Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  Q60  Lord Condon: If I may follow up the point on the inspectorate. You mentioned the individual service inspectorates. The new Bill encourages clearly joint ventures, joint preparedness, joint exercises and so on. Is there a need for a new inspectorate or a joint inspectorate or a better form of inspectorate?

  Mr Goldsmith: The ACPO view is that there would be benefit in a separate inspectorate for emergency planning. The reason I give is that at present HMIC inspects police forces, so they come along, and part of the process is to talk to the Crown Prosecution Service and probation and others as to how we work with them. The CPS inspectorate come along and they talk to probation and they talk to the police. Then probation comes along, their inspectorate, and again looks at this. It does seem to me that something as definable and containable as emergency planning could quite properly justify a very small inspectorate concentrating on that to look at joint working.

  Q61  Lord Condon: Would you see that linked to a central contingency of some sort?

  Mr Goldsmith: Through CCS, yes.

  Mr Selwood: Speaking from the Ambulance Services Association, I support Alan's view. That is a personal view, Lord Condon. I think it is such a specialised area but also there is a need to ensure that it is collectively organised because none of us will survive independently in such an area. It is in order to provide this collective view that I think it needs to be inspected across the piste as opposed to within organisations. So far as the question around funding is concerned, as you know, health is funded through the mechanism of primary care trusts, and my view is similar to Alan's: it is about priorities. My concern is that the funding which is allocated—and it is not about having new money, it is about ensuring that the money reflects the priorities of the country—should have some mechanism which raises this agenda to a level which is commensurate with the intentions of the Bill. I am not quite sure how that would work. But I think it is essential if real changes are going to be made.

  Mr Dobson: If I may answer from the fire service point of view, first on the issue of funding. Funding for fire authorities, our role in emergency planning, currently comes initially through the civil defence grant, which clearly under the new regulations would no longer exist. Fire authorities nationally at the moment set their level of funding appropriate to their statutory duty, it being the first consideration in setting the level of budget for emergency planning, and, secondly, where they see that emergency planning in terms of priorities. Clearly, over the last couple of years it has risen in degree of priority, however, we do recognise that within the draft Bill there is an increased requirement, increased responsibilities for fire authorities generally, responsibilities we have not previously had, and we do anticipate there would be increased costs for fire authorities in order to comply with the requirements of the draft Bill. Our view would be that that could adequately be provided for within the revenue support grants to the fire authorities but we would welcome some form of ring-fencing or identified provision within the revenue support grant which has identified that the Government feels that individual fire authorities should commit to emergency planning work under the new legislation. As far as the audit process is concerned, we certainly feel that there should be an identifiable and robust audit process of emergency planning within England and Wales. Our view is that we would like to consider it further in terms of whether or not existing mechanisms could be appropriate, because we would see a role certainly for Her Majesty's Inspectorate Fire Services but also for things like the Audit Commission, and we feel that possibly it could be picked up against defined standards in things like comprehensive performance assessment, individual performance review of local authorities generally. So before we set up a specific body just to look at emergency planning, we feel we need to consider the standards and how they could actually be fitted within existing audit processes.

  Q62  Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I assume that the emergency services have a system now whereby they request and pay from other areas for assistance. Would that process stand up to a serious emergency in terms of implementing both the request and recompensing those that provide the assistance?

  Mr Goldsmith: The police service has established what we call PNIICC, the Police National Information and Intelligence Coordinating Centre. That is a bit of a mouthful but basically it facilitates mutual aid between police forces, not on a regional basis but nationally. If one force has a major incident to deal with, whether public disorder or, indeed, a major disaster in the terms we are talking about here, then we would establish PNIICC, which would enable resources from whichever force was able to provide to send them. At a much lower level, in a sense on a day-to-day basis, there are often mutual aid arrangements between neighbouring forces. When there are discipline inquiries, for example, where it is deemed appropriate for an external force to provide it, then that is mutual aid. The funding arrangements vary. If it is a very short timescale, low number of officers, then often we just do it on the basis of additional costs; in other words, travel, subsistence and overtime rather than basic pay. If we are talking about a national commitment, there are agreed rates. Our experience recently in providing resources to another force was that we recovered about 72% of the cost of the staff we sent. But the arrangements are there, they are robust, and they would work in these circumstances.

