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The risk of flooding is high in some areas, but, by and large, water levels are generally at about the levels that are considered normal for this time of year. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentlemans council has rightly been on high alert and has been active overnight, as
have a number of other councils. Central Government and the Department stand ready to help if and when they are required.
Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): Can the Secretary of State explain why the nine regional fire control centres are being built on such a huge scale? Is the embarrassing truth that her Department failed to take into account shift working when determining the national requirements that it set for building them?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): No, not at all. The reason that we are building these centresthe hon. Lady will be aware of this, because of her experience in her regionis that the current control centres have nothing like the capacity of the new ones. Surely, like me, she would like to see [ Interruption. ] If she would listen to me for a moment, I shall explain. Surely she would like to see a system in place whereby the closest fire engine is directed to the scene of the incident, regardless of where it is from, and whereby new technology is available through satellite navigation to get the engine there as quickly as possible.
I accept that the centres are bigI recently visited the ones in the south-west and the east midlandsbut they are large because they have to be able to cope with emergencies, and extra capacity and more staff are sometimes needed. I had a meeting with the firm EADS Defence and Security Systems today
Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Adam Holloway.
T4.  Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): The leader of Gravesham council has told me that the council was not consulted at all about the Thames Gateway projects move into the new Homes and Communities Agency. When Ministers spoke about local community involvement in the process, is that what they had in mind?
Yvette Cooper: We have had extensive consultation with local councils and other organisations across the Thames Gateway, as part of the overall delivery programme. The HCA is taking over all the Departments functions on housing and regeneration across the country, including the major growth areas such as the Thames Gateway. The Department will continue to support the cross-departmental work in respect of transport and other functions but, as we have always said, local councils must take the lead in local areas and communities. That will enable us to get the best results in delivering the jobs and homes that are already coming into the Thames Gateway.
T6.  Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con):
The Secretary of State will know about the illegal Gypsy encampment at Minety in my constituency. It was recently given 18 months leave to remain while Wiltshire county council assessed the need for such encampments across the area. However, how can the council reasonably make such an assessment, given that very large numbers of Gypsies in Ireland and Romania are reportedly waiting to come to England as soon as
places are available? The more Gypsy places that Wiltshire county council provides, the more quickly they are filled.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright):
The hon. Gentleman said that Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs were being assessed in his area. That is the right way forward, and the vast majority of
local authorities have completed their assessments. The independent task group on site provision and enforcement published its final report to Ministers last month, and it concluded that the Governments policy on provision of sites for Gypsies and Travellers was sound. The key is that such provision must be enforced properly, and we need more authorised sites to avoid the risk of antisocial behaviour and disruption throughout the larger community.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the introduction of binding guidance regarding minimum distances between developments classified as Control of Major Accident Hazard sites and other specified types of building; and for connected purposes.
This Bill seeks to improve protection for communities across Britain from the new development of potentially dangerous industrial sites. It will ensure increased safety by giving the Health and Safety Executive a framework for COMAH plant siting decisions, thereby improving the consistency of such decisions and affording a predetermined level of protection for communities.
As if we in Castle Point had not had enough, Oikos registered on 21 December a new application for biodiesel and glycerine plants. The plants, which are expected to produce 163,500 tonnes a year, are sited very close to houses. Feed stocks would be imported from ships in the Thames and there would be massive on-site storage of oils, fats, reacting agents and end products. The local council and the HSE will be working closely with me and with the organisation People Against Methane to protect our community, and residents will be fully consulted about the Oikos proposals.
I have fought to defend my constituents from the massive risk posed by Calors proposals for a liquefied natural gas facility next door to the Oikos site. Calor wants to import around 5 per cent. of the UKs total LNG needs and to store about 100,000 tonnes on site. The LNG would be offloaded from ships by means of a boom arm on a jetty on a waterway where activity is increasing massively, thanks to the new Thames Gateway port development just downstream and the Oikos proposal.
Calors plans were withdrawn as a result of a strong campaign in this House, inputs from the HSE and the Environment Agency, and local efforts by People Against Methane. The Canvey Island Independent partys huge petition, which I presented in this House, was also most helpful. We have put politics aside in Castle Point and worked together to defeat the Calor proposals, and we shall do so again, but Calor says that it will reapply this year. I shall continue my fight to protect my constituents.
We were told that the Buncefield depot was totally safe, but it turned into the biggest fire in western Europe since world war two, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) explained to the House last week. A similar fire, but involving LNG rather than petrol, would make Buncefield look like a village bonfire night party. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) on his excellent debate last weekhe is doing a superb job of fighting for his constituents. He described one of his constituents homes after the explosion as:
blown to smithereens. It looked like someone had dropped a 1,000 lb bomb next to his house. I have visited the site. The house is goneit does not exist.
