Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 33-39)



  Q33  Chairman: Welcome, gentlemen. This session is being televised. Obviously, given the limit on time, we would welcome brief responses to what I hope will be brief questions from my colleagues. You have had prior notice of them, so they should not come as a dreadful surprise to you. Would you introduce yourselves, please. I will not ask for opening statements because I recognise that time is of the essence here.

  Mr Goldsmith: I am Alan Goldsmith, Deputy Chief Constable, Lincolnshire Police, and Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers Emergency Procedures Committee.

  Mr Selwood: I am Philip Selwood, Assistant Chief Ambulance Officer and Chair of the Civil Emergencies Committee of the Ambulance Service Association.

  Mr Dobson: I am Ron Dobson, Assistant Commissioner, London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and representing the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association.

  Q34  Chairman: If I could take Chairman's privilege and start the questions. Do you consider new legislation to deal with emergencies necessary?

  Mr Goldsmith: I think it is necessary to distinguish between emergency planning and emergency response. In terms of emergency planning, then, yes, it gives clear statutory responsibility which is important and something which has been lacking. In terms of response, some of the powers which could be provided under emergency legislation would be extremely helpful to the policing function. With regard to other issues such as the nominated regional co-ordinator, perhaps one will have to wait and see.

  Q35  Chairman: Just following from that point, considering recent emergencies and incidents, would the emergency services press the Government to use the powers in the Draft Bill if they had been available?

  Mr Goldsmith: The recent emergencies have tended to be those that have not been police led: fuel, foot and mouth, fire dispute, etc. In that instance, the police did not really have a remit to either invite those powers or welcome those powers.

  Mr Selwood: Speaking on behalf of the Ambulance Service as a part of the broader health economy, the fuel dispute did put into some difficulty the supply of resources to the broader health economy including the Ambulance Service such as with the fuel itself but also fuel for lorries that may be supplying food for patients. So, speaking from that perspective, I could see that this Bill would have played some part.

  Mr Dobson: From a Fire Service perspective, with the emergencies we have had in the country recently, we do not see that there would have been any need to have enacted the powers so far.

  Q36  Chairman: The definition of emergency includes, for example, a serious threat to the welfare of the population caused by human illness or a threat to political, administrative or economic stability. Should the draft Bill's definition of emergency be drawn more narrowly or more widely and perhaps incorporate a level of scale?

  Mr Goldsmith: I think there is merit in repeating what Brian Ward said in his evidence previously in the sense that the definition as given in the Bill would include a number of events to which the emergency services respond every day in terms of danger to health etc. Therefore, to narrow the definition to include major emergencies in line with "Dealing with Disaster", those that are beyond the immediate day-to-day resources of the responders, would be helpful.

  Mr Selwood: It might be worth saying that most major emergencies, particularly in the capital, have been resolved without such legislation. So, it is about scale and, speaking from our perspective, we would wish to see it confined to the scale issue which may have consequence to management which shorter-term emergencies just do not.

  Q37  Chairman: Where there is a major incident, are there powers provided in the draft Bill which the emergency services will need immediately?

  Mr Goldsmith: In terms of the Bill, this question, I suppose, is more about the response in terms of needing powers urgently and it would be very helpful to have those powers there in the regulations straightaway. In terms of the Bill providing powers for planning, then I do not believe it is essential that they are here immediately because, in my experience and that of police forces, the present system works very well in terms of what will be called local resilience teams in most cases and now strategic groups working within authorities. That works well. It is a question of emergency powers should we get to the stage of a state of emergency being declared.

  Q38  Chris Mole: The draft Bill gives the Government powers to make regulations about the duties and performance of local responders in emergency planning and during a state of emergency. Should the local responders be consulted about regulations while they are being drafted?

  Mr Goldsmith: Yes.

  Chris Mole: I thought you would say that!

  Chairman: Would that all responses were so quick!

  Q39  Baroness Ramsey of Cartvale: Do you think that any other organisations should be included in the list of local responders? Do you think it is sensible to draw a distinction between the two categories of responders? Do you think the classification of responders between 1 and 2 is right or would you suggest some changes?

  Mr Goldsmith: I think there is value in having two categories. First of all, category 1 which are those key agencies which must be involved from the outset in planning. They, in my view, should not include the voluntary sector in the sense that the voluntary sector would, I imagine, have great difficulty in resourcing the work that would be entailed in category 1 responsibilities. There is also in my mind a paradox in a voluntary organisation having statutory responsibilities and I think that is something that needs to be thought through carefully. In terms of category 1, the ACPO view is that to have both county councils and district councils could lead to some confusion and indeed could mean that local resilience teams are quite large in number. The County of Lincolnshire, for example, has seven district councils and that is by no means the largest. There would be more merit, in our view, in having the county council clearly responsible and then working with districts in a supportive way. In terms of the NHS—and I am sure Philip will have more comment—our view is certainly that the local ambulance trusts must be category 1. They have clear responsibilities at the site of an emergency and transporting patients. When one deals with longer term care of patients, then again there should be someone involved, because that is needed for planning of that, but whether it is primary care trusts or strategic health authority is a matter about which perhaps we would bide our time.

  Mr Selwood: Picking up the point from Alan, it is our view as an association that category 1 should be expanded to include the broader remit of health. It may be that the Bill as drafted is actually saying that, but I think there just needs to be some more clarity.

  Mr Dobson: We would certainly support the inclusion of primary health care trusts as category 1 responders because clearly the response of primary health care trusts is absolutely fundamental to dealing with an incident of the nature and severity which we are now envisaging. If I may pick up on the point on voluntary sectors, we feel it is absolutely imperative that voluntary sectors are included as part of the planning organisations, but as part of the regional resilience committees and forums rather than as category 1 or category 2 responders because we do feel it would be difficult to apply statutory responsibilities to voluntary organisations because of the obvious funding issues that would then result from that.

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