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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention, which underlines exactly the point
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that I am trying to make. I do not want to expose what I regard as loopholes in our defences under the project, but the fact remains that there is much that would be reassuring and deterring if the Government were to deploy more knowledge.
"requiring local authorities and other public bodies to obtain specific static or mobile equipment which is designed to identify the presence of chemical material or biological organisms or radiological substances which might be used in a terrorist attack"
would be particularly telling. For example, how much of that mobile equipment is currently in the hands of non-uniformed organisations? How much of it is in the hands of uniformed organisations whose personnel are not yet trained properly in how to use it? On top of that, how much have the Government thought about using the expertise of the 60,000-odd soldiers, sailors and airmen who are all trained to a greater or lesser extent in this field? I suggest that the answer is not very much at all.
"The resilience to disruptive challenges is already high. There is a strong tradition of effective planning and response at the local level and 30 years of Northern Ireland terrorism has established a capability within Government and an awareness among businesses and the public which puts the UK in a comparatively strong position. But we are not complacent. Since 11 September 2001, the Government have substantially increased the country's counter-terrorism efforts and have improved contingency planning and resilience to a range of emergencies.[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 November 2004; Vol. 666, c. 782.]
I do not think so. Will the Minister tell us how many practical exercises the Government have carried out in resilience terms? I am not referring to table-top or command post exercises. How many practical exercises have there been of the sort that do not take place on a Sunday morning or in a barracks or another controlled area and in which there is a realistic level of civilian traffic, both pedestrian and vehicle, trains are running and there is a realistic amount of congestion to deal with? The answer is not one.
Will the Minister look closely at the amendments? I believe that they have great merit, and it appals me that Lord Bassam's reply concentrates on 30 years of terrorism in Northern Ireland and effective planning and response at a local level. All that is completely behind the curve.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Following up the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), is my hon. Friend not of the view that, if the Government were a bit more forthcoming with information and about the availability of technology and equipment that could trace and identify the sort of matter or products involved, including nuclear chemicals and other such materials, it would be not only a huge reassurance to those of us who represents constituencies with a major airport nearbyin my case, it is Manchester international airportbut a deterrent to those who might think of smuggling into this country the material that our noble Friend Lord Jopling sought to deal with in his amendments?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, which again underlines the point
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that I am trying to make. In Committee, we suggested to the Government that there should be an effective method of informing the public not only of the threat, but of what they should do in the event of the threat of an attack or an actual attack. The Government told us that that proposal was completely unnecessary, that it was scaremongering and that it would be doing the terrorist's job for him. Within weeks of making those comments, however, they issued a bookletit did not go to every household in the country, although they tried to ensure that it didtrying to address precisely those points. As he says, they could go much further in terms of reassurance and in terms of the next leg of the argumenttraining the public in how to deal with the threat that is in front of them.
In conclusion, I would be extremely pleased to hear the Minister accept the points that my noble Friend Lord Jopling has made for the simple reason that the amendments would underline the inadequacy of the Government's response at the moment and require them to produce a wholly better and more cohesive policy in future.
Mr. Allan: The Minister has set out a sensible case in respect of Lords amendment No. 56. We should spell out in legislation the way in which highways alterations will take place for the purposes of civil contingencies, and it is sensible to include such provision in the Bill.
Lords amendment No. 56 adds up to more than three pages of additional text in a 30-odd page Bill, so 10 per cent. of the Bill could be taken up in dealing with quite a minor issue. Having been in local government, I cannot help but reflect that, just as we love to spell out everything in traffic regulations in intimate and minute detail, down to the width of double yellow lines, when we come to try to define in law how we can make alterations for the purposes of anti-terrorism, we seem similarly to be required to spell everything out in minute detail to give appropriate legal authority. None the less, the provisions are unremarkable in what they are seeking to achieve.
On Lords amendment No. 7, the Liberal Democrats are running counter to the thrust of the debate so far today, in which we have been seeking to limit the Government's powers and tie their hands to a degree. Lords amendment No. 7 offers the Government an additional permissive power to make regulations. The Minister said they could already introduce such regulations, but the amendment, which was moved by Lord Jopling but had the support of my Liberal Democrats as well as the official Opposition, seeks to spell out the way in which the Government can make regulations in respect of the protective measures that need to be taken to prevent harmful materials from coming through ports and so on.
I thought that the Minister helped to strengthen the case for the amendment in his speech. He referred to all the existing measures that require ports and various other people to take the sort of measures that we are talking about. There is, however, quite a complex web of regulatory powers, and it might be helpful for a comprehensive Civil Contingencies Bill to spell out that the regulations affecting the ports authorities and everybody else should fall within the overall framework.
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They may have to meet other legal requirements anyway, but having one port of call would be helpful, and part 1 could effectively say to responders, "These are your duties and responsibilities." Including in those responsibilities protection, scanning and the purchase and provision of equipment for detecting the noxious substances might be helpful. It would not mean that those involved did not have other legal responsibilities; it would simply mean that the civil contingencies regulations were pulled together in one place.
The Minister may say that the Government will take such action anyway, but the purpose of the amendment is sensible; it seeks to highlight those issues and include them in the Bill. If we send back reasons why we disagree with the Lordsthe Government will command the majority to ensure that that happensI hope that the Government can give additional reassurances in discussions in another place that the issue is covered. The fact that it is covered in other disparate measures is not sufficient reason for it not to be mentioned in the big, comprehensive measure before us today, which seeks to cover all eventualities. Not including such reference will leave a gap that Lords amendment No. 7 tries sensibly to plug.
Mr. Gummer: When the Minister replies to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), I hope that he will also bear it in mind that, on the other side of the issue, there is considerable disquiet about actions that are unnecessary, otiose or intrusive. I say again that it is outrageous that, for example, it would be impossible to drive around Grosvenor square. It is unacceptable that such a restriction should be imposed. I think that it is illegal, although I have found it impossible to get an answer from the Government as to whether a proper case has been made under present legislation. The situation is similar with regard to the road behind the embassy. If an embassy cannot operate in a way that enables the rest of the world to go about its business, we should ask ourselves whether it is in the right place. I wish we would apply the same criterion abroad, to avoid an unacceptable impact on the public.
I hope the Minister will reassure us that the measures will be used for their intended purpose, and not for purposes of aggrandisement or interference. Will he also have a look at measures that have already been implemented, which I consider both unnecessary and intrusive? As I have said, I should like him to look into the measures that we take abroad as well as those taken in this country, especially in regard to embassies.
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