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Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 80A:

"Central Government

In relation to England and Wales—
(a) a Government department or ministry,
(b) an executive agency or non-department public body, and
(c) the National Assembly of Wales."

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 83A. There is a gaping hole in the legislation that we believe is a serious misjudgment. It has the potential to undermine much of the intent of the Bill. Presently, there is no intention to impose category 1 duties on any central government department or the vast majority of central government agencies. That is despite such agencies playing an important and significant part in all of our lives.

The Committee may be interested to learn that there are 834 public bodies sponsored by UK government departments, spending more than £20 billion of public
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money each year. Of course, there are the small and relatively obscure, but I am thinking about such significant bodies as the Food Standards Agency, the Highways Agency and the Benefits Agency. Such an omission comes despite the fact that, by and large, the local response is in relatively good shape.

Where things fall down is when the scale or impact of the emergency require the involvement of central government resources, prime recent examples being the fuel crisis and the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. That failure is a direct result of the fact that central government emergency planning, training and exercising, if it takes place at all, is not integrated with that of local responders.

We understand that the Government's stance is that,

It is, however, noteworthy that the revised communication and liaison methods proposed following the fuel crisis have never been tested by exercises. Only recently has Defra engaged with local government in the discussion of revised arrangements for handling a recurrence of foot and mouth disease.

In addition, it could be argued that the Government are setting their own precedent. Paragraph 12 of Schedule 1 gives category 1 duties to the Secretary of State,

A little further on, paragraph 28 of the schedule gives the Secretary of State category 2 duties,

If a Secretary of State and, by inference, his department can have duties imposed in those specific areas, why not in general? With the amendment, the Bill would encompass central government and its agencies north and south of the border as category 1 responders. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: In this age of joined-up government—we hope that it is joined-up—and particularly in emergency planning, the smoothest possible co-ordination and integration between the work of government departments and local agencies throughout the country is called for. It is an omission not to include government departments as full responders in the schedule.

The Minister may try to argue that the Government are implicitly involved because, after all, they are the progenitors of the Bill. They have repealed all the Bills that gave the existing powers, and this Bill is to be the be-all and end-all of emergency planning Bills. I hope that it is, but it seems to leave the Government out.
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That is an extraordinary state of affairs, and my noble friend has made a serious point. I hope that the Minister will agree. Unless he can provide a convincing argument to show how the Government will otherwise be involved, we shall have to pursue the matter.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: In a way, it is the second time of asking for this debate. We went over some of the issues when the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, moved his amendment about the role of government. This amendment is probing further on that role and, in particular, the role and responsibilities of the devolved administrations and the non-departmental public bodies in responding to emergencies.

We had a full and useful debate on the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and I shall certainly reflect on it. However, I must briefly highlight some of the ways in which there has been a change in government and a higher quality of recognition of the importance of contingency planning in central government, particularly since 2001.

I think that government has raised its game in several respects. Individual departments have taken responsibility for contingency planning in their area. There are clearer procedures for exercising the arrangements that have been put in place and for quality control. The Cabinet Office provides a strong centre—there has been criticism of that—for co-ordinating contingency planning throughout government. Ministers have demonstrated a clear commitment to the resilience agenda, which is championed at Cabinet level by the Home Secretary. It would not be right to say that the Government are sitting aside or shirking their responsibilities in this respect.

The devolved administrations have an important role in contingency planning. The Government believe that responsibilities in regard to emergencies should sit with organisations that have a general policy responsibility; therefore, responsibilities in the resilience area reflect the devolution settlements in place across the United Kingdom. That is reflected in the list of lead government departments and in exercising and quality control arrangements. The UK Government and the devolved administrations work very closely. The devolved administrations are represented on ministerial and official level committees involved in planning for, and responding to, emergencies. They are closely involved in capacity-building work, such as the key capabilities programme described earlier.

A lot of work and much thought have gone into dividing up those responsibilities between the UK Government and the devolved administrations. An account of how those relationships work in practice has been published by the Home Secretary and can be found on the Civil Contingencies Secretariat website at The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will probably have already had a close look at the website; I know that it is the sort of thing that exercises him.

The noble Baroness said that the Government did not carry out exercises. We have in place a co-ordinated cross-governmental exercise programme that covers a
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comprehensive range of domestic disruptive challenges, including accidents, natural disasters and acts of terrorism. The programme is designed to test rigorously the range of lead government department responsibilities and the involvement of devolved administrations at regional and local responder level.

In addition, local authorities and the emergency services develop their own programme of exercises to test capabilities at local and regional level. That nationwide rolling programme of exercises is designed to ensure that we have the best possible contingency plans in place to respond to a whole range of civil emergency scenarios. Outside our national boundaries the UK observes and participates with international partners in exercises through multilateral fora such as G8, NATO and the EU on a bilateral basis. We are working hard to cover all the angles.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I do not doubt the Government's commitment to emergency planning, and I have little doubt that they have legal authority for what they are doing, although I would be grateful if the Minister would tell me about that in precise terms. I am concerned that the Bill repeals all the powers under which everything is done at present. The real question is: are we reinstating everything that the Bill repeals? I can see how we are reinstating everything in the regions and for everybody else, but I cannot see how we are reinstating the legislative power that gives the Government authority to continue to do what they are already doing. That is very important. If the Minister can assure me that nothing in Schedule 3—a long list of Acts to be repealed—affects the Government's existing authority to act, that is one thing; if he cannot give me that assurance, we are in some difficulty.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am looking at Schedule 3. My assumption, which is not unreasonable, is that it is exactly the case that we are repealing what could be described as old-fashioned and defunct Acts and replacing them with a more modern set of powers, responsibilities, duties, and so on. I have made the point a number of times that we have consulted very carefully on how that will work with the major responders.

To give the noble Lord an absolute assurance, there is nothing being repealed here that will do anything to undermine our ability and power to ensure that we have adequate resilience and that we can properly exercise and test in order to ensure that the measures we want or need to put in hand are robust and meet the challenge.

I think that the noble Lord and most Members of the Committee would accept that the legislation going back to 1948 and beyond is in need of modernising. I know that the noble Baroness does not like the legislation, but we think that that is the case and is what this Bill does. We think that by and large we have got it about right. We are listening to ensure that we get the detail right as well.

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