  Mr Dobson: From the fire service point of view, the Fire Service Act 1947 covers for mutual aid between fire authorities in two separate areas. One is incident based, where we call upon the resources as necessary to assist us in dealing with that. Perversely that only deals with fire, so currently the legislation only covers in those circumstances for other fire authorities to assist us with mutual aid in relation to a fire. However, in practice we are confident that fire authorities would support us in the circumstances of other types of incident. The other part of the Fire Services Act deals with the ability of a fire authority to discharge its responsibilities in a certain part of its area by another fire authority. In both those sections of the Fire Services Act there is provision for payment. In the first section, whereby we call mutual aid on the insurgence of an individual incident, it is unusual for us to seek recompense from other fire authorities because one of the mechanisms for actually identifying the costs is so difficult, and actually it does not cover the fuel and things you use and the appliances, it only covers for the structural arrangements to put that into place. With regard to discharging our functions in a particular area, then, yes, in certain brigades those arrangements are in place and charges are made, and the system for making those charges in those areas is quite robust.

  Mr Selwood: So far as the Ambulance Service Association is concerned, as Chairman of the Civil Emergencies Committee I have recently championed a piece of work which tries to replicate ACPO's mutual aid agreements across the country. That piece of work has now been endorsed by the National Council of the Ambulance Service Association and it is now trying to find the mechanisms to make it work. The words are on paper; actually making it happen come the day is something on which we have to do some more work, but the high level agreement is in place.

  Q63  Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My final question on this section is more to elicit opinion rather than information. The draft Bill would allow the Government to requisition property or to allow for the destruction of property, animal or plant life   with or without compensation. Should compensation be given in the case of the destruction of property, animal or plant life through actions taken under the draft Bill?

  Mr Goldsmith: I looked at this in the sense that if I were a police constable who had to requisition property or state that property would be destroyed, it would make my life a lot easier if I could say to the person who owned it, "You will be compensated for it." It is as simple as that, rather than the hypothetical question of whether one should in theory pay for that or not. In practical terms, for the officer on the beat or, I guess, the fire officer, being able to say to someone, "I have to destroy this house," for whatever reason it is, "but there will be compensation," is a lot easier than: "I've got to destroy this house." "Will I get paid for it?" "I don't know about that."

  Mr Selwood: The essential element of the provision of an effective ambulance service is clearly ambulances. They are not in huge numbers around the country, so, by necessity, we would have to rely on other sources. Double-decker buses come to mind: they have been used quite effectively on occasions to move minor patients and that is on a "need" basis come the day. An obvious source would be the plethora of private ambulances that has grown up around the country. However, they are subject to no statutory inspection, no control mechanism that I can uncover. We are working with them on a voluntary basis but there is no statutory basis for us to inspect them, to hold them to account for quality of standards of medical care or ... The Committee may wish to consider that in their deliberations.

  Q64  Mr Clappison: I have cast my eye over this section but perhaps not in enough detail. Would the powers enable you, for example, to take under your control such private ambulances for the public good?

  Mr Selwood: I think they would. The issue is before that, in that they have to be in a proper and fit state to deliver. Really I think the Bill as drafted would allow us the power. Whether one would want to rely on it or not is another—

  Q65  Mr Clappison: You would like to see the powers go further, so as maybe to inspect them beforehand to see what use could be made of them.

  Mr Selwood: Exactly.

  Mr Goldsmith: My reading of that is that one could requisition property in that way but not necessarily require individuals to drive them on your behalf. Ambulances, I do not know, I would not talk about that, but in terms of heavy lifting gear, for example, if one wanted to requisition that for a rescue I would guess that the skill needed actually to operate that would be very specialised and would be very difficult to find outside of that industry, and yet there is no power in the regulations to require the individual to operate that machinery on your behalf.

  Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: Thank you. That is very helpful.

