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12 Feb 2003 : Column 283WH—continued

Emergency Planning

2 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I welcome the opportunity to introduce this timely debate—indeed, it is perhaps timelier than I expected. I start by thanking Lord Macdonald, who briefed me recently, and Zyg Kowalczyk of the London resilience team, who briefed me last night. I also thank Nick Rowe—Kent county council's emergency planning officer—for keeping me well briefed.

For more than half a century, emergency planning in the United Kingdom relied heavily on the Civil Defence Act 1948. For many years after the end of the cold war, there was a steady real-terms reduction in expenditure on emergency planning. That continued until the fuel delivery crisis and the major flooding in autumn 2000 finally brought an acknowledgement that all disasters require robust, integrated response arrangements. The events of today notwithstanding, the majority of disasters do not relate to hostile attack.

The Government's commitment to review the emergency planning process, their establishment of the civil contingencies secretariat and their promotion of the concept of a resilient UK capable of bouncing back from any emergency were encouraging, but, sadly, the momentum appears to have been lost. There have recently been many changes among the secretariat's senior staff, and new guidelines on important issues have been slow to appear. Furthermore, there is still no certainty as to when a civil protection Bill will be introduced, although discussion papers that touch on its possible contents give cause for concern, and I shall provide two examples.

First, two levels of duty might be imposed, one much more onerous than the other. The effect could be that water and electricity utility companies, which currently, and for very sound reasons, conduct extensive emergency planning and emergency exercises with other agencies, might in future have a statutory excuse merely to provide information and to co-operate. In other words, there would be a lower level of emergency planning.

Secondly, it is recognised that local services usually handle large disasters such as rail crashes effectively, but things break down at national level. That is due in part to a lack of integration between the emergency arrangements of central Government Departments and agencies, and local services. It is therefore worrying that Departments do not appear to be included among the bodies on which a duty will be imposed. Lord Macdonald highlighted the position of the Benefits Agency when I met him. Clearly, the agency is not a front-line organisation, but it would be required to play a key role in the aftermath of any incident by providing assistance to those who had been displaced. However, it appears to have no emergency plans in place—at least, it has no relationship with local authorities when it comes to providing assistance. I hope that the issue is being investigated as a result of my discussions with Lord Macdonald, and the Minister may have something to say about it.

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Will the Minister confirm, if he can, the expected publication date for the civil protection Bill? Will he undertake to ensure that it imposes similar duties on central Government Departments and agencies, local government and the emergency services?

The slow progress that I have described is all the more worrying given increased public concern since 11 September. That concern has been exacerbated by the position regarding Iraq, and by the number of occasions recently, including yesterday and today, when the Prime Minister has stated that we are at risk of terrorist attack.

Should a terrorist attack occur, it might well involve biological or chemical agents or sources of nuclear radiation. The seriousness with which the Government treat that possibility is evidenced by the many millions of pounds spent since 11 September in training and equipping the emergency services to work in contaminated environments and to stockpile equipment for decontamination and treatment of victims.

In that case, why have the Government not taken steps to educate the public about what they might do as individuals to help themselves and others? Clearly, it is expected that individuals will help themselves. The Government and other agencies will not be in a position to help every individual. They will be overstretched in dealing with the number of people who are vulnerable.

Everyone in this country who lives in a possible flood zone receives guidance about flooding. There are regular flood warnings. Every time we climb on board an aeroplane we are given emergency instructions. Before the recent fire brigade strikes an extensive publicity campaign was launched to draw to people's attention the things that they could do to help themselves. Why is that not happening with respect to a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident?

Other countries are providing relevant advice. I am aware of that in one country, at least. I spoke to someone at the BBC yesterday who had just been e-mailed by a friend in the USA, who said that she had been advised to stockpile water and food, and to buy plastic sheeting and so on, to enable her to secure a safe area in her property. That is happening in other countries.

I am afraid that available Government guidance will not necessarily be all that helpful. For instance, on Monday 3 February the Government published strategic national guidance on the decontamination of people. However, anyone who has visited the website and worked through the 38-page document will have found little to suggest what assistance could be provided to them if an incident occurred.

In addition, that document is fundamentally flawed in respect of the procedures that it sets out. It appears to take no account of human behaviour—particularly crowd dynamics. I doubt whether anyone in the Chamber today seriously believes that, if there were an attack of some sort, we would all wait calmly for the fire brigade to arrive and set up their spraying equipment outside, after which we would take off our clothes and be washed down with the conveniently located buckets and sponges that appendix B of the guidance specifies, and then proceed to the welcoming arms of the ambulance service.

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Clearly, that would not happen. If an incident took place, some people would be seriously affected and seriously ill. We need much more honesty.

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that America is better prepared for such attacks. He itemised a couple of issues that the Americans have pursued. Will he go into some detail about what practical help he thinks could be offered? His argument so far seems to be a philosophical one. Has he any concrete suggestions about how such advice could be applied in the UK?

Tom Brake : I shall indeed come on to that point. I did not necessarily mean that the USA is better prepared in all respects, but it is clearly making more information available to its citizens and considering a wider range of possible threats. A state senator told me that thought is being given to the placing of one-way valves in the water supply system to ensure that no one can install a pump in a flat or house and pump some sort of toxic chemical back into the water system. Clearly, if we go into that sort of area, a huge amount of effort and funding will be necessary, so I am not suggesting that we should follow that route. However, we may have struck the wrong balance on making public information available.

Why has no official guidance been provided so far? I appreciate the risk associated with taking the "Protect and Survive" approach, because people may belittle the information provided or think it of no value, but we need to go further than we have. Will the Minister tell us his thoughts about what form the information should take? Will it take the form of leaflets distributed by local authorities or television advertisements or a website?

In the case of a possible biological attack, it is probable that a disease, such as smallpox, would be introduced covertly and that we would find out about it days or weeks after it was introduced into the population, perhaps picking it up in hospitals. However, central Government have issued no policy guidance and no local discussions have taken place between health authorities, police forces and local government about how an attack should be managed, including what emergency powers might be needed. I would welcome the Minister's comments on that.

