Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-32)



  Q20  Mr Clappison: Just to go back to the point about regional government, Mr Ward, is it a fair summary of what you saying that you see the role of regional government as co-ordinating but not one of leadership and assumption of responsibility in the first instance which should be for the local authorities?

  Mr Ward: Yes, I do.

  Q21  Mr Clappison: Do you think that, in the heat of an emergency, there is a risk of lack of clarity and duplication if the leadership were seen to be shared between two levels?

  Mr Ward: Yes. The Bill does introduce the role of the regional nominated co-ordinator and providing there is an in-depth understanding of each of the responsibilities and when these actual bodies function and there is clarity there, I can see that this situation can work. The main emphasis is that the local level is where the first response will occur in all eventualities and that is the important level. I see the regional government and the regional resilience teams much more concerned with the information flow between ourselves and central government in terms of resources etc and in terms of what one county can provide to another because, within certain counties, there are, for example, mutual aid agreements between the authorities, but this, with the incidents we have seen, needs to be beyond a particular county into other counties and they can come in here to assist in these mutual aid agreements, which is very much like the New Dimension Project. So, this co-ordination and information flow is very important. When I alluded originally to the 9/11 incident, as a planner, at the frontline, there are two things I want to know: (1) where can I get additional resources and (2) where can I get the intelligence to tell me whether it is going to hit me again? So, it is information flow and resources which are vital for the local responders.

  Q22  Mr Clappison: Can I briefly ask if Mr Chalke has anything to add to that.

  Councillor Chalke: No, I do not think so.

  Mr Griffin: With your permission, perhaps I have. I do not see problems with what is proposed provided there is clarity. We have a situation at the present moment where the lead responsibility for responding will transfer from one organisation to another. I take the example of the exercises we do in connection with nuclear disasters. The immediate response is led by the police and when one transfers to a recovery phase, then that would transfer to the local authority. That is understood. Whether it would be actually as clear as that in practice is another issue. That is understood. There is some clarity about the respective roles. I think it is important that, when one is looking at introducing another tier to this, the regional tier, there is clarity about what that regional tier is and there is an understanding both of what is the responsibility of the local authority and what is the responsibility of the government office and whatever and what are the triggers where responsibility transfers from one to the other. That is one of the reasons why we were talking about the importance of clear triggers and understanding in certain parts of this legislation comes in. I do not have a problem with it provided there is clarity about it. I have to say that, at the present moment, there could be more clarity than there is.

  Q23  Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: If I may continue on that subject, of the existing organisations in category 1 or 2 who, if anyone, should be the lead co-ordinator in planning and responding to an emergency? Perhaps you might also say something regarding the criticisms you have made about the concept of lead government departments not working particularly well and what you would see as an alternative.

  Councillor Chalke: If I may answer the first part, we believe that the lead co-ordinator for planning and preparation should be the local authority. The response is incident dependent but usually at the moment it is the police, but it would be the relevant agency. All of the category 1 organisations should be responsible for risk assessment; they should all be doing their own risk assessment. The second part . . .

  Mr Ward: Yes, if I could just amplify. The community leadership in the planning phase should lie with local authorities. Clearly, with the response, I believe the lead should be with the police, as it is at the moment. Regarding the categories, we have stated that there should be other agencies involved in the category 1 and category 2 tiers. Particularly in the category 1, we have cited the health agencies: the primary care trust, the health protection agency, the strategic health authorities and the hospital trusts. We feel it is vitally important that they are brought in because they are an extension of the scene. In the eventuality of rescue by the fire service, victims are delivered by the Ambulance Service to the health service, I believe that they must be included in category 1. With regards to the category 2, we have also stated there that the utilities and the major transport providers should be aligned to this category and I can give a fine example with transport agencies because local authorities rely on transport to take people from the incident site to rest centres and therefore there must be that co-operative requirement for us to be able to plan adequately.

  Mr Griffin: The second point related to concerns which were touched on about the lead government department arrangement and I think our concerns there relate to consistency. One of the key issues why we support this legislation so far as it imposes obligations on local authorities is that it is likely to be a contributor to greater consistency of quality than we have at the present moment and we have concerns about inconsistency both of quality and of co-ordination where the responsibility lies with a potentially wide range of government departments. There are ways in which that can be addressed. Perhaps, as we said earlier on, the issue of imposing a duty on central government departments is one way of trying to mitigate those difficulties. The alternative, instead of having a lead government department approach, is for CCS to co-ordinate.

  Mr Ward: I would advocate the latter because, in the past, we have had such confusion with lead government departments with regards to the Kosova refugees and with the fuel crisis and I think that clarity is required.

  Q24  Mr Jones: The accountability of the regional co-ordinator is actually going to have quite a lot of powers under this Bill and I agree with you that it should be done at a local level. What concerns me a little—and I accept that we have perhaps a disagreement over regional government and democratic accountability—is that in a local authority, you have democratic local councillors who are responsible and, in government departments, you have ministers who are democratically response. With the police, for example, you have an authority that is responsible. Is there not a danger here that nobody is going to be responsible for this person who is going to have a lot of powers and does it not have to be brought under some type of accountability or democratic mechanism, otherwise you could have someone here who is in a influential position and who could override you, as local practitioners, and would not be accountable to my local constituents or your local constituents as councillors?

