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Mr. Heald: It is certainly true that the Local Government Association's response has been along those lines. We will press the Minister on that point because it is all well and good for Ministers to say, "There is a duty here; there is a duty there,"—indeed, there are seven new duties for local authorities in the Bill—but they will not work if the means are not willed into existence. That is why I mentioned not only resources but means of obtaining the work force on the ground and taking other practical measures necessary to achieve success.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The hon. Gentleman could pray in aid the Bellwin formula to support his argument.

Mr. Heald: That contribution is useful and helpful, and we will draw on it in Committee. However, I must not trespass on the good will of the House.

I pay tribute to the Joint Committee that examined the draft Civil Contingencies Bill, the Select Committee on Defence and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which have moved the pre-legislative scrutiny forward a long way. The Government must not be complacent that they have got the Bill 100 per cent. right, and I look forward to exploring the issues in Committee.

The British public have been lucky in the past because they have been prepared to take, and work with, the measures needed to protect their security, as well as fighting for freedom in two world wars in the past century. We should not think that the British public are weak, feeble and unwilling to understand. If there is an emergency and we must face new threats, I am sure that the British public will respond.

5.53 pm

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) (Lab): Some Members may be surprised that the Defence Committee produced an unsolicited report on the draft version of the Bill. They should not be surprised, because the Defence Committee has been actively engaged with the issue of home defence from 9/11 onwards. We have produced five reports dealing either in full or in part with the dangers, the consequences and what the Government should do.

In July 2002, in our report on defence and security in the UK, the Defence Committee said that new civil contingencies legislation was urgently needed. That was a year after the publication of the Government's original consultation document—the emergency planning review.

Today, hon. Members, including the Minister, have emphasised the importance of the Bill in establishing an effective framework for dealing with emergencies in the modern world, and I am glad that that consensus is emerging. In the past, our regularly repeated arguments that new legislation was necessary were not always met

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by such agreement from the Government. As late as March last year, the Government's excellent—in my view—security and intelligence co-ordinator, Sir David Omand, told us:

It has already been pointed out that the legislation has been a long time coming. In the light of its long gestation, I expected it to have 130 clauses rather than a modest 30, but we must be grateful that it has finally arrived. I am delighted that the Government have responded positively to the Defence Committee report and the report by the Joint Committee on the draft Bill, which was so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie). As my hon. Friend has said, and as the Defence Committee believes, the Bill is a significant improvement on the draft Bill of last June.

I want to concentrate on three issues: the respective roles of local government and national tiers, and co-ordination between them; the private sector, including the private security sector; and the military.

On local, regional and national tiers of government, the Bill places statutory responsibilities on local responders, which is welcome. However, the response to major emergencies must be co-ordinated at regional and, probably, national level. The Defence Committee was surprised that the draft Bill did not mention either of those tiers, although the consultation document, which was published at the same time, set out the Government's proposals for each. We concluded that the Government needed to explain their role and responsibilities as well as those of regional offices and officers, which were not included in the legislation. The Joint Committee went further than us and recommended not only that the Government's roles and responsibilities should be outlined in the Bill but that they should be given a statutory duty to undertake them.

The Government have rejected those recommendations. They argue that Ministers can task their Departments with appropriate roles and responsibilities without the need for legal duties or powers and that it is enough that Ministers are accountable to Parliament. This is not the time to enter into a protracted discussion about the accountability of Ministers to Parliament, except to say that in my 25 years on the Defence Committee I have frequently encountered situations in which Ministers have lacked enthusiasm in discharging that duty.

The Government's reply to the Defence Committee and the Joint Committee elaborated on that refusal. They explained that

I am surprised that after two years those structures have not gone beyond that stage—and that although

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that although local responders and local authorities have a democratic mandate, the

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resilience teams, which currently seem vague, are not under control and have no mandate? Does he agree that there could be a clash between local authorities, which are under the democratic control of councillors, and what could be described as unelected, unaccountable regional resilience tsars?

Mr. George: There might be a clash before a crisis. I hope that if there is a major crisis, there will be no time for any clashes about where democratic accountability lies, although my hon. Friend's point is true.

The explanation given by Ministers on lack of inclusion in legislation is not sufficient. By excluding themselves and the regional offices, the Government are sending the wrong message about the importance of these issues. They are saying that local authorities and local responders must be placed under statutory obligations, but they are not prepared to accept a similar responsibility themselves. There is therefore likely to be a continuing lack of clarity on what precisely can be expected from the Government and from what part of the Government there is to be that response.

To be fair, the Government recognised that when they said in their reply to the Joint Committee:

That is not quite good enough.

That leads me to my second complaint: even now there is far too little detail on how the arrangements will work. It appears that no decision has been taken on how the regional emergency co-ordinator will be appointed. As I said, the regional resilience structures are

In their response to the Defence Committee's recommendation, the Government stated:

In other words, the Government do not know how the system will work, and they will not really be able to differentiate should a crisis occur. So, I am not entirely happy. There is a certain lack of clarity and ambition in parts of the Bill.

