Parliament for the content of the regulations, explain why they are necessary and set out the use for which they are intended. In making emergency regulations, the Government will be conscious of the need for parliamentary approval. If each House passes a resolution that emergency regulations shall cease to have effect, they shall cease to have effect. Parliament may also amend the regulations.
§ Mr. Alexander
No, I am not going to give way further because I must make more hasty progress.
The Bill also provides clear arrangements for managing situations in which Parliament stands prorogued or adjourned.
Emergency regulations provided for in the Bill will be subject to judicial scrutiny. The courts will be able to review action taken using emergency powers in the usual way. For example, if a Minister exercises a discretion conferred on him by the emergency regulations in a way that breaches the Human Rights Act, the individual affected will be able to raise the matter in the courts. If the Secretary of State makes emergency regulations in 1112 situations where Her Majesty could make the regulations by Order in Council without any delay, the courts will be able to intervene. An individual being prosecuted for an offence created by the regulations will be able to raise the invalidity of the regulations as a defence in court. The remedy awarded by the courts will depend on the circumstances.
That amounts to a much more comprehensive and coherent set of safeguards than that which exists under the 1920 Act, and it better reflects important elements of the current constitutional settlement including devolution and, as I have said, the Human Rights Act. We might hope never to use emergency powers, but experience tells us that at some point they will be required. The strength of these powers means that the clear safeguards are necessary, and the Government believe that the balance we propose is the right one.
In addition to the efforts at a local and central level, the Government have put in place a new regional civil protection tier in the legislation. That is not a judgment in any way on the effectiveness of existing local response arrangements. Rather, it reflects a recognition by central Government that they need to build a stronger bridge with the local level and provide clearer support.
Since last April, teams in each of the Government offices have led work to establish regional resilience forums, bringing together key players from the public and private sectors to co-ordinate resilience efforts. In the event of emergencies, those regional teams and forums would provide support and advice to central Government and to local government, co-ordinating effort if necessary and acting as a conduit for information.
The Bill clarifies the position of the devolved Administrations. Essentially, it will establish for the first time a common civil protection framework for the United Kingdom as a whole. As I have made clear, the Government have undertaken extended consultations with the devolved Administrations. The Welsh First Minister and, as I have said, the Scottish Deputy Minister for Justice both gave evidence to the Joint Committee. I pay tribute to the constructive and thorough way in which they and their colleagues have approached the subject.
The Bill grants powers to Scottish Ministers in areas that are devolved, which would in England and Wales be exercisable by UK Ministers under part 1. It sets out when Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales must be consulted. In Northern Ireland, local devolved administrative arrangements make it impossible for part 1 to apply to Northern Ireland in the same way as it applies to the rest of the UK. It applies to certain bodies in Northern Ireland that exercise non-devolved functions. In addition, Northern Ireland Ministers will ensure that devolved organisations act in line with the duties set out in the Bill. Concordats will be drawn up with the devolved Administrations setting out their role.
I know that hon. Members will raise a number of matters in the debate, but let me turn to a specific issue that has been raised before I move on to the point about funding raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). First, there has been interest in how central Government themselves will be held to account under the new framework. 1113 Although we are confident that we have the right arrangements in place, it is fair to acknowledge that it is important to be clear to local responders where their work fits in, as well as to address questions that may be put to us by the general public.
It has been suggested to the Government that one way to achieve that would be a duty on central Government analogous to that which the Bill places on local government. The Government do not agree. It is difficult to see how such a sensible, meaningful duty in this area could be imposed on central Government by way of statute. However, that is not to say that more cannot be done to improve the transparency of central Government frameworks.
Within the Government, we are exploring what options there might be for some structure of reporting on the arrangements. The one caveat I would add is that, again, the balance has to be struck between ensuring—if it were deemed appropriate to Parliament and the people—that the transparency is achieved, but not at the cost of the need to ensure that those who do not have the interests of the UK at heart do not gain information that would be damaging to the interests of the country.
As I have already said in response to one observation, the Joint Committee also had particular concern about the possibility that the part 2 powers would be used to amend constitutional enactments during the emergency. I merely repeat that, having taken parliamentary counsel's advice on how the normal principles of the construction of delegated powers would apply to this particular provision, we cannot currently envisage any circumstances in which that power would lawfully enable us to make a substantive amendment to a constitutional enactment.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am going to make further progress, with respect.
I turn to funding, which was raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. We appreciate that—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is usual for any document to which an hon. Member refers to be available to all hon. Members. I do not know whether the Minister can clarify that point.
§ Mr. Alexander
There are, of course, guidelines in terms of advice within the Government. I can assure the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) that, in relation to the specific intervention that I received, I was happy to confirm that I had raised this matter with parliamentary counsel. That remains the case. What documentation on the Bill 1114 is provided to the House will be entirely consistent with the normal precedents of government in terms of the information provided.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is certainly usual, and helpful to hon. Members, for documents on which a Minister relies, or on which any other Member relies, to be more widely available. However, I do not know whether there may be an overarching reason of confidentiality for an exception to be made in this case.
§ Mr. Alexander
The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham seems to be suggesting that there is a specific opinion from counsel on a specific matter in my files at the moment. In fact, I sought the advice of parliamentary counsel through the normal channels within Government, and have received responses in discussion with officials. If there is a specific opinion on the specific question that it would be consistent with normal precedent to place before the House by putting it in the Library, I shall of course endeavour to do so. It is important to recognise, however, that the advice I sought was on the general points that we have raised with parliamentary counsel and that I have sought the advice of counsel on the specific point in relation to the Human Rights Act.
On funding, we appreciate that there is considerable interest—
§ Mr. Alexander
No, I have been generous. I have been speaking for almost an hour and it is important to allow other Members to make contributions.
I shall address myself to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey on funding. The Government believe that the responsibilities of local government should be properly funded. However, the Bill deals with frameworks rather than funding so the Government's focus is to ensure that we get the structures right.
Funding arrangements in respect of civil protection are kept under constant review. We have substantially increased the level of funding available for local civil protection over the last few years, including £330 million in the April 2003 budget to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office, as well as the Home Office, for counter-terrorism work.
There must be a clear and robust case for any additional funding. Resources must be carefully targeted where need is greatest. Any pressure for additional resources will thus be considered in the normal way in the course of the spending round.
The Bill is necessary, and I believe that both sides of the House realise that a legislative framework to deal with emergencies is a vital component of the statute book; recent events have brought that home to all of us.
1115 The Bill is also timely. The existing legislation has reached the end of its useful life and a consensus is building up on both the principle and the details of the proposals. The Bill will put in place a legislative framework necessary to deliver the effective civil protection that the people of the United Kingdom expect. We have a Bill that commands wide support and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)
There is much to welcome in the Bill, but there is also much to probe, challenge and improve. I am pleased that the Government have at last presented the measure to Parliament. We live in troubled times and legislation to deal with our response to civil contingencies, locally and nationally, is necessary and overdue.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office highlighted the deficiencies and weaknesses of the current system, but they were already clear in 2000 during the flooding and fuel crises of that year, and during the foot and mouth debacle in 2001. Those events provided definite contemporary precedents and demonstrated that the existing procedures and protocols were not sufficient and needed to be re-examined. The Bill needs discussion and improvement, but we believe that with proper scrutiny it can become an important addition to the statute book.
I realise that there are other views about parts of the Bill and we take those points very seriously—as we shall in Committee. For example, the Joint Committee made it clear that there should be specific protection for the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998—a point made by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and others, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). It is not good enough for the Minister to say that he has had a telephone chat with parliamentary counsel—[Interruption.] I am told that he did not even go that far.
When one examines the wording of the Bill, it is clear that there are specific points at which disallowances are made for particular human rights; for example, subsection (3)(a) of clause 22 disapplies the emergency regulations from a requirement for military service. Given the Joint Committee's recommendations and the fact that other Bills have included such protection, it is hard to understand why there is no specific protection for the provisions of the Human Rights Act, especially as the Act states that article 15 of the European convention on human rights can be disapplied for legitimate emergency powers.
§ Mr. Marshall-Andrews
I wonder whether the Opposition have themselves taken legal advice on this 1116 very important issue, and if they have, whether it has given them the remotest idea what the Minister is talking about, because it appears in this respect that he is not entirely master of his brief.
§ Mr. Heald
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for that intervention. Of course I have relied on my own—modest, in comparison—legal experience, and I have had the opportunity of discussions with learned colleagues on the Opposition Benches. I have not been to other counsel, and I do not have a written opinion to put in the Library, but I share much of the hon. and learned Gentleman's concern.
I wish to say a word about delay, because it will be the third anniversary of the events of 11 September before the Bill receives Royal Assent. That is a long delay, given the obvious risks to our country, about which the Prime Minister and others have been vocal. There has been plenty of time to introduce legislation, but the Government have been sluggish on this issue. I consider the protection of the British to be the paramount concern of any Government. Surely Ministers have taken risks in not acting sooner. At a time when terrorism and international conflict have been so prevalent in the public consciousness and we have also seen new incidents of other kinds of emergency, such as flooding and drought, surely a Civil Contingencies Bill should have been higher legislative priority than measures on banning hunting and trimming back leylandii hedges.
Apart from the legal issues on which we must properly probe the Government, my main concern about the present state of the Bill is simply that its practical aspects—how it will work and how it will be enforced do not seem to hold together. A Bill dealing with emergency powers is a rare and unusual event. It is the sort of law that we want on the statute book but never want to use—but that must not make us shy away from producing a Bill that will work in reality.
Yes, we shall probe in Committee to ensure that the legal definition of an emergency, which is much improved, adequately protects individual liberty. We will scrutinise the Bill, but it is vital not to ignore the practicalities. That is a problem. The Bill will place duties on councils and other responders, but no obvious resources will be allocated with those duties—a point made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). If and when the emergency situation arises, particularly the more serious type of terrorist event, it is hard to see where the work force is to put the plans into effect for a sustained period. Where is the muscle that will turn the new Act into action?
Just to give an example, it has been assessed that if there were a civil catastrophe, the emergency services in a city such as Liverpool—one of the United Kingdom's largest and most vital population centres—could manage 36 hours of continuous emergency cover, but that when those 36 hours were up, the emergency services would be spent and unable to continue. That would clearly not be enough if a dirty bomb were detonated in the centre of such a city.
We have excellent emergency services in this country, but they are not equipped to deal for long periods with some of the emergencies that we are discussing. [Interruption.]
1117 On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is the Minister thinking of returning to his place?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I was just having an exchange with the Minister that I thought might be helpful.
§ Mr. Heald
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I thought that I had lost the Minister for a moment; I had not realised that he was in discussion with you.
The sole current support for the emergency services—[Interruption.] I welcome the Minister back to his place. The sole current support for the emergency services comes from the civil contingency reaction forces. In a recent ministerial statement, it was claimed that 14 of these forces had achieved full operational capability. The research undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), who will wind up the debate for the Opposition, shows that the maximum theoretical strength of these forces is about 7,000 people, but the actual number available is nearer to 5,000. I certainly understand that at the moment they are being sent abroad to undertake duties in theatre elsewhere. Clearly those forces are less than is required, and a blind reliance on them as they stand would be a mistake. That demonstrates a lack of imagination on the part of the Government and a failure to take on board the full skills and competences that are available in our country.
I have mentioned Project Unicorn, the report by Scotland Yard that shows great gaps in what the Government should be doing. The shortfall forces organisations such as the Metropolitan police into making ad hoc gentleman's agreements with private bodies, such as Group 4, to ensure that they will arrive to bail out the under-equipped emergency services at the scene of a major incident. The Met has no choice but to make such arrangements, as the Government have not put in place any other back-up for those vital operations.
§ Mr. Alexander
I would not want the hon. Gentleman inadvertently to mislead the House. Does he accept that although the report was commissioned by the Metropolitan police, it does not bear the imprimatur that he suggests—that of a Metropolitan police report? It was a report to the police rather than a report by the police.
§ Mr. Heald
I fully accept that, but I hope that the Minister is not challenging the abilities of the people who produced the report. They are some of the most senior figures in security in the country, including major-generals and people of great expertise. They certainly have far more expertise than either he or I would even attempt to suggest we had. Why have the Government not dealt with this problem in the Bill?
Some years ago in the 1980s, I was asked to be an emergency plans community adviser in Royston, the town where I live. A number of us drawn from the town were prepared to volunteer to give up a small amount of time to be trained in the emergency procedures that were then thought necessary in case there was a missile attack from the USSR. It was simply a question of informing 1118 people of the particular measures in which we were trained. [Interruption.] I hear a certain amount of mirth at my remarks about volunteering, but in the context of the Bill, it is important to remember that the Red Cross has written to us say how disappointed it is that the role of volunteers has not been taken seriously and does not appear in the Bill. I would not wish to snipe at the Red Cross, as it does a fantastic job.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con)
Can my hon. Friend throw any light on why, when he intervened to ask about the potential role of volunteer reserve forces, the Minister was so dismissive? We have volunteer reserve forces for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and they do a very good job in the heat of battle. Why should we not have volunteer reserve forces for civil emergencies of the type that we are discussing?
§ Mr. Heald
My hon. Friend, as always, makes an extremely good point. The Bill makes provision for certain organisations to be enlisted for help—the category 1 and the category 2 responders—and we will question the Minister further in Committee on why certain bodies are in certain categories.
Some key personnel, such as paramedics, doctors and environmentalists, will be required to offer their support, and that is a good thing. However, that does not reach down far enough into the pool of people who could usefully be employed in an emergency. Experts have suggested to us that there is a need for an emergency volunteer reserve. It would consist of willing individuals with important skills who would be asked to volunteer to spend a small amount of their time for the sake of the public good. The people who were asked to volunteer in the reserve would be specialists in their fields, so they would have a suitable and useful knowledge base. They would receive further training in what would be expected of them in the case of an emergency and the actions that they could usefully take. That ties in with the thinking of the Red Cross.
Let us consider an example. Specialist hazardous materials—HAZMAT—drivers could be useful in several of the incidents about which the Minister has spoken. Such drivers have specialist training in the action to take when dealing with chemical spillages, so surely that could be used in an emergency situation. The Bill ignores a huge pool of skills among the general public. An emergency volunteer reserve would be practical, valuable, controllable and cheap, which is obviously what the Minister wants. It would also serve to make the public feel part of the solution, rather than always part of the problem. We ask the Government to explore the idea.
We renew our call for one senior Cabinet Minister to be placed in charge of, and made accountable for, civil contingencies and emergency planning. Surely the importance of getting the plans right dictates that they are sufficiently crucial to merit the attention of a senior Government Minister. The Government must recognise that we would not get a second chance in such a situation because if there were a dirty bomb—in London, for example—extremely serious damage would be done. We need a Minister to take responsibility in such circumstances; the Government could call the post what they liked. We need to get the measures right first time—and quickly, because the consequences of not doing so are literally a matter of life and death.
1119 It might be helpful if decisions on whether an emergency should be declared involved, when practical, consultation with senior Privy Councillor representatives of each of the other main political parties, who could be nominated in advance. That would provide some of the advantages of the wartime national Governments that existed in the past, by persuading the public of the seriousness of the situation and reassuring them about decisions taken. We shall certainly probe the Government on that suggestion in Committee.
I question the Bill's failure to refer in any way to a public education programme to supplement and support its other measures. It is all very well to introduce new emergency powers and measures, but what is the good of them if people do not know about or understand them? I am sure that the Minister will point out that he has established a website that contains useful information about various scenarios that could occur—www.ukresilience.info—and that he is also preparing a leaflet. Irrespective of how valuable that information is, it is not getting to the people who need it, because it is not being disseminated sufficiently vigorously or widely. How many people are likely to visit the website to check the information? If there were an incident, how many people would immediately click on www.ukresilience.info? Very few, I suggest.
Many necessary responses in such situations rely on people understanding that they must obey instructions, and having an idea of what their responses should be. Fire brigades already visit schools to explain issues relating to fire safety. Hearing such information does not cause children great problems, and the process helps the fire service if incidents occur in due course. Similarly, if we want people's responses to the new emergencies that we are discussing to be instinctively correct, it is worth noting that the correct response might be counter-intuitive—it might not be what one might think that it should sensibly be. For example, the first instinct of workers in an office in which there was an anthrax scare might well be to vacate the building as quickly as possible and get away from the threat. However, a much more sensible course of action would be to stay in the building and get vaccinated. The same is true of other similar situations.
I do not want to trouble the House for too long, because we have heard one long speech and many hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. For the most part, the British people have been lucky: they have led sheltered lives and do not necessarily know how to react to a soldier with a rifle manning a cordon at the end of their street. They do not know that that soldier can open fire on them if he judges it to be necessary. We believe that they need to know, and that a public information campaign must be a sensible precaution. We recognise the need to avoid unnecessary alarm, but we also recognise that the British public are mature and sensible and that they will take on information that could potentially save their lives. If schoolchildren can take on such information, why do the Government not trust adults not to panic when they are warned of potential dangers?
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con)
Given that local authorities, including those in my area, regularly complain that the Government foist new responsibilities 1120 upon them without providing adequate resources for those responsibilities to be discharged, does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should at least commit to the principle that where an unforeseeable eventuality entails a new duty for local authorities, it will be reflected in increased financial assistance? Does he accept that clause 32(b) provides no such succour?
§ Mr. Heald
It is certainly true that the Local Government Association's response has been along those lines. We will press the Minister on that point because it is all well and good for Ministers to say, "There is a duty here; there is a duty there,"—indeed, there are seven new duties for local authorities in the Bill—but they will not work if the means are not willed into existence. That is why I mentioned not only resources but means of obtaining the work force on the ground and taking other practical measures necessary to achieve success.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)
The hon. Gentleman could pray in aid the Bellwin formula to support his argument.
§ Mr. Heald
That contribution is useful and helpful, and we will draw on it in Committee. However, I must not trespass on the good will of the House.
I pay tribute to the Joint Committee that examined the draft Civil Contingencies Bill, the Select Committee on Defence and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which have moved the pre-legislative scrutiny forward a long way. The Government must not be complacent that they have got the Bill 100 per cent. right, and I look forward to exploring the issues in Committee.
The British public have been lucky in the past because they have been prepared to take, and work with, the measures needed to protect their security, as well as fighting for freedom in two world wars in the past century. We should not think that the British public are weak, feeble and unwilling to understand. If there is an emergency and we must face new threats, I am sure that the British public will respond.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) (Lab)
Some Members may be surprised that the Defence Committee produced an unsolicited report on the draft version of the Bill. They should not be surprised, because the Defence Committee has been actively engaged with the issue of home defence from 9/11 onwards. We have produced five reports dealing either in full or in part with the dangers, the consequences and what the Government should do.
In July 2002, in our report on defence and security in the UK, the Defence Committee said that new civil contingencies legislation was urgently needed. That was a year after the publication of the Government's original consultation document—the emergency planning review.
