|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, we are shifting from an arcane formula that was subject to challengeone that I understand resulted in an out-of-court settlementand now we need stability pending the implementation of a new system. That new system must emerge not from the Billit would be unreasonable to expect that of the Governmentbut from the emergency planning review itself. I support the concept of the Bill as a means by which to deal with the here and now, not the long-term future.
The long-term future needs to take into account all the outcomes of the review. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give an assurance that the review will include consideration of the ways in which public resources can be used more effectively cross- departmentally so that we do not have the sort of nonsense that is set out in a letter from the Civil Aviation Authority, which tells me that it is all right for aeroplanes to circle the Stanlow refinery in a holding pattern because that is a convenient area in which to hold them. Holding them out on Liverpool bay would be considerably safer. I see the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Flook) laughing. I think that he agrees with my observation. We need that sort of joined-up thinking from the Cabinet Office after the review. Heads must also be knocked together to some extent.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point that if a long-term review is about to come out, it is sensible to get all our ducks in a row, as it were. But what has he to say about the fact that the Ministry of Defence, in the short to medium term, is producing an extra chapter for the strategic defence review arising out of the events of 11 September? That will come through quite quickly. Is not the proposal of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) sensible, given that the conclusions of the MOD study will become available in the extra year, even if we have to wait longer for the final results of the long-term review?
Many of the risks are real, as is shown by the incidents that have occurred: foot and mouth, floods, the serious explosion at Associated Oxtel, a leak from GATTX, and the actions of fuel protesters and animal rights activists. These are real issues that affect my constituents.
A new dimension will have to be considered. I suspect that part of it will have to be dealt with by the Committee that is chaired by the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed with a high degree of confidentiality. As I have said, I am dealing with the here and now.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): The hon. Gentleman refers to the here and now, and we all understand that. I accept that there have been changes since 11 September. However, reviews are taking place that take into account responses since that date.
Mr. Miller: I thinkI believe that the right hon. Member for BerwickuponTweed agreed with the observationthat we do not spend enough time considering potential civil emergencies. Even if the Bill has a short life, I consider that it is necessary in the context of the here and now. It would be far better to get the issue out of the way by focusing the attention of the entire House, including Members with military expertise and those with expertise in agriculture or river systems, for example, on it. The same goes for industrial experts who can deal with potential chemical risks. We must work together to try to find a consensus on the right way forward.
Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton): Would not capping the amount of money that goes to civil defence, as the Government propose, make it more difficult to decide how much money there should be for, say, safeguarding installations?
Mr. Miller: I told the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) that I would come to that and its relationship to the standard spending assessment. Before doing so, I shall conclude my point about why we need to introduce the Bill, then consider how to join up facilities better.
I shall give a simple example. The Highways Agency needs to engage in such debates. A few years ago, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), a swing bridge on the A56, which passes over a canal, was scheduled to be repaired. I remind the agency, through my hon. Friend the Minister, that it is still scheduled to be repaired. At the time, a foam tender located at a fire station could not have covered emergencies to the east on the motorway network, so there were discussions about whether it should be moved further from a chemical plant, which would delay its response to emergencies there. Such an absurd situation begs the question why all the agencies do not co-ordinate to ensure that they take the best decisions, not the piecemeal decisions of the past.
In response to the hon. Members for Westmorland and Lonsdale and for Taunton, the creation of the SSA resulted in a series of rank absurdities. Members who can remember that far back will know that the SSA was introduced at the same time as the unified business rate and coincided with the poll tax, which got all the headlines. Areas such as mine suffered a net loss because of the loss of rates from the chemical industry, and faced serious financial problems. Opposition Members who look carefully at the arguments on the SSA made by counties like Cheshire will acknowledge in hindsight that it was not smart to penalise authorities that had savings or to shift resources without considering the special requirements of some parts of the country.
I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to find a long-term formula in the review that moves away from the presumption in the SSA. Its replacement, which, we hope, will soon come out of the review, should refund moneys spent on emergency planning to local authorities and be commensurate with the realities on the ground, which vary. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed pointed out that foot and mouth has affected his constituency twice during his time in Parliament. However, equally long-serving Members who represent other parts of the country have not experienced such things. He will never experience in his constituency some of the risks and incidents that have occurred in my constituency. Flexibility must therefore emerge from the review, but we must be wary of making a premature response. Opposition Members would rightly chide my hon. Friend the Minister for the obvious weakness if the Government simply said, "This Bill is the here and now and also the long-term future."
However, we need to find a mechanism to achieve a stable situation so that a proper debate on shifting to a more rational basis for the formula can take place. I therefore urge the House to reject the new clause and amendment No. 1. I shall not repeat the arguments, but I hope that the House develops a consensus around a more sensible way to proceed well before 2004.
That begs the question whether there is such a mechanism. The answer, of course, is yes. A review is being undertaken and we are told, without ambiguity, that it is likely to result in emergency planning legislation. It is difficult to assume that any such legislation would not have money implications, so the logic of pushing decisions related to the Bill further into the future does not stand detailed examination.
Against that background, although I urge the House to reject the new clause and the amendment, I ask the Cabinet Office to listen seriously to my arguments and those made from both sides of the House about the funding mechanism that will emerge from the review. Important issues will affect a significant number of constituencies up and down the country and events can occur as a result of the entirely unforeseen. Despite all the defence expertise of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), he could not have foreseen the events of 11 September. Equally, issues surrounding foot and mouth, flooding and human error could not be foreseen and affected areas that, traditionally, were not high risk.
I hope that the Government provide reassurance that, in considering long-term plans, we shall move from piecemeal operation, with Departments acting in isolation, to a more responsive formula that takes the known risks into account, but provides enough flexibility to allow for the unknowns that are, sadly, with us.
I hope that the Bill becomes law in approximately this form and that we get it on the statute book as quickly as possible. We must then focus the attention of the whole House, not just the handful of Members here, on the important longer-term issues.