Examination of Witnesses (Questions 354-359)|
21 OCTOBER 2003
Q354 Chairman: Good afternoon everyone.
I am sorry we have kept you waiting. If you would just introduce
yourselves and your organisation first and then we will get into
the questions, thank you.
Mr Brown: Good afternoon, Mr Chairman.
Peter Brown, Chief Commander, St John Ambulance.
Mr Lever: Good afternoon, Mr Chairman.
My name is Mark lever, Chief Executive of WRVS.
Ms Beardshaw: Good afternoon,
Mr Chairman. I am Virginia Beardshaw from the British Red Cross.
Ms Wood-Heath: Good afternoon,
Mr Chairman. I am Moya Wood-Heath and I am the Assistant General
Secretary of the National Voluntary Aid Society Emergency Committee.
Major Cochrane: Good afternoon,
Mr Chairman. I am Bill Cochrane and I represent the Salvation
Army in the United Kingdom.
Q355 Chairman: Thank you very much.
The National Voluntary Aid Society Emergency Committee has suggested
that the Bill's definition of an emergency "does not place
sufficient emphasis on `a serious threat' or major emergency"
and that the definition of a `major emergency' in the Cabinet
Office's Dealing with Disasters should be incorporated
into the Bill. What benefits do you think this addition would
Ms Wood-Heath: Can I just say
thank you very much on behalf of my voluntary representatives
for the opportunity of coming before you this afternoon.
Q356 Chairman: Not
Ms Wood-Heath: The comment from
the National Voluntary Aid Society Emergency Committee is that
the definition in the Bill only goes so far and the problem is
that in order to trigger a reaction you need to have some form
of trigger. In the definition in Dealing with Disaster
there is just such a trigger, it is "any event or circumstance
happening with or without warning that causes or threatens death
or injury, disruption to the community or damage to property or
to the environment and it is on such a scale that the effects
cannot be dealt with by the emergency services, local authorities
and other organisations as part of their normal day-to-day activities."
So what we say is that that definition gives some formal identification
of scale and that enables individuals and organisations to have
a judgment about something being outside their normal or their
regular form of incident response. The benefits of such clarity
in that definition are that it gives some form of clear concept
that people can react to intuitively. What it would do is enable
a common definition that works for everyone and for every organisation
and so what that would avoid is the need to tinker with such a
definition to make it suit a particular organisation. Having a
common definition that everybody works to intuitively is of particular
relevance for the voluntary sector because we see that our response
comes in when an incident exceeds the resources that other organisations
have, that is when they realise their dependence on us to provide
some form of humanitarian support. So the need for us to have
some clarity about a definition, again going back to Dealing
with Disaster, is actually reflected there where it states
more eloquently than I have just done that major emergencies can
over-stretch the services of the emergency services and local
authorities and the value of additional support from the voluntary
sector has been demonstrated on many occasions.
Q357 Chairman: Thank
you. Does anybody have anything to add to that? No. Can you give
some examples of the types of emergencies you think would be most
appropriately covered by the Bill and any incidents that you think
it might not be appropriate for the Bill to encompass?
Ms Wood-Heath: I think historically
in this country our organisations have responded to emergencies
by responding to the effects rather than the cause. Coming back
to my point about having a common definition as I have just described
with a trigger of scale, that enables us all to have this intuitive
response to something which you immediately appreciate takes you
outside your normal day-to-day response and the resources that
you have. There needs to be no initial assessment of what sort
of emergency the definition would fit, it would arise naturally
as an event or a situation occurred. So it could be something
that would encompass something fairly small scale, perhaps a minibus
crash on a motorway with a small number of fatalities and serious
injuries, but the impact of that can be quite extensive, with
large numbers of people trapped in vehicles, people having their
journey interrupted and inconvenienced, you have witnesses to
the event, you have survivors, relatives and friends, responders
all gathering together, all creating quite a lot of humanitarian
need. So, you can see on a small incident scale that this definition
would work, that it would therefore be considered an emergency
within this legislation. It goes right through to winter pressures
or a flu epidemic. Then there is what we all dread, which is a
huge and large scale evacuation in response to some form of unexploded
or an exploded bomb, so having something with a trigger according
to resource would work for us all.