Clearly, the Government fear the potential of such an event and the casualties that might result. I understand that the Home Office has commissioned a retired coroner to survey existing arrangements to deal with mass fatalities, but I do not think that the initiative will bear much fruit. I understand that most local authorities and other agencies have made no arrangements to deal with mass fatalities because no policy exists. Therefore, although it was clear how large volumes of animal carcases should be dealt with, the legal, political and social issues of doing anything with a human body that departs from current normal procedures are so huge that no local agency will want to stick its head above the parapet and dream up plans to deal with the problem. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us when the Government will issue policies on the management of pandemics of contagious diseases and when they will issue policies on the management of mass fatalities.

I do not want to overemphasise resources. I know that the Government have made funding available for the emergency services, but issues remain regarding local

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authority grants. The size of event with which local authorities may have to contend goes way beyond the sort of event that we have had to get used to, such as a car bomb attack, so a step change is needed in emergency planning, and that carries a price tag. The necessary plans, equipment and arrangements will place additional demands on finances. The Government have not recognised that yet. I hope that as part of their preparations for the Civil Contingencies Bill, as they identify what roles and responsibilities local authorities and other agencies will play, the Government will see the extent of what is involved and address grants as part of that process.

We need a clear statement from the Government that contingency funds will be made available in the case of an exceptional incident, because that has not clearly been stated. It would be extremely remiss if, following a major incident, there were delays in the system because some organisations had concerns about whether they were going to be reimbursed for the extra costs incurred, so I would welcome a comment from the Minister on that.

Central London and the Palace of Westminster are presumably prime targets for terrorists, who aim to strike at the heart of the nation. The London resilience team has been preparing plans and arrangements in order to respond to a major disaster in London, and the civil contingencies secretariat refers to its work. However, we have heard rumours about the London resilience team's proposals, rather than receiving any formal information or advice, which again raises the issue of what the public should be informed about. People who live in London and most of those who work there have not been provided with any formal information or advice. However, I understand that discussions are ongoing with larger businesses, so some work is being done. Little work has been done on sharing information or the content of those proposals with the emergency services and local authorities in the home counties, which would obviously both have a role in mass evacuation. Again, however, that work is in the pipeline.

The London resilience team published a report called "London Resilience" in March 2002. It contains more than 100 recommendations about how to improve emergency planning in London, and I received a welcome briefing on it last night. However, I have been denied a copy of the report, and I am seeking to obtain one under the code of conduct of access to Government information. Without having sight of the report, which contains recommendations and time scales that detail the times by which things must be done, it is impossible for me to judge whether London can handle a large-scale attack, or whether the actions that local authorities and others are required to take, which must be reported quarterly, are being taken with appropriate swiftness. I understand the need to keep some of the content of the report concealed from people, including Members of Parliament. Equally, however, I hope that the Minister will understand that Opposition Members, who want to be able to guarantee that the necessary action is being taken and who want to see that improvements are being made and that plans are being put in place, will not be satisfied only with reassurances that that is happening.

Mr. Watts : I am somewhat confused. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address the practical issues to do

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with what he suggests. Does he agree that publication of the document that he seeks might put the lives of Londoners at risk, but that partial publication would raise more questions than it answered?

Tom Brake : I am not advocating publication of the report in the Evening Standard or The Sunday Times. I am suggesting that there might be an agreement by which a copy can be made available to hon. Members under certain conditions. That has happened in relation to other reports, albeit reports that were commercially confidential as opposed to confidential for reasons of security. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that if he were an Opposition Member, he would not be satisfied with listening to Ministers' or the London resilience team's assurances that everything was in hand and under control. He would want to see the detail of what had been proposed and would want evidence that it was happening. I am sure that the Minister is honest and candid, but I would hardly expect him to provide a list of matters on which there are significant weaknesses, on which appropriate action has not yet been taken, or on which there has been slippage. It is up to hon. Members and others to put pressure on the Government to ensure that things are delivered.

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman said about the risks of publishing or partially publishing the report, which might lead to scare stories or the distortion of available information. However, there is an equal risk that rumours will circulate, and that inaccurate reports will be published about the number of recommendations and what is planned on containment of people. Indeed, that is already happening, regardless of whether the report in its entirety, part of the report, or none of the report is published. For instance, there are reports about what would be required from the train operating companies and about the role that they would have to play in helping to move people out of London.

I should like the Minister to consider whether there are circumstances in which the report can be made available, to ensure that Members have an opportunity to review progress regularly against the key action points. That would reassure Members that appropriate action is being taken.

Will the Minister deal specifically with the vetting of security staff? That issue is associated with emergency planning and with what is happening at Heathrow today. I understand that that is not in the Minister's brief. He may need to refer to colleagues or perhaps respond in writing. However, he may be aware that in a debate on 23 October 2001, I raised with the Minister for Transport the question of staff who work airside in airports. They can work with a temporary pass before they receive appropriate security vetting, provided that they are supervised by a full passholder. It is unlikely that the full passholder will look over his shoulder every moment of the day. He will hardly be able to accompany the person to the toilet or watch them wherever they are. The full passholder would need eyes in the back of his head to do that.

I raised that point during that debate, as did other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) asked:

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The Minister, perhaps not surprisingly, could not give any such undertaking. However, he did say subsequently that the issues were important and he undertook to look at them. I contacted BAA yesterday to ask whether that particular loophole had been closed. I consider it to be a loophole, and the Minister of State accepted that that was something that must be looked at. BAA's response was that the loophole had not been closed, and that it was still possible for someone to work airside—in the secure part of the airport—without having had full security vetting.

We are 18 months on from that debate and more than 18 months on from 11 September. It is extremely remiss that that loophole has not been closed. This may not be a subject with which the Minister is familiar, but I hope that he and his colleagues will investigate it. BAA assured me that it would be happy to close the loophole if asked, but the Government have not asked. BAA said that some transitional arrangements would be required. There must be a question mark over whether we have time for transitional arrangements, but BAA would like them in order to ensure that the loophole is not closed overnight. That matter must be looked at; it has not been dealt with in the past 18 months, and that is a major failure with which the Government must deal.

With the heightened state of security that prevails in the UK, the Government must show that their commitment to protecting our citizens is flawless. They must show that there is no chink in our protective amour, and that there are no loopholes in our security apparatus. I regret that that is not the case, and our security is the weaker for it. Warm words of reassurance will not do; we need action from the Government.