  Q66  Earl of Shrewsbury: First, what lessons were learned from the fuel crisis and the outbreak of foot and mouth? Secondly, how would the arrangements proposed in the Bill compare with and relate to those under which fire and civil defence authorities currently undertake off-site planning under the Control of Major Accidents Hazards Regulations (COMAH), the Pipeline Safety Regulations (PSR), the Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations?

  Mr Dobson: If I may deal with the second part of that question first, our association does have some concerns that currently the only fire and civil defence authority that would retain responsibility under COMAH, REPPIR, etcetera, the regulations that feature in the question, is the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. We are concerned at that because that we feel does not take sufficient account of the fire and civil defence authorities in supporting metropolitan boroughs and discharging those responsibilities. We have not seen the regulations that would support the Bill yet, so we are not sure exactly how the responsibility for COMAH and REPPIR, etcetera, would actually be discharged after the advent of the Bill, so we would seek to be consulted further during the development of the regulations to see how that is actually going to be covered. We feel there has been some excellent work in previous years by fire and civil defence authorities in discharging those regulations and we feel that we would not want to see that lost.

  Mr Goldsmith: In terms of lessons learned from fuel and the outbreak of foot and mouth, perhaps one could be mischievous and say let the emergency services manage them. My view of that is that there was a lack of coordination and clear leadership, whereas in many disasters or major emergencies immediately there is a command structure put in place, a strategic coordinating group that then deals with it and then picks it up. We heard in the previous session of some doubts about the concept of a lead government department. I think there are some areas where it is unclear as to which government department will take the lead and, indeed, are they then practised in managing emergency situations in a way that is perhaps more normal for blue-light services to deal?

  Mr Selwood: If I may refer back to my earlier answer about consequence management, in the fuel crisis, where there was a vulnerability in terms of, for instance, the provision of fuel to ambulances, we had to rely on colleagues from the fire service to ensure that provision was maintained. I think that the lessons that were learned there were really reinforcing lessons of before, of the need to work together on those occasions, but with a clear lead, as Alan says, to ensure that there is an effective outcome.

  Q67  Lord Lucas: What sort of structures would you like to see in place so that when we get to the next fuel crisis or foot and mouth crisis it runs smoothly?

  Mr Goldsmith: An interesting question. The issue would be: Would one then look for a specific example to work on? That is where the lead government department concept might prove difficult, in the sense that there is such a range of potential emergencies that one would have to have people from all those backgrounds to then take part in that training. I do not want to put extra work CCS's way, they have enough to do with the Bill, but a lead given there to direct which department takes it on. An example of the potential for disagreement was in looking at work on mass evacuations and the question of which government department would actually lead on mass evacuations. You can probably give it to three or four different departments quite legitimately and there is no clear lead. That is where the issues come, about taking command at an early stage.

  Mr Selwood: Both Ron and I work in London and the London Resilience Forum has been a very effective forum in bringing around that structure which ensures that one looks across the piste. As Alan says, above that, the Civil Contingency Secretariat. Speaking from a London perspective, the existence of the resilience forums has actually been very helpful in broadening the debate ahead of any disaster.

  Q68  Lord Archer of Sandwell: The draft Bill is proposing that regulations made under the Bill should be treated, as you know, as though they are the primary legislation, so that the courts are in effect excluded from striking them down. Would you be in favour of that?

  Mr Goldsmith: I support the view in the Bill in the sense that often, in dealing in response to emergency, urgent action is needed. For example, one might wish to use regulation 21 in terms of cordoning an area, which deals with the free movement of individuals, either to keep them in an area for decontamination or, indeed, to exclude them from an area. If that was subject to possible injunction there and then, that would make it extremely difficult. The mere fact that it would be primary legislation would not prevent subsequent challenge, in my view, through the courts, but it would prevent that stopping something which was necessary at the time for the greater good.

  Q69  Lord Archer of Sandwell: Injunctions are of course discretionary. Would you not be prepared to trust the courts to exercise that discretion?

  Mr Goldsmith: It is a question of time: how quickly that could be done, and who would then present the case. We would have to present a case for it to be done, to then talk through or present it to the court. So there is an issue of timing there which is the main concern.

