Session 2010-12
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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Amendment of List of Responders) Order 2011

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Joe Benton 

Binley, Mr Brian (Northampton South) (Con) 

Blackman-Woods, Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab) 

Bray, Angie (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con) 

Coffey, Ann (Stockport) (Lab) 

Crabb, Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con) 

Dobson, Frank (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab) 

Foster, Mr Don (Bath) (LD) 

Hancock, Matthew (West Suffolk) (Con) 

Hurd, Mr Nick (Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office)  

McDonnell, John (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab) 

Pugh, John (Southport) (LD) 

Ruddock, Joan (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab) 

Sharma, Mr Virendra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab) 

Simpson, David (Upper Bann) (DUP) 

Spencer, Mr Mark (Sherwood) (Con) 

White, Chris (Warwick and Leamington) (Con) 

Wollaston, Dr Sarah (Totnes) (Con) 

Wright, David (Telford) (Lab) 

Alison Groves, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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First Delegated Legislation Committee 

Tuesday 26 April 2011  

[Mr Joe Benton in the Chair] 

Draft Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Amendment of List of Responders) Order 2011 

10.30 am 

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Amendment of List of Responders) Order 2011. 

Thank you, Mr Benton. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again. I hope that you and all members of the Committee had a wonderful Easter break. 

The order is about the important issue of emergency planning in London. It formalises in law a transfer of responsibilities from the old Government office for London to the Greater London authority and the Mayor. It also means that the GLA will take on the duties of a category 1 responder, as defined by the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. These changes are necessary because the Government office for London was closed at the end of 2010. It is widely recognised that the GLA is the obvious replacement, not least given that the Mayor was already the deputy chair of the London regional resilience forum and would effectively be the voice of London in any emergency. In reality, the GLA has already taken on these responsibilities, effective from 1 December 2010. That was necessary to ensure a seamless process of emergency planning and responsibility. 

It might be helpful to set out some background to the order. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 delivers a single framework for civil protection in the United Kingdom. The Act assigns responder status to certain organisations, broken down into categories 1 and 2, and gives those organisation clear responsibilities. The Act divides England and Wales into local resilience areas, and each of these areas has a local resilience forum at which planning and preparation for emergencies is co-ordinated among emergency responders. 

Outside London, there are 37 local resilience areas in England and four in Wales, based on police force boundaries. Arrangements for emergency planning in London have functioned slightly differently—I recognise that we have various London Members on the Committee today, and they will have a sense of this and of the need for a different approach—mainly due to London’s size and its unique position as a capital city. In effect, there have been three tiers of emergency planning in London. One was the borough level. Since the Act came into force in 2005, there have been six local resilience areas for London, each with a local resilience forum, based on multi-borough groupings. There is a pan-London strategic forum as well. 

The Act is being reviewed. On the whole it seems to be working well, but after consultation it was agreed that there was a case for change in the way in which it

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worked in London to reflect properly how emergency planning was functioning in the capital. 

While the six multi-borough local resilience forums provided a useful tier of emergency planning, the strategic role which a local resilience forum should normally play was actually being performed at the pan-London level through the London regional resilience forum—a non-statutory body in which key responders, central government and the Mayor of London co-operated to give strategic direction to emergency planning in London. Therefore, to better reflect actual emergency planning arrangements in London, the local resilience area has been redefined as a single pan-London local resilience area based on the Metropolitan and City of London police force areas, rather than the previous six multi-borough groupings. As a result, the former London regional resilience forum has been redefined as the London local resilience forum. 

These changes came into force from 1 April and mean that emergency planning in London now runs in much the same way as in the rest of the country. The change that we now bring before the Committee and the House is necessary following last year’s closure of the Government office for London, which played an important role in emergency planning, led by the London resilience team. Their duties, which included providing secretariat support for the former London regional resilience forum, taking the lead in non-police led emergencies, and ensuring that resilience plans were in place for the Olympic games, now need to be delivered elsewhere by other parties. It is a function we cannot afford to lose; a function that is a cornerstone of the structure of resilience in London. 