2.24 pm

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): I am primarily concerned about the advice that has been given to schools and teachers in central London. I declare an interest: I have a daughter at a school in central London. Her mother constantly asks me what advice the school has been given and I must answer that I am not at all sure what advice has been given, or if it goes far enough.

After the disastrous events of 11 September, my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) asked the Minister what plans there were to update civil defence guidance to parents of schoolchildren. The Minister replied with a holding answer on 15 October 2001 that his Department would shortly issue further guidance for local education authorities to disseminate to schools and others on a range of issues resulting from the terrorist attack in the USA and subsequent events.

As we all know, and as the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party said today, London has never been in more danger, and I am not at all sure that schools have been given the advice that they should have had. Our problem is to reassure the public without heightening anxiety. In dealing with impressionable schoolchildren, we must be extremely careful that what we do and say does nothing to fuel well-grounded fears. There are long-term and short-term matters to consider.

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The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) made some interesting points, and he referred to the American senator with whom he had spoken about one-way flow valves the water system. As well as the horrendous financial implications, that would take years, not months, to implement.

We must do all we can to face what could be an immediate threat. It will not disappear if we go to war with Iraq; it will continue long afterwards. How can we judge? Even a successful war that topples the evil regime of Saddam Hussein may create many more international terrorists linked to al-Qaeda who wish to wreak revenge on this country. We cannot deal with this as a one-off event; we must deal with the long-term implications, some of which might require an alteration in how we live and go about our everyday business.

The Minister is a man of great intelligence, but I note that he has not been taking many notes. I hope, however, that he will deal with the points of hon. Members on both sides rather than reading a prepared statement, as these are matters of public interest. I would be grateful if he would spend a little time reassuring me about the training and advice that schoolteachers in London have been given in how to evacuate schoolchildren and how to deal with them in schools.

There was much debate earlier on the comparative preparedness of the United Kingdom and the United States of America to meet a terrorist attack. Members may have seen the report in The Times this morning on the "All-American survival pack: What everyone needs". It gives the advice of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and goes into great detail on how to store water, how long food should be stored, and the contents of a first-aid kit—including moistened towelettes, whatever they are, and tongue blades, which are, perhaps, not an item usually found in hon. Members' wash bags. It lists the necessary tools and supplies, clothing and bedding for babies and adults, and important family documents. A guide entitled "Are you Ready?" from the "Guide to Citizen Preparedness" says:

That sounds a terrifying note. Unlike the Liberal Democrats, I, as a member of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, would not dream of asking the Minister to compromise our preparedness by saying what might be going on. Particularly, I would not ask him to go into detail on the 100 recommendations made by the London resilience team.

Tom Brake : I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Will he explain how he would ensure that necessary action was being taken? Would he simply take the Minister's word for it?

Mr. Swire : I was just coming to that. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall continue. Although I would not ask for details of those recommendations, I would greatly reassured to know how many of them the Minister thought had been met and how many he would hope to meet in the next two or three months.

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We parliamentarians would be in a difficult position if there was a disaster and we were found not to have paid enough attention to help prevent it. I am convinced that the reactive services and emergency services are well prepared, are being trained and are properly funded to cope with the aftermath of an emergency. I am concentrating on our preparedness—the bit that comes before the disaster. If we spend the money now, we may avert a disaster on a much larger scale.

I ask the Minister to answer my various questions in order to reassure those who have young children at school in central London, which, as we have heard, is high on the list of targets.

2.31 pm

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I am interested in the subject and I am glad to be here. I was looking forward to hearing the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) itemise some of the things that he believes the Government should be doing, but we did not get much substance. We heard that we need more information and that we need to do more, but he made no concrete suggestions about what the Government should be doing to deal with this serious situation.

I would not like anyone to go away from this debate believing that we are unprepared. My local authority in St. Helens pools its resources with the other four Merseyside authorities in order to deal with the sort of circumstances that we have been discussing today. The police, the fire services and the other authorities plan for such occasions, should they be called on to take action. I have some chemical factories in my constituency; in order to deal with explosions there my local authority has had to put its plans into effect, and they turned out to be effective. I wish to place on the record the high regard that we all have for the emergency services and for local authority planning teams.

Some of the things that I have heard said about America remind me very much of the debates that used to take place about the possibility of a nuclear attack—about, for instance, the advice that we should put sandbags behind the doors, stock up with tins of baked beans and ensure that we had enough bottled water. Frankly, that would not have been effective, and I was interested to discover whether the hon. Gentleman would make concrete proposals about what could help in such an emergency. I was disappointed.

It is important that the Minister addresses the issues raised about what the Government are doing, but there are limits on what they can do for civil defence. Those limitations are fairly obvious. We would have great difficulty in defending ourselves against the sort of terrorism that we have seen recently. However, we have had plenty of experience over the past 25 years in dealing with IRA attacks, which puts us in a better position than many other countries.

Finally, if some of the events occurred about which we have been speculating today, it seems that the Army would probably take control. Emergency powers would be introduced. The armed forces have regularly shown themselves to be equal to the most difficult tasks and able to deal with them in a most professional way. I have no doubt that they will continue to do so.

Tom Brake : I am aware that I did not respond to the hon. Gentleman's specific point about what public

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information should be available. The hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) referred to the situation in the United States. We need to move in that direction. The level of information released there is not necessarily right for us, but we need to provide something along those lines—for instance, to advise the public about what information might be given to them in the event of an incident.

Mr. Watts : I do not disagree. However, I should have preferred it if the hon. Gentleman had spelled out what sort of information he was seeking. He looks to the Minister, but a lot of the information that could be put out has been put out. It is important that Members of Parliament do not scaremonger. There are already enough worried people in the community, and we should accept the fact that there are limits to what we can do. Nevertheless, there are procedures, both locally and nationally, to deal with civil emergencies.

2.35 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts) put his finger on one or two weak spots in the argument of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). Nevertheless, I congratulate the latter on securing a debate that is so topical and so timely. He asked why more had not been done to educate the public at individual, community or family level with regard to the preparations that they might take in order to mitigate the effects of attack by terrorists using radiological, biological or chemical weapons, and hinted at the answer when he referred fleetingly to "Protect and Survive". May I remind hon. Members what that involved?