Today, hon. Members, including the Minister, have emphasised the importance of the Bill in establishing an effective framework for dealing with emergencies in the modern world, and I am glad that that consensus is emerging. In the past, our regularly repeated arguments that new legislation was necessary were not always met 1121 by such agreement from the Government. As late as March last year, the Government's excellent—in my view—security and intelligence co-ordinator, Sir David Omand, told us:Operationally it is not essential to have this consolidated legislation.It has already been pointed out that the legislation has been a long time coming. In the light of its long gestation, I expected it to have 130 clauses rather than a modest 30, but we must be grateful that it has finally arrived. I am delighted that the Government have responded positively to the Defence Committee report and the report by the Joint Committee on the draft Bill, which was so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie). As my hon. Friend has said, and as the Defence Committee believes, the Bill is a significant improvement on the draft Bill of last June.
I want to concentrate on three issues: the respective roles of local government and national tiers, and co-ordination between them; the private sector, including the private security sector; and the military.
On local, regional and national tiers of government, the Bill places statutory responsibilities on local responders, which is welcome. However, the response to major emergencies must be co-ordinated at regional and, probably, national level. The Defence Committee was surprised that the draft Bill did not mention either of those tiers, although the consultation document, which was published at the same time, set out the Government's proposals for each. We concluded that the Government needed to explain their role and responsibilities as well as those of regional offices and officers, which were not included in the legislation. The Joint Committee went further than us and recommended not only that the Government's roles and responsibilities should be outlined in the Bill but that they should be given a statutory duty to undertake them.
The Government have rejected those recommendations. They argue that Ministers can task their Departments with appropriate roles and responsibilities without the need for legal duties or powers and that it is enough that Ministers are accountable to Parliament. This is not the time to enter into a protracted discussion about the accountability of Ministers to Parliament, except to say that in my 25 years on the Defence Committee I have frequently encountered situations in which Ministers have lacked enthusiasm in discharging that duty.
The Government's reply to the Defence Committee and the Joint Committee elaborated on that refusal. They explained thatregional resilience structures are still at an early stage of development"—I am surprised that after two years those structures have not gone beyond that stage—and that althougha number of bodies have been established including Regional Resilience Teams and Regional Resilience Forums…their precise roles have not been fixed.
§ Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that although local responders and local authorities have a democratic mandate, the 1122 resilience teams, which currently seem vague, are not under control and have no mandate? Does he agree that there could be a clash between local authorities, which are under the democratic control of councillors, and what could be described as unelected, unaccountable regional resilience tsars?
§ Mr. George
There might be a clash before a crisis. I hope that if there is a major crisis, there will be no time for any clashes about where democratic accountability lies, although my hon. Friend's point is true.
The explanation given by Ministers on lack of inclusion in legislation is not sufficient. By excluding themselves and the regional offices, the Government are sending the wrong message about the importance of these issues. They are saying that local authorities and local responders must be placed under statutory obligations, but they are not prepared to accept a similar responsibility themselves. There is therefore likely to be a continuing lack of clarity on what precisely can be expected from the Government and from what part of the Government there is to be that response.
To be fair, the Government recognised that when they said in their reply to the Joint Committee:The Government is currently considering the most effective way to communicate its own role and responsibilities in this area to practitioners at other tiers, Parliament and the public.That is not quite good enough.
That leads me to my second complaint: even now there is far too little detail on how the arrangements will work. It appears that no decision has been taken on how the regional emergency co-ordinator will be appointed. As I said, the regional resilience structures arestill at an early stage of development".In their response to the Defence Committee's recommendation, the Government stated:a key aim of the Bill is to entrench existing good practice…it will tend to establish a baseline of good practice at a minimum acceptable rather than a maximum desirable level.In other words, the Government do not know how the system will work, and they will not really be able to differentiate should a crisis occur. So, I am not entirely happy. There is a certain lack of clarity and ambition in parts of the Bill.
I turn to a subject that is dear to me: the role of the private—sector the private commercial sector, the private security sector and those who hire private security. In our report on the draft Bill, the Defence Committee strongly argued that the membership of category 2 responders should be substantially increased to include a wide range of private companies that will have an important part to play in the civil contingency planning process. The Bill does not invest category 2 responders with extensive responsibility—quite the reverse. They are obliged only to provide information to, or to co-operate with, frontline local responders in connection with the latter's responsibilities to plan for emergencies. The Government argue that the category 2 network should be established on "a closely defined basis" so that the new structure will be able to function effectively "without over-reaching itself". Neither I nor the Committee is happy with that explanation.
§ Mr. George
I have not the slightest intention of commenting on a leaked document, even though that leaked document, which I have read, appears to correspond pretty closely to what I have written on a number of occasions. I shall simply use my own analysis and investigation of 27 companies and entities—large, medium and small—such as the Building Research Establishment, the police, the City of London, Canary Wharf, the gas and water industries, and so on. I will come to that point, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me to emphasise it even more strongly.
The new terrorist threats are more likely to involve an attack on the private sector. Statistics on patterns of global terrorism from the United States State Department prove that. If one wants further information, one need only look to the range of attacks on commercial buildings and entities such as those on St. Mary Axe, the City of London, Canary Wharf and so on. The private sector is likely to suffer a catastrophic emergency. One must add that, as a result of the policies of previous Governments and, dare I say, the present Government, the critical national infrastructure is far more likely to be in the hands of the private sector. So much of what will happen will impact—enormously, potentially catastrophically—on the private sector and its employees.
I suspect that many of the companies are prepared to co-operate on a voluntary basis—at least I hope that they are. They should be obliged by statute to co-operate. That would achieve two important things. First, it would represent an explicit recognition of the broad front on which the preparatory measures are intended to function. It would demonstrate the inclusivity of the Government's approach to civil contingencies and the modern interdependence of private and public organisations.
Secondly, such a measure would give those with responsibility for preparedness, security and business continuity planning the authority to extract the necessary resources from their companies. If one is head of a security operation in a big corporation—a facilities manager or a security manager—one will have the authority to say that money needs to be made available. However, research in the UK and the United States shows that very little money additional to what was available before 9/11 has been made available in companies to enhance security.
Such a provision would give heads of security in large and small private enterprises the ability to say, "We've simply got to do this," just as they must when it comes to fire regulation. There is no shilly-shallying over what to do about fire. As the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said, resources must be made available and security must be taken more seriously. For far too long, budgetary responsibility and expenditure have been low down the list of priorities. A legal obligation to take the subject more seriously would be welcome. I am sure that that would give budgetary requirements well deserved promotion.
Although it is important that the new structure can operate effectively, it is just as important that it reflects the reality of the modern world. The Defence 1124 Committee believes that, as currently proposed, it does not do so. I hope that the Minister will look again at making category 2 responders more inclusive.
We also made recommendations on the private security industry, which, after a long fight, is to be governed by a statutory licensing scheme. That will not kick in immediately. The first group to be included in legislation is that comprising door supervisors and—that heart of the security industry—wheel clampers. That will not have an enormous effect on the private sector response. When legislation affects other sectors of the private security industry, for that and other reasons it will raise its game considerably. Companies such as Securicor, Group 4 Securitas, Reliance and so on are very professional, and they should be and are available. Although I have not read the Unicorn report, I know that it goes into some detail on that.
It is estimated that there are more than 20,000 private security operatives in central London at any one time. They should be made available in an emergency; the companies should be required to make them available, perhaps voluntarily, perhaps not. Group 4 could well be asked to provide a certain number of employees, who should receive additional training. Perhaps that will increase the budget, but why should a company not only risk the lives of its employees but do so at its own expense? Numbers—I did not like the use the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire made of the word "bodies", as there will be quite enough of those around—of such people will be required to aid the police, the military if they are present and other members of what David Veness described as "the extended police family". It is important that the private security industry is included; we should not rely on the industry and the sector to co-operate voluntarily.
On a separate point, I draw attention to a specific area in which the lack of an appropriate legislative framework has the potential seriously to compromise the security of private sector buildings and their occupants. As I said, historically such buildings have been the targets of many terrorist attacks. Clearly, extensive legislation relating to private buildings is in place: one knows who is in charge and the roles of the occupiers, the owners, and the emergency services in the event of fire. However, as the hon. Gentleman said, fire is not the same as a terrorist threat.
Alarms and their nose and other senses tell people when there is a fire and they will act responsibly, but a terrorist attack is very different. It may well be that doubts arise as to whether the pilot of an aircraft flying somewhere near central London is in control of his aircraft. Are the intelligence services or the police going to transmit that information immediately to the facilities managers or the heads of security in the buildings in the area? I suspect that they will not. The police might be nervous about giving an order for immediate evacuation, because it might be the wrong order: heading out into the open might be more dangerous than staying inside. My questions are these: are the people who should give such an order trained in the task, and will they have proper legal protection so that if they give the order to evacuate and it turns out that there is no threat, they will not be legally liable to the various private companies that were so ordered? Caution in the absence of a clear authority may lead the 1125 facilities manager or head of security to be reluctant to give the order to evacuate, and the consequences of that reluctance may well be catastrophic.
Like fire legislation, legislation such as this should be devised to cover the design of buildings, how to evacuate, and who should evacuate. If I have managed to convince the Minister that there is a case, I earnestly ask that he accept my request, which has been communicated to him, to bring a small delegation of people who can argue the case again. I hope that he is prepared to do that.
The Defence Committee devoted a great deal of time to the military, who play a vital role in defending the security of the UK. One of the MOD's responses has been to establish the civil contingency reaction forces. That fits in with the Bill's tier structure in which the armed forces will be represented at the regional level, because, with two exceptions, the CCRFs' brigade areas match those of the Government offices for the regions, which will provide the basis for the regional tier. One of the recommendations in the report on the draft Bill stated that there were strong arguments for inclusion of the armed forces in local resilience forums as well as at regional level, to facilitate regular interaction with the bodies most likely to call for assistance, such as the local or regional police force.
In their response, the Government agreed with the sentiment, but decided not to make attendance at the local forums a statutory requirement, sinceparticipation could not be guaranteed in the face of operational requirements.Let us pause for a moment. The footprint of the military in this country has got smaller and smaller and shallower and shallower, and I read stories in the papers—not that I believe them—that it may become even smaller: the Regular forces may have even fewer members, or they may well be somewhere abroad, dealing with terrorism far from British shores. I dislike intensely the idea that in a crisis the Government would not be able to guarantee the availability either of the Regular forces located somewhere in the country, either locally or regionally, or of the Territorial Army. That is precisely the sort of unimaginative old thinking that the Defence Committee has encouraged the Government to leave behind.
In the light of the change in the nature of the terrorist threat to the homeland, we have argued that the military has a responsibility to provide a "predictable element" of support for the civil authorities. Time and again during our Committee hearings. we were told that that could not be guaranteed because our forces had obligations elsewhere. Those who are planning told us that, in their experience, the arrival of the armed forces could not be calculated because they might not be available for use. I find that amazing. In my view, support for homeland defence should be an operational requirement of the armed forces, not an optional extra.
In fact, when disaster strikes, the military are always there. They find the resources and the capability to respond and their contribution is professional and effective, and often critical to the success of the overall response. Let me point out that during the recent fire services dispute, despite operational requirements in 1126 Iraq and elsewhere, 19,000 service personnel were committed to provide cover during possible industrial action by the Fire Brigades Union. I believe that if such a commitment can be sustained during a time of crisis—as when requirements have arisen in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Falkland Islands, and so on—the armed forces can be relied upon and should therefore have a formal place in the planning process.
The Committee also wanted the MOD to take the opportunity to review the structure of the arrangements for the armed forces to provide assistance to the civil authorities, which are set out under various acronyms including MACP, military aid to civil power, MAGD, military aid to other Government departments, and MACC, military aid to the civil community. We are disappointed that that has not happened.
The CCRFs were announced in summer 2002, but it took 18 months—until December 2003—for the Government to decide that full operating capability had been achieved. We remain concerned that some of the troops earmarked as members of the brigades may be deployed in operations overseas and will therefore not be available to be called out in a civil emergency. We are aware that that has already happened: call-outs to continuing operations in Iraq testify to that.
I am sorry to have taken so long, but we are worried that all is not well. The approach to planning and preparation for disasters, including large-scale terrorist attack, and other serious emergencies has been too gradualist. A preference for ramping up existing structures continues to be demonstrated, with an "It'll be okay on the night" attitude prevailing. A more fundamental assessment is needed of requirements today and tomorrow in the light of the global war on terrorism and the complex interdependence of modern society.
I welcome the Bill. There are good parts in it. Despite much criticism—I have contributed to some of it—there has been a significant improvement in the way in which we prepare and our response to a crisis. Much has been said and done about dealing, as far as is possible, with the human rights issue. Having talked today about a limited area, let me say in conclusion that I believe that the Bill is a good start, despite the long time that has elapsed since preparation started. There is still much to be done and I hope that the Government are still in listening mode. I hope that in Committee they will realise that the Bill has not yet reached the pitch of perfection that the public expect. If that pitch is not achieved and there is a crisis, the concept of ministerial responsibility will apply. I hope that the Government are prepared to listen to serious suggestions that are made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I wish the Bill speedy progress and effective scrutiny.
§ Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD)
As has already been said, the Bill is a great improvement on the draft version that was published last year. The value of pre-legislative scrutiny is demonstrated when, as in this case, the Government are prepared to change their proposals. The Government certainly deserve credit for their comprehensive and largely positive response to the recommendations of the Joint Committee, on which I was happy to serve under the enjoyable chairmanship of 1127 the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie).Those less generous than me might ask why some of the horrors proposed in the draft Bill were there in the first place.
The Bill contains distinct provisions in its two parts. The first part is concerned with planning for emergencies, and the second contains extraordinary powers that may be available to Government when an emergency has happened or is about to happen. Our concerns about each part of the Bill are quite different, reflecting the distinction between its two parts. In broad terms, they can be characterised as a worry that the first part will not be used enough and a fear that the second part will be used too much.
Before setting out the details of our concerns, it is worth referring to the structure of the Bill, as that is relevant to the way in which it is read. I apologise to the parliamentary draftsmen for saying that this is not a pretty Bill, but even they might agree that their handiwork would win no awards from the Plain English Campaign. There are a number of reasons why it is confusing. First, the importance of the parts is reversed, and we saw that reversal of order in the Minister's speech, when we ran out of time on the most significant part of the Bill. I fear that we may run into the same problem in Committee, where the second part—the constitutionally more significant part—is the one that ends up being least debated.
The scary part of the Bill—the emergency regulation-making powers—comes second. The repeated definition of an emergency is also confusing in both the first and second parts. Separate direction and regulation-making powers are given to Ministers in each part for different purposes that may be mixed up by the reader.
The three components of the triple lock to which the Minister referred—an essential part of the safeguards around the emergency powers—are not set out as a coherent whole; instead, the components have to be read together through different clauses. Having read the provisions a number of times, I think I have the structure right in my head, but perhaps that reflects my having gone native after seven years in this place. I do not think that the Bill is nearly as intelligible to those outside the House.
§ Mr. Allan
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely correct. The triple lock sounds very good—it sounds robust—but in reality it would be tested only if people went through incredibly convoluted court proceedings to challenge the fact that a Minister had made regulations using these powers. We must place enormous faith in Ministers observing the powers set out in the Bill, but it is extremely unlikely that the public would be able to challenge a decision made under the Bill.
The Bill is obscure, and I am sure that there are good reasons why it should be. Having gone through the private Members' Bill process last year, and having dealt with parliamentary draftsmen from the other side, as it 1128 were, I understand some of the contortions that they are forced to go through. However, clarity is important, and many of the recommendations of the Joint Committee rightly focused on clarity so that the public can understand what we are doing in their name.
The main worries that remain relate to the resources necessary to do the work that part 1 will mandate. Local authorities will be the lead agencies in implementing this part of the Bill. Local government finance is properly moving up the political agenda as the issue of local taxation once again becomes contentious. Like the house prices cycle, the local taxation system becomes deeply unpopular every decade or so, to the extent that a fix is proposed that works for a while before it becomes unsustainable.
I am pleased that local government retains the lead role in emergency planning, as it is the appropriate level for such work to take place. It would, however, be foolish not to consider the impact of regular crises in local government funding as we discuss the Bill. Many Members, myself included, have served in local government. The stark reality is that this is a vulnerable area of expenditure when it comes to annual budget decisions. When local councillors are faced with budget cuts, many will consider it more acceptable to take resources from departments planning for possible problems rather than from those dealing with problems that are happening at the time.
The Joint Committee highlighted this area of vulnerability. The Government's response referred to it but offered a remedy only in the vaguest terms. It states:We are committed to maintaining the right level of spending on local civil protection and will not remove the specific grant until the new framework is in place.I hope that the Minister will be able to give more detail on the Government's proposals to move away from the civil defence grant as the Bill proceeds. I thought that he was delightfully vague in response to questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) about the extent to which the sums that are needed have been calculated.
The Bill affects a wide range of companies and organisations as well as having an impact on local government. There are still questions about the role of the voluntary sector, especially where, as is increasingly the case, it is the deliverer of mainstream public services. It has already been said that the British Red Cross has been active in bringing this matter to our attention.
It is not often that people come to us asking for the imposition of a statutory duty that affects them. That perhaps reflects the maturity of the voluntary sector and its engagement in dealing with emergencies. I hope that we will be able to respond positively to the suggestion that the sector should have a statutory right to be consulted.
There are serious implications for private sector companies. That is especially true given the Bill's broadening of the definition of emergencies to situations where telecommunications or financial networks break down or are threatened. The position of companies such as BT is complex. They are essential partners in emergencies, they contribute to contingency planning, and they are commercial entities with their own statutory and financial responsibilities. It is extremely difficult to decide how they can satisfy all the 1129 requirements that are placed on them by legislation. The potential for conflicting legislation is real, particularly in areas such as health and safety. We should be conscious of the fact that when we are asking businesses to engage in information sharing—for instance, telecommunication providers—on infrastructure, we are asking businesses that are frequently competitors with one another to go head to head to give information that is extremely sensitive.
For us, the more significant part of the Bill is part 2, beginning at clause 18, which creates a framework for Government to use emergency powers. We hope that part 2 will never need to be used. The Minister was right to talk about the Emergency Powers Act 1920 not having been used for 30 years. We would deem that a success. I hope that we will be able to have some confirmation that the trend since the 1970s to build emergency planning in sector-specific legislation is one that the Government intend to maintain. I suggest that it is far better that emergency planning is done through the normal primary legislation process than that we ever have to bring into play emergency powers outwith the normal system.
