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Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is a very great privilege to have been asked to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, on his maiden speech. On discovering my name under his on the speakers' list, I had a brief look to find out about his history. I discovered with delight that he had been a pilot for BOAC. I am proud to say that we have one of those. I do not know whether the noble Lord compares himself favourably to any member of the ferret family, but perhaps we shall find out later.
As the noble Lord said, he had a torrid time as MD and chairman of London Underground. He has learnt, in a way that few Members of this House have learnt, how to deal with antagonistic press and Commons committees. In this place we are much nicer, as the noble Lord will doubtless find out when he sits on committees. I suspect that none of us will have the chance to be sacked by Ken Livingstoneexcept possibly the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, if he gets around to it.
As the noble Lord quite rightly said, he will be remembered for the Jubilee Line, which for any of us who use it is a pleasure and a glory. If it were not for the fact that we sometimes remember why it was built, it would be an unalloyed pleasure.
I enjoyed listening to the noble Lord's speech. I agreed with every word of it. I hope that that will be true of his future speeches. I very much hope that he will find the time to take a full part in the Committee and later stages of this Bill. We shall benefit enormously from his expertise.
As the Chief Whip is in his place, I hope that he will allow the Committee stage to be taken on the Floor of the House. I really believe that this Bill will not benefit from being tucked away in Grand Committee. The issues are too wide and of too much interest to too many people.
I shall want to say a great deal in Committee, but today I want to raise two points. First, if Part 1 is to work, we all need to know what to do when an emergency strikes. That applies, first, to the people who are to be involved in managing an emergency, as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said so cogently. In the way in which the Bill is structured, there is a real problem in that, as central government have written themselves out of the process. They do not appear to
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want to be involved at all in the practising, rehearsing and thinking that will take place. They appear to want a role of issuing diktats and supervising what goes on and when the emergency occurs, departments will get together and spend a day or two deciding which of them will be in charge of a particular emergency before they get around to doing anything.
In case that is not confusing enough, there will be a system of regional supremos who also will not be involved in practising and who will be identified only when an emergency occurs. "This is a kind of medical emergency so we'll pick Dr Thistledown from Manchester to deal with this one", when no one has ever dealt with him before and he has not been involved in the rehearsals that have taken place to produce an effective response.
It is absolutely crucial that the whole government machine is involved in practising, that the government response is co-ordinated, and thatwhatever happens and whenever it happenseverybody in the central government, local government and other responders' machinery knows who is in charge, where they turn to for their instructions and what they are supposed to do if communications are down. Making sure that the mechanisms and structure are right, so that that happens, will be one of the crucial tasks I shall address.
What the rest of us know is important too. How many of us know what we do if there is some disaster which makes central London untenable? I do. I just learnt it by chance: you are supposed to walk to the local railway station and take a train from there, getting out of the way. We hear in the press that there is a procedure for convening Parliament elsewhere. But how are we supposed to get to know of it after the disaster has struck? Nobody has told us, and every single member of this country is in the same position.
I suppose we can allow for some gentle confusion about what to do in the case of something relatively benign, such as London flooding because the Thames Barrier breaks down. But what if something serious is involved, such as the smallpox attack of my noble friend Lord Jopling? We are going to be in real trouble if such a thing happens here, because the first reaction of every other country in the world is going to be to seal us off. They will not want it. We are going to be faced not just with dealing with this infectious disease but with how to survive for a month or two with no food or fuel imports.
What does one do under those circumstances? Either one has immediate faith in a national plan, because you know it exists: it starts talking to you immediately, you know where to turn to, you know everything will be fairly treated; or you grab a baseball bat, head off down to Tesco and make sure that you are going to be all right. That is what will happen, very quickly, if we do not all know what to do, or where to take our information from. It is crucial that we form a public-facing civil contingency system in this Bill. We do not need to know the details, but we need to know enough to form part of a co-ordinated civil response, rather than having to look after number one.
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What concerns me in Part 2 of the Bill is what happens in an extreme case. Are we opening up our system to the equivalent of what happened in Germany in 1933, where it became possible for an extreme party legitimately to hijack a democracy and turn it into something totalitarian? It is not that difficult to imagine what happens. Perhaps next election we will have a hung Parliament. The Liberals will join Labour and their price will be proportional representation. In the Parliament after that, a chance for PR: you vote for who you want to make a difference. The UKIP and the BNP get significant representation in Parliament. The Conservative Party, pretty desperate for power, then allies itself with the UKIP and has a stand-off pact with the British National Party. The consequence of that, perhaps, is that we have an ex-Labour MPa demagogue, shall we say?who becomes a senior member of the government, perhaps Home Secretary, and that is the price for co-operation.
This scenario does not last for very long. There are too many tensions in it, and they can never really agree on what to do about Europe. Six months later, the Labour Party, sensing a real division, organises a vote of no confidence in the Commons. The UKIP and the BNP are very unsure about what they will do. They disappear into a conclave of their own, which continues to last as the debate goes on. Just as the Prime Minister rises to speak, a small tactical nuclear weapon explodes on a barge outside the Houses of Parliament. The only surviving Secretary of State is the member of the UKIP, and it rapidly becomes clear that the BNP are in with him. He creates an emergency. That is pretty easy to do under the circumstances: all you do is allege that that was done by Al'Qaeda, that it has a number of other bombs planted around the United Kingdom and that it is essential to track them down and discover them straight away.
