Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that a slippery slope is implicit in this question? When I first visited Moscow there was a lane down the middle of the highways enabling the ZISs to go unmolested through the capital. There are dangers in our head of state and our political elite becoming ever more isolated by security measures. Those dangers should be put in the balance when considering these matters.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that we have to be proportionate. That is why we have to look with very great care at the precise nature of the lacuna—the gap that we have to fill—and ensure that we do not do that which is unnecessary or too heavy handed. But the issue does need to be addressed.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, how long has this anxious thought process been going on, and when does the Minister think it might come to a conclusion?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for always having the most helpful question. I can tell your Lordships that this matter has been under consideration since the latter part of 2003; your Lordships will remember the issue in relation to Windsor. We hope that we will soon be able to say precisely how this matter should be dealt with—and your Lordships know what "soon" can mean.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that only a very short Bill will be needed? I suggest that it is likely to get support from all over both Houses.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am very grateful for the noble Lord's indication of his support. My period at the Dispatch Box tells me that I have to take any further support with a little degree of caution.
14 Oct 2004 : Column 387
I can certainly tell your Lordships that I reasonably believe that this is an issue that we will be able to address relatively speedily.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, the Minister says that the Government have been addressing the issue with "anxious attention". Is not a year a rather long time to spend on "anxious attention"?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, no. It is a very complex issue. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, says, it is an issue of proportionality. Noble Lords will know that trespass currently is not a criminal offence. If a little boy kicks his ball into someone's garden or an old lady chases her dog on to someone's property in order to retrieve it, it should not be a criminal offence. We have to identify the other laws that currently cover the situation and fashion a sufficiently narrow provision to catch the mischief that we have all now seen identified.

This mischief is continuing and there have been a number of breaches. That is why we have to deal with it. I hope the House will feel that that is appropriate. We have to be protective in relation to security but conscious in relation to civil liberties and the practicalities of doing what makes sense.

Water Purification Units

Lord Roberts of Llandudno asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Government do not have any stocks of water purification units. Water companies have some units that are available to assist in emergencies abroad, although they would be provided only if they were the most appropriate response in the circumstances. The Armed Forces also hold a range of water purification equipment that could be made available to assist the civil authorities either in the UK or overseas—subject, of course, to military priorities.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but I am also a wee bit disappointed. We know that pure, safe drinking water is one of the most desperate needs in the world today. For example, every 15 seconds, a child will die of cholera brought about by polluted water. However,
14 Oct 2004 : Column 388
that is a long-term issue. We have, in the short term, had crises such as those in Sudan and Rwanda. Will the Government encourage the Ministry of Defence and the water authorities to respond immediately to meet those needs wherever they arise? I hope the Minister can give me that assurance.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, this country has a very good record on responding to the type of emergency situations to which the noble Lord referred. The water purification units to which I referred are somewhat old kit; they belonged to the Government but were handed over to the then water boards in the 1980s. They certainly do not meet current European and British water standards. They have been used in overseas emergencies; I think the latest one was in Bosnia. However, in many cases my colleagues in DfID and the operators on the ground find that water purification tablets are a better way of dealing with emergency situations than large-scale water purification plants.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, this Question covers emergencies in this country as well as overseas. Did the national emergency leaflet that was recently handed out advise people to hold water purification tablets? Many tourists take these tablets with them when they go abroad and they are considered very effective.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I need to check, but I do not believe that the subject was covered in those terms in the leaflet. If I am wrong about that, I will write to the noble Baroness. The Government take seriously the issue of the availability of water purification tablets. The issue of the responsibility of the individual citizen probably should also be addressed.

Lord McNally: My Lords, what the Minister is saying is rather disturbing. Later today we will debate the Civil Contingencies Bill, but he has just told us that some of the water companies' equipment may be old kit from the Ministry of Defence. Is not one of the most important issues that the civil authorities can guarantee the water supply in the event of a terrorist attack via the water supply?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the answer to that must be, "Yes". Without going into detail, I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate that, in the light of potential threats, security on water installations has been very substantially improved. But it is also true that if, for whatever reason, the water supply breaks down in the United Kingdom—which still has a reasonably plentiful supply of water—water to make up that supply is delivered via tankering or water purification tablets rather than by direct purification. Those means have been more appropriate.

I do not wish to be misquoted regarding the reference to old kit. The Government used to have that equipment as part of their civil defence contingency requirements. The Government no longer have that
14 Oct 2004 : Column 389
equipment, which now rests with the water companies, but we can require them to provide it. The military equipment may well be to a far better standard, though I cannot reveal its exact specifications. The military also would play a role in any UK civil contingency of the kind described.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I am still disappointed by the Minister's response. We are not dealing with a handful of people to whom we can hand out tablets. We are dealing with millions of people.

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I am sorry. You are dealing with polluted water. I would certainly like to see—

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I apologise, my Lords. Is it possible for the older water purification plants to be made available immediately to those areas of greatest need?

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords, they would be made available if they were the best way to deal with the crisis. But it is also true that other means of obtaining water, even with a large-scale contamination, would probably be more cost-effective and timely than using those purification plants—even state-of-the-art purification plants—on a mobile basis. There are substantial ways in which to get water to the population short of using those plants. But if it were necessary, they would be made available.

Annuities and Smoking

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government do not believe that new legislation would be appropriate to deal with this issue. Regulation of this kind could be better implemented through the codes of practice issued by the Association of British Insurers.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page