A difficulty is created for anyone who believes in democracy as the Bill deals with powers adopted by Government outside the normal democratic framework. The questions that must be answered before accepting such legislation are as follows: first, can we imagine a situation ever occurring in which the Government would have to act outwith the normal democratic regime? The answer to that is a cautious yes. It is cautious because we must be clear that these are situations where the Government genuinely cannot follow normal procedure, and not those where it is just difficult for them to do so. If we accept that, however improbable, such a situation may occur, we must ask whether it is better that any action that has to be taken is within a statutory framework such as that proposed in part 2, or taken without any clear statutory basis, or founded in historic legislation or Royal Prerogative. The answer must be that it is better to have a statutory framework, if it is clear and robust, rather than leave things undefined. Much of the Joint Committee's work was an attempt to give clarity and robustness to that framework, which was extremely weak and therefore dangerous in the draft Bill. The Government's acceptance of most of the Joint Committee's recommendations has therefore gone some way towards satisfying our concerns. In particular, the relationship between the Bill and the Human Rights Act 1998 was of concern, not just to the Joint Committee considering the Bill but to the Joint Committee on Human Rights and a number of other Joint Committees. In a wonderfully understated part of their response, the Government concede the point on treating secondary legislation as an Act of Parliament:The Government very much appreciated the care and attention with which the Committee has considered this difficult issue. The Government also found the comments on this point in the reports of the Joint Committee on Human Rights very useful, and has read with interest the comments of the Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, the Transport Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in their memoranda to the Committee. The Government has also had very fruitful discussions with consultees on the issue.1130In the light of this, the Government has decided not to include this provision in the Bill.Fortunately, on this occasion, a major constitutional issue has been settled the right way. Liberty, in its evidence to the Joint Committee, helpfully clarified the significance of that point. Parliament has accepted that it may pass legislation that is incompatible with the European convention on human rights. It has retained the right to do so and have that legislation upheld by the courts, but it intends that it should be the only body with the powers to do so. It did not intend the Executive to have that right, and therefore explicitly framed the Human Rights Act in terms whereby Parliament's legislation—primary legislation—cannot be struck down by the courts, but that any regulations made by the Executive under secondary legislative powers can be struck down. A crucial test for the Bill is whether or not that distinction still applies.
§ Mr. Cash
The hon. Gentleman may be falling into a trap if he thinks that the Human Rights Act cannot be amended or repealed by subsequent legislation. In a leading case in 2000, Lord Hoffman made it crystal clear that it can. Moreover, there are serious worries about whether or not there can be proper challenges and judicial reviews of part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Allan
I accept that the Human Rights Act can be amended, but I am seeking to make the distinction between parliamentary legislation, where Parliament remains sovereign, and measures introduced by the Executive. Parliament can pass whatever legislation it likes, and in theory can pass legislation that is incompatible with human rights measures. However, the Executive have no power under secondary legislation to do that without it being struck down. I look forward to the contribution of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) on a key test on which we need to seek answers both today and in Committee. We need to know whether or not powers in the Bill, as opposed to those in the draft Bill, still allow the Government, under their order-making powers in secondary legislation, to introduce things that have the effect of being primary legislation and that cannot be struck down under human rights legislation. That key test must be applied. In their response, the Government say that they have conceded the point, but clearly we must continue to test that in Committee.
The Bill in its current form maintains the fundamental constitutional distinction between Parliament's sovereign powers and those that it delegates to the Executive. It may not quite have the historic appeal of the signing of Magna Carta, but it deals with the constitutional event that would have arisen had the Government sought to breach the distinction that was deliberately made by Parliament.
The most significant open question remains when these powers might be used, and we hope to explore that as the Bill proceeds through Parliament. It is the area of greatest danger in the legislation. There is a risk that, having produced new legislation, the Government may be tempted to use it. The success of many pieces of legislation is measured by how often they are put into effect by the Government, but the test of part 2 is how little it will be used. The Bill is designed not to be used on a daily basis but to sit on a shelf—gathering dust, it 1131 is hoped—unless and until the most extreme circumstances arise. That is the final area that I want to explore.
There is some confusion because the range of emergencies that have to be planned for in part 1 and those that may trigger emergency powers in part 2 are described in similar terms. However, the circumstances under which emergency powers may be taken by the Government in part 2 are quite different from and much more limited than those in part 1, for which local authorities will plan. The Government's regulatory impact assessment sets out the situations that require the planning function of part 1. It cites "wide area disruptive challenges" and says:Flooding, foot and mouth disease and the fuel crisis are key examples of this".They are also, I hope the Minister will confirm, key examples of situations where part 2 emergency powers would not be used, as they could all be dealt with under existing legislation. If any need for new legislation or regulations could be demonstrated, there should be no disruption to Parliament that could prevent it from being proposed in the normal way. Similarly, terrorist attacks such as 11 September should not require any use of those emergency powers, however shocking those attacks might be. The correct response to 11 September was to propose the introduction of legislation to Parliament, as indeed happened with the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. While we may have disagreed about its terms, the Government were able to secure their business in the normal democratic fashion. While a heightened state of alert in respect of terrorist attacks is a fact of life at present, there are no valid reasons for emergency powers to be used.
The Government might be tempted to be seen to respond robustly in certain circumstances, such as a serious attack on a UK target, and that may lead them to consider using the emergency powers. I hope that the Minister will confirm that any such temptation would be resisted most firmly. We need to bear it in mind that throughout most of the last 30 years we have experienced terrorist attacks of the most severe nature in the UK, from the IRA and others, without Governments resorting to the use of existing emergency powers.
§ Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con)
The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. He is right that there have been terrorist attacks for the past 30 years and longer on this country, but there have also been conventional attacks from our conventional enemies. However, there have never been more than a few dozen casualties. The Bill deals with multiple casualties—hundreds or even thousands of casualties—so it is another necessary measure.
§ Mr. Allan
The hon. Gentleman is correct that the scale of previous attacks is different. However, the principle of part 2 is that, wherever existing legislation deals with the relevant circumstances, it should be used. However, where it does not, the first port of call is the introduction of primary legislation in the House. Only when those options have failed should the Government seek powers under part 2 to introduce emergency regulations. There may be a perception that terrorist attacks, whatever their seriousness and grossness, could 1132 trigger the use of emergency powers. I do not believe that they would, and I am seeking confirmation from the Government that that is not their intention. The exception is attacks at the far end of the scale such as chemical, biological and nuclear attacks. I accept that in such an event the centre of London would be unable to function and Parliament could not sit.
There are many reasons why such powers should be in place, but it is worth making the point that there is a high threshold, including circumstances that have arisen over the past 30 years, including an attack on the Cabinet by terrorists in the Brighton bombing and attacks on London's financial centres. Those situations did not require the use of emergency powers, and the correct response was made to introduce anti-terrorism legislation in the normal way. I hope that that will continue to be the case. If the Bill is put on the statute book, it should be the last, rather than the first, recourse. However, I am concerned about the way in which it has been portrayed, with its powers being taken off the shelf when there is a terrorist attack. That need not necessarily be the case.
§ Simon Hughes
Following my hon. Friend's last point, is not the lesson of the past few years that, while we may under-react there is a danger that we may overreact in the heat of the moment? The Privy Councillors who reported on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act were unanimous that the decision to derogate from human rights provisions—we were the only European country to do so—was inappropriate, unnecessary and went a step too far.
§ Mr. Allan
My hon. Friend is entirely right. In a media-driven world, the hue and cry is for action to be taken, but such action may not be appropriate or necessary because statutory powers are already in existence.
In closing, I shall describe certain scenarios in which we should be clear that we do not want any emergency powers to be taken. I call those the poll tax riot scenario, the Reichstag fire scenario and the killer bees scenario, to try to describe situations in which the legislation should not apply. The poll tax riots are an example of a situation in which there is serious disorder as a result of the Government pursuing a deeply unpopular policy. There is law available to deal with any criminal action that arises from politically motivated protests, such as the law on criminal damage and assault. Political protest, however destabilising, should never be grounds for Government to invoke emergency powers. It is therefore helpful that the provisions in the draft Bill for political instability to be included in the definition of an emergency have been removed.
The Reichstag fire scenario is perhaps the hardest to deal with and the most fanciful in the current stable political climate, but it should never be discounted. It assumes that an anti-democratic party is on the rise in the UK. The party might be extreme right, extreme left, or even extreme centre, if there is such a thing. Such a political grouping might seek to cause an emergency precisely so that it could govern using emergency powers, rather than normal democratic procedures.
Nobody is suggesting that that is at all likely in the present climate, but the rise of the far right in some surprising places over recent years means that we cannot 1133 entirely discount it as an issue for consideration. Although such parties could anyway achieve anti-democratic goals if they had a parliamentary majority, we should not make other routes available to them in the form of legislation that allows Government to exercise extraordinary powers without those being ring-fenced with extraordinary safeguards.
The killer bees scenario is the one that I fear is most likely to occur. This is the situation in which there is hype in the media about a perceived new threat and a loud demand for Government action. We all know the scene from disaster movies: "Mr. President, there is a swarm of killer bees. You must do something now." If killer bees are a little far-fetched, think back a few years. Would we have imagined anthrax in the postal system or terrorists planning to dump poison in the water supply? Both are recent scenarios that were put forward in the US media and received a huge amount of coverage in this country.
The urge for a Minister to "do something" when confronted by such a call and to reach for the emergency powers may be great, but it would be an abuse of them if it happened when not strictly necessary. We have an Executive in Parliament, not a separately elected Executive, and delegate executive powers only in extreme circumstances, not to satisfy the political needs of Ministers facing a crisis.
We will seek to test the safeguards on part 2 during the progress of the Bill to satisfy ourselves whether a democratic party should support the Bill. We will also test the Government's commitment to resource the responsibilities created in part 1. We intend to do that in a constructive spirit and hope that the Government will respond in a similar fashion, as they have done to date.
§ Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab)
There is much in the legislative progress of the Bill for which the Government deserve and should receive congratulations. I appreciate that my saying that may cause a frisson of apprehension in the Home Secretary's breast that he has gone too far on this occasion in order to appease the dark forces of liberalism with which he struggles every day.
The plaudits that the Government deserve in respect of the Bill apply entirely to the way in which they have taken it through the pre-legislative process, which is a model of its kind. The Bill is infinitely better as a result. There are, however, aspects of the Bill that are anathema to civil liberty. If they remain unscathed as a result of the Committee process, the Bill should ultimately be opposed.
As this is a Second Reading debate, I shall reflect on the context in which the Bill is brought before Parliament, and the context in which Government ask for the greatest powers that any Government have asked the House to arrogate to them in modern history. The context of the Bill is terrorism. The Bill is not put before us for us to pass as a result of BSE, flooding or any other form of natural or environmental disaster. The basis of the Bill—the only basis on which Government could ask the House to pass it—is terrorism.
Let us consider terrorism and the appropriate ways in which we should and can deal with it. Terrorism has two weapons. The first is the wanton, atrocious infliction of 1134 violence, cruelty and injury indiscriminately upon the innocent—terrible crimes committed in its name. The second great weapon of terrorism is fear of such acts. The fear is often wholly disproportionate to the extent of the threat actually posed. It is that fear that is the greatest threat to liberal democracies—not the action itself, but the fear of that action.
There is no greater desire on the part of the terrorist than to instil that fear in liberal societies in order to make them react by passing legislation that attacks the very values and principles that are the basis of those democratic societies—in other words, by instilling fear, to make us do the job that the terrorists require us to do.
Guantanamo bay is an institution in which al-Qaeda must glory and rejoice every single day, for the effortless recruitment—and in many ways, the legitimate recruitment—that it brings about to the ranks of those who protest. In our own prisons, as a pale shadow, which unhappily is very often what we become, we have tens of people who have been in prison without trial and without representation for two years now. That state of affairs represents a triumph not for the Home Secretary, but for terrorism, because the terrorists have dictated to us measures that are abhorrent to the basis on which this country proceeds.
It is therefore in that manner that we must approach the Bill. If we pass into law things which, in due course, can cause us to lose those liberties, we are in effect producing precisely the result that terrorism demands. Also, terrorists rely on our own politicians and a de facto complicity. There is no shortage of politicians in democratic countries who are able to exploit that fear in order to enhance their own populist support and their own control. The House must beware of that, above all.
It is not new that politicians should use fear of outside forces to pass draconian legislation or to enjoy abuse of power. In "Animal Farm" the pigs maintained order not by brute force, but by the persistent fear of the return of the farmer. In "1984" Big Brother maintained his power not by brute force, but because of the unspecified fear of other, countervailing forces in the world—unspecified and probably non-existent.
While we are on the subject of great literature, I recommend to the Home Secretary Kafka's short stories, in particular one called "The Burrow", in which a small and terrified animal—terrified of something for which there is never any explanation—continues to burrow further and further into the ground. The more he burrows, the more terrified he becomes, because he tells himself, "I have burrowed so deep that the threat must be very great to have got me into this position in the first place." It is precisely that against which we must guard. There are many other parts of Kafka to which I could direct the Home Secretary, but I suspect that he has them well in mind. While we are on the subject of literature, I commend to the House the article by Mary Riddell on precisely this issue in The Guardian, that great bible of darkness, two weeks ago.
That is the generality in which we must approach the Bill, and it is one in which we must take great care. The powers that the Bill asks us to give to arbitrary and executive government are massive. They are greater than have ever been required in modern history. They may destroy or requisition property by Executive decree; they may ban travel by Executive decree; they 1135 may ban any assembly, however peaceful, by Executive decree; they may mobilise the armed forces by Executive decree; they may set up courts or tribunals hitherto unknown to our judicial system in order to enforce the regulations; and they may by regulation strike down any Act of Parliament. It is completely incomprehensible that that bald pronouncement would not enable Government to strike down the Human Rights Act 1998 itself.
I feel bound to say that the Minister's assertion that we have arrived at this constitutional position, which he can defend because of a conversation with parliamentary counsel, without the slightest reference to the reasons that parliamentary counsel gave for what would otherwise appear to be an incomprehensible view, is not something of which he should be proud in recommending the Bill on Second Reading to the House.
§ Mr. Kevan Jones
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the basic human rights is life, and that if we as elected politicians were not to take actions to protect the electorate from the clear threat that faces this country at the moment we would be remiss and would be letting down the citizens who elected us to this place?
§ Mr. Marshall-Andrews
Of course that is right, and I am grateful because I may now use that helpful intervention as a crutch in order to move forward to the next part of what I hope will be a short summing-up.
The real problem, and it has been identified, is not necessarily the extent of the powers that are being demanded, but the basis upon which those powers can be exercised. That is the point. The gateway through which the Executive must pass in order to give vent to those powers must be narrow indeed and tightly drawn, and it is not. These powers are far too wide. They are subjective, by definition. It is for the Minister to decide what is serious and what is not at any given time, not for anybody else. As I have said, the Bill may very well have struck down the power of the courts to intervene. The extent of its powers is extraordinary. They are not simply, as the old statutes that it rephrases say, a response to events that will deprive us of "the essentials of life". That was understandable. For instance, it would be sufficient to perceive a serious danger to human welfare caused by the disruption of transport facilities. I do not want to be facetious in this debate, but given that subjective test, many of my constituents would consider that we have a state of emergency on every single working day in Chatham, Rochester and Strood railway stations, and sometimes at the weekends too, but that is how widely this is drawn.
§ Mr. Marshall-Andrews
Yes, precisely. There is an obvious Lewis Carroll aspect to this—it is, because I perceive it to be. There is no test, check or limitation upon these powers. If I may take up the hon. Gentleman's use of language, in fact he has prescribed 1136 the power much more narrowly than it is. The threat does not have to be immediate and the threat itself does not have to be serious; it is only the effect of the threat that needs to be serious.
What is serious in this context is the degree and the nature of the powers that the House is being asked to hand to the Executive. If we do so in the present terms, it will be a subjugation of the House to the very forces of terrorism that we are hoping to combat. In those circumstances, while even if we have the opportunity I would not vote against the Bill at this stage, I for one will most certainly combat the Bill when it returns if it remains in its present form.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
As is so often the case, it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). I share all the views that he has just expressed. We begin with the self-evident proposition that the Bill grants great powers to the Executive—the hon. and learned Gentleman has identified them and I shall repeat them briefly—and it imposes on the citizen draconian burdens and obligations. It is therefore right that the House should subject the Bill to vigorous and rigorous scrutiny.
I begin by making two acknowledgements, if I may. The first is that I, too, am inclined to think that a Bill of this general kind is probably necessary. I also wish to acknowledge that the Government have listened to the responses to their consultation exercise and they deserve credit for that. But the fact that the Government have responded positively to many of the criticisms, and the fact that some of the lobby groups, the consultees, have expressed themselves satisfied as to the Bill broadly defined, does not relieve us of the obligation carefully to scrutinise the Bill, especially in Committee.
The first point that I want to make—I make it as a person who served on the Front Bench for a long time—is that I distrust all Governments, and I distrust all those who wield Executive power. I would not give to the Front Bench of any party more power than is absolutely necessary because, in the end, it will be abused. That is the nature of political power.
I reinforce that general observation by referring briefly to the war in Iraq. Britain was committed to war against Iraq on the assumption, oft stated by the Government, that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that they constituted a threat to this country's security and to the world at large. I did not share that view and I voted against the war, but he did not possess such weapons and we were misled. The charitable interpretation is that we were misled because of a failure of "intelligence" on the Government side. The less charitable interpretation is that the Government had a private agenda—namely, their support of the United States—that they knew they could not sell to Parliament, or, more expressly, to their Back Benchers, so we went to war on a false prospectus.
That is the view that I hold. It is one of the reasons why I voted against the war. But it does not really matter for these purposes which is true, because the circumstances that caused us to go to war on a false prospectus—failure of intelligence or misrepresentation of the facts—are quite capable of arising in a case such 1137 as this when a Government seek emergency powers. So, as I say, I view with very great caution the giving of draconian powers to any Government.
The hon. and learned Member for Medway identified some of the powers that the Bill gives the Government, and did so very comprehensively, but I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I reiterate one or two, because they are pretty draconian. They include: a power to give any citizen an order or direction; a power, without compensation, to confiscate or to destroy property; a power to limit freedom of movement by excluding individuals from stated areas, such as their homes; a power to prohibit assemblies or activities, such as a right to protest at what the Government are doing; and, perhaps most dangerous of all, a power to modify or disapply an existing statute.
§ Mr. Kevan Jones
I am listening carefully to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's tales of woe and dread. However, was he not a member of a Government who, although they did not have such powers, acted in a political way in the coalfields during the 1984 miners' strike, when whole areas were cordoned off and people were prevented from travelling? I did not hear him complain in support of the miners then.
§ Mr. Hogg
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman again.
We are talking about powers seriously to diminish the rights of the citizen and to enlarge the influence and authority of the Executive, and right hon. and hon. Members must ask themselves whether that is right. We should also bear in mind the fact that the Bill enables the Minister to extend the list of events that are classed as an emergency—that, too, is done by the regulatory procedure. These powers are very wide reaching.
