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Mr. Darling: There are two points. First, I do not think that anyone can be in any doubt that vigorous cost control is necessary. Costs in the industry have risen far faster than they should have, and cost control, particularly under Railtrack, was not adequate. Secondly, I add a word of caution in respect of British Rail. The Government are spending more, partly because we want to put money into the railways and partly because the true scale and nature of the network became apparent only after Hatfield. As Network Rail began to go through Railtrack's books, it discovered the backlog of investment that had built up over years. British Rail was a master at managing whatever the Government of the day happened to give it, which sometimes meant making do and mending rather than putting in place proper investment. Therefore, comparing today's figures with those under BR is not always comparing like work with like work. I agree with my hon. Friend—nobody could disagree with this proposition—that if we are to spend money on the railways, we must ensure that we get value for money and that costs are brought under control.

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Point of Order

4.36 pm

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of which I have given Mr. Speaker notice.

As well as the major changes to the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill that I raised last week, the Government have announced further additions, extending the familial homicide provisions, domestic homicide reviews and restraining orders to Northern Ireland, despite the fact that the Bill has begun its passage in Grand Committee today in another place. I am sure that Mr. Speaker shares my belief that we need some certainty over what this important legislation will contain so that he can manage proceedings effectively in this House. Will you advise me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on how we can prevent the Government from constantly adding major provisions to the Bill so late in proceedings?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I thank the hon. Lady for giving notice of the point of order that she wished to raise. As she acknowledged, the Bill remains for the moment in the other place. Given that it has not yet reached this House, it would be wrong of me at this stage to comment on its contents. It would seem better to deal with the matter as and when it reaches this Chamber. In the meantime, she might like to institute proceedings through the usual channels.

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Orders of the Day

Civil Contingencies Bill

[Relevant documents: Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill, Session 2002–03, HL Paper 184 & HC 1074; Seventh Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2002–03, HC 557 on the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill; Fifteenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2002–03, HL Paper 149 & HC 1005; and the Government's Response to the Reports of the Joint Committee and of the Defence Committee, Cm 6078.]

Order for Second Reading read.

4.37 pm

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Alexander) rose—

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill is to be moved by a Minister of State in the Cabinet Office. It is clear from the Bill that its main powers will be conferred on the Prime Minister and Secretaries of State. It seems extraordinary that a Bill of such importance, which repeals the Emergency Powers Acts 1920 and 1964, should be introduced by a fairly junior Minister.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the Second Reading is to be moved by the Minister who presented the Bill to the House in the first place. It is therefore not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Alexander: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Following a wide-ranging process of consultation and discussion, the Bill was published on 7 January. The aim of the Bill and accompanying non-legislative measures is to deliver a single framework for civil protection in the United Kingdom—providing a framework to meet the challenges of the 21st century. That is an objective that we have been working towards, with the assistance of many both inside and outside the House, since the emergency planning review was launched in August 2001.

I will in turn set out for the House the background, principles and content of the Bill. In particular, I will set out an explanation of the legislation that we are replacing, and why we are doing so now; the open and consultative process by which we arrived at the Bill; a description of the wider context in which we introduced the legislation, considering both current and future risks and threats; and a description of the provisions, including the definition of "emergency", the new framework for local and regional response to emergencies, and the modernised approach to emergency powers.

Finally, I shall address some of the specific issues about which concern has been expressed by some hon. Members who have already had the opportunity to consider the published Bill.

The current framework for civil emergency planning was not designed with the needs of modern society in mind. Planning at local level is still governed by the Civil

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Defence Act 1948. Enacted at the start of the cold war, that Act was designed specifically to deal with the local contribution to national civil defence efforts; it focused solely on the threat of hostile attack and did not address the much wider range of civil emergencies. It is perhaps the final vestige of cold war civil defence architecture, much of the rest of which has already been dismantled.

Even older is our country's emergency powers framework. Most states have made provision for Governments to take emergency powers in a crisis to assist in managing national emergencies and to ensure a speedy return to normality. In Britain, the Emergency Powers Act 1920 was introduced after the end of the first world war and in the immediate aftermath of the 1919 police strike. Obviously, the 1920s were witness to a very different sort of society and economy from the one we know today: motor cars were still few and far between, much communication was still done by letter, computers were 40 years away and did not govern complex delivery systems, and television was yet to be invented.

Despite that, the basic rationale of the Emergency Powers Act holds good. In the UK, for more than 80 years, emergency powers have meant urgent specific new legislation in place temporarily to deal with the most serious emergencies. The Government hold to that approach and the Bill reflects that: it is a special legislative mechanism for abnormal situations. That is the UK approach to emergency powers that has served this country under Governments of all complexions for most of the past century.

The problem with the existing Acts is that they were drafted for a different time and different circumstances. The 1948 Act only requires local authorities to plan in preparation for hostile attack by a foreign power. The range of activities local authorities plan for far exceeds those set out in the Act and is therefore not adequately covered by legislation. In addition, the Act does not set out the specific types of activity, such as risk assessment and information sharing, that are vital to the success of local-level planning.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Minister mentions information sharing. A practitioner put it to me that one of the obstacles in the way of contingency planning is the classification of documents and information, which prevents an appropriate contingency from being arrived at because of the inability to discuss the intelligence or other information on which the contingency is based. Is there a case for reducing the level of restriction or for derestricting some information, so that a better dialogue is possible between the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and the civilian organisations on which we depend to develop the plans?

Mr. Alexander: Clearly, we would have to be mindful of concerns that such information might fall into the hands of those who do not share the best interests of the population of the UK. As I explain the rationale behind that part of the Bill that deals with regional resilience forums, it will become clear that we take seriously the need to make sure that the appropriate information is in the appropriate hands so that emergency planning can be progressed.

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The Emergency Powers Act is drafted in terms of services essential to the life of the community in 1920: fuel, light and locomotion. Although those remain essential today, there are new services not included in the definition the disruption of which may have a significant impact on human welfare, such as health services, communications and the supply of money. Both the Civil Defence Act and the Emergency Powers Act do not take account of the significant cultural, technological and constitutional changes that took place in the second half of the last century.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): The Minister mentioned the role of local authorities. Will he discuss the planning role played by local authorities in today's world? I have often spoken with practitioners in the local authority who do not appear to be truly within the national loop and who are, in fact, not planning for much at all. My anxiety is that, in the event of a major national incident, the area that I represent—a constituency on the fringes of London—will be swamped by people moving out from the centre, without proper planning having taken place within the area.

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