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Ms Taylor: I am absolutely shocked at all that the hon. Gentleman is saying today. It is clear that he neither knows nor has he made himself aware of all the work that is being done by the intelligence agencies. The hon. Gentleman is perpetrating an outrageous piece of information from the Opposition Benches and I hope that he is prepared to withdraw all that he is saying.
Patrick Mercer: No, certainly not. I am talking about emergency preparedness. Let us be quite clear about the fact that it was the intelligence agencies that reduced the level of warning days before the attacks on 7 July. There is much to be learnt and much to be done. We cannot allow matters to continue as they are at the moment.
Let me drill down and consider a specific detail of our preparedness. Will the Minister sayI know that she will not answer these questions because she never doesexactly what has been done to make the tube safer to travel on today than it was on 7 July? The dogs and the armed police patrols have fallen off badly. If there is a lack of manpower, why has not the civil contingencies reaction force been called up? That was the only concrete suggestion that the Ministry of Defence came up with after 2001. It has not been called out; it has not been deployed. Why are there no instructions in carriages about what to do in the event of a disaster. I asked the Minister that two and a half years ago. If my train gets stuck in a tunnel, I still do not know what to do. Is the rail live? Is it safe to get out? I have no idea. It is the only form of transport that I have come across where there are no safety instructions inside the carriages. Why are there no bandages and emergency water in every carriage? Why are there not lights in the tunnels showing us in which direction to travel? Why are there no signs of the high-tech searching techniques that Israel has pioneered?
I have no doubt that the Minister will refer to OSIRIS II, the only exercise that has been conducted to make our tube any safer than it is at the moment. I also have no doubt that the group that intended to attack this country two weeks ago was Ansar al-Islam, and that it intended to attack the tube again. As an example of the paucity of planning across the country, our tube is no safer to travel on today than it was on 7 July. I challenge the Minister to show me that I am wrong.
As I have said, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), has been horribly complacent and self-congratulatory about the methods and measures
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that have been implemented. I ask her to reflect on why the Secretary of State for Health referred that particular problem to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
We had our wake-up call in September 2001, so I was shocked by how shocked Ministers were in July this year. I ask the Ministers to ensure that we are much better prepared and much more resilient next time.
The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): The single point on which I agree with the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) is that we have had an excellent debate, although it has been a little bit awkward because we have tried to bring together two distinct issues. In my winding-up speech, I will endeavour to deal with some of the points concerning health, as well as some issues surrounding homeland security and terrorism.
The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) raised a range of issues, which the Minister dealt with in her measured and specific response. He asked whether we have learned lessons from our experience in Northern Ireland. We have learned lessons, but I am sure that he accepts that the nature of today's terrorist threat is significantly different from the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland, given that today's terrorists are prepared to use suicide bombers and are unconcerned by the number of casualties that they inflict. Although we can learn lessons, we face a different terrorist threat today.
The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) discussed Tamiflu and asked whether we consider it effective. We have been careful about the claims that we have made for antivirals: Tamiflu will reduce the length and severity of illness and reduce complications, and we currently have no reason to believe that it would not be effective.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the primary care trusts and strategic health authorities have implemented plans around the pandemic. The PCTs and SHAs have implemented such plans, and an ongoing checking process is making sure that the plans, which will be audited, are effective.
Several hon. Members asked whether we can help to contain any outbreakthe hon. Member for Northavon said that we will be judged by not only the strong, but the weak. We have contributed £600,000 to support World Health Organisation surveillance in south-east Asia, and we have also contributed to the WHO stockpile. Furthermore, Roche has said that it will donate 3 million doses of antivirals to the WHO, and we are ready to help internationally wherever we can.
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The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) raised several issues concerning poultry I confess to not being a poultry expert. Apparently, DEFRA runs not only its website, but an excellent helpline that provides advice for large-scale poultry farmers and people who keep a small number of chickens. If free range chickens must be taken indoors, a committeeI think that it is in Brusselswill consider maintaining their free range status in those circumstances, although we are not there yet.
On homeland security, I join all hon. Members in congratulating our emergency services on their magnificent response in the wake of 7 July, and I know that many countries from across the world were equally impressed. The attack took place when the G8 was meeting, and all the delegates at the G8 meeting were hugely impressed by the response from all our emergency servicesthe police, the health service, the fire service and local government. However, that was no accidentit was the result of good planning, extensive exercise programmes, and people who knew what their role and responsibilities would be. The fact that they had trained together as agencies was key to the fact that it all worked on that day and worked again a couple of weeks later when we had the attempted bombings. It was an exemplary response. I am not at all complacent. There are still many lessons that we can learn from the incidents that happened not only in this country but right across the world, and we have excellent international relationships to ensure that that happens.
The hon. Member for Newark asked what kinds of exercises we do. I genuinely accept that he wants to make a contribution in this subject, but he really ought to know that exercises take place on a weekly basis. We do tabletop exercises and command post exercises, we have three live counter-terrorist exercises every year on a national scale, and local authorities continually exercise at a very local level. We recently had live exercises involving hijacked aircraft, a terrorist occupation of off-shore oil wells and ships, and the threatened release of chemical and biological agents and improvised nuclear devices. If those are not high-level, complex planning exercises, I do not know what are. The exercise that happened at Bank in September 2003 involved scenarios very similar to those that we encountered on 7 July, and the practised ability to get people out of the tube probably saved more lives than were unfortunately lost during the incident.
Several Members proposed the idea of having a Minister for homeland security. I welcome the Liberal Democrats' view that that is a confused policy, because that is exactly what it is. We have a Minister responsible for co-ordinating this action across Governmenthe is the Home Secretary, who chairs a committee of Ministers right across Government who take the lead in their Departments. I would say this to the hon. Member for Newark: really think carefully about this. Is there any benefit in stripping out of Departments the expertise that resides there to bring it together in one area? It would simply mean that those Departments no longer had ownership of the issues involved in emergency planning, resilience, counter-terrorism and all the work that we need to do. We have found that having that expertise embedded in Departments, with a proper co-ordinating machinery through the cross-Government committee co-ordinated by the Home
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Secretary, works extremely well. I do not feel that a Minister for homeland security, whether at Minister of State or Cabinet level, is going to work. The hon. Member for Newark said, "I am he"; well, I am afraid that I am not she. There is no vacancy. Although I know that he is looking for work, I am afraid that I will not be able to offer him any help on those terms.
Members asked about public information. That is important. We published a booklet on preparing for emergencies that went out to every household. It had very good reach across the community, and our research shows that the public welcomed the practical, down-to-earth advice that it gave themnot only about terrorism, but about a whole range of emergencies from floods and fires to the things that we have discussed today. We also have the anti-terrorist hotline.
I can tell the hon. Member for Newark that a huge amount is going on in relation to safety on the tube in terms of mandatory searches, CCTV and trying to make sure that we are as safe as we can possibly be.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) made some important points, especially about our parliamentary scrutiny processes, and ascertaining whether we can find a better cross-cutting method of scrutinising some important issues. We should consider that. However, my experience shows that business is increasingly taking those matters very seriously. I have attended several events with business, for example, to discuss continuity plans. The London Resilience Forum has an excellent record on business continuity. There are also some good initiatives to involve the private security industryin which my right hon. Friend has an interestespecially in working with the Metropolitan police.
Hon. Members also mentioned resources. The resources for the police and the Security Service have increased enormously to give us capability and resilience. The Security Service will grow from approximately 1,800 employees to 3,000. Spending on police services has doubled. I am not complacent, but I believe that we have one of the best systems for emergency preparedness.
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