Let us ask ourselves what could be done under the power to disapply or modify an enactment, which I, like the hon. and learned Member for Medway, construe as a power to amend any statute, including the human rights legislation.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Hogg
If I may just finish this point, I will of course give way to the hon. Lady.
For example, the Bill would permit a Government to amend the Homicide Act 1957 so that soldiery who shoot individuals under Executive order would be protected from the usual civil or criminal consequences of the act. To give another example, there are, as the hon. and learned Member for Medway said, many aliens in Her Majesty's Prison Belmarsh. They have been there for two years under powers given by this House—I voted against them—that were confined to aliens. But if 1138 that legislation were modified, under the Bill, so as to apply to UK citizens, we would find ourselves in a position whereby UK citizens could be similarly held in detention in Belmarsh. Where is the protection against that?
§ Fiona Mactaggart
Perhaps I could draw the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to paragraph 34 of the Government's response to the Joint Committee's report on the draft Bill, which says that parliamentary counsel advised that these powers would not give the Government the power to overrule on constitutional matters. That means, for example, that the Human Rights Act 1998 could not be overruled.
§ Mr. Hogg
Let me remind the Minister of paragraph 76 of the explanatory notes, which I shall read in its entirety in order to provide the full flavour of the Government's official position:It has been suggested that the limits on the exercise of the power imposed by the Human Rights Act are illusory on the basis that the regulations could disapply the substantive provisions of the Human Rights Act.That is my point and that of the hon. and learned Member for Medway. It continues:Clause 21(3)(j) enables regulations to 'disapply or modify an enactment or a provision made under or by virtue of an enactment'.The strongest the explanatory notes put the Government's case is as follows:This argument does not appear to be persuasive. Having taken Parliamentary Counsel's advice"—I hope that we will see a copy of that written advice in the Library—on how the normal principles of the construction of delegated powers would apply to this particular provision, it is not possible to envisage circumstances in which this power would lawfully enable regulations to make a substantive amendment to a 'constitutional enactment'.Well, the Bill says precisely that they can do so, because it gives the power to disapply or modify, by regulation, any enactment. Where in the Bill does it say that that provision does not touch on the human rights legislation? The fact that we are told that it is not a persuasive argument does not give much comfort to hon. Members who fear that we may be misled or tricked into doing something that we should not be doing.
The next question is whether the definition of an emergency is properly drawn. The hon. and learned Member for Medway talked about his constituents on their trains, and I have no doubt that he is right, although I will not go as far as that. It is clear, however, that the definition goes much further than that which is allowed by the European Court of Human Rights. For example, a riot in a single city would clearly trigger the powers, as would a flood and, most certainly, the events in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years. The definition of "emergency" is far too broad: we should construct it so narrowly that it touches only on matters of extreme gravity that threaten the security of the nation.
§ Mr. Allan
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman share my concern that in trying to bring together the two different purposes of the Bill— 1139 planning for an emergency and the Government's taking of emergency powers in extremis—we have ended up confusing, rather than helping, matters? It would be much better to have a separate, narrower definition for part 2, leaving the provisions to do with flooding, animal welfare, and so on in part 1.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right—perhaps that point should be addressed more fully in Committee.
I turn to the identity of the individuals who can make the regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), in a potent intervention, suggested that, for the purposes of the Bill, what the Prime Minister thinks is right is right. However, let us start by looking at who can make the regulations. Leaving aside senior Ministers, I see that they include the Commissioners of the Treasury—that is, a group of Whips. What possible reason should there be for a group of Whips, whose names we barely know, having the power to lay draconian regulations such as those which I have described? That is preposterous, and I can think of no sensible reason why it should be the case—other than tradition, perhaps, but I know of no sensible tradition that would maintain such nonsense.
§ Mr. Hogg
It might, and I shall have other things to say about that on another occasion.
I want to make a constructive suggestion. Leaving aside the fact that it can be the Whips who exercise the draconian powers I have mentioned, what is clear is that the power can be vested in a single Minister, acting without proper consultation and not acting in a bipartisan manner. I suggest that when the Bill is further considered we should see whether we can construct a model that would enable a bipartisan approach to be taken with regard to the regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) pointed the way, and I shall point it a little more fully. Why not provide, in the first instance at least, for a special committee of the Privy Council, drawn from members of this House and the other place, comprising numbers that reflect the political composition of this House so that there can be no allegation of unfairness? Why not say that, whenever possible, that committee should be asked to approve the regulations before they are ever laid? There may be circumstances in which the urgency is such that that cannot happen, but there will be many cases when it would be possible to take the view of a specially constituted committee of the Privy Council, and that would be enormously valuable. Historically, that is what the Order in Council procedure was about.
§ Simon Hughes
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that we have established a recent precedent for such a committee? We set up a committee of Privy Councillors to look into anti-terrorism measures, and it has done so. That committee provides a second lock and, more importantly, a second group of people with the keys to the lock, which is perhaps what interests outside the Chamber are looking for.
§ Mr. Hogg
My only dissent from that is that the committee to which the hon. Gentleman refers is 1140 essentially a reviewing committee rather than an authorising committee, but there is a precedent, which I acknowledge and on which I would care to rely.
Let me say something about what the Bill does not protect. As the hon. and learned Member for Medway said, the Bill does not in any way protect human rights. I have already made the point that the protection contained in the Bill, in the opinion of parliamentary counsel, is pretty sparse. There is some protection in clause 22(3), which effectively says that one shall be entitled to maintain industrial action and not be obliged to serve in the Army. That is good news as far as it goes, but I want the Bill to contain a statement about the human rights to life, freedom from duress, freedom from arbitrary imprisonment and entitlement to due process. I cannot see any good reason why that should not be the case.
Let me say something about parliamentary scrutiny. It is true that the Bill does something to improve on ordinary scrutiny because it provides that all the regulations shall be made by the affirmative procedure. Of course, Standing Order No. 16 makes it plain that in the generality of cases that procedure will take 90 minutes. So in the ordinary case, in which law will be substantially changed, the regulations will be approved by the House in 90 minutes.
We find in the Bill that there will be amendments in respect of some of the orders, but there is nothing to tell us who will make those amendments. I know Governments very well: I sat on the Government Front Bench for a very long time. I can say, therefore, what will happen. Governments will monopolise the power to table amendments. The rest of us will not be able to, even the Opposition Front Benchers. If we are to have such order-making powers, subject to the affirmative procedure, that procedure must be proper. We must not have timetabled debates and be subject to 90 minutes of debate. All of us must surely have the right to table amendments.
I have another point, which goes to duration, as referred to in clause 25. The Bill provides that orders will be in force for 30 days. Surprise, surprise, however, it also provides that fresh regulations may be laid. It could be that there is a succession of regulations, one set after another, in substantially the same or the same form. We would have government by regulation, without, necessarily, any limit of time. I hope that when the Bill goes into Committee, the Committee will take on itself an obligation to subject the regulating power to a time limit so that regulations cannot extend for, perhaps, more than 90 days; and if Governments want the powers, they will have to seek primary legislation as their source.
I sense that the House feels that there is a need for a Bill of this kind, and I agree. I am bound to say, however, that I approach it with a heavy heart, because I have a very strong feeling that we are putting in place legislation that will be relied on in justification for acts that are unjust and arbitrary. The least we can do at this stage is to try to incorporate truly effective safeguards. That is our duty, and I hope that the House will do it.
§ Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
I welcome the Bill. It is important not just because of the imminent threat that we face from international terrorism but 1141 because we need to modernise our emergency planning powers, some of which, as has been said, date back to the 1920s, the 1940s, and even the 1980s, an era from which we remember the "Protect and Survive" leaflet. Today we face a different threat. It is a different age, and computers and international telecommunications systems are far advanced from where they were, even in the 1980s.
The global threat from terrorism is not going to go away. It is here to stay. Unfortunately, 11 September raised the level at which terrorism will take place. The likelihood of terrorist attack will become greater rather than diminishing over the coming years. The next tactic will clearly be an attempt to be bigger and better than 11 September. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) referred to IRA terrorism, but we are dealing with terrorism of a different type and on a different scale. We are dealing with people whose political motives are not clearly defined, but who have one thing in common, which is that they wish to kill large numbers of people indiscriminately wherever in the world they act.
Our reactions must be twofold. We must try to prevent such attacks. We must also be prepared if those attacks take place, and that is what the Bill is aimed at doing. In any democratic society, it is difficult to get the balance right between taking basic rights away from citizens, and not alarming citizens but providing a level of reassurance. With other members of the Select Committee on Defence, I have visited the United States a number of times in the last couple of years, and I must say that the USA has the balance wrong. There is a lot of publicity about appointing a homeland security chief and a lot of public awareness about the possibility of terrorist attack, but much time and effort is being spent on publicity and the lack of co-ordination rather than on tackling some fundamental issues.
It would be unfair to say that this country has done nothing since 11 September. Clearly, the appointment of Sir David Omand, a very able civil servant, as intelligence co-ordinator is a major step forward. When he appeared before the Defence Committee we were impressed by his ability and his grasp of the subjects. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 has been referred to, and although it is controversial, the Government brought it in to guard against the threat of international terrorism.
The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) tried to give the impression that nothing was happening elsewhere in the country. On a daily basis, many local authorities work with police authorities, fire authorities and others to establish emergency planning and practise it daily or weekly. When I was chair of public health in Newcastle, I was responsible for public protection and emergency planning. It was important to receive daily reports of local organisations' activities in that sphere. Some of their exercises were well honed and have been mentioned as examples of good practice, especially in the Joint Committee's deliberations.
The appointment of regional resilience teams is a move in the right direction. The work by London Resilience in London as the nation's capital and some of 1142 the planning exercises there have been important. Against that background, the Bill is important in trying to co-ordinate efforts throughout the country.
I congratulate the Government on providing for pre-legislative scrutiny. Like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam, I served on the Joint Committee, and I congratulate the Government on adopting most of our recommendations. The Committee took evidence from a wide range of organisations and had a variety of expertise—that was demonstrated in the tough report that we produced. It saddens me that the media have not yet grasped the idea of pre-legislative scrutiny, as shown in headlines that the Government have "caved in" or "withdrawn" items from the Bill. That is the exact purpose of pre-legislative scrutiny, to which I am a great convert. Many measures would be better if they went through the process.
I want to consider local arrangements for civil protection. The response to the Joint Committee's recommendations states that the aimof the Bill is to ensure a consistency of approach across the country which will enable Government to be sure that a basic level of co-operation and good practice is established everywhere".I am sure that no one would disagree with that, but a London-centric approach to the matter is taken. Let me pick up one of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) on the regional tier. I remain unclear about its purpose and how it will relate to local practitioners—councils, fire authorities and others.
Paragraph 7 of the response to the Defence Committee report states:Government Offices are technically part of the Office of the Deputy Prime Ministerand continues by saying that theydo not have a direct role in front line response. Their role is to provide support to front line responders, and to support the flow of information.In the north-east, for example, in Tyne and Wear, we have an excellent fire and civil defence authority. However, I can envisage tensions if we do not clearly identify the role of the regional tier.
I am not clear about the role of the regional nominated co-ordinator. We know that it will not necessarily be the same person for the same emergency. The person will vary, depending on the emergency. Those matters need clarification before the Bill is enacted; otherwise there will be local tensions. Local councillors and councils have a clear democratic mandate, but if a Government office without any local democratic accountability intercedes, tensions will arise. The role of the regional co-ordinator will therefore be important. He or she could have draconian and wide-ranging powers under the Bill. Clearly, they will conflict with democratically elected local councils, and possibly with local police commanders and others. That needs clarifying before the Bill receives Royal Assent.
I welcome the fact that the Bill allows fire and civil defence authorities to remain in place. The co-ordination of emergency planning varies throughout the country. However. Tyne and Wear and County Durham have clearly defined and well organised fire and civil defence authorities. I urge the Government to examine them as models of best practice that should be 1143 encouraged elsewhere. The original measure abolished them and I welcome the fact that the Government now recognise their importance.
I am worried about the responsibility for emergency planning that the Bill gives district councils. County Durham is currently a two-tier authority and has seven district councils. Some of those district councils' capacity for dealing with the Bill's provisions is worrying. Although I accept that they can devolve responsibility to county councils, the Government need to ensure that if possible, we get the best local co-ordination, and that that should be done at county or even sub-county level. I do not believe that some district councils have the capacity to deliver what the measure requires.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam spoke about funding local authorities' emergency planning. Such money should be ring-fenced, and I agree with him that when there are pressures on local authority budgets, with the best will in the world, no council will give emergency planning priority over, for example, a decision about closing an old people's home. That does not accord with my local government experience. I urge the Government to ensure that the money is ring-fenced and spent on emergency planning. If not, the Bill's aim for a consistent approach throughout the country will not be achieved, because councils will be tempted to use the money for other matters.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South spoke about the role of the military regionally and locally. The Defence Committee's report also mentioned that. I agree that military personnel who are responsible for supporting local civilian organisations should be a key component of the regional resilience teams. According to my experience, if one wants to ensure the best response in an emergency, people should know one another and have worked and practised together. Local authorities and police and fire authorities need to know who to contact. They also need to know the operating procedures—and, more importantly, the individuals, because personalities are important. From my experience of emergency planning in Tyne and Wear, I know that many meetings take place at which people plan and conduct exercises. That is also vital. Although I accept the constraints on military personnel, I stress that they should be part of the regional resilience teams so that they are perceived not as outsiders but as an integral part of the response to emergency planning.
I accept the criticisms of the Bill's long gestation period, but I welcome it because broadly, it has the interests of our citizens are heart. It would be remiss of us not to ensure that if local emergencies occur, whether they are natural emergencies, such as flooding, or terrorist acts, we have the most robust and effective emergency planning legislation in place.
I have listened carefully to the legal debate about rights. I respect the views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) but I cannot accept the same from Conservative Members. In County Durham and other mining areas, the Conservative Government did not need an emergency planning Bill to deprive many constituents of their rights. Roads were closed and people were imprisoned and prevented from pursuing their livelihoods. I am sorry to say this, but some of what we have heard 1144 tonight has been crocodile tears. In practice, the Conservatives did not need such a Bill, because they simply carried out its provisions anyway—and they did that not for reasons of emergency planning or civil disorder, but for directly political reasons, to break the mining communities.
I hope that the Bill becomes law, and I congratulate the Government on listening to the responses given and responding correctly to the points made by the Joint Committee.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
I follow in the train of thought of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). They spoke about the values, freedoms and liberties that are still the hallmark of our democracy, central to which is our concept of freedom. They spoke for the generation that I come from, and for the past. My concern is that the Government have set in train in the Bill a constitutional process that is a response to the darker forces. It is as if we try to argue our case by almost romantic reference to "1984" and "Animal Farm", because we see there the dangers of what the state can be. It looks as if the Government, sitting there one Christmas evening, saw the Hollywood blockbuster "Independence Day", and felt that this country was being assailed by threats that they could not quite specify, but that they knew needed a massive response.
Clause 21(3) states:Emergency regulations may make provision of any kind that could be made by Act of Parliament or by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative".That is very serious. I cannot think of any statement quite like that in my lifetime, except in the context of war, direct and explicit, and in legislation for the defence of the realm. What do the provisions confer? As my right hon. and learned Friend and the hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, they confer a power to enable.
The point must be made again. Clause 21(3) says that regulations mayParagraph (i) contains a list of offences that are created.
- "(b) provide for or enable the requisition of confiscation of property (with or without compensation);
- (c) provide for or enable the destruction of property, animal life or plant life (with or without compensation);
- (d) prohibit, or enable the prohibition of, movement to or from a specified place;
- (e) require, or enable the requirement of, movement to or from a specified place;
- (f) prohibit, or enable the prohibition of, assemblies of specified kinds, at specified places or at specified times;
- (g) prohibit, or enable the prohibition of, travel at specified times;
- (h) prohibit, or enable the prohibition of, other specified activities".
Subsection (3) then says that the regulations may(k) require a person or body to act in performance of a function (whether the function is conferred by the regulations or otherwise and whether or not the regulations also make provision for remuneration or compensation)",but it does not end there. It says that the regulations may 1145(m) make provisions (which may include conferring powers in relation to property) for facilitating any deployment of Her Majesty's armed forcesand(n) confer jurisdiction on a court or tribunal (which may include a tribunal established by the regulations)".There is no question at all but that those measures engage human rights provisions.
The argument is extraordinary that somehow, clause 21(3) does not mean what it says, and the introduction of the concept of parliamentary counsel's opinion is a departure from established points. Reference has also been made to the identification of constitutional legislation, which means that somehow the Human Rights Act 1998, as a constitutional measure, is protected. However, I suggest that the clause whereby the state seeks to take unto itself powers by regulation is itself a constitutional measure.
Let us consider that. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham and the hon. and learned Member for Medway are lawyers, and profoundly good ones, but I, as a layman, shall try to put my view of this forest. The opening words of clause 21(3) appear to allow regulations to amend primary legislation, including Acts of Parliament. Section 21(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 defines primary legislation, for the purposes of the Act, as includingan order or other instrument made under primary legislation…to the extent to which it…amends any primary legislation".Section 3(2)(b) provides that an incompatibility with a convention rightdoes not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of any incompatible primary legislationas defined in section 21. If a piece of primary legislation in that extended sense is incompatible with a convention right, the only legal remedy is a declaration of incompatibility, under section 4(6)(a) of the Act, whichdoes not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of the provision in respect of which it is given".It therefore seems that a regulation that amends primary legislation is itself primary legislation to that extent. Such a regulation cannot be quashed or set aside in legal proceedings on the ground that it violates a convention right.
That is my legal advice. I cannot trade with parliamentary counsel, but there is no guarantee that the provision in clause 21 of the Bill—Emergency regulations may make provision of any kind that could be made by Act of Parliament or by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative"—is locked in some way if such a regulation is in contravention of the Human Rights Act 1998.
§ Mr. Hogg
To reinforce my hon. Friend's point, clause 22(3), which provides that the emergency regulations may not provide for call-up or prohibit industrial action, shows that there is a real anxiety that the regulating power may be an infringement of human rights as defined in domestic legislation.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am grateful for the additional weight that my right hon. and learned Friend gives to the 1146 argument that some of us are advancing. We are trying to demonstrate that the powers in the Bill are not inconsiderable, that they are unusual in our constitutional context and that they go far beyond anything that any previous generation has sought. This is essentially enabling legislation—that is all. We have no idea what regulations will follow from it, although we have the illustrative ones here, and all the locks do not convince me that we are safeguarding essential liberty. The hon. and learned Member for Medway reminded us what that liberty is, saying that it is our fear that enables a Government to come to the House and make provision in these terms.