The office of the Mayor of London has long been engaged in emergency planning: the Mayor was the deputy chair of the London regional resilience forum. He is a figurehead in the event of a major emergency in the capital. We have agreed with the Mayor that those local planning and response functions previously undertaken by the Government office for London should pass to the Greater London authority, as the strategic non-political authority that supports both the Mayor and the Assembly, and that this should be properly reflected in legislation. Their new role involves working closely with London’s emergency responders and being involved at the heart of strategic emergency planning for the capital. The GLA should therefore take on the same legal status and duties as other responders in London, including the duties to co-operate and to share information, helping to build a strong relationship through which the GLA can best carry out its new role. The GLA assumed many of its new responsibilities following the closure of the Government office for London in December last year. We now have an opportunity to formalise its role in legislation. It is on that basis that I commend this order to the Committee. 

10.36 am 

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab):  May I, too, say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Benton. I hope that all Committee members had a really good Easter break. 

I can see that the order has to be made, following the closure of the Government offices for the regions, in this case the Government office for London. Whether that was entirely a wise decision is a separate issue that will no doubt be discussed elsewhere, but it is not the matter that concerns us today. We are discussing what is

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happening to emergency planning in London as a consequence of closing the Government offices. Obviously, it is now necessary to have the regional resilience forum located in the Greater London authority. I note that that has been done following an agreement with the interested parties—the Mayor’s office and the London Assembly. I understand that the GLA will also provide the secretariat for the forum. As the Minister says, that probably makes sense as other responsibilities relating to emergency planning have already been transferred to the GLA as a result of the closure of the Government office for London. So adding category 1 responder status is no doubt necessary to operationalise the new arrangements. 

A number of questions for the Minister flow from the decision. What has been done to ensure that the change in arrangements does not negatively impact on emergency planning for the London Olympics and Paralympics? How will giving category 1 responder status improve co-operation arrangements between the various London responders and help the London arrangements interact more smoothly with those operating elsewhere in the country? What measures are in place to ensure that accountability is strengthened for emergency planning? Is he certain that a conflict of interest will not emerge between providers of services and the assessment of the effectiveness of emergency planning? 

We are told that most of the costs of transfer relate to staffing costs. Is the Minister assured that enough capacity is in place to ensure that the new arrangements will work effectively? 

10.38 am 

Mr Hurd:  I thank the hon. Lady for her constructive approach to the order. I should like to reassure her on the Olympics point. I am sure that many hon. Members, not least London Members, will be concerned that the games run smoothly. It is obviously a top priority for everyone involved in civil contingency planning. I come back to my previous point. With the closure of the

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Government office for London there was a need for a seamless transition, and that is why the responsibilities were effectively transferred at the end of the year. I hope I can reassure the hon. Lady that the changes will not have any negative effect or disruptive element to them. 

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab):  When the function was transferred, were any of the staff transferred? Some of them presumably had some expertise and corporate memory of arrangements, and it would be unfortunate if that had been lost. 

Mr Hurd:  The short answer is yes, and secondments were made as well. The point that the right hon. Gentleman makes is an obvious one—expertise is based on people, and people were transferred. 

The hon. Member for City of Durham asked how the order would improve functionality. I think that it will do so, in the sense that until now the GLA and the Mayor had no formal role, although they are clearly a massively important organisation and figure in the event of an emergency. What we are discussing today is a mechanism that will bind the GLA and the Mayor into a process, with explicit duties of co-operation. That, as the hon. Lady helpfully notes, is with the agreement of the interested parties. It is something that the Mayor has said that he wants and he is supported in that by the GLA. So I think that it will improve the architecture of co-operation in this vital area and will enhance accountability, because the GLA scrutiny process will be brought into play. 

As for capacity, I believe that adequate funding and human resource has been dedicated to this area. We all know how important this is. 

Question put and agreed to.  

10.41 am 

Committee rose.