May I also praise him
for his quick response before Christmas when the hydrocracker at the Coryton refinery exploded?...I know the fears that exist, and I am conscious that my hon. Friend did not go in the opposite direction; he went straight down to see the firefighters to ensure that they, too, were looked after.
To answer my hon. Friends question, when the first explosion took place at Buncefield, the damage occurred several kilometres away...he will find that because there was nothing structurally to prevent the explosion spreading outwards, or the subsequent suction inwards after the oxygen had been used up, properties...several kilometres away, were subject to serious structural damage. One school in St. Albans had its central heating boiler sucked up through the flue, which blew up boilers throughout the school...That is the sort of damage that occurs in such explosions.[ Official Report, Westminster Hall, 9 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 75WH.]
Thus, we see graphically the destruction caused even several kilometres away from such an incident.
George Whatley of PAM, who originally suggested my Bill, used a satellite navigation system to measure the distance separating the Calor site and homes on Canvey. It is precisely 200 yd. That is totally unacceptable, but there are no official separation limits for COMAH plants; hence the Bill that I am introducing today. An escape of LNG would vaporise and form an unstable, unconfined, highly combustible cloud which, on ignition, would explode and burn at extremely high temperatures, destroying everything in its path. According to the fire service, whereas the Buncefield petrol fire was easily contained, there is no way to contain or control an LNG fire; the fire service would just clear up the carnage afterwards.
International evidence on LNG explosions is legion. Tim Rileys documentary film, The Risks and Dangers of LNG, and the 2003 Californian study predicting up to 70,000 casualties from an LNG accident or terrorist attack, graphically set out the implications. The Buncefield inquiry led to an HSE investigation, which concludes:
Clearly we have a poor scientific understanding of the mechanisms which led to the vapour cloud explosion at Buncefield, and we accept that installations storing other substances could present this type of hazard, for example bulk LPG storage, and other flammable liquid storage.
The investigation also reveals a fifteenfold increase in unconfined vapour cloud explosions over the past decade, and it challenges the current orthodoxy on the scale of risk to local communities that are adjacent to large petrol, liquid petroleum gas and LNG sites. The HSE is therefore reviewing its safety and planning advice on the siting of such plants.
United States federal regulations for LNG facilitiesCFR 193federal safety standards and the US National Fire Protection Association lay down that vapour gas dispersion distances must be calculated to determine how far downwind natural gas vapours could travel from an onshore LNG facility and still remain flammable. They show that a fire would burn with intense heat, so LNG plants must have thermal exclusion zones.
The Canvey island site involves additional risk, with LNG transfer from tankers on the Thameson the water. Distinguished professor Jerry Havens and others have serious concerns about the vulnerability of massive LNG tankers, which could be engulfed in a fire
and would be unable to fight that fire. The risks of spills on to water are spelled out in the US publication, Business Briefing: LNG review 2005:
there would be little or no control over the extent of liquid spreading and the consequent rapid burning or vaporisation of the gas.
A 2004 report by Sandia National Laboratories in the United States concluded that
cascading failure of LNG vessel containments by this mechanism cannot be ruled out,
which would result in total loss of the tankers.
A US fact sheet Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Energy Justice.net/natural gas states that an accident or terrorist attack on an LNG tanker could cause
major injuries and significant damage to structures a third of a mile away and could cause second-degree burns on people a mile away.
A congressional panel expressed similar concerns in 2004; Rear-Admiral Gilmour was reported in Factiva as saying that the minimum distance for an offshore LNG terminal ought to be about 10 miles. Castle Point does not have the luxury of 10 miles, several kilometres or even one mile. The distance separating our homes, schools and workplaces from the Calor site is precisely 200 yd. Canvey faces significant additional risks from terrorismit suffered a terrorist bomb attack in the 1980s. The site is also well below sea level, creating major flood risks and increasing existing ones.
My Bill would increase and formalise the protection afforded to communities and give clarity and certainty to applicants, the HSE and planning authorities, saving time, expense and much community anguish. If the Government listen, they will amend the Planning Bill to accommodate the sensible and necessary provisions in my Bill. As it stands, the Planning Bill will cause more difficulties; under it, the location of a dangerous plant will be decided by an unelected quango, the infrastructure planning commission. The IPC will operate behind closed doors, removing democratic legitimacy as well as involvement by local councils or even the Secretary of State.
The Planning Bill fails conspicuously to give the necessary procedural rigour for the IPC to deal with the location of hazardous sites. That causes great concern to the Campaign to Protect Rural England and other excellent environmental organisations seeking, like me, to defend the public interest. I commend my Bill to the House.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Bob Spink, Mr. Peter Lilley, Dan Rogerson, Patrick Mercer, Mr. Christopher Chope, Mr. Dai Davies, Dr. Evan Harris, Mr. Andrew Love, Mr. David Gauke, James Duddridge and Mr. James Clappison.