We can run on from there and ask at what point we recover our democracy. We have created a Bill under which the first thing you do is, by order, amend the Bill, removing the safeguards in it using the powers in the Bill. You censor the press and suspend the courts. Faced with that sort of behaviour, what are the only real powers that remain in the land to do? What will the police and the Army do? Will they be able to read from the Bill the subtleties of constitutional interpretation in which the Government indulge in their response to the committee of which I was a member? Is it really right to expect a general to understand how that whole thing works, or do we need to write our protections for the preservation of our democracy much more clearly, in plain English, in the Bill, so that it is quite clear to everyone when lines have been overstepped?
We are not that far from giving a presently obscure, extremist party a chance at power. It requires only PR and a bit of clever manipulation and someone will have a chance. We must ensure that, even if such a person gets that chance, it does not last. That is a hard thing to do. Again, it relies very much on the public understanding of what the Bill can do and that what is
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happening is illegitimateand, therefore, the willingness of those who have the power to overturn such a development to act. That is something that we must include in the Bill, or we are signing our death warrant as a democracy.
Lord Garden: My Lords, I welcome this long-awaited Bill. Sir David Omand, the Cabinet Office co-ordinator for these issues, spoke last week at the Royal United Services Institute. He said that, although we cannot eliminate the threat of terrorism in the immediate future, there is an achievable strategic aim for the next five years, which is to deny terrorists the ability to disrupt our way of life, our prosperity and our confidence in our societies and culture. The Bill fits well with that strategic aim.
However, I share with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, concern about complacency on the Government's part. We have moved incredibly slowly. The work started before the attacks on Washington and New York. We have had three years since then. There have been subsequent attacks. Yet we still receive reports from the Defence Select Committee in the other place calling for action. In July 2002, one called for urgent action to get on with the Bill. Another report in July 2003 regretted continued delays and called for a greater sense of urgency.
I fear that I share with the committee a sense of bewilderment at the slow progress of this enabling Bill. I am very pleased that your Lordships have decided to get on with it tonight, because imposing further delay because of problems with business timetabling seems exactly the wrong thing to be doing at the moment. Through what is perhaps a combination of good luck and hard work by our intelligence and police services, we have not suffered an attack like the one suffered by Madrid in March. I wonder whether, if we had had to cope with a similar scale of attack, we would have wished that we had made more progress with the Bill and the tasking arrangements that would come with it.
Due to the time, I shall concentrate my remarks on aspects of Part 1, because I know that there will be a great deal of subsequent debate on Part 2. During the Cold War, we invested considerable resources in all aspects of civil defence. Rightly, those were scaled down, but we now find that we have to re-create the expertise and capability to cope with short notice, high impact events. That is different from the ordinary emergencies with which we must already cope. A rapid response to such events can reduce casualties significantly. To achieve that rapid response, those tasked need effective planning, regular training and the right equipment.
In placing a duty of contingency planning on local authorities and emergency services, the Bill requires them to conduct a whole range of activities such as emergency planning, risk assessment, business continuity planning and communications with the public and businesses. If these plans are to work on the day, they will require significant training and exercises.
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Local authorities already carry out some emergency simulations. For example, in 2003 Derbyshire County Council Emergency Planning Team carried out 25 exercises. Four of those were practical exercises while the rest were "table top" scenarios. The exercises included people from the health services, emergency services, local authority staff, the voluntary sector, the utilities and local media. However, to date no exercises on responses to terrorism have been carried out. The public have not been involved in the exercises other than when leaflet drops have taken place.
I worry that we are going to put these extra tasks onto the authorities without funding the necessary resources for them. Unlike the emergency services, local authorities have received no extra funding to undertake additional anti-terrorism work expected of them by the Government. Furthermore, the emergency planning service is already severely under-funded. It is not good enough for the Government to put new tasks without accompanying resources. It is not a question of the funding being done through the normal processwe are talking about what is known in military-speak as "urgent operational need". We need to make sure that they have the equipment to do the job. This is not an area where we can afford to take risks through under-funding.
I wish to raise one other aspect of our preparations which is of concern to me. In their reports on the Bill, both the Joint Committee and the Defence Committee expressed concern that the responsibilities of the Government were not covered by the Bill. The Government answered these concerns in January 2004 in Cm 6078 by explaining that Ministers are directly accountable to Parliament. This does not seem to me to be a good enough excuse in these very special circumstances.
I am particularly concerned about the role of the Ministry of Defence in preparing for its part in coping with terrorist attacks. So far what has taken place has not been encouraging. The 2003 Defence White Paper gives a list of the measures taken. The major innovation of the Civil Contingency Reaction Force was reported then as being at only 75 per cent of planned strength with uneven geographical distribution. I should be grateful if the Minister could provide the latest update. But perhaps more importantly, what number of CCRF personnel are expected to be available within four hours of any major emergency? These are reservists.
The Armed Forces have shown that they provide an essential capability for civil contingencies. When there is reasonable noticesuch as during the fire officers strikethen large numbers can be brought in. When administrative chaos ensues, as we had with the foot and mouth problem, the Army can bring structure and order. When floods threaten, specialist military equipment saves lives. Yet all of these events have time for the normal military aid to the civil power
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arrangements to click in. With our forces over-tasked and deployed globally, we may be less fortunate following a CBRN terror attack.
If we could afford the panoply of quick reaction forces and civil defence which were available to defend the United Kingdom during the Cold War, and we are under threat again, then we need to task the Ministry of Defence to assist the hard-pressed local authorities who are being tasked in the Bill. Without a clear statement of what is available from the Government, we are likely to see sub-optimal planning, exercises and procurement by those we are tasking.
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