All my life I have lived, as have most people in this Chamber, under the threat of nuclear warfare. That is a genuine threat, not a mirage in the desert, and all my life it has dominated the political and geopolitical balance of the world. At any time people could have assembled nuclear devices, under the aegis of diplomatic bags or otherwise. I have always assumed that the vigilance of our security services, the law enforcement agencies of our country and the intent of the Government have protected us in that balance of power. However, we are now told that the danger, and the order of the danger, is so great that it cannot be specified or anticipated, and that the Government must therefore take unto themselves powers whereby Whips, no less, can make regulations. It can be no comfort to this country to think that Whips can make regulations that have the force of law, and which could place us in criminal jeopardy. That is the suggestion. It would be risible if it did not come from this Government, whose paranoia has gone so far that they now say that under the Bill, Whips, no less, shall make regulations. That should be laughed out of the House.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said, we must also turn to the parliamentary processes and parliamentary scrutiny. We do have clause 26(1), which says that the affirmative procedure shall be used to make regulations. Hooray. As my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, we have good reason to remember just what the affirmative resolution procedure entitles us to—90 minutes of debate on what is listed in the Bill.
We know that for the Foreign Secretary, 90 minutes is but a second gone as he explains his measures, and the Home Secretary is not very terse either. By the time my Front Benchers get to grips with these matters, what will we have left? Members of Parliament, sent here to represent the freedoms of this country, will not even get a look in. We are also told at subsection (3) thatthe regulations shall have effect as amended".That means that there is an understanding that there is a possibility of amendment—but of course, that is not in our Standing Orders; amendment would have to be consequential on the Bill.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham asked, who is to do the amending? If I were a pretty nifty Government, I would get my amendment in first and Mr. Speaker would select it. In any event, how can amended regulations be subject to proper debate on the nature of the amendment if we have only 90 minutes?
It may be that the Whips are as apprised as me as to the vulnerability of our free society to the regulations that they are toiling over, probably even as I am making 1147 this speech. It may be that those Whips are not very literate. We have heard about prison populations with a high level of illiteracy; some of us feel sometimes that we too are confined. So, as they toil over the regulations that they are to introduce in the name of some security device, I ask when we will get the opportunity to consider them properly.
I may have made too much, too lightly, of the role that the Whips play here, but it beggars belief that a Government could say in the Bill that the people to make regulations shall be Whips. That is the apotheosis of a Whips Office dream, and a nightmare for the rest of us.
§ Mr. Shepherd
But they will clearly need stooges, and we have them listed in the explanatory notes. The stooges, it appears, can be the First Lord of the Treasury and any of Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, so the Whips can remain mute as they work on the regulations that will give this country security.
I have made the profound point that I want to make. Of course, we had all assumed that there was proper provision to be made for the organisations of this country. My own local authority is desperately short of money. Where will the funding come from? That point has been made. I have given no time to that side of the Bill, but I do not doubt that proper provision should be made for emergency planning. As for part 2, if the House were to divide on it I would gladly and willingly vote for it—and twice if I were Irish.
§ Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) and many colleagues around the Chamber, I welcome the fact that a Bill such as this has been brought before us. Indeed, my hon. Friend and I, and our colleagues, had been pushing for such legislation and complaining that it was taking so long in arriving. We were glad when the Government eventually announced that they would introduce a measure; we were glad that that measure was subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny; and we are glad that that process did its work well and that the Bill has been improved as a result.
Like colleagues on both sides of the House, however, I am clear about the fact that we have a long way to go yet. I do not intend to spend long reinforcing the points, which were extremely well made, about the need to ensure that when we have Bills that provide for extreme reactions, they are hedged about with the most careful protection. This place is one of the best protections that this country can be offered, and we ought to ensure that we offer such protection.
I shall dwell therefore on more mundane and practical matters—not least, colleagues will be unsurprised to know, those involving our capital city, where the issue is live and in respect of which I have a particular responsibility. May I identify, then, the three headings which have emerged from the debate and which I want to reinforce? First, we have provided for duties of local 1148 authorities, but not for those at a regional level. We ought to do so: whether or not those regions have elected representatives, as London does and as some northern regions may soon do, we need to have their powers set out because regional planning is clearly a necessary part of civil defence and emergency planning. We ought to ensure that the Government's obligations are set out in legislation too.
Secondly, we must spend as much time as we need in Committee on the definition and extent of the emergency and the emergency powers. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made the point well that a triple lock that is subject to a single person's subjective view is a triple lock in name only. If we are to have real locks and real safeguards, we need different people to have the keys to those different locks. Parliament is meant to be a key that locks and unlocks powers and unleashes them in relation to the general public.
The third issue is funding. I shall return to that later, if I may. What is the test of what we should do as a country and as a capital city in terms of emergency planning and civil defence? Of course, the public service and the voluntary services should be properly prepared, but also the public need to be informed so that they can be alert but not alarmed. Those of us who live and work in or represent the United Kingdom's capital city are conscious that ours is not by any means the only prospective target or area where these matters are relevant, but this is, by definition, the most important place, as well as the most vulnerable.
London is the city with the monarch, the Government, Parliament and the civil service. It has the greatest concentration of business and financial interests. Those are self-evident, but the city is also the tourism centre of the UK. In many ways, London is the gateway to Europe. Since last Thursday, it is also a bid city for the Olympic games. Security is highly relevant to ensuring that the Olympic games bid succeeds, as we remember from the Munich games and unhappy events in the past.
As colleagues have reminded us, London also has to ensure that it continues to be the city where people of all races, all faiths, all cultures and all political traditions can come and speak their mind, knowing that this is a city of freedom. We need to get that balance right as we legislate on these difficult matters. We need to show that London is as safe as is practically possible and to see the benefit of that preparedness, but we must not go over the top.
I worry that when perfectly proper concerns—for example, that we might be subject to the new modern tradition of terrible activity through suicide bombers—are expressed, we should not hear too much that suggests that such things are inevitable for our city. I have worked with others to ensure that the emergency services and all the others involved can prepare us appropriately against such fatalistic and foolish people. However, we must always reaffirm and seek to show through the military, the emergency services, the intelligence services and the others that although there is always a risk, people would not expect such a thing to happen either in this city or anywhere else in the UK.
1149 I pay tribute to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for identifying the need for the inter-agency London Resilience team to look after the capital city. However, as a consequence, the public need various things. They need to know that regularly updated information about the preparations is available. We do not yet have the communication right—I shall return to that point. The public need to see exercises being carried out regularly, not as an emergency, to ensure that our airports, railways, underground, roads and city are properly prepared. I am glad that such an exercise took place in the City a few months ago, although I do not think the public have yet been accurately informed of the lessons that were learned. Lessons were learned, however, and that is good.
§ Patrick Mercer
Is the hon. Gentleman content that, two and a half years after 11 September and about 10 years after the events on the underground in Japan, we have held only one practical exercise?
§ Simon Hughes
No, I certainly am not. If I did not make that explicit, I apologise. I am arguing that regular exercises should be held in all the places I mentioned—our airports, our main-line railway termini, on the underground and at our seaports—and that the public should know about them in advance and see them happening. Fire alarms are held in every school and public building in the land; we all receive regular preparation for very local emergencies, and that needs to happen nationally, too. The British public do not over-react—they do not become overly alarmed or irrational—but they need to know what is being done for them and it needs to be done with them. I accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, which is something for which I have been arguing for many months outside this place.
We also need to ensure that the media are regularly well briefed about the latest developments and the current state of readiness and that their questions are answered.
What do all those points imply? I hope that by the end of our consideration of the measure, the regional tier will be a prerequisite. Just as there are other special arrangements for the capital city—for obvious reasons—provision for London needs to be slightly different. We are the only region of England with a regional assembly and a directly elected mayor and that changes the nature of the processes of consultation, decision making and accountability. The London Resilience team, the London Resilience partnership and the "London Prepared" website need to be reviewed regularly both by regional government and by all the London local authorities.
I cannot stress too highly the need for appropriate funding; both the Joint Committee and the Defence Committee made that clear. Many of us have received a briefing from the Local Government Association, which states:We are aware of the Government's presentation of the current funding levels—ring-fenced through the Civil Defence Grant and totalling just over £19 million per annum—and would challenge the assertion that funding has grown considerably. It is estimated that in real terms, i.e. if the Grant had not been reduced in the 1150 1990s and allowing for inflation increases since, the total expenditure on the Emergency Planning service would have reached £36 million which, coincidentally, is the actual cost of the current service…Unlike the emergency services—police, fire, etc.—local authorities have received no extra funding to undertake additional anti-terrorism work expected of them by Government as a result of 9/11.Colleagues have made the same point about local authorities elsewhere. Transport for London, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and the Met police are all part of the Greater London authority family; the London ambulance service has a key front-line job, and in addition there are 33 local authorities, including the City. All of them make the same point—it is not a party political matter: they are willing to take on the responsibility but the Government must give them the resources to do the job. For example, according to the LGA's figures, fire authorities in England and Wales need £250 million to do the basic job of preparation for chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack, but that is five times the amount that they have actually been given. That is only the fire service. If the Government are serious about Britain being prepared, they have to be serious about providing the resources. It is no good their criticising local authorities for putting up council tax if the Government do not give them the money to do a job that the Government require them to do.
§ Mr. Kevan Jones
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many local authorities are spending over and above what they actually receive from the Government in the civil defence grant? In many areas, local council tax payers are paying for civil defence.
§ Simon Hughes
The hon. Gentleman, who represents an important north-eastern constituency, makes the same point as me, as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and as colleagues in other parts of the country: local authorities are spending money for which there is no reimbursement. They might be willing to consider other ways of raising the money, but we are giving them a job—this list of new responsibilities. They should carry out those responsibilities, but they need the resources to do so.
People in our capital city and throughout the country also want answers to many questions. Last year, a major power cut disrupted transport, although it could have been the gas or the water supply. Can the Government assure us that alternative sources of supply have been set up and that the system can cope with such an emergency, whether civilian or due to military intervention or attack? People need reassurance. Such an emergency could disrupt the whole city; it could bring down the stock exchange and completely change our ability to do international business. If there is now a back-up system, the public need to be told.
Last year, people were asking whether we had enough GPs and other national health service staff to deal with a chemical attack. Whether or not we have enough staff, the public should be told. Whatever the information, people can cope with it, but they must be given it—they need that reassurance. Are there plans for rapid evacuation of hospitals, if that is needed? We should have such plans, but whether we do or not, the public should be told.
1151 Are there plans to evacuate parts of the city by road or by public transport, if that is required? People should be told whether that is the case. Is there adequate co-ordination of information from the police and other bodies, so that it is managed efficiently and accurately before it is shared with the public?
The following example shows that we do not yet have adequate information or scrutiny. After putting some parliamentary questions, I discovered that special emergency powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 had been applied across the whole of London every month since the Act came into force—the whole of London, every month. I do not know as a fact whether that was justified, but I am surprised that the whole of London needed all those powers every month. No one had been told about that; the powers have not been renewed with the public's assent.
If a regional emergency is declared, whether in London or elsewhere, we need, first, to do more than simply put the whole region under emergency powers. If necessary to protect the public, it should be possible to apply the powers to a smaller area. The powers could apply to sub-regional groups of local authorities or to a single local authority rather than a whole region.
Secondly, where possible and appropriate, can elected representatives of the emergency planning authorities be consulted about those things? Local authorities, groupings of local authorities and in London, the Greater London authority, the assembly and the Mayor should be consulted. The representative bodies of the people in the region and, ideally, those of business and the voluntary sector should be part of the process of deciding what is appropriate to deal with any threatened or anticipated attack.
My last point is that the concern that the public relay to me most regularly is that they still do not get accurate information in easy and manageable ways on a regular, non-frightening basis. The reason why that needs to be done is to give not just information, but confidence to the individual and to businesses. Those in business and individuals tell me that they want that to be a two-way process; they want to be able to share ideas with the security services and to receive ideas. Those ideas may or may not be taken up, but a regular dialogue is needed. Around us, in the most important commercial community in the United Kingdom, people do not yet feel that that is in place.
Such arrangements should allow people to be told and to tell, to make inquiries and have questions answered and, above all, to feel that they are part of the process of deciding what appropriate further security is needed, and in this modern age, that involves all sort of methods. In a few weeks' time, an envelope containing our council tax bills will come through our letter boxes. Can we not have an update on the current plans for our local authority area with that piece of paper—at no additional cost—to tell people what the score is? Cannot television and radio be used regularly, not just in case of alarm or an emergency, to tell people where to look and what the latest state of preparedness is? Phones, mobile phones, e-mail and websites can all be used, and in places such as London, where millions of people go by public transport every day, the public transport information can be used too.
1152 If we are to be prepared without being alarmed, information is the key for most people in the country. I hope that we may improve the Bill significantly as it passes into legislation—we need to do so—but legislation is only part of the process, as colleagues have said. The rest of the process involves finding the resources for people to do the job and ensuring that the public and the commercial world know what job is being done, so that together, without alarm, we can deal with civil, military and other threats and we can do so in the good British way of being prepared, not overreacting and being a model for the rest of the world.
§ 8.2 pm
§ Mr. Ellyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)
The Bill brings into sharp focus the classic dilemma for hon. Members: the need to achieve an equitable balance between the rights of the individual and the security of the state. Many commentators believe that the balance has not yet been achieved with the Bill, and I sympathise with them. Others say that the Bill is unnecessary and that it is an overreaction to the perceived, current terrorist threat. I do not think that that is correct. I believe that a measure codifying the various laws is necessary and that the present laws need reviewing in the light of today's circumstances.
Without considering the more drastic picture of terrorism, over the past five or six years the constituency that I am honoured to represent has suffered two leakages from underground fuel tanks. It is plain that such incidents will occur more often in future, unfortunately, as older tanks start to leak. During those incidents, it was interesting that the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and local council were all running around, but no one was prepared to say, "We take the lead. We decide where we are going. We disseminate all the necessary information to people living locally." Those incidents may be minor; nevertheless, they were emergencies for those two towns, and they bring into focus the fact that we need to know who is responsible for what and who will co-ordinate and lead the operations to deal with emergencies, as defined in the Bill.
I wish to echo something that many hon. Members have said already: the Joint Committee, pre-legislative approach is to be welcomed. During our deliberations, we received evidence from myriad authoritative sources, and such evidence is vital in informing the debate and, I hope, in leading to improved legislation that will prove practicable and stand the test of time.
We have already heard several powerful speeches this evening. In particular, I commend the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). I associate myself fully with what those gentlemen said. We should always bear it in mind that legislation should be consistent with human rights, and some serious concerns about the Bill remain. With great respect to the Minister, it is all very well for him to say that he has signed the section 19 caption on the Bill and that it accords with human rights. I have yet to see a Bill that does not carry that caption, several of which were rather iffy, to put it in the vernacular.
1153 The Joint Committee has three major concerns: first, the Government's definition of emergency; secondly, the possible—nay probable—human rights abuses in the Bill; and, thirdly, the use of the triple-lock guarantee promised by the Government. It appears that the Government have attempted to meet some of the concerns of civil liberties groups, but I am still unhappy with the definition of emergency, despite the fact that it has been narrowed.
The initial draft said that an emergency was an event that "presents a serious threat" to human welfare, the environment, political, administrative or economic stability, and the security of the UK or part of it. The Bill now reads:an event or situation which threatens serious damage to…human welfare…the environment…or the security of the United Kingdom or of a place in the United Kingdom.Ministers evidently dropped the reference to political, administrative or economic stability, possibly fearing that a future Government would declare an emergency to ensure their own survival. However, the Government have still allowed for measures to protect or restore the activities of Her Majesty's Government.
With regard to human rights and civil contingencies, although there are no explicit human rights abuses in the Bill, its implementation could lead to severe abuses of civil liberties. Clause 25 in the draft Bill allowed regulations to be treated as though they were Acts of Parliament, making it possible to bypass rights guaranteed by the European Court of Human Rights. The new Bill will not specifically prohibit the amendment of the Human Rights Act 1998, by emergency regulation. The Government's response on that is not very convincing. Page 18 of the Government's response states:Given the inherent limits on the scope of the power"—in other words, the power to disapply legislation—Parliamentary Counsel have advised that if we wished to be able to modify or disapply a constitutional enactment, we should take an express power to do so. We do not propose to do this.That is not very persuasive in my view. It continues:Without such an express power, we cannot presently envisage circumstances in which this power would lawfully enable us to make a substantive amendment to a constitutional enactment.Those are pretty weak words when dealing with such an important principle.
The triple lock is the third concern, and it is has been referred to already in previous speeches. The triple lock is intended to persuade us that everything is fine because the triple-lock procedure will have to be used before considering the declaration of an emergency. The draft dictates that the seriousness of the situation, the necessity for special legislative measures and the relevant geographical extent should be considered. The Joint Committee thought that the triple-lock feature needed to be strengthened. The revised Bill demands that there must be a serious threat of damage to human welfare, that existing legislation must be deemed ineffective and that the response must be in proportion to the emergency; but, as has been said, the triple-lock will only be as good as Ministers' own opinions.
On the whole, civil liberty non-governmental organisations are partly relieved at the Government's alterations to the Bill. Justice, the foremost contributor 1154 in the 12-week consultation period, cited only two major problems still present within the Bill, but its reservations should not be disregarded. First, it stated that, although the definition of emergency was less sweeping than before, it still allows for the imposition of emergency powers in limited circumstances that pose no obvious threat to public safety. Secondly, it pointed out:The Bill still does not specifically prevent the amendment of the Human Rights Act 1998 by way of emergency regulation.Those are two important provisions in the Bill, but the concerns have yet to be addressed. However, like members of the Joint Committee, Justice believes that the Government have tried to engage on such matters.
Pre-legislative consultation appears to have yielded some positive results, but not enough. Statewatch, another civil liberties group, is less happy with the changes, but it came from the position that it did not believe that legislation was necessary. It pointed out that "assemblies", "travel" and "other specified activities" could be banned. Furthermore, although Parliament has the ability to let powers lapse after 21 days, it never has the chance to vote on the declaration of an emergency.
In most circumstances, the requirement for urgency would not allow for such a vote to take place but, interestingly enough, deliberations in the Joint Committee revealed that the draft Bill contained a provision that the National Assembly for Wales would have to be consulted about the declaration of an emergency in Wales. However, the next provision says that it would be consulted except in cases of urgency. I may be a simple man, but I have never known an emergency that did not have within it an element of urgency. I am pleased that that provision has now gone.