Bob Spink accordingly presented a Bill to require the introduction of binding guidance regarding minimum distances between developments classified as Control of Major Accident Hazard sites and other specified types of building; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed [Bill 55].
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I beg to move,
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Health and Social Care Bill, it is expedient to authorise the charging of certain fees by the Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator.
The motion is in the name of my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. A Ways and Means resolution has been deemed necessary by the House authorities to allow the office of the health professions adjudicator, the new independent adjudicator created by the Health and Social Care Bill, which is currently in Committee, to charge fees to the regulatory bodies whose fitness to practise cases are to be referred to the office for adjudication. The motion is being moved now because the Bill as introduced did not require a Ways and Means resolution.
The office of the health professions adjudicator will adjudicate on fitness to practise cases involving doctors, those in professions regulated by the Opticians Act 1989 and any other professionals whose regulatory body decides to use its services. At present, the General Medical Council and General Optical Council must meet the costs of the adjudication functions exercisable by their respective committees. The Health and Social Care Bill will transfer those functions to the office of the health professions adjudicator, so those two bodies will no longer have to meet those costs. We have therefore tabled a Government amendment to allow the office of the health professions adjudicator to charge fees to the General Medical Council and General Optical Council. We omitted such a clause from the Bill on its introduction so that we could complete detailed discussions with the General Medical Council about how the new adjudication body should be funded.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I am not unduly perturbed by what sounds so far like a wonderfully Sir Humphrey statement, but I must sayI suspect that other Members entertain similar concernsthat we do not want an entirely open-ended provision. Can the Minister offer the House any indication of the likely scale of the costs that will be incurred, and in what period they will be incurred?
Mr. Bradshaw: I certainly can; I had intended to say something about that in a little while. The hon. Gentleman may like to speak to his spokespeople on the Front Bench, who argued loudly in Committee that the independent adjudicator should be even more independent, and freer to do whatever he or she likes, which caused great concern to the GMC and others in relation to the ability of the House or the Secretary of State to ensure that the fee levels are reasonable.
There are two ways in which the aim will be achieved. First, the new adjudicator will have to consult on the level of any fee that he or she wants to levy. Secondly, those fee levels will have to be approved by regulation and in consultation with the Secretary of State. Given those safeguards, I hope the hon. Gentleman is reassured that the costs of the new adjudicator will be broadly similar to the current costs incurred by the GMC and the GOC.
John Bercow: I am partly reassured by what the Minister has said. I am grateful to him for his clarification, but as he refers to a prospective order-making power, may I ask the obvious supplementary questionwhether the order-making power will be subject to the negative procedure or to its affirmative counterpart? It is rather important to know which.
Mr. Bradshaw: My understanding is that it will be the negative procedure. I will write to correct that if I am wrong.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I declare an interest as a part-time panellist for the General Medical Council, appointed by the House some time ago. The question of fees troubles me slightly. Can the Minister confirm specifically that the House will have an opportunity to discuss the level of those fees? Can he say who is to set them, roughly how much they will bethe scale involvedand who, ultimately, will pay? It sounds a little like a stealth tax. Will doctors pay? Will the General Medical Council pay? Where does the bill end up?
Mr. Bradshaw: The regulatory bodies such as the GMC, the GOC and possibly others that come under the independent adjudicators remit will pay the fees, based on the work load of the independent adjudicator in any one year. Individual doctors now pay a levy or a membership fee to the GMC. They will continue to do so, and out of the funds that that raises, the GMCor the GOC, or other appropriate bodywill pay a fee that will be set after consultation with everybody, including Members of Parliament, and approval by the Secretary of State in laid regulations.
We are doing some independent research with the GMC into its current costs. It is rather difficult to disaggregate the cost of the adjudication process from the overall costs that the GMC incurs, but our estimate is about £11.5 million a year. That is the figure that we are working on. That is the current cost, which is met by medical doctors and others who are members of those organisations and pay their annual subscription to those organisations.
The new clause about fees must be authorised by a Ways and Means resolution. The House authorities, I understand, reached this conclusion because the new office of the health professions adjudicator will be for the benefit of the general public, rather than just for the benefit of the professions regulated by the GMC and the GOC. In addition, the fees charged by the OHPA will cover all of the bodys costs, rather than costs incurred before a day to be specified in regulations or costs incurred for a purpose specified in regulations. That is the difference between the fee-charging powers of the Healthcare Commission and the future care quality commission. In other words, the fees will be calculated by reference to the total expenditure of the OHPA, rather then to the individual service that it is providing to an individual organisation.
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