|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Hamwee: No, I am not going to explode. I am going to ask a technical question. If the constraints and so on were in primary legislation, I assume that someone complaining that they had been breached would have an action for a breach of statutory duty. I do not know whether that applies in the case of a breach of regulations. The noble Lord can explode now!
Lord Lucas: I do not care a fig what is in draft regulations. They can change tomorrow. We are looking for the plain, fundamental protections for information that we have in other legislation. We are asking the Government to follow their own precedents and to put exactly what is said in draft information in primary legislation, which is where these protections belong and as they have done elsewhere.
If the noble Lord is relying on and saying that there is other legislation, which means that what is in the draft legislation is inevitable and is there as part of the law already, perhaps he will spell that out to me in
14 Oct 2004 : Column 453
a letter. If he is saying that we are relying, for the protection of the citizen, on the Government's goodwill in producing a piece of secondary legislation, I consider that utterly unacceptable.
But to return to my second question, to which I have had no answer at all, how are central government getting hold of the information which they need to play a proper part in civil protection? They have no rights under any of the information gathering or collaboration clauses in this Bill. How are they to play their part unless they have those rights?
The Earl of Onslow: Does the noble Lord not understand that by putting these protections in regulations as opposed to, as normally is the case, in legislation, it adds to the suspicions of nasty, evil-minded people like myself who never trust any government at all?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I explained that there are protections already in place by virtue of the Data Protection Act. I have also explained that there are necessary protections being put in place by virtue of the regulations. I am not quite sure what more we can seek to get from where the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is coming from on this.
I shall look in Hansard at what he has said and think some more about it. It may well be that I am missing the point, but I do not think so. I am not simply relying on the argument that people should take on trust what the Government are saying. We have framed this very carefully and protections have been put in place. Therefore I am not initially persuaded by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that putting something in the Bill would necessarily add to that. However, as ever I shall be happy to reflect on the points made by the noble Lord.
I turn to the second point. The noble Lord asked how central government get their information. I direct the noble Lord towards Clause 9 which provides an enabling provision for central government to obtain information from local responders about their civil protection activities. I think that that answers the specific point he put to me.
Lord Lucas: No doubt we will visit the first point again on Report if we do not get any satisfaction out of the Government. If the Minister cannot understand the difference between protections being put in primary legislation and those included in secondary legislation, then I despair. However, I am sure that he will recover his sense on the matter in time to write to me a letter.
I turn the provision for the Government to obtain information under Clause 9. If that is really the limit of the information that the Government think they need to run a proper civil contingency service, it really adds to my doubts about whether the Government are serious about playing a role in this at all.
"FINANCIAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR LOCAL AUTHORITIES
(1) Any expenditure incurred by a local authority (as defined under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1) arising from this Bill including initial start up costs will be met in full by central Government through additional grant paid to each local authority.
(2) To ascertain this figure the Audit Commission will, twelve months from the date on which this Act received Royal Assent, undertake a full evaluation of the annual running costs and start up costs arising from this Act incurred by each local authority."
The noble Baroness said: I return to the difficult subject of financial arrangements, but this time I am focusing specifically on local authorities, the category 1 responders. With this amendment we turn to one of the key issues that has received considerable attention throughout the passage of the Bill and at Second Reading in your Lordships' House; namely, the cost of this measure on local authorities. Unlike the Civil Defence Act 1948 and associated regulations, neither the Bill nor the draft regulations make any explicit commitment to the funding of the function within local authorities.
There is ample evidence that an increase over existing levels of funding will be necessary if local authorities are to deliver their category 1 duties effectively. Until the draft regulations and guidance are finalised, it is not possible to know exactly what implications there will bewhich is a point I made in relation to category 2 responders as well. However, Part 1 sets out seven duties for all councils, all presenting significant new financial burdens. The Government have maintained that the Bill will be cost neutral to local authorities, although I must say that we have heard that before in relation to other Bills, but in the event it was not the case. We find it hard to believe that statement, and certainly so do local authorities.
It is clear that in the light of the proposals in the legislation, the vast majority of emergency planning units have said that they will need to increase their staffing levels. This pattern is similar across all councils and areas. The cost of appointing a new emergency planning officer in the authority to undertake work as a result of the new legislation will be approximately £40,000. The average estimate of expenditure on emergency planning per top tier authority in 200203 was £178,857. Grossing this figure up to provide a picture at the national level would give an overall cost of just over £32 million for England and Wales, with over £21 million spent on salaries and staff-related costs alone. The current civil defence grant is £19 million. The average staff salary costs per emergency planning unit is £114,898.
Councils have received no extra money for counter-terrorism work following 9/11, unlike the fire and police services. A major survey conducted by the Local Government Association in 2003 showed clearly that the emergency planning service was already severely underfunded even before the new duties are added, with councils contributing £17 million over and above
14 Oct 2004 : Column 455
their central government grant. This money has to be drawn from other service budgets and puts pressure on council tax levels.
The Local Government Association has estimated that for local authorities to meet the additional requirements of this Bill in terms of initial start-up costs and to finance those tasks already being undertaken but not covered by central government, a figure of £90 million annually would be required. I am fully aware of the announcement made by the Chancellor in this year's spending review regarding additional resources for local authority emergency planning. While I welcome the increase, it is estimated that local authorities, on current and projected expenditure, will still be short by around £50 million annually of what is actually required.
This amendment would therefore ensure that the full costs incurred by local authorities as a result of this Bill would be met in full by central government. This can only be right when so many of the new challenges and responsibilities that this Bill brings will fall on local government. To ascertain accurately the figure, the second part of my amendment would empower the Audit Commission to undertake a review of both the start-up and annual costs on each local authority, 12 months from the Bill being enacted. I beg to move.
Lord Garden: I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. No doubt the Minister will tell us how well the Government are doing in terms of providing financial support in so many different areas, in which case this will be a no-cost amendment because he will already have provided sufficient money. However, the truth of the matter is that whenever you talk to emergency planning staff around the country, they are seriously concerned.
Like any other public spending authorities, local authorities have pressures on their budgets so that they tend to go for what is obvious and needed today rather than deal with a future risk. By taking this into the Bill, we would be showing what the Minister has agreed is necessary; that is, that we see this as a very urgent activity. In comparison with the funds being put into either defence or the intelligence services, which are also about the defence of this country, these sums are relatively small. We need to make sure that local authorities do not hold back on the process of getting on with providing defences against the possibility of these sorts of emergencies. Again, I strongly support the amendment.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|