  Mr Selwood: I would just add that the issue of proportionality would always have to be defended afterwards. That is a matter of professional judgment by the services that are involved. One has to work hard at understanding the scope of that proportionality in advance of an incident rather than during the incident. But to limit powers on the day would, I think, as Alan says, seriously compromise the effective delivery of any service.

  Q70  Lord Archer of Sandwell: The risk would be that a judge would take a different view from the authority.

  Mr Selwood: I understand the risk.

  Q71  Mr Clappison: In an emergency such as this and the urgency of the situation, whatever the judges and lawyers may think later are there not advantages for your members in having the risk of legal action removed as a possibility in the speed and quality of their decision-making in responding to an action and to an emergency?

  Mr Goldsmith: Legal action would still be possible after the event, as Philip said. The issue would be if one wanted to cordon an area and someone there and then said, "I am a lawyer, I am now going to do this and get an injunction." Potentially that could cause concern for those trying to carry out their duties.

  Q72  Kali Mountford: May I move on to regionalism for a moment. Will the new regional tier in civil protection be useful in planning for and dealing with an emergency? Are the duties expected at the various levels of local, regional and central government sufficiently clear and practical?

  Mr Goldsmith: I have already given a view of the regional tier in the planning phase and, as I said, there are some larger area issues such as temporary mortuaries and evacuation. In terms of response, I think there is some question as to what additional benefit that will give other than a source of information to and from central government. The term is "regional nominated coordinator"—not a commander, a coordinator—therefore ensuring that people work together. There are some scenarios, such as foot and mouth, where there might be benefit in that coordination at a regional level. But of course a regional nominated coordinator would not take up post until there was a pretty severe state and a state of emergency had been declared, so I think we are talking about the very exceptional circumstances.

  Q73  Kali Mountford: As you have moved on to the regional nominated coordinator, what sort of person do you envisage that being? Is it necessary for that person to have specialist knowledge or should their particular skill perhaps be in the leadership and coordination?

  Mr Goldsmith: It is a balance. If one was seeking to coordinate an incident, then my view is that in most cases it is better to have someone who is aware of the specifics of that incident. If it was a chemical or biological or radiological attack with terrorist implications, then it would be beneficial to have a chief constable in that role of co-ordinating response to that with other agencies involved as well. If there is a health issue, then my view is it would be more advantageous to have a health professional—the Regional Director of Public Health, for example—in that role. It is about coordinating. It is about resources. I think Brian Ward made the point previously: resources and information flow to and from government. The view, as I see it, in the Bill is not that this would be a level above "gold" commander who would then dictate what would happen. As I said, we would not get to regional nominated coordinator unless a state of emergency had been declared, so it is a pretty unusual event and of significant scale.

  Q74  Kali Mountford: Do you not think that each region should have such a person in the event of that scale of emergency? Do you see it as a necessary role or not necessary at all?

  Mr Goldsmith: I see it as a role that could add benefit provided the definition of that role were clearly laid down. But the individual would be appointed at the time, as I think the Bill suggests, to fulfil that function and that function on that occasion only.

  Mr Selwood: There is a tension implicit in your question between having a specialist versus a generalist. I think with the benefit of some experience that the more you can move towards specialists who are generalists at a very high level, who have both the detailed knowledge of the issues that they are facing and the skill to pull together other agencies, is absolutely essential to the management of such incidents. I think, as Alan says, it has to be left to the specific type of event to determine who might be the best person. Before the event we have to do a lot of work in broadening the scope of people who in other worlds would have lived in quite an insular environment dealing with a single topic issue.

  Q75  Kali Mountford: Would it always be the case that the person with most specialist knowledge would also have, as a rare being, all the other leadership skills that would be needed in that event? Which would you favour, the specialism over generality or . . .

  Mr Selwood: I would always go for the generalist, but I would want to be assisted very closely by somebody who has a deep and specialist knowledge about the item with which we are dealing.