In 1980, the booklet "Protect and Survive" was finally published. It was the guidance that was meant to be issued to individual households in the run-up to an anticipated nuclear strike. The issuing of that guidance turned out to be a public relations and a political disaster. It led the essayist E. P. Thompson to produce a counterblast, a radical manifesto called "Protest and Survive". The nub of the case made by Thompson, who later founded European Nuclear Disarmament, was that by suggesting that any effective measures could be taken to protect the community against the effects of a nuclear war, one was trying to anaesthetise the community, or to lull it into a false sense of security that a nuclear war would be survivable.

I am sure that if we could look into the minutes that have been flying around various Government Departments about the advice that should be issued to households, families and communities, we would see repeated references to the disastrous decision to make public copies of "Protect and Survive" more than 20 years ago. However, the parallel does not really hold; a nuclear war launched by a nuclear superpower, or any major nuclear power, would have been likely to overwhelm the majority of civil defences, whereas we are considering attacks that, although they might use weapons supplied by a state producer, will involve small quantities of weapons —I shall say more about that later. Admittedly, weapons of mass destruction, even when applied in small quantities, can still have large and

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horrifying results. However, we are working in a strategic and military environment in which the possibility of palliative action is much greater than it was in 1980. Therefore, it would be a mistake to hold back from issuing such practical guidance as can be issued, to the public in good time, despite the sensitivities arising from the lesson of more than two decades ago.

I was a little surprised by the naivety of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington when he said that we must ensure that there are no chinks in our armour against such attack. We can no more ensure that than we could ensure that there were no chinks in our armour against terrorist attacks by the IRA from 1969 onwards. The fact is that small numbers of people are all that are required to ensure that considerable numbers of people die or are seriously injured in such an attack.

I am not in a position to know the answers to the questions that need to be asked about the preparations that the Government should be taking, but I know some of the questions that should be asked.

Mr. Watts : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that little advice can be given to individuals about how to protect themselves? I am talking about what the institutions can do. If the hon. Gentleman does not agree with that premise, can he say what actions can be taken by individuals? When we had an emergency in my area, it was up to the authorities to inform residents about what was happening and arrange back-up support for the community. Individuals were not able to take any action; the organisations had to do so.

Dr. Lewis : The hon. Gentleman has made several contributions to the debate, but I do not agree with him about his latest one. After an attack, two courses of action can be taken. A radiological, chemical and biological weapons flying squad full of specialist techniques and equipment can descend rapidly on the area to help people. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is approaching the problem with that attitude. I should be interested to hear from the Minister whether the Government are approaching the matter with the same attitude and if they are building a network of flying squads to help the afflicted parts of the community as soon as an attack is reported. Perhaps the main emphasis will have to be placed in that direction.

Mr. Watts indicated assent.

Dr. Lewis : However, thinking particularly about chemical and biological, not radiological, weapons, there are probably some emergency measures that individuals who suspect that they have been showered with potentially lethal material could take in the first few minutes to lesson significantly the likelihood of fatal effects. I have no scientific expertise in the matter, which I am sure is blindingly obvious to other hon. Members. However, given that the Royal Navy, which for years has had pre-wetting systems on its ships to douse the superstructures and slough off radiation, chemicals or other material that is deposited on them, I am sure that some fairly basic advice could be given to individuals for them to follow if they knew that they had been attacked.

I admit—talking about biological weapons and germs—that people might not know that they had been attacked. Either my hon. Friend the Member for East

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Devon (Mr. Swire) or the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said that there might be a time lapse, but in the case of a chemical attack there is a reasonable chance that people might know whether they had been contaminated. I draw attention especially to a biological organism, such as anthrax, or persistent chemical weapons that contaminate and work over time. They could be reduced in their lethality by the taking of immediate steps to wash them off, change clothing or take other simple but practical measures.

Tom Brake : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that providing advice might be one way of preventing large numbers of people who suspect that they have been affected by a chemical attack from turning up at hospital? The advice might be that they need not refer themselves to a hospital.

Dr. Lewis : In those circumstances, I think that emergency broadcasts would be made continually to inform the community whether it had been subjected to an attack. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman's basic point that some practical advice should be issued from the bottom up, even if the main focus of the Government's approach is for specialist organisations—which I hope we shall hear they are putting together—to descend from the top down and rescue the people who have been attacked.

I will not take up much more time, but I wish to make a couple of remarks on the history of some of these weapons to see whether we can learn any lessons from it.

Mustard gas was used to great effect in world war one, but it was not used in world war two because the Churchill Government made it absolutely clear that if the Nazis used it we would retaliate and our retaliation would be effective because we had huge stocks of it. Churchill even made that promise on behalf of our Russian allies: they did not have retaliatory stocks and Churchill said that if the Russians were attacked we would use that gas on their behalf. In that instance, deterrence worked.

At the end of the war, the allies occupying Germany were horrified to discover huge stocks of tabun—the first of the nerve gases—and small stocks of sarin and soman, which the Nazis were developing. They were also not used because of deterrence. Although the allies did not have those weapons and did not know that they could be made, the German leadership had been advised by its scientists that it was inconceivable that the allies would not have them too. Therefore, Hitler was deterred from using nerve gases by the mistaken belief that the allies had them.

In our current situation, the trouble with that sort of approach is that one does not know whether anything would deter an organisation such as Bin Laden's because the people who would launch the attacks do not care whether they die—and even welcome the prospect of death. In that context, deterrence does not work as effectively as it used to, which means that there is the prospect that some such attacks will succeed. As that is the case, people should receive at least some practical advice about what they can do, even if the main help will have to come from the Government. That was the most important point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington.

The best way to negate such attacks is to prevent them. To achieve that, Governments who are producing these weapons with the possible intention at some point

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in the future of putting them into the hands of the fanatics who will not hesitate to use them—such as the Iraqi Government—must be taken out of the equation.

2.48 pm

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) on securing the debate. He has taken a lot of interest in the issue, especially as he represents a London constituency. The current security threats tend to focus on the London area, so it is appropriate that hon. Members whose constituencies are in and around that city are so engaged in the debate.

