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3 Mar 2003 : Column 589—continued

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): The Home Secretary will be aware that earlier today his Department issued a written ministerial statement entitled "Civil contingency

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planning to deal with terrorist attack", which is obviously related to this matter. The penultimate paragraph states:

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Conservative Members have been pressing for such legislation for some time, so will he inform the House of his prospective timetable for that legislation and, specifically, when he anticipates that it will be enacted?

Mr. Blunkett: First, I want to make it clear that there has been no delay in the original timetable that was envisaged and spoken to by the Cabinet Office in relation to that Bill. It was always envisaged that we would update the historic legislation in terms of emergency powers and address the structural changes at regional and local level that such a Bill would allow us to undertake. The draft Bill will be published in the summer and put before the House in the autumn. It is important to recognise that in doing so we will be able to assure people that we are talking about updating and learning from experience in terms of the structural framework, as opposed to taking measures that need to be passed immediately, which we would do if it was necessary in order to safeguard our basic interests. Most people who have been involved in these changes are aware that they should perhaps have been made in the normal way a long time ago, and it is opportune that we are now able to bring them forward as quickly as we can and to reassure hon. Members that having the legislation in draft will allow their views to be taken into account.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) for mentioning the statement that I put out today on investment in civil resilience and on key areas for future work and the way in which we need to proceed.

The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire asked me about the material that should be made available. I have been looking with colleagues at what we should do to provide greatly improved access to the public, as well as to the House, in relation to what is already on the public record and is not held in terms of security-vetted material. That will ensure that people are much more aware, first, of what is being done, secondly, of the exercises that take place and why they take place and, thirdly, the kind of advice and information that the public would seek for themselves.

I therefore intend to establish in the next few weeks a dedicated website that will draw on all the readily available advice of the security and intelligence services, on civil resilience information and material that Departments publish on their task of protecting the public in this country. It will include readily available information not only on general civil contingency, resilience and protection but on specific events such as the emergency in and around Heathrow. We shall do that not least to ensure that people understand the difference between operational responsibility and accountability and politicians' responsibility and accountability.

We will be able to reassure people when they listen to the radio or watch television that, for example, action has been taken to provide adequate measures for

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smallpox vaccination. More than £30 million has been spent so far on acquiring the necessary vaccines, and more than 20 million doses exist in reserve. According to historical information, more than 50 per cent, of the population are already vaccinated against the disease. As the Minister of State for Health announced on 2 December, we will be able to advise people about vaccinating volunteers in the health service and in the armed forces as a preventive measure to ensure that they can do their job.

Given that politicians are not held in high esteem and trust is not readily given, politicians, including me, will not seek vaccination against smallpox unless the vaccine is made generally available to the population. We want it to be readily available to those who are closest to action such as ring-fencing areas to provide buffer zones.

I hope that the BBC as well as the general public can draw on the new website. However, I ask the BBC not to make weekly endeavours to worry people without cause. If information that should be available is not, and if so-called advisers believe that their advice has not been taken, we should act accordingly. I advise anyone who wants to say, in private or publicly, that there is a problem to come forward. I am thinking in terms not of a whistleblower's line but of an independent method other than approaching the "Today" programme whereby those who would like to throw suspicion on our preparedness or willingness to listen and act can express their views. We could thus sort matters out in a civilised and intelligent fashion without creating scare stories.

I shall also ensure that the hard copy of the material on the website is readily available in libraries throughout the country, although most are online and can assist people to gain access to it. I hope that that will establish a more open and transparent method of reassuring as well as informing, and that the necessary advice will be provided. We do not intend to replicate events in the United States and, to some extent in Australia, where there is the equivalent of "Protect and Survive". Older hon. Members will remember from the 1960s that that was mocked as being ridiculous.

We will not provide a ready market for those who would mislead people into believing that they have to buy this, that or the other for protection, thereby creating an industry rather than providing for reasonable and sensible protection. However, we shall ensure that we tell the public about any definable, specifiable risk. We will also tell them what is necessary to enhance their protection. We do that because we are in the same position as them. That is why I made the earlier comments on vaccines.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am interested in my right hon. Friend's comments. Does he realise that a sort of hysteria is currently sweeping the United States, where everyone is buying ducting tape in the belief that it will protect against all ills? Will he try to persuade the British public that such actions smack of panic rather than sense?