Several parts of the Bill still defy logic and need further careful investigation, and I hope that that will be done in Committee. No one imputes unworthy motives to the Government, but one must be wary of over-reaction in legislation and about when such legislation might be used. Let us consider the Terrorism Act 2000, which the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said had been in force throughout London for many months. I well remember that, in that Bill's passage through the House, firm, bankable assurances were given by Home Office Ministers that such legislation was necessary—but only as a last resort. The Bill made it to the statute book only to the used shortly afterwards by the Metropolitan police—with or without Home Office collusion—to tackle peaceful, flag-waving demonstrators protesting against a visit by a member of the Chinese Government. It is no wonder that people such as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, who made an impassioned speech, feel strongly about the issue.
I am not imputing impure or wrong motives to the Government, but the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham pointed out that he has a healthy distrust of all Governments taking too much power. One is therefore naturally a little apprehensive when we deal with sweeping legislation such as this Bill. A less scrupulous Government in the future could undoubtedly misuse the law to disturbing effect.
I referred to the two main provisions that have been amended and that require further amendment. I am certainly not convinced that the Human Rights Act 1155 1998 cannot be disregarded and I hope that, when the Bill goes into Committee, it will be possible to discuss that issue carefully and not to rely on the opinion of parliamentary counsel without at least seeing that opinion so that it can be scrutinised by hon. Members and other people outside.
In fairness to the Government, we must recognise that there have been important changes, but I would say not enough. Although I said that a Bill is necessary, I do not believe that this Bill is the vehicle to deal with the issue. I am wary about the provisions for the Council on Tribunals, and I am still wary about the definition of any emergency. I am also very wary of the human rights aspects and about imposing seven new duties and obligations on local councils without providing them with the full funding—ring-fenced if necessary—to ensure that they can afford to carry them out.
I am also concerned about provisions that would prevent assemblies, protests and so on and travel to other specified activities. I am concerned about those and other issues, but time does not permit me to deal with them now. My party and the Scottish National party are prepared to vote on Second Reading if there is a vote today, but we shall keep our powder dry until the Bill's final stages. Unless substantial improvements are made in the provisions to which I have referred, we will certainly not support the Bill then.
§ Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con)
I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. The Bill is the traditional curate's egg but it is slightly unusual in that the bits of it that are good are very, very good while the bits of it that are bad are very, very bad. There does not seem to be any grey in the middle.
We in the United Kingdom have a great deal of experience of dealing with natural disasters and the threat of domestic terrorism, most if it from the Irish Republic and a little bit of it home grown from the Angry Brigade and the more extreme animal rights movements. As a former junior Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry, I have a little experience of the past processes that the Government used to deal with emergencies. Thank heavens that, while I was there, there was no real emergency, but the powers that be in the Department decided to have a trial and dummy run.
I was awoken at 5.30 in the morning to the news that a nuclear power station situated on the Thames estuary had exploded and a plume of radioactive gas was spreading from the estuary to Southampton. I shall not describe all the processes of theoretical evacuation, except to say that the plans stated that the junior Minister had to go to the source of the radioactivity and report back to the Secretary of State, who was cowering in his air-conditioned, bomb-proof bunker at the bottom of the DTI. It was at that point that I learned exactly where junior Ministers are in the pecking order of importance, and I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) that that is exactly why a junior Minister is introducing the Bill. He is expendable and if things go wrong—they never do—the powers that be will turn round and point to the Minister who introduced the Bill.
1156 We are in a changing situation in which international terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, threaten this country and our interests throughout the world. Those threats have to be anticipated and met, but I regret to say that they have been seriously increased by the ill-judged invasion of Iraq. We have given a spurious legitimacy to the Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists to bomb and to maim, and they are doing that because they regard the invasion of Iraq as an illegal act that should not have taken place.
I welcome the Bill in part, however, and the Government can be congratulated on their willingness to open up their proposals for improvement to deal with emergencies of all kinds. I particularly welcome the informed debate that takes place through a review process. I currently serve on the review process for the draft Gambling Bill and there is no doubt that, without that process, the Bill would not be as good as it will be when it comes to the House for consideration. This Bill is much better than it would have been had it been allowed to come to the House without the work of the review body. I do not often congratulate the Government, but I congratulate them on that. The review process of parliamentary Bills such as this is to be welcomed, encouraged and expanded.
No one inside or outside the House can be in any doubt as to where the Government stand on the vital issues of civil protection with which the Bill deals. However, I have serious reservations that, like those of some of my hon. Friends, veer towards objections in principle. First, like my hon. Friends, I am worried about the scope of the Bill's emergency powers. It will allow Ministers, Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Departments and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all to modify Acts of Parliament and prevent them from being applied if they consider that to be necessary. It is not clear to me or, I suspect, anyone else in the United Kingdom the exact circumstances in which that might be appropriate. Does the Under-Secretary know? If so, will she tell us the Acts of Parliament that might be treated in such a way? Is Parliament really prepared to put powers such as those that Henry VIII, let alone more recent dictators, would have been delighted to have into the hands of regional emergency co-ordinators or even less identifiable specified persons? The House and the country are being asked to have an immense amount of trust in advance without any real safeguards.
I cannot speak with the passion that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) evinced when he spoke about his concerns that the Government have taken more and more powers to bypass hard-fought democratic principles. I am embarrassed and ashamed that people in this country have been in jail for years without being brought to trial or having charges put against them publicly. Those people might not be British citizens, but they are still members of the human race. Some action should be taken to determine what risk they are, to make that publicly known and to allow them to be publicly represented.
I am equally disturbed that emergency regulations could be made to require individuals or organisationsto act in performance of a function (whether the function is conferred by the regulations or otherwise…).1157 Allowing such oppressive measures to be taken of which no notice may be given in regulations, against which no objections may be made, or for which no redress will be available is unsound, to say the least.
As I said, I had the privilege of serving as a Minister in the last Conservative Government. Whatever else I learned from that experience, the importance of keeping proper records of decisions taken was clear. It is not good enough for Ministers to expect the House to authorise emergency regulations that convey powers to give mandatory oral instructions or orders, even in the most extreme circumstances. On that issue, I agree with the defenders of our civil liberties.
Of course, civil servants and legal advisers—we have heard much today about advice given to Ministers—want to cover every eventuality and possibility. However, my experience in the law shows that for every lawyer who can be persuaded to come along to give supporting evidence to a case, another will give a diametrically opposite opinion. I would like the Government's legal advice to be put into the open so that we can determine how sound it is. When considering legislation such as the Bill there sometimes comes a point at which Ministers must say no and mean no. I am sorry that they have been unable to do that, and I hope that they will offer more convincing explanations in Committee for their positions on key matters.
My other reservations have more to do with practice than principle. The main thrust of the Bill is to require certain specified bodies—such as local authorities and the emergency and health services, which are defined as category 1 responders, and transport and utility providers, which are defined as category 2 responders—to assess the risks of a range of emergencies and to prepare plans for their prevention, control, mitigation or reduction. That is perfectly sensible. However, I am not convinced about the extent to which it will be possible to enlist public co-operation if no more than partial information is made available to them. Allied to that, if an emergency is likely to occur or has occurred, it might well be too late to warn the public and to provide them with information. People living in a place in which an emergency is about to happen, or has happened, will not be sitting there thinking, "Gosh! I've got to contact a category 1 or 2 operator to find out what I should do." Such people will be on the move and doing something, although they could well be doing the wrong thing. Given that the Government have set such store on publicising their actions, I am surprised that they have not realised that point. To prevent chaos and confusion, the public of this country must be informed, perhaps by delivering leaflets to every home, of what they should and could do in a range of circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) made that point forcefully, so I shall not labour it further.
My next point has been galloped over, so I shall refer to it only briefly. There are concerns about the planning arrangements envisaged in the Bill. Many district councils of the kind outlined in schedule 1 have consultative arrangements involving business organisations, parish and town councils and voluntary groups in their areas. It would be sensible to bring those bodies into the proposed system, unless there were 1158 overwhelming reasons to the contrary. They should be consulted on planning preparations and involved in training exercises. Emergencies of the kind with which the Bill aims to deal will not necessarily occur in big cities. They could happen in areas such as my constituency, which is not especially densely populated. My constituents would like to think that a proper and adequate system for civil contingencies was available to them—we all want our constituencies to be protected in such a fashion. I endorse hon. Members who said that we should try to draw the whole community into a civil plan to deal with what might happen because the community could thus respond, rather than reacting to orders that might filter through slowly and far too long after an emergency had occurred.
I am happy to reiterate my support for the Bill in general terms. Some aspects of it are good, and it is a necessary measure. However, several important aspects must be amended before it returns to the Floor of the House, so I hope that the Government recognise that and respond to it positively.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that I can give the House a helpful steer. Back-Bench speeches are averaging more than 16 minutes at the moment and will have to come down to nearer 11 minutes if I am to be able to recognise all hon. Members who are still anxious to contribute.
§ Mr. Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab)
I have listened carefully to this afternoon's debate and I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution. I welcome the Bill. It goes to the heart of the responsibility of Parliament and the Government, which is the protection of the lives and safety of our constituents. It also fulfils a commitment from the Government to reform and update legislation on civil contingencies and emergency planning. As has been said, it will give the Government powers that might prove necessary, but that no Government would wish to have to use. Such matters should not be debated lightly—they are not being debated lightly.
I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Civil Defence (Grant) Bill some two years ago, when the Government, in light of 11 September, were under pressure to produce a much wider Bill than one that sought merely to put the financing of civil contingencies on a more satisfactory basis. The Government resisted that pressure then, and they were right to do so. The truth is that, whenever a Government choose to introduce legislation of this sort, they face criticism. There are those who will say that the Bill is too late, and others will say that it is too early or unnecessary. It seems to me that on this occasion the Government have got it about right.
It seems to me also that the key word in our deliberations should be "balance". Any Government who used too heavy a hand in determining the powers provided in the Bill or who allowed those powers to be used too soon would be justly criticised. They would also be criticised if they used too light a touch, provided too few powers or allowed delays in using them. That is 1159 why the process of consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny has been so important. The widest possible consultation with stakeholders, Select Committees of this House and Joint Committees of both Houses has produced sufficient consensus at least to introduce the Bill, and the Government should be congratulated on that.
Politicians may not always be comfortable with positions taken by organisations such as Liberty and Justice, but it is appropriate that their views are listened to and, as far as possible, incorporated. Other bodies, such as Statewatch, which seems to start from the premise that the state is invariably the oppressor, never the defender, demonstrate that it is never possible to please all of the people all of the time. I am disappointed to have heard echoes of that perception of the role of the state in this debate. On balance, I think that the Government have got it right, at least in getting the Bill to this stage.
We live in dangerous times, probably as dangerous as 1920, when the Emergency Powers Act was passed, or 1948, when the cold war was setting in and attack by a foreign power was a distinct possibility. Any straightforward comparison with today is very difficult because it is a quirk of history that assessing just how serious a time is requires a sense of historical perspective, as those of us who lived through the 1970s can demonstrate.
It is evident, however, that 11 September and events since have demonstrated that the threat from terrorism is real, and although democracies need to think long and hard about emergency legislation, failure to act may place democracy itself in danger. We also live in an increasingly complex world where new technology brings great benefit but with it the risk of accident and disaster. It is therefore entirely appropriate that the existing legislation be looked at and, if necessary, changed to suit the requirements of a new set of circumstances and a new century.
I welcome clause 1. I recognise the good work that local authorities do, in conjunction with others, in maintaining civil defence plans for their area, but it is necessary to ask whether a system designed for the cold war is still appropriate today. There is not only a greater risk of terrorism, but the threat of flooding, transport accidents, chemical spills and much more. No constituency is risk-free. Two years ago, the local civil protection plan in my constituency had to be enacted when a fire broke out at a chemical factory. I was pleased at the time to place on record my thanks to the emergency services, and I am pleased to do so again.
In the review that took place in the aftermath of 11 September not every local authority was able to demonstrate the necessary high level of preparation. What we saw too often were arrangements whose resources had to be raided in times of local government hardship and a general lack of investment which characterised too much of our public services. The Bill sets out clear responsibilities, requires an assessment of local risk and sets out the duties of those involved. As a Member of Parliament for a coastal constituency, I want to know that the plans and the resources are in place to deal with any emergency. I want to know that those who are involved in the process, and those who seek 1160 protection from it, can have confidence in the arrangements. I want to know also that the plans and the resources reflect the present and future world.
In the last 20 years the balance between central and local government has changed. We have established new constitutional arrangements in Scotland and Wales, and English regions may follow, but we also have myriad agencies and companies, some within Departments and some outside, delivering essential services. A Bill that clearly sets out their role and responsibilities—for example, in a local resilience forum—is therefore welcome.
I should warn the Government, however, that discussions about civil defence usually come round to money, and here again I think that a balanced approach is needed. The measures in the Bill are about reforming the way in which organisations work together, rather than setting out a whole new set of additional requirements. Organisations already have funding to play a role in developing a strategy, and the necessary front-line resources, whether it be police officers, firefighters, coastguards or the equipment that they need, are already provided in large number. I urge the Government to treat with caution pleas from local authorities for additional resources. There is no doubt that the plans have to be funded adequately, but that should not just be an opportunity to try to plug any gaps that might have existed or simply to approach central Government with a begging bowl.
We should be careful, too, about advice from Opposition spokesmen. In 21 minutes, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) made three spending commitments: first, for the training of a voluntary reserve; secondly, for a comprehensive programme of public education; and, thirdly, for increased funding of local authorities. That was described as cheap, but, as is often the case with the Opposition, there was no evidence of just how cheap.
I want briefly to address part 2, as I have no intention of getting into the area of law and civil liberties, of which others have much more experience and knowledge. It is entirely appropriate to bring a system that was set up in 1920 into the 21st century. It is sensible to set out the role of Ministers, and therefore crucial to set out the checks and balances that are required. It is regrettable but nevertheless a fact that there is a great deal of scepticism and cynicism about the role and motive of the Government—any Government. Any reassurances that the Government can give to illustrate their intent would be welcome. Nevertheless, I urge them to listen to the concerns expressed as the Bill makes its way through Parliament.
Let us not forget the purpose of the legislation. It is to put in place measures to defend the public in times of emergency. So let us have the debate about human rights and civil liberties—not that I would go along with describing the United Kingdom Government as "darker forces". Let us take a balanced view and not be selective in our memory of events during the miners' strike in 1985, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) reminded us. Such legislation is not about producing something by this Government for this Government. It is about legislation for Governments of the future.
1161 Let us not lose sight of the common-sense approach demanded by our constituents, who expect us to bring common sense to the issue. They look to us to legislate and to exercise power with care, but they want us to ensure that necessary powers and preparation are in place to safeguard them and their families.
§ Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)
There is no doubt that the Bill is long overdue. As we have heard, we have been waiting for a response to the flooding and fuel crises of 2000 and to foot and mouth in 2001—to say nothing of more recent events. The public have been looking to Parliament for a lead, particularly in light of the mixed messages from different quarters of the Government.
On 13 January last year, the Prime Minister stated:There is a direct threat to British national security in the trade in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons".He added that he was made aware of that situation on a daily basis. Yet, in the response to the Defence Committee's report in 2001–02, the Government denied that there isa real threat of a CBRN"—chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear—attack on a scale not previously planned for".The Prime Minister was further criticised by the Home Office Minister, Lord Filkin, who told the House of Lords:We will bring forward an emergency civil contingency Bill in good time. If the matter were of extreme urgency, we would have brought a Bill forward urgently."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 February 2003; Vol. 644, c. 824.]To say that such an attitude is complacent would be an understatement at the very least.
The Government have failed to date and are still failing to take the public into their confidence, to make them aware of their plans and to communicate those plans to them. If they did that more effectively and convincingly, the country would respond in kind. One problem is that nobody outside the hallowed portals of the Palace of Westminster can understand the niceties of this legislation, its implications for human rights and the area of responsibility—but the public need to know who is responsible.
Again and again this afternoon we have heard that the fact that there is no Minister in charge of civil defence is a real problem. That is why we, the Opposition, have such a post. We do not know who would take the lead following the declaration of an emergency. Who would oversee and co-ordinate our response? If, for example, there were a virus outbreak, would the Department of Health be in charge of the state of emergency? If a terrorist attack occurred, would the Ministry of Defence or the Home Office take control? If there was a strike, would the Department of Trade and Industry be responsible for implementing the emergency powers? Not only are we in need of clarification but, more importantly, so are the public.
In all the deliberations of the past few weeks and months, what have the Government learned from the response of the United States? The US Government 1162 realised early on the crucial importance of co-ordinated homeland security as part of their strategy to deal with the new insidious threat of terrorism. That approach is borne out through their "National Strategy for Homeland Security", which states clearly thatThe establishment of a new Department of Homeland Security would ensure greater accountability over critical homeland security missions and unity of purpose among the agencies responsible for them.That is precisely what we need and precisely what we do not have.
Although we are now making progress on updating and improving our civil contingency planning, the lack of urgency and clarity in responding to any threat to our national security is truly worrying. Eight hundred and sixty days have passed since 11 September 2001, and even though the Bill has taken such a long time to come before the House, in all probability we will have to wait at least another four or five months before it becomes law. In the worst-case scenario, we will have to endure a summer recess without any updated legislation in place.
In the time remaining, I shall discuss the implications for those bodies that are to be charged with front-line response. The Joint Committee on the draft Civil Contingencies Bill recommended that clearer provisions outlining the responsibility of councils at local level were needed in the Bill. My local council, Devon county council, echoed that view in its response to the Government's consultation document. The council claimed:There are no indications of how financial efficiency will be measured, and planning and response takes place at national, regional and local levels, so, for clarity, statutory responsibilities also need to be placed on central government and regional bodies.Although I can understand the Government's desire not to over-complicate matters through excessive legislation, it is vital that we be assured that the question of first responders will be seriously examined. Rather than merely inviting co-operation, the Government and the Minister should be ensuring that those members of the public who are likely to be in a position to respond instantly will be able to do so, and do so effectively. Only by outlining the aims and objectives of planning and training at national level through to local level, rather than simply encouraging such strategies to be taken on board, can we harness the effectiveness necessary to deal with such an emergency.
It is worth noting that Devon and Cornwall police, the force that covers my constituency, already has in place a multi-agency response plan, in which the military, the police, health and fire services and utilities companies have a clearly defined strategy. Although they welcome the Bill as recognising good work and putting in place good practice, there is concern about how the Bill will affect them in terms of increasing their work load and the likelihood of increased costs. What is more, although it is reassuring to know that the police force in my constituency already has a well structured plan in place, we have no framework in place to ensure that the same degree of diligence is applied nationwide.
That brings me to a topic that has been touched on by many Members this afternoon—funding. Funding is critical to the working of the Bill and the enactment of it. About 90 per cent. of the respondents to the consultation exercise said that the level of funding was 1163 inadequate. My council in Devon was no exception to the rule. It claims that the new areas of work indicated in the Bill suggest a need to increase central Government funding for emergency planning. In particular, it has reservations about the increased duties placed on local authorities as a whole to deal with and respond to threats to the environment.