Mr Lever: I think the perspective
of the WRVS is really to look at the need that is there and I
think where we respond is where there is a need for our services,
whether that is through preparing rest centres, registration,
reception, emergency feeding and that can range from any emergency,
whether it is a bomb threat, the Potters Bar rail crash, the Hackney
siege or last weekend at the derailment in Staffordshire where
we were feeding 250 people three times a day for three days. It
varies and I think what we tend to focus on is what we are able
to provide at the time of emergency and be called on to provide
Q358 Lord Roper: Do
you think there ought to be a threshold set for the various types
of emergencies which would be able to trigger emergency powers
and, if so, what should it be?
Ms Wood-Heath: From the National
Voluntary Aid Society Emergency Committee perspective, we would
say no, we do not want thresholds because they become a problem.
It is about the nature of the situation, what are the pressures
that it is placing on us, does it take us outside the resource
that we have for a normal day-to-day response. If it does then
we are moving into what would come into the classification of
an emergency or a major incident. To attach figures to it means
the figures become a restraint.
Major Cochrane: The Salvation
Army would want to support that. Our arrangements vary tremendously
across the country. In London, for example, there would be a very
clear threshold that is set in terms of the arrangements we have
with the statutory emergency services, but in other more rural
communities then what might be considered a small event in London
terms could be considered very substantial and therefore to set
a threshold that would be common would not be terribly helpful.
Ms Beardshaw: The Red Cross takes
the same view.
Mr Brown: And St John Ambulance
would concur. We would see ourselves responding to requests from
the statutory services and supporting them in circumstances where
they require that measure of support.
Mr Lever: WRVS is about providing
support and not necessarily deciding when plans are needed or
Q359 Lord Archer of Sandwell:
Ms Beardshaw, in your written significance the Red Cross says
that it would like to be a category 1 responder. Why do you want
that? On the face of it it would make you susceptible to statutory
duties. It would not gain you any rewards. What is in it for you?
Ms Beardshaw: The Red Cross has
considered its position with regard to this request very carefully,
as you would expect. At a time when national policy is stressing
the importance of voluntary sector organisations acting in partnership
with statutory sector emergency services and other partners we
take the view that the role of the whole voluntary sector as key
providers in the humanitarian aspect of emergency planning and
response needs to be recognised formally in this Bill. When we
considered our own position as an organisation and made our request
for category 1 status we were very careful to take advice from
the Cabinet Office civil contingencies secretariat who advised
us to consider what our ordinary activities were every day and
to consider whether if we did not do it we would be failing in
our duties. In other words, do not be aspirational and do not
think what would it do for you. So looking carefully at what we
do every day, we are a dedicated national emergency response organisation
operating 24 hours a day 365 years a year. We have 30,000 volunteers
working with us and 3,000 staff. Within our volunteer complement
we have a dedicated 3,500 emergency response volunteers. We provide
emergency help and support in a range that encompasses support
to individuals in crisis right through to response to major and
national emergencies. We helped more than 420,000 people last
year in this way. That is what we do now and what we will continue
doing. In terms of looking at our formal duties and whether we
would be in dereliction of them, we went back to our Royal Charter
and the legal functions given to us under the Geneva Conventions
of 1949. These established the Red Cross as an auxiliary to the
statutory authorities in the humanitarian field, a unique status
which we have in Britain and all other Red Cross national societies
have in relation to their own governments. There are 178 Red Cross
national societies across the world and we are the British one.
With this unique status as auxiliary to the statutory authorities
in the humanitarian field we feel strongly that we would be failing
in our duty if we did not come in and support statutory partners
and give humanitarian relief and that is why we have asked to
be designated a category 1 responder. As I say, we have been encouraged
in doing so by a wider Government policy which at the moment is
stressing very strongly the importance of voluntary sector organisations
acting in support of statutory partners, as we do.