My hon. Friend was right to broaden the question of emergency planning by considering such situations as floods and fuel protests. There are other comparable situations, such as explosions in chemical plants, which have occurred, as people in Humberside know, although, fortunately, such an incident has not occurred recently.

Emergency planning will be far more effective if it covers all such situations: it should not be confined to terrorist attacks. It is better that we think of all the situations as having to be dealt with in similar ways, not least because civil incidents occur fairly regularly. We can, in a sense, try out procedures that might be needed in a far more serious military situation when dealing with civil problems such as floods, which occur quite frequently.

The hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) talked of young and impressionable schoolchildren being assailed or damaged by the atmosphere of fear. That does not apply only to young and impressionable schoolchildren; this slightly older person is absolutely petrified every morning as the news comes on. It takes me back to my childhood. I was 14 in 1980, when "Protect and Survive" was published. I remember it well. We had a slightly different version that gave all the instructions about getting under the table and putting the wet blanket on top, but ended with the injunction that we should put our heads between our legs and kiss our appendages goodbye. That version came out from some of the mickey-taking—[Interruption.] I am told that that must have been the Kama Sutra; perhaps it was a merger of the two.

There is a serious point to be made, however. Psychological damage is caused by an overdose of fear, although I hesitate to say so. We should remember that in our civil defence planning. We do not want to cause unnecessary alarm. We want people to be properly prepared, and unnecessary alarm is damaging. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington was right to talk about the human factors associated with civil defence planning. It is not just about getting inoculations to those who need them, but about dealing with issues such as crowd control, fear and panic, which can cause major problems.

We need to be clear when issuing advice. My hon. Friend was suggesting that we tell people not only what they should be worried about, but what they should not. We need to tell people when things are okay. We have had experience of that with diseases such as meningitis. That disease is a killer and causes problems, but we have been careful to issue advice that tells parents not only when they should take their children to hospital, but when it would be unnecessary to do so. That kind of advice is important.

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Fear can itself cause damage. There was evidence of that in Sheffield a couple of years ago. An incredible rumour spread around the city that the IRA was planning to attack Meadowhall, our local shopping centre. Everyone in the city knew about it. The evidence cited was the fact that body bags were being taken to the shopping centre in preparation for when people were killed by the supposed IRA attack. The whole city believed the rumour, and people did not go to Meadowhall in case the IRA attack occurred. It turned out that what had been seen was Marks & Spencer taking in a load of suit carriers; perhaps hon. Members know what they look like. The delivery had gone in through the back door, but because of the heightened state of awareness, that information had circulated around the city.

There is a serious point to be made. It is important to get accurate information to people, so that we do not cause fear or, indeed, unnecessary economic damage, which is the other major factor that the Government are trying to balance. In the present circumstances, if, as the papers report, there is a threat to aviation, one of the options would be to close Heathrow. That would cause huge economic damage. We always need to balance the damage—generally economic—caused by closing facilities because of an acknowledged risk, and the risk of the attack materialising. Striking a balance is a tough challenge for anyone in a position of authority.

Tom Brake : Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not dwell too much on "Protect and Survive", as I am sure the Minister will issue some guidance soon, but instead consider providing guidance on where people can get their information from? That might be from announcements on the BBC, the radio, text messages and so on.

Mr. Allan : My hon. Friend is entirely correct. We are talking about accurate information and where it can be obtained. I am about to make some concrete suggestions about our information technology infrastructure, which will not surprise the Minister, as that is my main area of interest. It is an increasingly important subject in the context of civil planning.

My hon. Friend reminds me about the need to ensure that there is accurate information. One of the downsides of the great spread of the internet, for example, is that it is the perfect vehicle for circulating misinformation as well as good information. It would be helpful if people were told what kind of broadcasts they could expect and what channels they were on. They could take that information on board and—this could increase awareness—set it against some of the misinformation about increased suspicion that may circulate at times, either through word of mouth or through other less appropriate forms of the media, whether official or unofficial. Some of the more lurid stories that have been printed in the press have not helped people.

I turn to the information technology infrastructure. Some important questions must be answered. Computer networks and telephone networks have increasingly merged, so that it is hard to say what is one and what is the other. After 11 September, we saw how essential

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communications networks were in responding to civil defence situations, and we became especially aware of the fact that communications networks can be vulnerable. Whether or not information networks are deliberately targeted, if they are taken out, their loss can cause major problems for those who are trying to deal with the aftermath of a disaster.

At the time of the great millennium bug, the Government engaged in civil defence planning for the information infrastructure; I think that it was the last time that they seriously engaged in it. A good exercise was set up, in which the industry was brought together, Ministers took part, Government systems were rated for their vulnerability to the bug and all kinds of measures were put in place. That was an important exercise in the discipline of information assurance, which secures the quality and continuity of our information systems.

The Government said at the time that they did not want all that work to be wasted. They said that, although the millennium bug did not bite us seriously in the end, they wanted to take forward the work that had already been done. Because they had got people together and thinking about the resilience of information systems, they wanted to ensure that that work was not stopped at the beginning of 2000. I hope that the Minister will tell us that there has been some continuity and that the people who came together for the millennium bug are considering the resilience of our information systems in the context of other potential threats.

If any of our major infrastructure—one thinks, for example, of the banking system—went down and was unavailable for a time, the consequences in terms of potential civil chaos would be severe. We must think about what would happen if a major data centre were lost, whether through a deliberate terrorist incident or, referring back to my earlier comment on wider questions, through a major national disaster. The resilience of key infrastructure systems such as the banking system is essential. I hope that the Government will work with bodies such as the Information Assurance Advisory Council, which is a good industry body that is trying to deal with the issue, and with the major industry representatives to ensure that our infrastructure is as resilient as possible.

The public agencies also need to look at their systems. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned that the Benefits Agency may be important after some civil or other disaster. That agency is utterly dependent on its IT system. The question of whether that works will become critical at a time of potential civil disorder. Other systems are obviously important. For example, the air traffic control system will be essential to maintain transport. A direct or indirect attack on such a system due to some kind of chaos would be very serious.

