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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 2.36 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 2.34 to 2.36 p.m.]

Civil Contingencies Bill

House again in Committee.

Clause 3 [Section 2: supplemental]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 40:

"(6) The Secretary of State shall ensure that such arrangements are in force as are necessary to secure that a Category 2 responder receives a fair contribution towards the costs incurred by it in complying with any requirements imposed on it by regulations made under section 2(3) or (4)."

The noble Baroness said: Clause 3 deals with a Minister of the Crown issuing guidance to a person or body listed in Parts 1 or 3 of Schedule 1 about the matters specified in Clause 2(3)—a Minister making regulations as to the extent of duty to assess, to plan and to advise on contingency planning—and Clause 2(4)—which would apply the same provisions.

Our amendment would insert a new subsection at the end of the clause which would ensure that the bodies to which these regulations apply are covered by a contribution from the Government towards costs incurred in carrying out requirements of the regulations. Our amendment relates to category 2 responders which are listed in Parts 3 and 4 of Schedule 1; namely, electricity suppliers, suppliers of gas and water, telecommunications providers and those connected with the transport industry.

We understand that in an emergency many of those companies will need to pull together rapidly. Perhaps supplies will need to be moved from one part of the country to another and the transport industry may have to support a mass evacuation of one part of the country. The utilities may be required to carry out tasks that they would not normally do. I remember during the foot and mouth crisis that many farmers were told to clean up a lot of the land and equipment around their farms to try to prevent the spread of the disease. In order to carry out those functions they may have to hire other equipment. This is just one example of a group being asked to do something that it would not normally have to do during a time of crisis.

I am sure that in any such event, all the category 2 responders will be more than happy to comply with any requirements imposed on them by the regulations. However the cost implications for them could be, and often are, very extensive. Is it fair to ask them to carry the burden of those costs? I look to the Minister for assurance on this issue and I look forward to hearing what he has to say on this matter. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: The name of my noble friend Lord McNally is on the amendment. We on these Benches certainly support the principle. The point about local authorities was made particularly
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forcefully by a number of speakers at Second Reading. I know that the Minister with his local authority background will well understand the tensions over funding of local authorities. I acknowledge the increase in funding for these functions included in the Spending Review 2004. I think that the Minister has written to noble Lords referring to that.

Nevertheless, the point is well made by the noble Baroness. Moreover, even if the funding is provided right now—I do not know whether or not it is—this is, to use another unfortunate phrase, something of a moving target to ensure that all the preparation is in hand. These matters do not stand still. I am not sure whether technically one refers to the Secretary of State. I mention that not to carp, but simply to say to the Government Front Bench, "Please do not take a technical point on this. We can come back and get it technically right later". I support the noble Baroness.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We cannot accept this amendment. It splits local responders into categories with a different level of duty being imposed on each category.

Two obligations fall on category 2 responders, the first of which is to share information. This will allow them to support the development of effective multi-agency plans. Secondly, they will also be obliged to co-operate with other category 1 and 2 responders through participation in local resilience forums. That does not mean that their emergency planning work will be taken over or that unnecessary or burdensome demands will be made of them. But it does mean that they will be fully engaged in local civil protection work in a structured, consistent and, I would like to think, helpful way.

I think we could all accept that information sharing and co-operation are essential fundamentals to the development of sound risk assessments and well worked out planning and response arrangements. How could a fire authority make its flood response plans without a knowledge of key sites to be protected—for example, electricity substations? What is the sense in organisations preparing plans for dealing with emergencies if they do not hang together?

The proposed amendments require the Government to ensure that category 2 responders receive a fair contribution towards the costs incurred in fulfilling these two duties. I certainly share the concerns that category 2 bodies are not unreasonably burdened, but I do not agree that it is necessary to put such a duty on the face of the Bill. I shall explain why.

Category 2 responders are generally organisations that already have direct responsibilities to the public, either for their safety or for the provision of a range of essential services. In most cases, they are already subject to a range of specific civil protection duties by virtue of their licensing or regulatory regimes. For example, water undertakers are required to provide water by alternative means in the event of an unavoidable failure of the piped supply and to take account of the needs of vulnerable people. The
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regulatory regime for the railways also requires operators to do a degree of emergency planning work. The Bill does not duplicate these requirements, but merely seeks to ensure that emergency planning undertaken in specific sectors is linked to the wider civil protection effort.

Indeed, that is what we discovered when we conducted the regulatory impact assessment on the Bill to measure the burdens imposed on the private sector. The main conclusions of the RIA were that cost per organisation in each police force area is quite small and that the costs are significantly outweighed by the benefits.

In practice, the requirements imposed on category 2 responders would amount to attending a small number of local resilience forum meetings per year, providing information relevant to civil protection issues—for example, data on hazards or business continuity plans—and participating in one or perhaps two exercises per annum. The consultation on the draft Bill confirmed this assessment and provided some useful insights, which have been used subsequently to refine the thinking behind it.

I recognise the need to strike a proper balance between engaging category 2 responders effectively in civil protection work and avoiding imposing unnecessary or disproportionate burdens on private sector bodies.

Having said that, I hope that the noble Baronesses feel reassured. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her recognition of the additional funds that the Government have made available to local authorities for their work. That has been widely welcomed and has given a great deal of comfort to the local authority sector. Inevitably it will help in ensuring that arrangements work better, particularly in co-operation and joint works with other category 1 and 2 responders.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Before the Minister sits down, he has dealt fairly adequately with the issue of what I would call "the maintenance of the early warning"—the emergency planning function. But there is the separate issue of costs incurred in the event of an actual emergency. One could envisage circumstances where perhaps transport firms for particular reasons were involved in exceptional cost, which would not otherwise be reimbursed. Will the Minister inform the Committee a little bit more about that specific aspect, which could be acute, specific and directed at particular firms rather than the general issue of the planning cost? I think that most people would accept that was a highly desirable thing and a liability with which they would have no problem.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: That is a fair point. I have not addressed the detail of the costs that private sector companies might incur. In a sense that is outside the scope of the Bill. It would be fair to say that that is something which will unfold as an event unfolds. That is the realistic approach. I have an example of the
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operation of a utility company, disrupted by an act of terror. Of course there might be a case for relaxing service level agreements or the level of service to be provided or perhaps even suspending price caps.

In fairness, it has to be said that the issue will have to be thought through on a case-by-case basis, taking account of the situation, the impact on that particular service company and so on. So it is hard to be precise in these situations, but as a general rubric we do have to look at the way in which events work and the cost to that particular company of providing that particular service.

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