|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Clause 5 will enable a Minister to require a body to perform a function in order to prevent an emergency, reduce the effects of an emergency or take any other action in connection with an emergency. Amendment No. 44 would add another paragraph to subsection (1) and would ensure that the Government established a public information programme in respect of emergencies.
I knowI presumethat the Minister will tell us that there is no need for our amendment, as the Government have already produced and distributed a leaflet to every household in the country and have a website containing information on "Preparing for Emergencies". However, we would like to know whether that is all that the Government intend to do to educate the public on how to behave in an emergency.
The need for information was highlighted in the BBC programme "Panorama" on Sunday 16 May 2004. The programme claimed that the UK was far behind many other Western countries when it came to giving the public advice on what to do and what to prepare for. Do the Government believe that, by publishing a small booklet with bullet points, they have caught up with the rest of the world in giving advice?
14 Oct 2004 : Column 447
The BBC programme went on to state that MI5 decided to publish security advice on its website for the first time in April this year and that the site had subsequently received 3 million hits in one day. That should show us that the public want to know what to do in an emergency. Do the Government now feel that they have done enough in educating the public in respect of emergencies? Could the Minister tell the House how the information available and distributed in this country compares with that in, say, Australia or America?
Amendment No. 45 relates to a slightly different point. The public, if given the correct information, can be immensely helpful in preventing a terrorist attack. In Northern Ireland, during the IRA's campaign of the 1970s to the 1990s, there were frequent public information campaigns and terrorism awareness lessons were given in schools and in other public meeting places and to other public bodies. I remember well that we all had a much stronger sense of what we should do and how we should act in a precautionary way on public transport or in public buildings. For example, I find it extraordinary that people now walk past large black sacks left in unusual places. Certainly, I am still not prepared to accept a briefcase sitting by itself on a train or a platform or on a Tubeperhaps I make a fool of myself. Often, other members of the publicparticularly the young, I noticelook at me as if I have gone slightly mad, but I was younger back in the 1970s, and I was acutely aware of such things. I was nearly blown up by the IRA in the 1970s by bombs that were defused with three minutes to spare, thanks to a porterIrish, as it happenedwho alerted the police to the fact that there was a massive bomb in plain black sacks three floors below the flat where I was sleeping. I had not realised that I was that important.
The point is that there was a strong sense of what we should do and what precautions we should sensibly and quietly take. That has changed. Earlier today, we were saying that we were living in a new climate in a dangerous world. We just want to feel that the Government are doing all that they can to inform and educate people, not in such a way as to disturb them beyond what is reasonable but to make them feel comfortable that they and we are doing what we can to prevent and minimise harm. I look forward to the Minister's response, and I beg to move.
Baroness Hamwee: Like me, the noble Baroness would have been out of her hotel with her mac over her nightie as soon as the alarm went off. She would be as astounded as I was to find that it takes half an hour for some people to get out. In one case, someone was finishing putting on her make-up.
What are the Government doing to learn from other countries? The public are not biddable; I am very aware of that. I understand that, last week, warning after warning was given to the Israeli people about going into Sinai. I was told by someone who lives in Israel that those warnings could not have been louder or clearer, but many went all the same. We know what
14 Oct 2004 : Column 448
happened. Is international experience being shared? Different cultures absorb information in different ways, but it is a small world now.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: We have had some discussion and debate on preparedness and information provision. It is useful to do that, not least because we continue to learn. I have great respect for the points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Buscombe. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, evacuated rapidly and is with us today to tell us about it. It is an appalling thought that she might not have been.
Clause 2 puts a duty on category 1 responders to advise, warn and inform the public about emergencies. That duty should ensure that the need to provide the right information to the public is embedded in the civil protection process. When we look back at Protect and Survive and other efforts to inform the public, we cringe a bit and feel rather uncomfortable about what was said and done then. I can remember thinking that it was rather funny and rather fatuous. This time, however, we have got off on the right foot. No leaflet is perfect. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, kindly sent me an example of how access to information for minority groups might be improved. She gave me a useful example of some work of which she was aware. We are more than happy to see it as part of a learning process. I do not think that the amendments take us much further forward, but it would be helpful to think more on the matter.
Amendment No. 45 would enable the Government to require category 1 respondents to establish and promote a public training programme. Training is different from information and advice. I suggest that there is no such thing as a standard terrorist threat or major incident and therefore no such thing as a standard response. Our response to any incident, including chemical or biological incidents, accidental or otherwise, would obviously depend on a number of factors; for example, what the danger is, who is affected by it, and how best to contain the incident. Trained personnel from the emergency services are obviously best placed to decide the appropriate response on the ground.
To give detailed prescriptive advice or training in advance about how to handle every potential threat could be misleading and perhaps unhelpful because it would engender a sense of confusion. However, householders can take basic precautions which would help them in any number of disruptive incidents. For example, many households already keep handy a supply of candles and a torch in case of power cuts. The best first piece of advice in the event of an emergency is: go in, stay in and tune in. By doing that, members of the public are more likely to be in touch with information put out through public broadcasts. We do not intend to institute a programme of public training or to get local responders to do that. For that reason, we resist the amendment.
We have looked at what other countries have done and reflected on their experience. We have used that experience in applying it to United Kingdom
14 Oct 2004 : Column 449
circumstances because that makes much more sense. There is no "one size fits all" approach. We need to ensure that responders are in the best possible position to provide information, that they understand their local information needs, and that they can pass on useful government-acquired information. In that sense, we are improving the range and quality of our resilience and trying to ratchet up local responders' sense of awareness.
We do not want to be over-prescriptive. On the other hand, we want to ensure that through all our programmes we provide appropriate levels of information, make good use of broadcasts, understand that people will want to access information in that way, and make good use of the Internet, which is now an increasingly widely used form of media and communication.
Lord Garden: On behalf of those still waiting in breathless anticipation of the delivery of the pamphlet, perhaps I may ask whether a survey has been carried out to see how many people received it. It certainly has not yet made it to NW3.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I may have responded to this point in an earlier debate. Surveying is ongoing to gauge the percentage coverage. I do not have the figure in my head but I will try to supply the noble Lord and others involved in these discussions with follow-up information. We want to ensure that the leaflet has got round. I am not sure that I have received my copy either, so the noble Lord is not alone.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|