Information systems could be put in place to improve matters. We recently saw chaos on London Transport caused by snow—a major civil disaster from an inch of snow. However, that situation was made worse by the lack of available information. There was a domino effect. People turned up at one tube station, were told that it had closed and went to the next station, which had to be closed because of overcrowding. Everyone then moved to the next station and so on.

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If one is involved in such a situation, as I was a couple of weeks ago when I tried to use the transport system, the only means of information is apparently someone shouting up from the station and telling others whether platforms are overcrowded. If we are thinking about any major civil disorder or emergency, with millions of people in the centre of London trying to get out, we must have better information systems that tell people what they should do, whether they should stay put and what the best ways in and out of the city are. At the moment, the system seems to be far too dependent on turning up at places. By the time people have reached that place, they are already part of the problem, because they are adding to the crowd that one is trying to disperse.

The other area that I think the Government should look at is the law relating to attacks on information infrastructure. The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) referred to the issue of prevention. We may have some difference of political view over the context in which he mentioned it, but prevention of attacks on computer systems is an area in which the Government could strengthen the law. The current law—the Computer Misuse Act 1990—is old and outdated, given the nature of some recent attacks, including distributed denial of service, a well-known phenomenon whereby people try to block access to websites. At a normal time, such a problem may be annoying, but at a time of civil disaster, the blocking of access to websites that the Government have created to inform citizens about what is going on becomes a much more serious issue. The law may be too weak to deal with that occurrence at present.

The law could be strengthened to deal with attacks that are ancillary to the main function of the computer system, which try not to break the computer system but to cause mischief, and attacks that deliberately target computer systems. The smart terrorists of the future may carry out such attacks to cause disorder.

It is important to ensure that the public have information about who is responsible for what—it has been referred to a few times already. One may have the local authority, the health care trust and the strategic health authority involved. In my area of south Yorkshire, residuary bodies are responsible for civil defence; we used to have a county council. All sorts of bodies are involved.

We can have political debates at this level about whether we should have a homeland security tsar and about similar questions, but that does not matter to people on the ground. When something happens in their area, they need to know who to talk to—is it the chief executive of the local council or someone else? I hope that the Government can ensure that on the ground in local authority areas local contact points are clearly available to people. That would contribute to a sense of security.

3.2 pm

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) on securing the debate and on his perception, given that it is now more timely than when he applied for it. I agreed with several of the points he made, especially about security airside. There have been too many scares, not only at Heathrow, but at most airports. As he rightly said, it is outrageous that Britain continues to run such a risk.

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My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) referred to schools and to the fact that these issues need to be handled sensitively because of the risk of upsetting young children. I was a bit surprised to hear the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) say that he woke up frightened every morning—even I thought that the Liberals were bigger men than that, but we live to be corrected.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) spoke about deterrence. He is right to differentiate between the cold war scenario, when deterrence was a major factor, and the risks and threats we face today. The Civil Defence Act 1948—the original Act dealing with emergency powers—enshrined the words

but, realistically, Britain is not under threat from a foreign power and, at least for the foreseeable future, it is unlikely to be. However, that does not mean that there is not a serious and significant threat.

As other hon. Members have pointed out, that threat has been present since 11 September nearly 18 months ago. Not only that, but we are daily reminded of the threat by arrests of suspected terrorists, ricin discoveries, the Prime Minister telling the nation that an attack is imminent, and yesterday's deployment of troops at Heathrow. The closer we come to war with Iraq, the greater that threat must be.

After 18 months and two Queen's Speeches, we still have not seen any Government legislation, or even a draft White Paper, on how we can better co-ordinate and prepare our emergency services and civilians for an attack. In the words of David Veness, the Assistant Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis responsible for anti-terrorism:

The Government have acknowledged, fairly, that existing legislative provisions for dealing with any type of threat to civil protection need updating. The Government have said that they are committed to introducing legislation to deal with such issues when parliamentary time allows—an age-old phrase. In the 18 months since the attack in New York, international terrorism has reared its ugly head in many other places in the world. Terrorism has shown its capabilities, yet the Government have found no time in the parliamentary agenda to introduce legislation to set up a more modern and sophisticated emergency planning system.

The Bill team gave their proposals to the Government only in December 2002. I have the discussion paper for a Bill team meeting dated 5 December 2002. The document is produced by civil servants, not politicians. It clearly states:

The emergencies to which the document refers are flooding, foot and mouth and the fuel crisis—goodness knows what it would have said in the event of a chemical or biological attack. It continues:

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It is agreed that we face a huge challenge to reform our emergency planning procedures, yet the Government have done nothing to speed up that process of reform, and the Opposition have not been asked for their co-operation. Only this morning, the Minister without Portfolio described the emergency situation that we face. Frankly, the excuse of having to find parliamentary time is an insult. The importance of legislation to provide a co-ordinating mechanism cannot be stressed enough; neither can the need for a dedicated person to lead and co-ordinate Government efforts. Liberal Democrat Members seem to forget that this is their policy, but they dismiss our call—which I now repeat—for a Cabinet Minister to take responsibility for homeland security.

That is still necessary. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary clearly do not have time to give the matter the 100 per cent. devotion that it justly deserves. Having shifted responsibility for the subject from the Home Office to the Cabinet Office, it is odd that the Prime Minister appointed the Home Secretary as chairman of the co-ordinating committee. However, an individual Cabinet Minister needs to take overall responsibility. The National Audit Office has reported that one in four of our hospitals and one in three ambulance services

and that an incident involving 500 or more casualties would seriously challenge the national health service. What is being done to change that situation? Who is in charge of changing it? Should an unfortunate incident occur, would the Government be able to deal with the eventualities arising from it?

Hon. Members have referred to the different tiers of local government. I remind the Minister that district councils currently receive no funding and have no statutory obligation in this respect, yet, as the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts) said, they are in the front line of dealing locally with any situation that may arise.

Other questions need to be asked. Have the Government made any provision to ensure that there are sufficient supplies of vaccines in the event of a smallpox attack on a large city? What measures have been taken regarding the issue of chemical and biological protection suits? Have any stockpiles of such suits been made and how would they be made available? Are there any measures to deal with mass radiation if we are hit by a dirty bomb of some sort?