I turn to a subject that is dear to me: the role of the private sector—the private commercial sector, the private security sector and those who hire private security. In our report on the draft Bill, the Defence Committee strongly argued that the membership of category 2 responders should be substantially increased to include a wide range of private companies that will have an important part to play in the civil contingency planning process. The Bill does not invest category 2 responders with extensive responsibility—quite the reverse. They are obliged only to provide information to, or to co-operate with, frontline local responders in connection with the latter's responsibilities to plan for emergencies. The Government argue that the category 2 network should be established on "a closely defined basis" so that the new structure will be able to function effectively "without over-reaching itself". Neither I nor the Committee is happy with that explanation.

Mr. Heald: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the report on Project Unicorn led by Major-General

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John Holmes, who used to lead one of the major SAS units and has genuine expertise in the field, cannot simply be treated with contempt?

Mr. George: I have not the slightest intention of commenting on a leaked document, even though that leaked document, which I have read, appears to correspond pretty closely to what I have written on a number of occasions. I shall simply use my own analysis and investigation of 27 companies and entities—large, medium and small—such as the Building Research Establishment, the police, the City of London, Canary Wharf, the gas and water industries, and so on. I will come to that point, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me to emphasise it even more strongly.

The new terrorist threats are more likely to involve an attack on the private sector. Statistics on patterns of global terrorism from the United States State Department prove that. If one wants further information, one need only look to the range of attacks on commercial buildings and entities such as those on St. Mary Axe, the City of London, Canary Wharf and so on. The private sector is likely to suffer a catastrophic emergency. One must add that, as a result of the policies of previous Governments and, dare I say, the present Government, the critical national infrastructure is far more likely to be in the hands of the private sector. So much of what will happen will impact—enormously, potentially catastrophically—on the private sector and its employees.

I suspect that many of the companies are prepared to co-operate on a voluntary basis—at least I hope that they are. They should be obliged by statute to co-operate. That would achieve two important things. First, it would represent an explicit recognition of the broad front on which the preparatory measures are intended to function. It would demonstrate the inclusivity of the Government's approach to civil contingencies and the modern interdependence of private and public organisations.

Secondly, such a measure would give those with responsibility for preparedness, security and business continuity planning the authority to extract the necessary resources from their companies. If one is head of a security operation in a big corporation—a facilities manager or a security manager—one will have the authority to say that money needs to be made available. However, research in the UK and the United States shows that very little money additional to what was available before 9/11 has been made available in companies to enhance security.

Such a provision would give heads of security in large and small private enterprises the ability to say, "We've simply got to do this," just as they must when it comes to fire regulation. There is no shilly-shallying over what to do about fire. As the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said, resources must be made available and security must be taken more seriously. For far too long, budgetary responsibility and expenditure have been low down the list of priorities. A legal obligation to take the subject more seriously would be welcome. I am sure that that would give budgetary requirements well deserved promotion.

Although it is important that the new structure can operate effectively, it is just as important that it reflects the reality of the modern world. The Defence

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Committee believes that, as currently proposed, it does not do so. I hope that the Minister will look again at making category 2 responders more inclusive.

We also made recommendations on the private security industry, which, after a long fight, is to be governed by a statutory licensing scheme. That will not kick in immediately. The first group to be included in legislation is that comprising door supervisors and—that heart of the security industry—wheel clampers. That will not have an enormous effect on the private sector response. When legislation affects other sectors of the private security industry, for that and other reasons it will raise its game considerably. Companies such as Securicor, Group 4 Securitas, Reliance and so on are very professional, and they should be and are available. Although I have not read the Unicorn report, I know that it goes into some detail on that.

It is estimated that there are more than 20,000 private security operatives in central London at any one time. They should be made available in an emergency; the companies should be required to make them available, perhaps voluntarily, perhaps not. Group 4 could well be asked to provide a certain number of employees, who should receive additional training. Perhaps that will increase the budget, but why should a company not only risk the lives of its employees but do so at its own expense? Numbers—I did not like the use the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire made of the word "bodies", as there will be quite enough of those around—of such people will be required to aid the police, the military if they are present and other members of what David Veness described as "the extended police family". It is important that the private security industry is included; we should not rely on the industry and the sector to co-operate voluntarily.

On a separate point, I draw attention to a specific area in which the lack of an appropriate legislative framework has the potential seriously to compromise the security of private sector buildings and their occupants. As I said, historically such buildings have been the targets of many terrorist attacks. Clearly, extensive legislation relating to private buildings is in place: one knows who is in charge and the roles of the occupiers, the owners, and the emergency services in the event of fire. However, as the hon. Gentleman said, fire is not the same as a terrorist threat.

