HC Deb 03 March 2003 vol 400 cc72-7WS
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)

The Government moved to strengthen arrangements for emergency planning and civil protection immediately after the 2001 general election. In July 2001 a new Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) was created within the Cabinet Office, bringing together the Home Office's former responsibilities for emergency planning with a new capability at the centre of Government to assess and respond to emergencies as they arise. In August 2001 the CCS published a comprehensive review of emergency planning arrangements in England and Wales.

The September 11 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, however, changed our understanding of the terrorist threat.

In the aftermath of those attacks, the UK Government instigated a comprehensive review of the UK's preparedness and contingency plans to deal with terrorist threats. This led to new organisational arrangements with all relevant Departments working together, co-ordinated at the centre with the Home Secretary in overall charge, and to the passing of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security (ATCS) Act 2001.

Today the House will debate the continuance of Sections 21–23 of the ATCS Act which are measures designed to pre-empt a terrorist attack. This statement, which will be referred to in the debate, deals with the other side of preparedness which is the ability to respond to an incident if it occurs. The statement sets out improvements in contingency planning that have taken place and announces the next steps in improving our resilience, including plans for legislation.


Measures already put in place to improve preparedness to deal with terrorist attacks should they occur are:

Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats

The Home Office leads on dealing with CBRN threats. The first responders, the emergency services, whose capability to cope with these threats is the key to minimising loss of life, have had major investment in equipment and training:


Under a £5 million programme, the Department of Health has provided 360 mobile decontamination units and 7,250 national specification Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) suits around the country, which will enable the Ambulance Service and A&E Departments to treat people contaminated with CBRN material.


The CBRN Police Training Centre has been established at Winterbourne Gunner and has already delivered command training to at least four Commanders from each force.

The police now have over 2,350 officers trained and equipped in CBRN response, and this training roll-out is continuing.


The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (HM Fire Service Inspectorate) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Health which provides for Fire Fighters to support the Ambulance Service by decontaminating people at a CBRN incident.

Fire brigades have all been involved in work to prepare for this role and an interim decontamination methodology has been disseminated to all brigades; £43 million from the Capital Modernisation Fund, plus an extra £13 million from ODPM has been provided for the Fire Service to provide a national mass decontamination capability. Procurement of equipment (response vehicles, portable contamination facilities and specialist protective clothing) is underway, supported by development of training.


The Department of Health, in conjunction with Health Departments in Devolved Administrations, is funding measures to counter bio-terrorism: A UK Reserve National Stock of vaccines and antibiotics suitable for the treatment of infectious diseases and specialist equipment has been built up over the past year and now stands ready for deployment. Guidance on handling infectious diseases was disseminated throughout the NHS in October 2001.

As the Minister of State for Health announced on 2 December 2002, 12 Regional Smallpox Response Groups are being established around the UK. Vaccine will be offered to volunteer healthcare personnel who will be able to react quickly and work safely with patients of actual or suspected smallpox. A similar group of specialist military personnel will also receive vaccination against smallpox. We have also identified reference laboratory centres capable of rapid diagnosis of the disease.

A total of £16 million was allocated by the Department of Health in 2001/02 to provide medical counter-measures against CBRN agents and a further £80 million has been allocated for 2002/03, including spending on extra vaccines and antibiotics.


Companies operating Civil Nuclear Installations have always been required to have in place robust, detailed and well-rehearsed plans for responding to radiological releases. These plans involve the emergency services and local authorities in the surrounding area and are regularly checked by the Nuclear industries Inspectorate.

The arrangements were significantly enhanced following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and have been thoroughly reviewed and further enhanced since 11 September 2001.

An improved fire-fighting capability means that fires can quickly be brought under control. Central stores of specialist equipment for use in mitigating the spread of radiation have also been established by the nuclear industry. Contingency plans were tested against the threat posed by a major incident at a live exercise in Bradwell on 10 May last year.


All the emergency services have specific protocols for dealing with chemical or biological attack. These are regularly practised and refined. On 3 February 2003 the Home Office published Strategic National Guidance on the Decontamination of People exposed to Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear Substances or Materials for use by emergency services and other responders.


The Government have in place a programme of work to enhance 11 key generic capabilities that will allow us to respond to the most demanding emergencies, however caused. The Civil Contingencies Secretariat manages this programme and drives the progress of Departments involved in delivering each of the capabilities, which are:

  • central response
  • local response
  • decontamination
  • site clearance
  • treatment of infectious diseases
  • treatment of mass casualties
  • mass evacuation
  • identification and assessment
  • warning, informing and alerting
  • dealing with mass fatalities.


The local response capability is one of the key building blocks of the UK's resilience. The Government maintain close contact with local responders, including the Local Authorities and the emergency services, through formal and informal channels. Action has been taken to improve communications with local and regional responders through face to face briefings at senior level, presentations by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat at Emergency Planning College courses and a series of workshops in January and February 2003 in each of the Government Offices of the Regions to brief responders, including Emergency Planning Officers and the emergency services, on plans to enhance the regional resilience capability. Local Authorities have been allocated a specific Civil Defence grant of £19 million for 2002–3 which is a third more than the previous year. The grant is central government's contribution to civil protection work undertaken by Local Authorities and is just part of what Local Authorities spend on resilience.