Hon. Members have referred to the "Protect and Survive" document. When I attended a course at the Civil Defence College in the early 80s, I learned the advice perceived to be the best at the time. The hon. Member for St. Helens, North has referred to this. In hindsight we can look back and say that it was stupid and pathetic: clearly, hiding under a kitchen table is not going to help. Nevertheless, making people aware that there were measures that they could take—measures that seemed sensible at that time—reassured them. There is something that individuals can do.

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Yesterday, America published advice to all its citizens on the self-protection measures they can take. When will the UK Government do likewise? I do not suggest that they should offer similar advice, because inevitably the advice for this country would have to be different, but they should offer advice on what individuals could do if certain events occurred. As hon. Members have said, the Government should also give advice on where people should look for information in the event that something happens.

Given that there is a legion of new radio and television channels coming on air almost daily, people need guidance on what mechanism will be used to disperse information—whether the Government will always use BBC 1, for example. The time has come for the Government to stop sending out cryptic messages to the public warning them to be vigilant. Those warnings have been in tube trains and railway stations for years, reflecting different threats of the time. What exactly do the Government mean by "being vigilant"?

It is too late to be accused of scaremongering: there is a scare. It is not right to argue that to take action would be to give in to terrorists. Why else do we have troops at Heathrow? The threat is already disrupting our lives and we have to face up to it. It is far better to take steps to ensure that the threat's long-term impact on our lives is minimised than to take short-term measures. The Government must admit to the people of Britain that there are huge threats facing the country, and they must assist the people to prepare themselves for an attack. That should be done in a calm and reassuring manner; but as with any threat, precautions must be taken. We should tell the people and trust the people.

Only a few weeks ago protesters entered the Sizewell B power station—an event that the Government dismissed as being of no importance. I was chairman of the local authority at the time of the Sizewell B enquiry, and I challenged the experts on what would happen if an aircraft intentionally impacted on the power station. I was laughed out of court—but I was also told that they could not guarantee the integrity of the structure in that event. Now, 17 or 18 years later, none of us would dismiss the possibility or the likelihood of such a thing happening.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred to the London underground and the need to ensure that passengers understand what they should do in the event of an emergency. I would like to mention another matter, light-hearted but important none the less. Ten days ago, I was one of the many hundreds of people trapped on the M11 motorway. Some of my constituents spent 12, 14 or 16 hours trapped there. The emergency services did not co-ordinate to resolve the situation. Some will dismiss this as a trite and irrelevant observation, but countless people who were trapped in that traffic jam have since asked me, "If that is what it was like with a couple of inches of snow, how on earth will we cope if there is a chemical, biological or radiological attack?"

That is an important lesson for us to learn. If neither local nor central Government could deal with a spell of bad weather that we knew was coming at least 48 hours before it arrived, how can we be reassured that the Government could deal with what I pray will never happen—a terrorist attack?

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3.15 pm

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Douglas Alexander) : I have listened to the debate with great interest and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) for securing time to debate these issues, which are significant for every resident of this country. I know from his discussions with my noble Friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston how interested he is in these matters, as was evident from his remarks today. I also pay tribute to his colleague, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), for his measured questions.

I shall endeavour to respond, in the time available, to the points that have been made, beginning with one or two of the questions asked by the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire). He upbraided me for not responding immediately to every point that was raised and for looking at the material that was passed to me. I make no apology for speaking on these issues with great deliberation, and choosing my words carefully. I hope that all hon. Members would do the same.

Mr. Swire : If the Minister checks Hansard tomorrow, he will see that I did not in any way condemn him for not making notes. I just hoped that he would deal with my points, which he evidently is about to do.

Mr. Alexander : I am grateful for that clarification. With the hon. Gentleman's indulgence, I shall do exactly that.

The hon. Gentleman asked for guidance on the important issue of schoolchildren in the Greater London area. All schools and local authorities in England have been made aware that they can obtain guidance on dealing with terrorism from the UK Resilience website. Many local authorities have also issued guidance to schools in their areas to assist with emergency planning.

The Department for Education and Skills will again draw attention to the general guidance available in its routine mailing to local education authorities and to schools. However, in the event of a threat of an incident, the local police will of course work with schools to ensure that they are protected and will implement the relevant emergency plans. This is another clear instance of our responsibility to make people alert but, particularly when the constituency that we are dealing with is young children, not to cause unnecessary alarm.

As to the key points made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, I hope that all hon. Members appreciate that the widespread circulation of a document such as the London resilience report could be prejudicial to security. I reiterate to hon. Members that the London resilience team provided him with detailed briefings on the contents of the report. Indeed, I can think of few circumstances in which a Minister's officials, the night before a debate in this Chamber, would willingly participate in briefing an Opposition Member on a matter of this kind. I am glad that in this instance they were forthcoming.

I was particularly perplexed by the hon. Gentleman's line of questioning about the London resilience report, given that I am led to believe by my officials that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions, who is responsible for London

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resilience, has said that he is happy to discuss any specific concerns that the hon. Gentleman may have. I hope that he will consider that invitation.

Tom Brake : Does the Minister agree that detailed briefings on the report are not the same as having that report, which is a lengthy one, in one's hand and being able to identify which organisations are not making swift enough progress with their emergency planning? Opposition Members with that information could put pressure on those organisations.

Mr. Alexander : Perhaps this is a matter on which there is a divide not only between the Government and the Opposition but between Opposition parties. It is perfectly appropriate for Ministers to remain accountable for actions for which they are responsible.

The reasoned question from the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) was an update on the stage that we have reached in implementing the London resilience report. All the recommendations have been progressed, although circumstances have changed in some cases. None the less, many of the recommendations have been or are being implemented. Implementation is being monitored by the London resilience forum, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, acts as deputy. A detailed, one-year-on report to the London resilience Cabinet Committee and the Home Secretary will follow in due course.

The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to acknowledge that the vetting of security staff lies outwith my direct responsibility, but I will ensure that his points are passed on and made clear to the Department for Transport.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Government's approach to warning and informing the public in the circumstances of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack. The response to a CBRN incident will vary according to several factors, including the strength, volume, nature and method of release of the contaminant. In some scenarios—this is an important point, given the concern expressed by hon. Members—people would be advised to evacuate; in others, they would be advised to stay put. Advice would therefore have to be carefully considered, given the possibility that it might turn out to be unhelpful. Of course, work continues on the matter, but it is already clear that the public should follow the instructions given to them by the emergency services.

