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Lord Lucas: This was the clause to which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, pointed as containing the powers that the Government would use to obtain the information they needed to play their proper part in provision for civil contingencies, but I have considerable difficulty in reading it that way. They can use Clause 1,
So the Government can say, "Have you discovered what telecommunication facilities will be available to you in the event of various emergencies?", to which Brighton or wherever can say, "Yes". That is not much use for the Government in making their own plans, though they can ask a location to explain why they
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have not discovered that information, if they have not done so. That is the sort of level of information that can be obtained under this clause.
However, let us look at what sort of information the Government need. Let us suppose there is a major incident, something by way of a national emergency. Let us suppose that someone sets off a thermonuclear device in the middle of London. The noble Lord, Lord Bassamfortunate enough to be in Brighton at the time, and the wind from the southsurvives comfortably and is the Minister then in charge of the Government. What information does he need the Government to have at their fingertips?
The Government will need to understand the structure of the telecommunication and other communication services, the capacity of the road networks around London and how fuel supplies are routed round the country, presuming that the M25 is unavailable. All sorts of other information will be necessary to the proper operation of the country in the follow-up to such a disaster. But this Bill gives the Government no access to that information. Individual local authorities have access to that information, or to bits of it, but the Government have no access that I can see under this clause or anywhere else in the Bill.
That will apply similarly to other government departments. How will the Department of Health know what is available in ambulance capacity or the other resources it may need to respond to a large emergency if it does not have the powers under the Bill which will be enjoyed by individual local authorities?
Everything is fragmented under the Bill. The knowledge, understanding and response are there, and that seems to be entirely right in dealing with emergencies that are fundamentally local in character. But if we get something national and require a nationally co-ordinated responsewhich will come, as the Minister said, from the mechanism set up in government for the government departmentssome ministry will be there as the responsible body. To respond effectively to a national emergency, that ministry will need a body of information, just as a local authority needs a body of information, to know where to start from. It is too late to find out what is going on when the emergency has actually happened. But under the Bill the Government cannot even ask the local authorities for the information that they already have, let alone the responders in Schedule 1and, anyway, all that should have happened beforehand.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord will have heard me explain that the clause is designed to enable the Governmentand in Scotland, the Scottish Ministersto obtain information from responders about the performance of their duties under Part 1. That serves two purposes. First, it will support the legislation-making powers conferred by the Bill and allows the Government to establish an evidence base
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for decisions about whether further regulations or guidance are required. Secondly, information could be gathered to facilitate enforcement.
The noble Lord asks whether that is the only power that the Government have in relation to civil contingencies. The answer is, of course not. The power to obtain information is primarily designed to support the Government's role in civil protection at the local level. The information that they need therefore is there to enable them to make regulations under the Bill. The Government have a range of other powers to obtain information under regulatory regimes applying to utilities, for example. Other information will be shared on what we hope will by then be a well established, well tried and well tested basis. The facility is designed to work as part of a broader scheme of things. The information powers are in part designed to ensure that they support the Government's overall role in providing for civil protection.
Lord Lucas: I see what the Government are saying in the first part of that response, which is that the clause does what they think it doesand I agree with that. It provides them with a mechanism for watching what is happening at the local level. However, I return to the question of how the Government get the information that they need to play their role. The Minister said that there was other legislation containing other powers that enable them to get that information. I do not expect the Minister to do so now, but I would be grateful if he could give me a list of the powers that substitute in that respect for the powers that are contained in Clause 6 and earlier clauses of this Bill as regards local authorities. In other words, how do the Government obtain the equivalent access?
The Minister also implied that the Government in some way have access to the information that local authorities have obtained. I do not see where the power is under the Bill to do that, unless it comes from the very looseness of the wording, which we discussed earlier. In other words, when local authorities have obtained the information, they can do what they like with it, and as long as they wanted it for the emergency situations there are no restrictions on them. Perhaps that looseness is being used by the Government to enable them to extract information from local authorities and build their database that way. That would be a sensible way of doing it, but I would rather see the power in the Bill than have it there as part of a general looseness, so that local authoritiesand, presumably, the Governmentcan do whatever they like with the information. I would like to be clear how the Government are getting their information.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: What is the noble Lord's real concern here? As I understand the general drift of the debate, I believe that there is a general acceptance that in these situations we are all seeking as people of good faith to work together to ensure that the information flows are operable, so that we can counter any given emergency situation and further protect the public. I do not quite see the difficulty on which the
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noble Lord seems fixed. I assume that we are all working towards a generally desirable objective. In any event, much of the information will be in the public domain, and I have no doubt that much of it would already have transferred between central and local government. In terms of how local government is performing, it will have tried and tested its various plans, planning procedures and so on. I am not sure what evil the noble Lord sees here. Perhaps he does not; perhaps I misunderstand him.
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