Alarms and their nose and other senses tell people when there is a fire and they will act responsibly, but a terrorist attack is very different. It may well be that doubts arise as to whether the pilot of an aircraft flying somewhere near central London is in control of his aircraft. Are the intelligence services or the police going to transmit that information immediately to the facilities managers or the heads of security in the buildings in the area? I suspect that they will not. The police might be nervous about giving an order for immediate evacuation, because it might be the wrong order: heading out into the open might be more dangerous than staying inside. My questions are these: are the people who should give such an order trained in the task, and will they have proper legal protection so that if they give the order to evacuate and it turns out that there is no threat, they will not be legally liable to the various private companies that were so ordered? Caution in the absence of a clear authority may lead the

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facilities manager or head of security to be reluctant to give the order to evacuate, and the consequences of that reluctance may well be catastrophic.

Like fire legislation, legislation such as this should be devised to cover the design of buildings, how to evacuate, and who should evacuate. If I have managed to convince the Minister that there is a case, I earnestly ask that he accept my request, which has been communicated to him, to bring a small delegation of people who can argue the case again. I hope that he is prepared to do that.

The Defence Committee devoted a great deal of time to the military, who play a vital role in defending the security of the UK. One of the MOD's responses has been to establish the civil contingency reaction forces. That fits in with the Bill's tier structure in which the armed forces will be represented at the regional level, because, with two exceptions, the CCRFs' brigade areas match those of the Government offices for the regions, which will provide the basis for the regional tier. One of the recommendations in the report on the draft Bill stated that there were strong arguments for inclusion of the armed forces in local resilience forums as well as at regional level, to facilitate regular interaction with the bodies most likely to call for assistance, such as the local or regional police force.

In their response, the Government agreed with the sentiment, but decided not to make attendance at the local forums a statutory requirement, since

Let us pause for a moment. The footprint of the military in this country has got smaller and smaller and shallower and shallower, and I read stories in the papers—not that I believe them—that it may become even smaller: the Regular forces may have even fewer members, or they may well be somewhere abroad, dealing with terrorism far from British shores. I dislike intensely the idea that in a crisis the Government would not be able to guarantee the availability either of the Regular forces located somewhere in the country, either locally or regionally, or of the Territorial Army. That is precisely the sort of unimaginative old thinking that the Defence Committee has encouraged the Government to leave behind.

In the light of the change in the nature of the terrorist threat to the homeland, we have argued that the military has a responsibility to provide a "predictable element" of support for the civil authorities. Time and again during our Committee hearings, we were told that that could not be guaranteed because our forces had obligations elsewhere. Those who are planning told us that, in their experience, the arrival of the armed forces could not be calculated because they might not be available for use. I find that amazing. In my view, support for homeland defence should be an operational requirement of the armed forces, not an optional extra.

In fact, when disaster strikes, the military are always there. They find the resources and the capability to respond and their contribution is professional and effective, and often critical to the success of the overall response. Let me point out that during the recent fire services dispute, despite operational requirements in

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Iraq and elsewhere, 19,000 service personnel were committed to provide cover during possible industrial action by the Fire Brigades Union. I believe that if such a commitment can be sustained during a time of crisis—as when requirements have arisen in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Falkland Islands, and so on—the armed forces can be relied upon and should therefore have a formal place in the planning process.

The Committee also wanted the MOD to take the opportunity to review the structure of the arrangements for the armed forces to provide assistance to the civil authorities, which are set out under various acronyms including MACP, military aid to civil power, MAGD, military aid to other Government departments, and MACC, military aid to the civil community. We are disappointed that that has not happened.

The CCRFs were announced in summer 2002, but it took 18 months—until December 2003—for the Government to decide that full operating capability had been achieved. We remain concerned that some of the troops earmarked as members of the brigades may be deployed in operations overseas and will therefore not be available to be called out in a civil emergency. We are aware that that has already happened: call-outs to continuing operations in Iraq testify to that.

I am sorry to have taken so long, but we are worried that all is not well. The approach to planning and preparation for disasters, including large-scale terrorist attack, and other serious emergencies has been too gradualist. A preference for ramping up existing structures continues to be demonstrated, with an "It'll be okay on the night" attitude prevailing. A more fundamental assessment is needed of requirements today and tomorrow in the light of the global war on terrorism and the complex interdependence of modern society.

I welcome the Bill. There are good parts in it. Despite much criticism—I have contributed to some of it—there has been a significant improvement in the way in which we prepare and our response to a crisis. Much has been said and done about dealing, as far as is possible, with the human rights issue. Having talked today about a limited area, let me say in conclusion that I believe that the Bill is a good start, despite the long time that has elapsed since preparation started. There is still much to be done and I hope that the Government are still in listening mode. I hope that in Committee they will realise that the Bill has not yet reached the pitch of perfection that the public expect. If that pitch is not achieved and there is a crisis, the concept of ministerial responsibility will apply. I hope that the Government are prepared to listen to serious suggestions that are made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I wish the Bill speedy progress and effective scrutiny.

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