  Mr Dobson: As far as regional coordination is concerned, I think one of the things we need to remember is that the sort of scale of incident we are starting to plan for and under which these powers have actually been brought into being, is liable to be on a scale which is going to be outside of normal, small local boundaries. Therefore, the role of a regional coordinator or planned coordination on a regional basis is of course of assistance because if we have regional plans that could be put into effect already identified, already practised, then there is benefit in that. That is really what the role of regional coordinator in the planning scenario should be, to make sure that appropriate plans are in place at a smaller scale, and that those are coordinated in order to provide an effective regional response should that be necessary because of the scale of the incident. As far as the skills of the person involved, I think they should change depending on what phase you are in. If you are still in the planning phase, then a generalist person who has organisational and coordination skills is exactly the right type of person. As you get into the incident itself, then it may well lead itself to a more specialist type person to be able to deal with the specific nature of the incident with which you are dealing. There is always going to be a balance to be struck there between the coordination of planning skills and the specialist knowledge to deal with an actual incident that has occurred.

  Q76  Mr Jones: Is it not important that the role of this individual is actually clarified? I accept what Mr Goldsmith says, that this person is going to be in a coordinator role, but is there not a danger that in crisis he could turn into a Captain Mannering character who actually tries to take control away from, for example, the operational side on a day-to-day basis? Would it not be better to have someone who is already in the chain of command; for example, a local chief constable or somebody who is already at operational level? Is there not a danger here that you are going to have somebody above them, who has no accountability to anybody really apart from themselves, who could perhaps cut across, for example, the accountability that you have as a chief constable to your local police authorities and others, and that you would get confusion rather than the clear action which is needed in emergencies?

  Mr Goldsmith: There is that danger, and that is why it has to be a coordinating role rather than a command role. Certainly at one regional resilience forum I attended there were suggestions that there should be one or two people pre-nominated for that role. The difficulty then is in terms of availability. We are talking about an incident that could happen at any time. One needs to make sure that the person has sufficient knowledge to do it, has the time to do it, and perhaps has the right approach to it as well. If it were a terrorist event over a number of forces, then the chief constable in the force in which the event kicked off would probably be the "gold" commander in that force anyway and therefore would not be available to become the coordinator on a regional basis.

  Q77  Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: Ron I think made the point about the breadth in which an emergency could occur. It appears to me that one of the arguments is that really the hazard may occur over a number of local authorities. If we get these together, any of the organisations, it could still happen across regions. Have we resolved anything in terms of the regional concept? Could I perhaps suggest that if we had some sort of standing committee, with real experts in terms of policing, health or a group of those specialities sitting there liaising with all the effective administrative bodies, that in fact we might have a better answer. They could then decide, when the emergency occurs, where are the groupings. There will have been liaising and we could work on that basis. I know, Mr Chairman, you are probably horrified at that question, but it is a question that might well be asked at this stage.

  Mr Goldsmith: I think it is a very valid point. The regions in some cases are purely arbitrary. For example, East Midlands, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire are both in East Midlands and have absolutely nothing to do with each other, quite frankly. You would not automatically put them together.

  Q78  Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: Nor any day-to-day functions.

  Mr Goldsmith: None at all. There are no transport links whatsoever. One of the biggest risks, in my view, that the country faces in terms of emergency is further major east coast flooding. It will happen at some time. It might be next year, it might be in 50 years time. Major east coast flooding would affect a number of English regions but some of them only affect one police force area in each region; East Midlands, for example, or Humberside in Yorkshire. The regional structure is useful as a mechanism to get people together, to talk together, but it might not necessarily be the best in terms of response. So there is that issue. On the other point, I think there is a lack of a national resilience forum. We have the local resilience forums, the regional forums; there is no national resilience forum at which our associations, at which LGA, EPS and others, could actually meet to discuss that type of issue. I think it is disappointing that there is no provision for a national forum to look at these issues.

  Q79  Lord Roper: Would that be a English regional forum or would it be a UK forum?

  Mr Goldsmith: I think there is benefit in UK,   although the complexities of devolved administration and the legal process is more difficult for me to cope with.

  Lord Roper: In the same way that flooding does not recognise regional boundaries.

  Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed. We will meet again at 4.30.

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