That leads directly to the hon. Gentleman's next point. He questioned the emergency services' capability effectively to direct people during an incident. However, the emergency services have vast experience of communicating with crowds following major incidents, using loudspeakers and a range of other methods. All the evidence shows that the public do indeed respond positively to instructions given by the emergency services following major incidents. Top-level strategic guidance will be given to all agencies, and protocols for handling crowds at CBRN incidents will flow from it. They will address the specific responses needed to deal with distressed people at major incidents, and I should make it clear that the emergency services are used to

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working closely together to handle such people. Regrettably, we can draw on experience when ensuring that preparations are in place.

Mr. Paice : The Minister is right in what he says about communication and the emergency services. I do not want to be accused again of scaremongering, but does he not accept that we could be talking about a scenario that has never been seen before in this country? What he describes as major incidents—perhaps a train crash, involving a few hundred people—may be tragic, but they could be absolutely minuscule compared with the worst-case situation.

Mr. Alexander : I hope that all hon. Members will understand if I do not speculate about particular instances. However, I think that there will be agreement across the Chamber that we are not talking about a direct analogy to the situation in 1980, which was dealt with under the "Protect and Survive" approach. The nature of that threat was specific, and the responses could reflect that. Now, however, there is at least the possibility of a range of different methods being used to precipitate an incident. That is why a different approach must be adopted, and that is reflected in the work that the Government are undertaking.

Dr. Lewis : Will the Minister address the specific point? If the type of attack is to be more limited than the all-out attack envisaged in the early 1980s, will there be specialised teams that can quickly descend on affected areas to help people?

Mr. Alexander : The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, to which I was hoping to come. Local responders—this is an important caveat to what I am about to say—remain the building blocks of emergency response in the United Kingdom. However, specialist central support would be available to supplement those local responders, who will be on the front line in such incidents. In that sense, he is accurate in thinking that one must ensure that the emergency services in the location are supported by the appropriate skills and knowledge from the centre. That gives a sense of the work that the Government are undertaking on these matters.

Tom Brake : Although the Minister may be about to come on to these points, am I right in thinking that he would rely entirely on advice from the emergency services to be distributed to individuals in case of a CBRN incident, and that the Government have no intention of providing any information through either leaflets or contact points where people can get information about CBRN?

Mr. Alexander : No. The UK Resilience website is available. I have some sympathy for some of the points that were made about the fact that one of our key challenges is to ensure that the appropriate level of information is shared with the appropriate organisations in advance. However, there is of course ongoing work in the Government to ensure that in a major incident there are means such as the media, for

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example, through which direct communication can be achieved beyond the operational control exercise on the ground by the emergency services.

I am conscious of time and fear that I might not be able to cover all the points that hon. Members made. However, on the range of organisations that are being considered under the Civil Contingencies Bill, I shall endeavour to be specific. The Government have not yet reached a final conclusion on the list of organisations to be covered by the proposed statutory duties. However, we think it unlikely that the Bill will result in organisations doing less than they do now. Therefore I do not envisage the situation that it was suggested might arise in which a utility company would have a lesser responsibility than it has at present, whereby there is a range of regulatory and statutory duties to emergency plan.

On the separate, but related issue of the role of central Government and agencies, the roles and responsibilities of Departments are clearly set out on the UK Resilience website, but we are currently finalising a set of auditable standards for contingency planning for Departments. That bears on the question of whether there should be a statutory duty imposed on particular Departments. Those auditable standards will set out the requirements in even greater detail than there has been in the past. We simply do not accept that there is a total lack of preparation on the part of the Benefits Agency, which is among the agencies currently considering such issues. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington raised those matters directly with my noble Friend Lord Macdonald, who undertook to respond.

On the general point of the public information campaign, I merely reiterate the point that the hon. Member for New Forest, East made, that we must be considered and measured in the advice that we give, and ensure that we strike the right balance, keeping the public informed and not provoking an overreaction. To be alert but not alarmed is the right attitude for the Government to strike in an evolving situation that is under constant review. The right response to an emergency, in terms of communications and the operational response, will vary according to the exact nature of that emergency. We are therefore concentrating on being able to get the right information to members of the public who might be affected as quickly as possible in any particular emergency.

As much as time allows, I shall address the points that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) made about how the UK at national level is preparing to deal with emergencies and disruptive challenges, and shall demonstrate how matters are being organised. I hope that I can assure hon. Members that we are making reasonable efforts to ensure that we are sufficiently prepared to handle any of the variety of incidents that could affect the United Kingdom.

The Home Secretary has overall responsibility for the safety and security of the citizens of the United Kingdom. He is in charge of security and also supervises all current counter-terrorist and resilience work by Departments, in his capacity as chairman of all the relevant Cabinet Committees. He is the person best placed to do his job, as he has direct responsibility for the main elements of the work to counter the current threat from terrorism: the intelligence work of the security service; counter-terrorist policy; and building

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resilience against the terrorist threat. He chairs the three Cabinet Sub-Committees, bringing together the work of the Departments. The first of those Committees oversees the work to strengthen the UK's defences against terrorism, which the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire mentioned. The second works to build the UK's resilience and ability to manage the consequences of major emergencies. The third meets to oversee the lead Departments' management of major emergencies and manage their wider effects. That Committee, the Civil Contingencies Committee, is also attended by representatives of the relevant emergency services and other agencies.

Supporting the Home Secretary in that work is Sir David Omand, who was appointed the Government's security and intelligence co-ordinator and permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office last summer. That new post was created to enhance the capacity at the centre of Government to co-ordinate security, intelligence and consequence management matters and to deal with risks and major emergencies, should they arise. Working in support of the Home Secretary and Sir David Omand is the civil contingencies secretariat in the Cabinet Office. It has the task of co-ordinating the UK's resilience to the threats and disruptive challenges that face us today. If—

Mr. Bill O'Brien (in the Chair): Order. Time is up. We must move on to the next debate.

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