First, there is the need to respond to coastal pollution. Secondly, there is the inclusion of the environment in the new definition, which will lead to the need to include environmental impact assessments in the development of all multi-agency plans. For emergency planning purposes, local authorities have the duty only to consider environmental impacts for sites covered by the control of major accident hazards regulations, and environmentally sensitive areas close to major gas pipelines crossing their area.
Further to that, there is the duty on local authorities that is related to two main areas of business continuity work. These are the councils' own internal business continuity management and the promotion of it throughout their areas. It is estimated that this increase in work load would merit at least one new post fully to adhere to the new duty.
We must remember that in addition to the Bill the enabling of subsequent Acts may well produce future needs for additional funding. If it is the case, as seems likely, that there is underfunding, the result will be either the transference of funds from other services or, perhaps more likely, the inadequate performance of statutory duty in this instance, and I have already alluded to that. That is of grave concern.
Having ill-thought-out measures in place due to a lack of funding is beneficial to no one. At best it is irresponsible and at worst it is potentially catastrophic. I will not spend time reciting Devon's tale of woe with regard to council tax and the likely rises. I will say, however, that it has virtually doubled since 1997—98. It is most unlikely that the people of Devon would respond kindly to the Government suggesting that their local authority would have to pay for these additional requirements.
There is a lot of good and a lot of what is needed in the Bill, but I am not altogether convinced that it is as good a Bill as those that other countries have enacted to deal with a new form of terror. I am not convinced that it is as good as New Zealand's Bill, which was described as being far more comprehensive and informative than the Bill before us. At the same time, there is much more specialised legislation such as the Biosecurity Act 1993 to deal with public welfare emergencies.
Canada's Act, for instance, deals successively with public welfare emergencies, public order emergencies, international emergencies and war emergencies. The report says that that Act is far more comprehensive and informative than the Bill before us, and possibly also the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002. During this period of reflection, which is necessary, perhaps we should once again revisit some of the other schemes that other countries have in place.
I do not have time to touch on the issue of human rights and the implications of the legislation on human rights, which was dealt with so effectively by right hon. and hon. Members. While the triple lock is a good 1164 response by the Government to earlier concerns, I believe, like others who have contributed to the debate, that it leaves a lot of power in the hands of Ministers.
The Government still have much work to do. They must convince the doubters in this place, some of whom we have heard this afternoon, that this legislation is necessary, workable and good. In the country, they must persuade the wider public that they are in control and that in the event of an emergency would be able to provide properly trained personnel to deal with it. They have some way to go.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con)
This has been a fascinating debate. Many of the remarks made outside the House before it took place misunderstood the role of Parliament in achieving a more measured approach to the difficult and significant matters in the Bill.
I remain unhappy with the Bill's title, because it is not about civil contingencies but about peace and war, if terrorism is categorised as a form of war. That creates muddle, so I would be happier if two Bills were introduced, perhaps in parallel. One would deal with planning and the other with the much more significant constitutional implications, which several hon. Members have spoken about. Indeed, my good friend, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said that the Bill has profound constitutional implications. I shall deal with some of them, setting them in the context of the way in which similar legislation has been interpreted in the past. It is important to do so, as the Bill has not grown in a vacuum.
Times and circumstances may have changed since 1920, but questions of liberty and justice are still fundamental and include, for example, the determination that there should not be detention without trial. The Bill allows for carte blanche amendment and adaptation of existing legislation. Some provisions, including clause 18, give rise to serious problems. Under clause 18(5) the Secretary of State would have the power by order toprovide that a specified event or situation, or class of event or situation, is to be treated as falling, or not as fallingwithin certain definitions of emergency, which apply to human welfare, the environment and the security of the United Kingdom. In other words, the Secretary of State decides whether or not an event is to be treated as a "specified event". He also has the power to amend clause 18(2), which specifies various categories of human welfare, and would have the power to determine whether an eventis to be treated as threatening damage to human welfare",or is no longer to be treated in that way.
An extraordinary range of options is therefore made available to the Minister under the Bill. One wonders what could not be done under the Bill, and we need to bear that in mind when the Bill goes into Committee. As I said in an intervention, the Secretary of State could do almost anything he thinks would be appropriate in the circumstances. Descartes famously said:I think, therefore I am.In the Bill, the Secretary of State is saying, "I think, therefore it shall be." There are therefore serious problems in relation to the issue of civil liberty, and I am 1165 not satisfied that the limitations of emergency regulations in clause 22 are adequate. They are lifted from the Emergency Powers Act 1920 and may not, according to the clause,require a person…to provide military serviceor prohibit participation in industrial action. But that is only part of the activity that should be prohibited. The situation requires much more stringent consideration. The Bill has deservedly been criticised, and a good deal of work is needed to make the necessary improvements.
Parliamentary scrutiny reveals some inconsistency between the duration of the regulations and the conditions under which they lapse. Clause 25 states that they lapseat the end of the period of 30 days".As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said, that would not prevent a new set of regulations from being made. However, clause 26 states thatthe regulations shall lapse at the end of the period of seven days…unless during that period each House of Parliament passes a resolution approving them.Some cleaning up needs to be done there.
Another important point should be borne in mind. As hon. Members have said, there is always a tendency for Governments to use the powers that they have, and to use them to maximum effect and to the greatest extent. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) referred to George Orwell's "1984". I, too, dug out a reference that I found interesting in the present context. In chapter 9, Orwell writes that the High—that is, the people who have the highest degree of authority—learned how to keep their position permanently. Part of this strategy included the maintenance of a state of continual warfare, which Goldstein discussed in the third chapter. The three major powers were not fighting this perpetual war for victory. They were fighting to keep a state of emergency always present, as the surest guarantee of authoritarianism.
I would not want to exaggerate the applicability of that proposition to the present situation, but there is a serious problem that we should address. We should not grant too much power to Government, particularly power with relatively light parliamentary scrutiny restraints and with such extensive scope which in the wrong hands could be misused.
Emergency powers are justified entirely in terms of the first duty of a Government to protect the security of the people in times of grave national emergency. The role of the Attorney-General, which has not been mentioned yet, is part and parcel of that. He is personally, not collectively, responsible for the security of the nation, hence the importance of the opinions he gave in relation to the recent war.
In an important case in 1968, Conway v. Rimmer, Lord Pearce stated thatthe flame of individual right and justice must burn more palely when it is ringed by the more dramatic light of bombed buildings".When he made that statement, he was referring to a matter of fact. He was not talking about something that might be expected to happen. The Bill, however, grants blanket powers to deal with anticipated events. One must distinguish, as Lord Pearce did, between the 1166dramatic light of bombed buildings",which is a done deal—a fact—and anticipated circumstances for which one is taking extensive powers that affect civil liberties, although that has not yet proved to be necessary.
I refer here to the important case of Liversidge v. Anderson in the 1940s, in which the question of reasonableness was imported into regulation 18B of the defence regulations. Even in those defence regulations, where we are dealing with a situation that is clearly one of war, the test of reasonableness was part and parcel of those regulations. There is no test of reasonableness that I have been able to observe in relation to any of the powers conferred on Ministers, including the Prime Minister and Secretaries of State; they merely have to think that something should be done, not that they have reasonable cause to do so. When Liversidge v. Anderson was taken to the House of Lords, even with the word "reasonable" in the legislation, the House of Lords, with one important dissenting judgment by Lord Atkin, decided that, as in this Bill, there should be no test of reasonableness. That is a retrograde step and I criticise the Bill gravely and seriously for that omission. Lords Scarman, Diplock and Reid, in subsequent important cases, have said that the law in Liversidge v. Anderson is bad law. That is a matter that will need to be carefully examined in Committee.
I conclude by making one other reference to the legal precedents, and that is that even as recently as 2000, Bradley and Ewing, in their textbook "Constitutional and Administrative Law", which gives an important analysis of the legal precedents and principles that underpin these questions, say:But concern about the unenviable role in which they have been cast"—that is the courts—is hardly eased by Lord Hoffmann's postscript in the Rehman case where he said that the events of 11 September…were a reminder that in matters of national security, the cost of failure can be high. This seems to me to underline the need for the judicial arm of government to respect the decisions of ministers of the Crown on the question of whether support for terrorist activities in a foreign country constitutes a threat to national security. It is not only that the executive has access to special information and expertise in these maters. It is also that such decisions…require a legitimacy which can be conferred only by entrusting them to persons responsible to the community through the democratic process.He goes on to make the point that the decisionsmust be made by persons whom the people have elected and whom they can remove.In other words, even as recently as all that, Lord Hoffmann, a prime advocate of civil liberties, argues the case that it is Ministers who should decide—therefore we must trust those Ministers.
In conclusion, I just make the point that these measures should not be enacted against the background of any authority other than that of Parliament. We will have to make those decisions. Those decisions will have to be made in Committee.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), I have found this a powerful and fascinating debate, and certainly in view of the speeches that we have heard 1167 tonight, no self-respecting legislature would provide the Executive with powers such as are in the Bill. I certainly hope that they will be expunged from the Bill in Committee, but if they are not, that in itself is an argument fatal to the Bill's progress.
I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Member's Interests, particularly in respect of my commitment to the Territorial Army.
The debate has been fascinating, but in one respect alone, frustrating—that is, the failure of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) to finish his story about the killer bees. Although it was a fascinating vignette for those of us who do not watch disaster movies of that sort, he left us hanging, and I want to know what became of the killer bees.
The most irritating feature of the debate was the series of sedentary comments by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), who, following his proper intervention, continued to carp, "What about the miners?" His point appeared to be that the wicked Tories had used powers such as those in the Bill, but without any legislative basis, to victimise the miners. Even if we were to accept that analysis, it is nonsensical to argue that because a wicked Government perpetrated terrible things against the miners, they should be placed on a legal basis so that they can be used against any group of citizens. If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he is a fool.
In the mid-1980s, the most likely scenario appeared to be some sort of Soviet attack across the central European plains. It was believed that that would be preceded by some six months of growing tension during which Russian special forces would carry out a number of activities to destabilise the UK home base, principally involving assassinations and terrorist acts to disrupt key points such as communications centres and the transport network, especially the M4 corridor. We used to train against those possibilities: every two years, we would run an exercise called Brave Defender to co-ordinate the military, the ambulance services, the police and so on. That scenario is not wholly dissimilar from the one we are considering today. We should therefore think more about reactivating that civil defence capability and investing in such exercises than about new laws. I am not wholly persuaded of the case for a whole raft of new powers. I do not believe that anyone's immediate reaction to September 11 was, "Gosh, this is awful: we need a new law"—it was much more that we needed to take practical steps to deal with such eventualities.
In July 2002, in response to September 11, the Government published an additional chapter to the strategic defence review containing the big idea that the reserves should be used for the civil contingency reaction forces. The Secretary of State told us that500 reservists from…units of all three services in each of the 11 areas of the country—some 5,000 to 6,000 reservists in allwould help inhandling major incidents, with individuals committing themselves to turn out at short notice for a range of duties, including site search and clearance, transport and communications, control and co-ordination."—[Official Report, 18 July 2002; Vol. 389, c. 463.]In the weeks and months that followed, that was fleshed out by the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary, who told us that 700 new posts were to be 1168 created purely to co-ordinate command and control so that the handling of such incidents could be run on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week basis. We were told that 130,000 man training days were to be made available and that 2 Signals Brigade would be central to the co-ordination and communication efforts involved. How much of that is really in place? The Minister will not be able to tell us, because it is not his specific responsibility, but that prompts the question of whose it is.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) tabled questions to the Ministry of Defence asking precisely how much had been done, he got a fairly dusty response.
He asked:what training has been conducted in the last 12 months in each of the armed forces in dealing with a terrorist attack involving chemical or biological agents.He was told:The armed forces are not responsible for dealing with chemical or biological attack in the United Kingdom. The Home Office, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Health would take the lead and could, if appropriate, call upon the limited skills of the armed forces."—[Official Report, 7 January 2003; Vol. 397, c. 52W.]That may, strictly speaking, be true, but it is a hundred miles from the announcement and the enthusiasm for the subject in the additional chapter to the strategic defence review. I wonder why we seem to be backing away from that commitment. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) put his finger on the point by saying that the forces simply are not there. Many of them have been called up on Operation Telic. My estimate is that, rather than the 7,000 who are supposed to be dedicated to these matters, we probably have between 2,000 and 5,000.
The recent defence White Paper spelled out how reserves would be used in future, saying:This policy sees the Reserves providing an integrated, ready and capable component of Defence, capable of being mobilised for any type and scale of operation.That concerns me. In the past, we have considered the reserves for use in an emergency. If they are to be used for "any scale and type" of operation, the question arises of whether the high-tempo use of reserves that is currently under way in Iraq will continue to apply. I suspect that it will, because the White Paper says precisely that.
The danger will be that only unemployed people will be able to serve in the reserves. People with careers will not be able to keep a commitment that continually places a reserve liability on them. It is fine to be called up when "Your Country Needs You" in the event of an emergency. If that is to be a continuous process, however, the reserves will quickly disappear. When the Government come to need them, they will find that the reserves are not there. The Minister has offered a Bill creating all sorts of powers for himself, but when Ministers come to pull the levers and try to make the system operate, they may well find that there are no reserves to carry out some of the vital purposes for which that Bill is designed.
§ Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
All hon. Members who have spoken appreciate that the Bill envisages something that no one in public 1169 life wishes to contemplate—that there should be an emergency of such dire extent that this country would effectively find itself on a war footing. Nevertheless, it is right that Conservative Members have expressed grave concerns. Those concerns should be aired on the Floor of the House, and again in Committee. We must ask precisely how and in what circumstances the Government—any UK Government—would seek to exercise the draconian powers envisaged.
The Minister, in opening the debate, gave a superficially emollient account and analysis, referring to flooding, and the fact that much relevant legislation dates back to the 1920s. Several Members on both sides referred to the safeguards of the triple lock, but at the front of my mind is a desire to see and understand the mechanism that ensures that protections and safeguards within that triple lock will be properly enforced. It seems to me that too much faith is being placed in Ministers doing the right thing, not just in this Government but in future Governments.
My position as Member of Parliament for Cities of London and Westminster means that I am especially concerned about the Bill, not least because my constituency is the most likely of the 659 to be affected by the nightmare scenario that we are considering. The City of London has contingency plans, and regular rescue efforts have been practised not only since 11 September 2001, but previously. The Metropolitan police have worked with the City of London police and various other central London agencies. The capital as a whole is widely believed to be a leading terrorist target.
At times of great national crisis, the rights of the individual must be defended with especial vigour. Members of Parliament owe it to all our constituents—the people who send us to this place—to uphold their freedoms. Several hon. Members presented a historical analysis and I shall not repeat their more eloquent words. Clearly, the history of this place goes back many centuries and we must defend individuals' rights.
The breadth of the powers in the measure is breathtaking. We must keep the closest watch on the element of the Government's anti-terror legislation that we are considering. It is genuinely worrying that the Home Office is tempted to give itself more and more powers under the pretext of protecting the public. We must always remember that this nation is a famous haven for freedom and free speech. There is a suspicion that we are taking a further step down the road to undermining that freedom. It is hard to suppress that suspicion when one examines the Bill.
Expanding state control is accepted in a time of war, but we should be most reluctant to provide the police and other Government agencies with carte blanche, not least since the Bill is likely to be used as a precedent for all manner of other civil contingency arrangements.
This is neither the place nor the time to analyse the specifics. Indeed, several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), have already done that, in what one might describe as tortuous detail. However, we need firmly to define "emergency" and "serious damage" in clause 1, and all the powers of requisition and confiscation of property and land—which can occur with or without 1170 compensation—as well the police powers to quarantine perhaps thousands of people indefinitely under clause 21(3).
I have discussed the matter with several leading policemen in my constituency, including the borough commander of Westminster this morning, and several superintendents in places such as Soho and Covent Garden. They were open and honest enough to express the concerns that they would feel as individuals even if, as police, they understood the importance of new powers such as those in the Bill.
Perhaps the Under-Secretary will explain in Committee, if not in her winding-up speech, the reason for confusion about the devolved Administrations, which clause 28 covers. Why, for example, do not the Greater London Authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority have the same powers as those envisaged for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly? To pick up a point that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) made, I am interested in the way in which local government, especially if we have large-scale regional government in the north of England, will play its part in ensuring that the Bill is joined up and well thought through.
Vital principles are at stake, and I shall consider them briefly. My personal background plays an important part in my deliberations on all measures, and I am sure that that applies to all hon. Members. My mother's side of the family hails from Germany and my German grandfather's experience was one of the things that drove me into political life. He grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, and, like many articulate and educated Germans of his generation, he eschewed involvement in politics. It was at that juncture that Germany saw the rise of extremism under Adolf Hitler's National Socialist Government—who, we must never forget, were democratically elected in 1933. Over the following 18 months, they then systematically put on to the statute book through legal process a set of laws that effectively created a legal dictatorship. Under National Socialism, everything was done by the book, including the ruthless suppression of individual rights and responsibilities—all in the name of a higher collective authority.
I am not suggesting that what is being proposed today is at all similar. None the less, it is right that individual Members of Parliament alert the state, and, more importantly, the Executive, to these grave concerns. I am often reminded of my great German political hero, Konrad Adenauer, the first post-war Chancellor, who, as mayor of Cologne, was a leading local politician during the 1920s and 1930s. When he became Chancellor, he recognised a worrying precedent in the way in which individual rights had been suppressed by the power of the state. We should not exaggerate that point when dealing with this Bill, but it is terrifying to see some of the powers that it envisages.
I also believe that certain economic freedoms and property rights, which we perhaps take a little too much for granted, are under threat from the Bill, which provides for therequisition or confiscation of property (with or without compensation)".To read those words on any Bill before the House brings terror to my heart, because the notion of private property ownership is the single most important guarantee of many of the freedoms that we enjoy.
1171 I appreciate that time is tight, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) wishes to say a few words. I hope that in addition to putting this legislation on to the statute book—it will inevitably be given a Second Reading tonight—we shall rely not only on more regulation and legislation in this regard but on what I might call the spirit of the blitz. We must be able to rely on the good will of all our citizens, and not just on the power of the state to ensure that certain protections and contingencies are put into place in the event of the kind of disaster that we foresee. There is little doubt that we live in dangerous times—but we should not allow the wholesale surrender of many of the freedoms that are close to the hearts of many of us here.
§ Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con)
This has been a most interesting debate, and I do not intend to go over the ground that has already been covered by so many honourable and learned Members. I am worried by the practical implications of the Bill. How would its provisions be implemented if it were put on the statute book? I should like to give two practical examples of situations in which I believe the system has already failed dismally.