Mr. Blunkett: Similar tape is produced in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Mr. Gardiner), so I shall be extremely careful about what I say because, I think, President Ford

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finished off the broccoli industry in the United States. [Hon. Members: "It was Bush senior."] Was it? Goodness gracious! Right. President Bush senior.

The danger of the kind of advice that would lead people to go out and buy particular materials is self-evident. In the US, a new danger has arisen from people doing that—they have sealed off the normal sources of ventilation in their homes—so we all have to be extremely careful that the advice that we give is both sensible and proportionate and that it helps people to protect themselves, but I repeat that if there were a specific measure that would protect people in a set of circumstances where we believed that a particular threat was imminent or that that threat could be dealt with in that way, of course, we would have to say so.

I repeat that we believe that the renewal of the order and the derogation are justified and that the House should scrutinise this issue. It is correct that we should continue to issue updates and to ask for the public's patience not only where emergency measures triggered by intelligence and security advice have to be put in place, but where we undertake exercises precisely to identify where we need to take further action. It is in that spirit that I ask the House to renew the order this afternoon.

4.6 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I should start by saying that we have no intention whatever of seeking to divide the House on this measure. We agree with the Government that it will be necessary to continue the order in force—not that the Government are quaking in their boots about any effort on our part to stop it, but it is important to state our view at the outset.

The Home Secretary rightly and generously says that this part of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 is more surrounded, as he put it, than any other by reviews and sunset clauses. I use the word "generously" because there was an acknowledgement of the fact that Conservative Members and our colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches fought him into surrounding it with those devices. I hope that the next time the Home Secretary, in one of his less irenic moods, accuses us of having forced him to battle such things through, he will admit that it was rather a good thing that he did have to battle it through.

Having said that, it is important to pay attention to the character of the review that has taken place. As one would expect, Lord Carlile has produced a very serious report. The Home Secretary has announced today, if I understood him correctly, the acceptance of a slightly modified version of eight of Lord Carlile's recommendations, and we strongly welcome that. I agree with the Home Secretary that such things should be voluntary; we should not seek to force the 13 individuals, or subsequent individuals, into one place against their will.

It was interesting, en passant, that the report makes it clear that Lord Carlile discerned a difference between the conditions at Belmarsh and those at Woodhill, and I hope that the Home Secretary will pay attention to that. I am delighted to see that he is nodding.

Two other elements of Lord Carlile's report deserve pretty immediate attention, and I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to take them fully into account.

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The first is Lord Carlile's first recommendation that the pending hearings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission should proceed without awaiting the final determination of the challenge to the derogation. We all know how long it may take a case to go not just to the House of Lords, which will happen relatively soon in all likelihood, but—Lord Carlile makes this point—to Strasbourg, and it would be a great pity if we had to wait two years. Again, I am delighted to see Ministers nodding.

Perhaps more controversially, Lord Carlile referred to links to terrorism under section 21 of the 2001 Act—an issue that the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), and I raised on numerous occasions during proceedings on that Act.

Lord Carlile provides a splendid example of why we all pay lawyers so much in his examination of how we might tackle the problem of links. His exposition is lucid and, I find, compelling. In conclusion, he says that the

He continues:

I find that a compelling suggestion. I cannot understand why I did not think of it when the Act was a Bill now that I see it so well laid out; perhaps I did not hire legal advice as expensive as Lord Carlile's. As we now have the invaluable recommendation of an expensive and brilliant lawyer—at the Home Secretary's expense, not mine—I hope that he will take account of that suggestion.

I am not sure in what context that change can most expeditiously be made, and nor am I suggesting that we have another anti-terrorism Bill on the stocks before one can say, "Jack Robinson", "David Blunkett" or some such phrase. I hope that the Home Secretary will find a suitable moment, without adding to our legislative burdens, to introduce that change, and we would certainly co-operate with that.

With those adjustments, we are entirely convinced that the continuation is sober, proportional and right. The Home Secretary has evidently conducted his part of the bargain with exactly the seriousness that one would have expected. Lord Carlile makes it perfectly clear that he had access to all the information, and that he is content that all the decisions that have been made were made on the basis of the kind of consideration that was required.

Having occupied a few minutes saying with what we agree, I wish to occupy only a few minutes saying with what we do not agree. Strictly speaking, it is not the subject of the review, but I hope that the Home Secretary has given me licence to deal with it by mentioning the subject himself: the related question of the degree of preparedness to deal with a terrorist attack were it to occur.

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