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The Earl of Onslow: I am such a simple soul, and I am asking an incredibly simple question. Have the Government provided the amount of money which is required? I think that the Minister is saying yes. If the
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answer is "yes", why cannot he say "yes"? It is much quicker for everybody and gives the Hansard writer less to write down.
Clearly the Minister and I will have to agree to disagree. From what I have been hearing from the Local Government Association, it is clear to me that the money that has been put in place is simply not enough. Do the Minister's costings include the start-up costs?
Noble Lords will recall that I made reference to the costs of staff salaries alone, not including all the add-on costs in terms of implementing the seven duties that are being placed on local authorities. They are emergency planning, risk assessment, internal business continuity planning, provision of warning and information to the public, provision of business continuity advice and information to commercial bodies, co-operation and information sharing. "Co-operation" is pretty open-ended.
The Government are imposing statutory obligations, particularly on local authorities and emergency services, while being unwilling to see any imposed on themselves. Even with this Bill, it is still not clear that the Government's response to a disaster would not be as confused and unco-ordinated as it was during the flooding and fuel crisis of 2000 and the foot and mouth crisis of 2001. Any government contribution to the response to an emergency must be well co-ordinated with clear leadership and well tested plans, and it must be properly funded. Indeed, the absence of any additional financial resources to meet the new duties and responsibilities contained in the Bill must be considered a great weakness and will put at risk the intent it tries to achieve. As the noble Lord, Lord Garden, pointed out, we must not, in any way, put the local authorities in a position whereby they hold back the process of providing adequate defence.
The Minister has given me a robust response. I cannot accept it because my figures differ from his. Certainly, I do not feel comfortable that sufficient funding has been forthcoming or is forthcoming. One of the reasons is that much of the detail of the roles and the responsibilities under the legislation will be set out in guidance. Neither we nor the local authorities will see that guidance until it is published, after the Bill has received Royal Assent. So we do not know what additional responsibilities to be placed on local authorities may come to light. Local authorities are being given a key role. Therefore, we want to be sure that they are being properly funded to underpin the crucial role they are being asked to play.
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I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I also take encouragement from my noble friend Lord Jopling in terms of perhaps returning to this on Report. But for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 48, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 62. These amendments refer to Clauses 7 and 8 which detail what will happen in the most urgent of situations in England, Wales and Scotland.
It is clear to all of us that there may well be situations in which there is real urgency and immediate action needs to be taken. Any such situation could be confused and the pressure on the Minister great. However, while we understand that swift action will need to be taken in such situations, we want to be sure that any decisions made are reasoned and thought out.
in terms of there being an urgent need to make emergency provisions. We feel that this is a much stronger phrase and would help to ensure that Ministers who exercise this crucial power have had the situation explained to them and the decision they are making is based on a balanced understanding of all the facts. We should remember that decisions taken in haste are often not the best ones.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I support my noble friend on this amendment. I do not "think" that this amendment is appropriate, although some of my friends doubt whether I think at all. The real trouble is that some of the actions that might be taken because a Minister "thinks" they are appropriate might be inappropriate. If a court had to make a judgment on what a Minister "thinks", it might be rather difficult, whereas "reasonable grounds" is a fairly well understood phrase. If he had reasonable grounds for believing something, a court could make a judgment on it; if he did not have reasonable grounds, a court would have some difficulty. So although I am not a lawyer, I think that this amendment has a great deal of value.
I think there is a problem which the noble Baroness attempted to face but from which, in the end, she backed away. By definition, we are dealing with a situation where urgency is written right through itwhere the whole question is how to get something done quickly. If action is to be taken quickly and we write in some kind
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of condition about the validity of what is done, it has to be tested somewhere. Presumably, it will be tested in the courts, since there is no other obvious place for testing it. How do we test it in the courts if the whole point is that the situation is urgent and will not wait?
I fully share the noble Baroness's general concern about delivering such powers into the hands of the executive. However, I think we are probably dealing with a situation in which we may have to trade in some of our traditional protection in order to ensure that we are protected from the emergency which has arisen.
The Earl of Onslow: We have heard two very interesting speeches, and I find myself agreeing with both of them. It is obviously true that very careful thought must be given to an urgent situation, without jumping to conclusions. As they say in carpentry, measure twice and cut once. In such situations you have to be very careful because you are faced with all sorts of horrid things coming at you all the time and you have to make very careful decisions. Therefore, "thinks" is possibly too sloppy a word, for want of a better.
Equally, I completely understand the noble and learned Lord's point about urgency. But I thinkI am using that word againthat my noble friend is right. It may not be that her amendment is exactly right, but I think that we should put down something which underlines that the thought process must be careful and urgent.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I too agree with the intent of the amendment, but I fear that it is rather defective. Let us weigh the word "thinks". One can think anything, but one really needs some evidence when one is making a decision of this kind, particularly if one is a relatively junior Minister such as a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury. One really should have some advice and evidence before one does something that one "thinks" one should do. The wording of the Bill is loose and it must be tightened up.
However, unfortunately, I do not agree with the wording of the amendment, which proposes that we should insert "genuinely believes". Do not all Ministers always genuinely believe that what they are doing is correct? The amendment is a little tautological, although some recent experiences might make us doubt the genuineness of ministerial decisions. The amendment also states, "believes on reasonable grounds". What are those reasonable grounds? If I might suggest it, a better amendment would be insert, "believes on the available evidence". The amendment would then be fair and perhaps even I or someone else might table it on Report. It is, however, essential that, on a matter of urgency, we have something far more substantial than a Minister "thinks". God help us if legislation is going to proceed on the basis of what Ministers think.
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