London has lived with the threat of terrorism for over 30 years. Operational responses are well co-ordinated, regularly practised and continually reviewed, Since September 11 2001, additional measures taken include: In 2002–3, £49 million counter-terrorism funding to the Metropolitan police. Detailed work by London Underground with the emergency services and Security Services to ensure systems are in place to deter or deal with an attack. A new Cabinet sub-committee for London Resilience and the setting up of the London Resilience Team to review and plan London's preparedness. A new strategic emergency planning regime in the capital has been established, managed by the London Resilience Forum which Nick Raynsford, the Minister for London Resilience, chairs and within which a wide range of interests are represented including the Mayor. Information is available through http:// www.londonprepared.gov.uk.


We are now better able to anticipate and prepare for the potential impact of terrorist threats through a new capability within the Cabinet Office to identify potential challenges to the smooth operation of Government or the life of the nation. This complements the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee which provides strategic assessments on domestic and overseas terrorist threats.


Clear leads at Ministerial and Department level have been established and central resources provided to plan and coordinate contingency planning for terrorist threats: John Denham was appointed Minister for CBRN coordination, reporting to myself, at the end of 2001. The Home Office is the lead Department in preparing and responding to public order and terrorist incidents. Sir David Omand was appointed as Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator and Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office in July 2002 to enhance capacity at the centre to coordinate security, intelligence and contingency management. The CCS was set up in June 2001 to improve the UK's resilience to disruptive challenge through working with others inside and outside Government on anticipation, preparation, prevention and resolution.

The CCS placed a paper in the Library on 23 July 2002 setting out the role of the lead Government Departments in planning for and managing crises. All Departments have a responsibility to plan, prepare, train and exercise for handling major incidents and emergencies in their areas of responsibility. The Devolved Administrations are responsible for elements of emergency planning in their own jurisdictions and are invited to attend meetings of appropriate Cabinet Office committees to ensure co-ordination across the UK.

We believe this arrangement of central co-ordination, accountable to Ministers, coupled with Departmental responsibility for delivery is the best resilience structure. It engages a wider pool of expertise, avoids the need for a huge new bureaucracy at the centre while at the same time has a clear chain of command.

Information for agencies and the public is available through www.ukresilience.info/ and http:// www.homeoffice.gov.uk./


Strengthening Regional resilience

We are improving our ability to co-ordinate planning for major emergencies at a regional level by recruiting resilience teams in each Regional Government Office. Teams will be in place by 1 April 2003. These will be dedicated units, similar to the London Resilience team but on a smaller scale, to enhance regional civil contingency planning, including dealing with terrorist threats and other major emergencies. From April 2003, each Government Office, in addition to their regular contacts with emergency planning officers, will arrange an annual meeting to bring together senior CCS staff and local emergency planning staff. The Home Office will provide an input on counter-terrorism and CBRN consequence management to these meetings. A larger role for the Reserves in home defence and security authorities if they are asked to do so. The Volunteer Reserves are a capable, integrated and usable part of our resource for military operations of all types at home and abroad. The limited measures we are now implementing represent a highly effective way to build a new capability to meet some of the home defence risks which 11 September 2001 highlighted. By the end of 2003 there will be 14 Civil Contingency Reaction Forces (CCRFs), each comprising up to 500 volunteers drawn from existing Reservists. Each will be based on a Territorial Army infantry battalion. Army division and brigade headquarters will provide regional, planning, liaison and command and control capability for home defence operations. Brigades will work closely with the emergency services and local authorities to develop specific plans for the use of CCRFs in their areas. Any military participation, including the deployment of Reserves, in the response to a counter-terrorist threat would be at the request of the Chief Constable in the Force area where the incident occurred and would be subject to Ministerial decision.


An important element of resilience is the confidence that plans will be effective on the day. A prioritised programme of exercises is being drawn up that will reflect and test effectively the lead Government responsibilities, the involvement of devolved administrations, regional and local authorities and other responders. Under this new programme of co-ordinated exercises, it will be possible to test whether all key stakeholders are appropriately engaged and working together. Future planned exercises will cover a catastrophic incident in central London (this exercise will take place shortly), disruption to the national gas supply and flood defences. The programme is expected to cover the 11 key capabilities such as mass evacuation and decontamination.


The Government are preparing new Civil Contingencies legislation—a step recommended by the local emergency planning community. We will issue proposals for a new Civil Contingencies Bill in the summer. The aim will be to produce a single statutory and regulatory framework for dealing with all forms of disruptive challenge to modern society including those from terrorist attack.

The legislation will enhance the local response by providing clarity and certainty about roles and responsibilities. It will replace existing legislation, which in some cases dates back to the 1920s, with more modern equivalents. The justification for the legislation is the desirability of putting in place for the long term a solid administrative and legal structure within which emergency planning can develop. It is not driven by operational deficiencies in relation to the present counter-terrorist effort.

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