  Councillor Chalke: We are not expecting too much of that role to be overriding the local responders. We are looking for more of a liaison role.

  Q25  Mr Jones: But they could under the powers of this Bill.

  Councillor Chalke: We would resist that and I do not think, if they were accountable to even the regional assembly, it would make that much difference.

  Q26  Mr Jones: Who would they be accountable to?

  Councillor Chalke: They are accountable to the government office and therefore to the Government.

  Q27  Chris Mole: Could I just pick up where Mr Griffin was talking about consistency of quality. How do you believe the adequacy of civil contingency planning should be measured and audited? Can joint preparedness actually be tested and audited in any way?

  Mr Griffin: If I may take the second question first, I think joint preparedness can be tested and audited. There are good examples in totally different fields but they are analogous. If one looks at the Crime and Disorder Partnerships which exist under the 1998 legislation, they are based on obligations placed jointly in two-tier areas, on the county council, the district council and the chief officer of police. They are inspected and audited and they are partnership arrangements which are inspected and audited and they generally work well. So, that is possible. It is not impossible. So far as the question of assessing the adequacy of local authorities' response to their obligations, I think that the introduction of legislation will certainly facilitate that because it is likely, as part of encouraging greater consistency of quality, to result in a greater acceptance of benchmark standards and practices and procedures which I see now as best practice. I think it is important that an audit and inspection process occurs because organisations can benefit from that. It is important however that it does not become too much of a burden on the organisation. I think that if one has the legislative framework and the regulations and guidance to build behind that, then peer examination/bench marking/self-assessment can very effectively measure the quality of response to the Bill.

  Q28  Lord Condon: Linked to that last question and the earlier points about the chance of consistency, is the Civil Contingencies Secretariat a sufficiently strong and powerful central focus or would you advocate some other form of central focus to avoid the inconsistency of lead departments and so on?

  Mr Griffin: From my perspective, I would say that the changes in the central government structure in the last few months/couple of years or so and the creation of the CCS has produced an organisation which is much stronger and much more effective than the previous arrangements. I would not criticise the CCS; I would not question their capability.

  Mr Ward: I agree. With the transition from the Home Office to the Cabinet Office and the evolution of CCS, very strong measures have been taking place and the Society obviously welcomes the publication of a Bill, which I must confess I did not think at one point I would see in my lifetime, but here we have the Bill and I think that the team must be complimented on it. What I would like to add is that I would like to see the team continue in some form within central government.

  Q29  Lord Roper: Just to return to this question of a regional dimension consistency, would you not agree that there is obviously a difference between the situation in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Greater London Authority and the rest of England, and therefore one does not have consistency as far as the regional dimension is concerned?

  Councillor Chalke: The LGA does not represent Scotland or Northern Ireland so I cannot comment on that. I am personally slightly hazy as to what does  happen in Wales who do have different arrangements and different responsibilities. We are a disparate nation and I understand that London is obviously a region but it is a slightly different region in a different context than the other regions we talk about.

  Mr Griffin: But the concepts of consistency and diversity are not necessarily mutually antagonistic. You can have consistency in terms of quality of response, you can have consistency in terms of ensuring that resilience is built into civil society without necessarily solving the problem in exactly the same way everywhere.

  Mr Ward: If I may turn to our submission, with regards to Scotland, the Emergency Planning Society agrees that the arrangements for Scotland are appropriate and it is clear that the Scottish Parliament has a right to access and consult on any proposed legislation for civil protection in Scotland. With regard to Wales, the Society asks for attention to be paid to how the service would be funded. Under devolved government, secondary legislation would have to be introduced to reflect that the Welsh Assembly Government was funding the Emergency Planning Service, while responsibility for it still sat with Cabinet Office. So, there are issues for both of these. Northern Ireland is a different structure altogether and we have alluded to that in our submission.

  Q30  Chairman: It is about time that we were drawing this session to a close, but may I just ask a couple of brief points which I hope will elicit brief answers but my apologies if they cannot. Do you believe there are sufficient checks and balances on the use of emergency powers in the draft Bill?

  Mr Griffin: I am aware that this is an issue which has  been commented on by the Defence Select Committee and they talked about a "triple lock". I think the emergency powers legislation does definitely need to be reviewed and, provided there are the kind of safeguards which the Defence Select Committee consider should be in place, then I think there are sufficient safeguards.

  Q31  Lord Archer of Sandwell: What are your views on the provisions relating to regulations being treated as legislation for the purpose of human rights, so that the courts cannot strike them down as ultra vires. Do you regard that as rather draconian?

  Mr Griffin: Providing the safeguards about which we have just been talking are in place, then, no. I think that for this legislation and subordinate legislation to be effective, that provision, so far as the Human Rights Act is concerned, is going to be necessary. The whole Human Rights legislation is about balance, balancing human rights with other overriding needs, and I think that provided that the kind of safeguards I have just talked about are in place and are taken seriously, treating the regulations as primary legislation for the purposes of—

  Q32  Lord Archer of Sandwell: Would you not trust the courts to strike that balance or do you want to exclude them?

  Mr Griffin: I would trust the courts to strike that balance, but the difficulty is the delays that that can introduce and the uncertainty that that can introduce, and delays and uncertainty are not necessarily conducive to building greater resilience where there are overwhelming national security risks.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen.

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