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Baroness Park of Monmouth: I have a very minor point. In the days when I was serving in Africa, every time one went to the Congo one was required by the authorities to have a smallpox vaccination: so I must have had about eight, quite apart from those that I had as a child. I can assure noble Lords that I got nothing from it but a sore arm.
Lord Elton: The Minister's job, of course, is to be reassuring. He has a public duty not to cause general alarm; he has a political duty to show the Government in a good light. But that is a very dangerous position to be in. The most chilling words that the noble Lord uttered were, "Well, there is no risk" of various things, particularly a smallpox attack.
How does he know that there is no risk? We know that live vaccine exists. We know that the World Health Organisation has said that the disease has been eradicated, but that is only on the hypothesis that no one wishes it to be revived. The fact is that there are people who wish it to be revived.
In 1939 when the war began, there was a period that I well rememberperhaps the noble Lord does toowhich we came to call the "phoney war" because not very much seemed to affect us. I have a nasty feeling that people are expecting that to happen again. We are in the phoney war now. The war has been started: it just has not hit us. Therefore, if the Government really think that there is no risk, I think that the risk is very much greater than it need be. I hope that my noble friend will come back at the next stage with his amendment, perhaps separating the issue of vaccination from the other issues which are equally, but differently, important.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I will try as best I can to answer the various questions that noble Lords have asked because they deserve a serious response. On the question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, obviously it would be desirable if we could ensure that we have greater capability with the numbers of those who are vaccinated to perform their role within the teams. I shall go back and check more precisely the data that exist on that issue. I want to ensure that everyone is well advised on that particular point.
I quoted from, I think, Kelvin Laybourne, with regard to CBRN attacks and extreme scenarios. My point was that this risk wasI quote"probably very low". I quoted also the World Health Organisation
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with regard to the level of smallpox internationally, which says that it has been declared eradicated. I accept the point that it is possible for people to develop the cultures and to hold the virus and so on, and for it to be exercised in the way in which noble Lords have described.
In the absence of the disease in society, obviously the risk is of a lower order. Any assessment in that field has to be about risk and hierarchy of risk. It is thought that this is of a lower order of threat and risk, although, of course, we must guard against it.
Lord Lucas: The question of risk is rather like the difference between coal-fired power stations and nuclear-fired power stations. Yes, nuclear-fired power stations are much less risky than coal ones in the ordinary day-to-day damage that they do to people. But if they are going to do someone some damage, they are going to do a lot of people some very serious damage. That is rather the situation that we are in now.
We impose much stricter controls on nuclear power stations than we do on coal ones. That is not because we are worried about the day-to-day level of damage, but because we want to make sure that nothing catastrophic happens. The same ought to apply here. Yes, it is a very low risk, but it is a very low risk of a very nasty event.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Of course, the noble Lord is right: it is. I might be able to help your Lordships' House by providing some more details with regard to emergency services preparedness. We have some 360 mobile decontamination units around the country for use by ambulance service and hospital accident and emergency departments. As part of our programme, we have distributed some 7,250 personal protection suits to key health workers. To improve stocks held by hospitals, some 2,500 additional suits have been stockpiled. Some 5,000 police officers are now CBRN trained. There are 80 new fire service vehicles and 190 purpose-built decontamination units, each capable of handling some 200 people an hour for England and Wales. We have distributed some 4,400 new gastight suits for firefighters. That is all part of our resilience programme.
As I said, we have invested much in counter measures and have enhanced our preparedness. I accept that there is clearly more to do. Over the next few years our programmes will ensure that that work is undertaken. It is perhaps worth mentioning that following the April 2003 Budget we invested some £330 million for the next three years for counter-terrorism measures; some £85 million was allocated in 200203 to the NHS for medical counter measures and equipment, including personal protective equipment; and some £56 million has been made available to the fire and rescue services for the mass decontamination phase of the New Dimension programme in which they are performing an important part.
That gives some figures and some indication of the types of activities that are being undertaken as part of our resilience, preparedness and hardening in this
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particular and difficult field. I have tried to provide as much information as I can during this debate. I am grateful for all of the questions, even the more awkward ones to which I have not been able to provide an immediate response. I shall try to pick up in further correspondence those issues that noble Lords have found particularly telling in order to elucidate and illuminate on them.
Lord Jopling: This matter has taken up about one hour of our time. I hope very much that it is time well spent. I hope that the Government have taken on board the wide concerns caused by what I still believe are the very wide gaps in preparation for a terrorist attack. I think that we are all grateful to the Minister for his responses in as far as they went. He has promised that he will respond to the concerns expressed. It is very important that we see the responses to all the questions in good time before Report so that we can reflect on both what he said today and his response to the questions that he has been unable to answer.
I had hoped to be able to help my noble friend in providing the answer that the Minister could not give regarding the time lag before a vaccination becomes effective, but unfortunately I have left the paper with the information on it up in my room and I have not had a chance to go and get it. None the less, my noble friend has made a very good point.
Lord Jopling: That is right, because he has raised an immensely important issue. If, let us say, an anthrax or smallpox attack did take place, there would be a lag before anyone knew it had even happened and another lag during which people are vaccinated and their resistance becomes effective, by which time we could have a major epidemic on our hands. I repeat, this is a very important issue.
The last point I want to make to the Minister is that I have heard a rumour in the corridors that because of the time to be taken up by consideration of the Hunting Bill over the next few weeks, it could be that this Bill will be withdrawn. I most passionately urge the Government not to withdraw the Bill. I have criticised the Government before over the long delay between the original Second Reading and this stage. It is urgent that these matters are dealt with. Most of the measures in the Bill are welcome and acceptable and I certainly support most of them. However, we have not yet dealt properly with these matters.
We must reflect on what the Minister has said in response and consider his further answers. We can then come back to the matter on Report. My noble friend Lord Elton suggested that it might be wise to separate paragraph (a) of my amendment from what is set out in the other three paragraphs, and I think I might do that.
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I hope that I will be able to have discussions with those of my colleagues who have spoken. I am most grateful to them for what they have said. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Elton: I thought that we were about to hold a debate on clause stand part, and I wanted to come in at the end of it with a point about the drafting of this clause, in particular the last subsection which I find quite extraordinary. In effect it applies to Scottish Ministers' particular requirements which otherwise apply to a Minister of the Crown. It states:
Surely it would be much simpler for the user of this Bill to have a subsection setting out directly the requirements placed on Scottish Ministers? This is internal legislation by reference. Normally legislation by reference states that a part of another Act shall apply in certain circumstances, modified in some way. You have to have the two Acts to hand to work it out. This is easier because you need only two subsections, but it is totally unnecessary and, I should have thought, rather difficult to draft.
If the Minister has time between now and Report, and if the parliamentary draftsmen are not at quite their usual full stretch, will they consider redrafting subsection (6) so that it is more user-friendly? This is a small request, but if it suggests an approach to drafting that could be imported into all our legislation, life for many people would be a great deal easier.
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