Last year, I was in my office when the BBC ticker-tape that seems to be obligatory on all our machines upstairs suddenly came up with the headline, "Nuclear disaster in Bridgwater". One very good way to focus an MP's mind is to tell him that there has been a nuclear disaster in his constituency. I have four nuclear reactors in my constituency, all of which are critical at this stage. One of them is being de-fuelled at the moment, involving the removal of 77,000 fuel rods over 10 years. I rang up the nuclear power station and asked what the problem was. I was told that a nuclear flask had slipped off a train in the middle of Bridgwater, a town of 30,000 people.
I then rang the police, who told me that they were not entirely sure what was going on, but would be there as quickly as they could. I then rang Sedgemoor district council and was told, "Yes, there is something wrong, but we don't know what." At this stage, desperation was beginning to set in. I was up here, and all I knew was that there was a potential nuclear disaster in my constituency—although I did retain some hope that there were still some people around Bridgwater. I then rang representatives of the media, who said, "We can tell you what's happening—we're here!" It turned out that a nuclear flask had not slipped off a train. The flask in question was empty, and the train had slipped off the tracks; it was an accident that could have happened at any time. None the less, I then started to think, "Hang on a minute. This is happening in my constituency. What are the practical implications of a disaster happening there? Who would be responsible?"
I have four command centres in and around my constituency. They are for Somerset county council, the police, the nuclear industry—in one of the power stations—and the Environment Agency, to look after flooding. The problem is that when I asked which command centre people would go to, the answer was, "We're not sure." One would presume that if there were a disaster at a nuclear power station people would not go to that command centre, although that is not entirely clear in the emergency plan. I went on to question 1172 precisely how those events would be looked after through the police, the military and so on, but I never got an answer.
May I give a second, equally interesting example? If the area that I look after—in other words, the Parrett catchment area—floods, that cuts off the M5, the A303 and the main line railway station. Basically, the south-west gets cut off. There is an emergency scenario should that happen: bring in pumps. That is great, but the problem is that the south-west would be cut off. The M5 is built on a subsiding plain—a peat bog. The railway is the same, and the A303, at the best of times, is inconsistent.
§ Mr. Liddell-Grainger
My hon. Friend, who represents East Devon and uses the A303 more than I do, says, "Hear, hear." The problem is that it does not matter how good the Bill is, how marvellous the legal arguments are or how brilliant we are at enacting the Human Rights Act 1998. These measures will not work if we cannot sort those difficulties out.
I do not care if we have a one-tier or a two-tier system. If there is a disaster in my constituency, I want to know what is happening and who is on the ground. I did some research on whether we could use the military in the surrounding area. Such matters were eloquently described by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). We have 40 Commando just outside my constituency at Norton Fitzwarren in Taunton, but it is not there regularly enough to be relied on. The next nearest military base is Salisbury or Exeter, which is for the Territorials, but we do not have enough Territorials in our area to make the difference that my hon. Friend described. We certainly do not have the police resources, and the county councils are, at the best of times, stretched. Somerset county council cannot spend the money required to enact the legislation. I am not saying that this is a bad Bill—I agree with it—but I am saying that the practicalities mean that it cannot be implemented.
Another thing intrigued me. I have just been reading the Phillis report, and one total failure in connection with the two potential disasters that I have mentioned to was the response of the media. I rang my local radio station, which said, "We're not sure what we would do if there was a problem." I asked the local TV stations, HTV and the BBC, what their role would be. They said, "We would get a steer from central Government."
The Phillis report, which has been published today, says this:There is poor co-ordination between departments and agencies, the COI, the Cabinet Office and Number 10, which shows up most starkly when there are government-wide crises such as the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001.As the Minister may be aware, Phillis is calling for the disbandment of the Government Information and Communication Service. That is up to the Minister to resolve, but the problem is that there is no central steer.
If someone wants to get the message out, that has to be done through radio and television so that it gets down to the local forces, which can then deal with the problems. When I had a constituency problem, the system did not work. As it turned out, that did not 1173 matter. If there had been a real problem, what were the contingency arrangements for trying to get 30,000 people out of a town where a nuclear flask might have gone upside down? I did not know then; I still do not know.
I plead with the Minister not only to enact the Bill, but to give it the teeth to do its job. Do not presume that in an accident or a disaster, things will just happen.
§ Mr. Liddell-Grainger
I wholly agree; the media should be able to put both sides of the argument.
If the Bill does not work on the ground, it will fail the people whom we are in this place to protect. Our constituents are our responsibility. More than half my constituency was cut off during the major part of the foot and mouth epidemic. We could not move cattle—we could move nothing—until I went to see the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and she made the decision to open a road. In that national crisis, I got no sense from officials—from the emergency planners, vets or anyone else—but when I spoke to the Secretary of State in a canteen in this place she made that decision and it all happened the next day. That cannot be right under any form of legislation.
The Bill should be enacted, but not at any price; that would be legally and morally wrong, and we would be letting down the people whom we are here to defend.
§ Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con)
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger); he made many eloquent and practical points, and I shall pick up on some of them later in my speech.
These are difficult times and they require difficult measures, but we have to strike a balance, and any Bill that comes into force must be entirely practical. My hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) sensibly registered their reservations about the powers in the Bill. They pointed out that the powers must be scrutinised and tightly watched so that the historical examples that they deployed are not repeated.
We heard powerful speeches from the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page). They all considered how the Bill was put together and how it was likely to impose itself on us.
I point out to the hon. and learned Member for Medway that terrorism certainly breeds violence and feeds on fear, but fear and uncertainty can perhaps be dealt with by information, education and training. Fear can be dispelled and terrorism can, to a certain extent, 1174 be brought under control. Anyone who has served in, or lived in, Northern Ireland during the past 30 years could tell Ministers about the successful public information policy there.
In an extremely powerful speech, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham made the practical point that a special committee of Privy Councillors should be established to approve the regulations, thereby adding an extra element to the much-vaunted triple lock. Similarly, the passion of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills cannot be doubted.
All those speeches concentrated entirely on the theoretical aspect of the Bill. If I have any criticism of the speech of the Minister for the Cabinet Office it is that it was as theoretical as it was lengthy. The Bill does not address practical issues, many of which were brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and by other Members who spoke in the debate.
As my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) asked, why has it taken 860 days for the Bill to get this far? Why is there no central figure to whom we can respond? The Minister referred to clear leadership, but who is that leader? Which figure will offer that clear leadership?
During the recent problems relating to sky marshals, the Secretary of State for Transport tried to talk us through a security issue, and several other examples have been mentioned. Where will that clear leadership come from? Why do not the Government establish, under the Bill, a particular Minister with particular responsibility for these problems?
The hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) have all referred to ring-fencing the funding for local authorities. Again, that should be done in the Bill. We cannot impose such problems and difficulties on local authorities without ensuring that that money is ring-fenced.
The right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and, indeed, the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) have done excellent work both in the Defence Committee and in the Joint Committee. I was joined on both Committees by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones). Again, he made the point very clearly about the funding for local authorities. We cannot ask local authorities to do something unless we are willing to give them the money.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire asked exactly where the physical muscle will come from to carry out the measures on the ground when emergencies occur.
We have heard from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne).
§ Patrick Mercer
The civil contingencies reaction forces will simply not function. Where are those gentlemen at the moment? When a bomb goes off in Bermondsey, they are more likely to be in Basra than on the ground where they are 1175 needed. The Bill is the Government's only attempt to provide extra manpower. That is why things such as Project Unicorn have come into the public province, talking about gentlemen's agreements and trying to generate work forces in other ways.
How much thought have the Government given to establishing something like an emergency volunteer reserve? We have the remnants of such a reserve in the shape of retained firemen and, indeed, special constables. The right hon. Member for Walsall, South has talked at some length and passionately about making the private security industry part of the wider police and security community.
Where is the clear, new and innovative thinking that will give us people who can rally round when such trouble occurs? Of course that would not be completely without cost. The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) made the point that there would be expense—yes, of course, but let us see some of the ideas that have been so clearly articulated in the public forum taken on by the Government and physically addressed; otherwise, the Bill will end up looking like a paper tiger. On one side, there are powers that I broadly support—of course, I have reservations—and, on the other, there are emergencies that will occur, but there is nothing linking the two.
Our fire, police and ambulance services and our armed forces need to be reinforced, probably with an imaginative and driven idea, which could be remarkably low in cost. On top of that come our regular forces. If every soldier, sailor and airman was asked to stand up now, about 60,000 hands would go up in the United Kingdom, I guess. Why are they not brought into the planning process? Again, several hon. Members have made that point.
The public education campaign is terribly important. It is no good the Minister depending on the emergency media forum coming into play once the emergency has occurred; it has got to happen beforehand. Let us see what Project Unicorn has to say about the communications strategy:The commercial sector appears to be unanimous in its criticism of the present counter-terrorism communications policy prior to a major incident. They find it outdated, condescending, generally uncoordinated and at times incoherent.I have heard comments about that document being leaked and therefore unreliable, but the Minister knows that the people who have gone into that committee at the behest of the Metropolitan police are all respected, experienced and decent people.
I urge the Minister to listen. I urge him to listen to the ideas that the Australians have had. Every Australian has received a "Dear Fellow Australian" letter from the Prime Minister telling them what the problem is and what to do about it.
That brings me to my final point. It is no good having a communications policy if training does not go hand in hand with it. Have the Government considered in the Bill the use of virtual reality, how cheaply it can be employed and how it may, as part of contingency planning at local authority level, be built in as one of the requirements?
One of the accusations that has been levelled is that any training or pre-preparation is likely to help the terrorists in their cause, a point that was made clearly by 1176 the hon. and learned Member for Medway. I do not believe that that is the case. At least three or perhaps four times in the 20th century, the British population was trained to deal with weapons of mass destruction. My mother, as a 12-year-old girl, was trained on how to deal with a gas attack. That was in 1938—before war broke out. It is crucial that the Bill pays attention to the practical elements of training people before and not during an incident. If people are treated responsibly and are treated with respect by the Government and taken into their confidence, fear will be dispelled. People will understand what the problem is. I reiterate the point: anybody who has lived in Northern Ireland will understand it.
Before the Bill goes any further, will the Government and the Minister look to see what can be done practically, and at what cost—otherwise we will end up with a Bill that simply has no teeth? If we are going to dispel fear and not scare the pants off people at the prospect of terrorism, it is crucial that the absolute practicalities of it are understood. That is why children in primary schools are taught, under the scheme called "Firewatch", what to do if boiling oil is spilt on them from a chip pan. They know counter-intuitively as a result of that training to get down, keep away from other people and to roll out the flames.
We face precisely the same problem with contamination. The Government's only advice that I can discover is, "Go in, stay in and tune in." If we have been contaminated, that is precisely what we should not do. People must understand that, if they are contaminated, they must keep still and be treated on the spot. They must not go in; they must stay precisely where they are. Unless people are properly trained, the problem will simply be exacerbated.
There is much about the Bill that I believe to be good. There is much about it that, with the correct scrutiny and with the correct amendments made in Committee, can deliver useful legislation that will stand this country in good stead—as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam said—in extremis when the most serious emergencies come upon us. However, until such time as we address the questions of resourcing, training and, above all else, communications, the Bill will continue to fail. I do not believe that it needs to.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart)
We have had an interesting and, at times, impassioned debate on what all those who have spoken agree is an important topic. I am grateful for Members' contributions, and I shall do my best in the time available to answer the points made. However, when I am unable to do that, as I will be in several cases because of the lack of time, I undertake to write to them at the earliest opportunity.
It is clear from the debate that we are not considering a party political issue. I believe that something like the Bill would have been introduced by whatever party was in power. However, the Bill has generated a strong response in the House, so, as many hon. Members said, it is crucial that we get its provisions right. I welcome the thoughts of hon. Members that have helped to point the way on how improvements could be made.
My hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster outlined the principles underpinning the Bill, which is part of the 1177 Government's commitment to building the UK's resilience to destructive challenges. We are committed to delivering a single framework for civil protection in the UK that is capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.
Hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) asked whether a single framework represented the right strategy. Disruptive challenges exist on a spectrum of severity—from localised flooding to a massive terrorist attack. While the threat of terrorism remains real, we should not lose sight of smaller-scale emergencies that can have a devastating effect, and hon. Members gave examples of such emergencies from places as far apart as Meirionnydd and Tynemouth. The impact of those emergencies on local communities can be similar to that of terrorist attacks, so our challenge is to ensure that arrangements are sufficiently robust and flexible to manage all risks. On the one hand, the Government must be ready and able to protect their citizens from the effects of a catastrophic incident, but, on the other hand, adequate safeguards must be in place to ensure that emergency powers are used only when absolutely necessary.
We recognise the contribution made by many stakeholders in response to the extensive consultation on the Bill and its pre-legislative scrutiny. I welcome comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House about how that has helped to improve the Bill to date. I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) about the way in which the media often misunderstand how the Government react and respond to pre-legislative scrutiny by changing their proposals. They have done that substantially to deal with several points regarding civil liberties. However, it was not a climbdown, but a powerful reaction to pre-legislative scrutiny, which should be welcomed rather than treated in the way in which it sometimes has been.
The local response capability is the building block of our ability to deal with emergencies. As we all know, our fire, police and ambulance services are among the best in the world and have unquestionable expertise in emergency planning and response. The Bill will give the organisations that form the core of the local response—local authorities, emergency services and the voluntary sector—a clear and consistent set of expectations on, and responsibilities for, civil protection for the first time. The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) tellingly highlighted the importance of co-ordination, and the Bill must provide a framework that can work in practice. It is an enabling Bill, so it does not name the precise parts of the building blocks that will be pulled together. Nevertheless, he was right to highlight the importance of making the process work, which is why practitioners have welcomed the proposals. The Bill will deliver the benefits of improved communication, co-operation and information sharing, which are all at the heart of the issues that he and other hon. Members raised. Greater consistency throughout the country will facilitate better performance management of multi-agency arrangements, which will allow more effective benchmarking and best practice sharing.
1178 We recognise the need to modernise the tools available to the Government to deal with the most serious emergencies. Some disruptive challenges are of such a scale or nature that they might require extraordinary measures that would not be appropriate in normal circumstances. Emergency powers are a necessary safety net to ensure that we can deal with even the most serious and unpredictable situations. I believe that the Bill meets those challenges and strikes the right balance between the individual's rights and the need to ensure the safety and well-being of the nation.
Some Members have suggested that the powers are extreme and draconian. Indeed, in some cases the powers are draconian, but only if they are necessary. I am concerned that the debate has proceeded as though there were no current emergency powers legislation. It is important to recognise that the Bill replaces the Emergency Powers Act 1920, which included many of the powers in the Bill. There were some restrictions on when the powers in the 1920 Act could be used, but it did not require the exercise of emergency powers to be necessary and the provisions of the regulations did not have to be in due proportion to the emergency. Of course, the Human Rights Act 1998 will substantively limit what can be done under emergency powers, which was not so in 1920.
§ Fiona Mactaggart
The question of importing the notion of reasonableness was specifically considered following the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the draft Civil Contingencies Bill. We straightforwardly concluded that reasonableness is an absolute expectation of the actions of Ministers and that to import the notion specifically might query whether Ministers act reasonably in other respects. All Ministers are expected to act reasonably at all times. Indeed, in the case that the hon. Gentleman cited, that was the conclusion of the minority judgment that he so praised.
Members have asked why it has taken so long to get to this point. We have not been idle: we have introduced the Terrorism Act 2000, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and the Animal Health Act 2002, all of which deal with aspects of matters dealt with in the Bill. We have developed new structures within government such as the new security and intelligence co-ordinator, the overhauled co-ordination arrangements in central Government, a new regional tier, new structures within the devolved Administrations and a dedicated civil contingencies secretariat. We have also put in new funding: £330 million in the 2003 Budget for counter-terrorism; an extra £62 million for police work on counter-terrorism; and additional funds for the fire service and the NHS. Those practical measures go together with the new civil contingencies reaction force.
We are trying to ensure that local government has the resources that it requires and are working closely with the Local Government Association to make sure that Government requirements are properly funded. As I have described, additional resources have been put into 1179 that area, and, as the needs of local government become clear, we will, as part of the 2004 spending review process, ensure that they are carefully considered.
The other point raised in that respect is the question of where the buck stops and where responsibility lies. It is clear that the Government's view is, first, that resilience should be embedded within all Government organisations rather than being sliced off in a separate Department. We have made that clear choice because it is necessary for all parts of Government to be able to support resilience, but nevertheless it is clear that the Home Secretary is the core Minister with responsibility for those matters, and that he will be the lead Minister in responding to many of those points.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) made a number of powerful points that reflected his continuing commitment to the rights of this House and of the citizens of this country. He had fun—let us be honest—with his point about Lords Commissioners to Her Majesty's Treasury, who are in large part Whips. Lords Commissioners are included in the Bill because there might be emergencies in which the primary interests affected are the responsibility of the Treasury, such as a terrorist attack on the Bank of England. In those circumstances, the Chancellor would be the person whom one would normally expect to take progress forwards. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister are normally referred to in legislation in such a way.
I hope that it might assure the hon. Gentleman if I add that, by virtue of the Treasury Instruments (Signature) Act 1849, action must be taken by at least two Commissioners. One Commissioner cannot act alone. The intention of the procedure is to ensure absolutely that the Chancellor could take responsibility in such cases.
Along with the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills rightly made much play of the issue of the Human Rights Act 1998. Let us be clear that the Government have not sought to derogate from the provisions of the Act because we do not expect any regulations made under the powers in the Bill to contravene that Act. That is a very important commitment and safeguard to give the House. It makes clear the context in which we seek the powers. Frankly, the "dark forces" that my hon. and learned Friend referred to should not be forces that are designed to restrict the civil liberties of Members, but forces that threaten the safety and security of this nation. That is why such serious powers need to be considered at this point.
§ Mr. Shepherd
By the Government's own actions, there is no reason to exclude the human rights issue. As I pointed out—I had hoped that the Minister would address the point—clause 10 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill makes the remedial scheme of section 7 of the Human Rights 1180 Act subject to its provisions. So such a matter could be included in this Bill without any compromise by the Government.
§ Fiona Mactaggart
I have made the point clearly. The matter is also dealt with, together with specific outlines of the advice of parliamentary counsel, in paragraph 34 of the Government's response to the draft Bill.
In the time left to me, I want to re-emphasis three points. First, the Bill is a necessary addition to the statute book. I am sure that we can all agree that a single legislative framework for civil protection is vital to managing the threats that we face in the 21st century. Secondly, the Bill is timely. Existing legislation was designed for a different era, and modernisation is long overdue—a point that hon. Members have made but I have sought to address by pointing out what we have been doing in recent months.
Thirdly, we have built a strong consensus behind the generality of the proposals. One might not believe that from listening to some of the debate, but nevertheless it exists and we have secured buy-in from a wide range of groups. There is a strong expectation that the Government will deliver. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.