|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have no difficulty in doing that, and if there are drafts that can be provided to noble Lords who have expressed interest, I shall ensure that those drafts are made available.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as I said, the guidance will be there in draft form for full public consultation in December. Thereafter, I believe that it is intended to publish the guidance within 12 weeks, which would give more than ample time for any changes required to be made.
I am grateful for the interest that noble Lords and others are taking in this matter, as I believe that it will help us. Certainly the process has been very valuable to date. I thank noble Lords who have contributed to the debate for their persistence and indulgence on the issue. I commend to the House the amendments in my name.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full response and the explanation of his amendments. Following on what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, said about when we might see the draft guidance, though without wishing to labour the point, I believe that it is tremendously important, especially when a Bill is going through your Lordships' House, that all noble Lords who take interest in that Bill at whatever stage should be kept in touch as much as possible. Obviously it
9 Nov 2004 : Column 767
is important for the voluntary sector to have as much opportunity as possible to meet Ministers, for example; notwithstanding that, noble Lords should be the first port of call in terms of communication.
That said, we are grateful to the Minister for responding to an extremely robust debate in Committee in such a positive way. I hope that the guidance will contain the kind of terminology that he used, and particularly a clear definition of "have regard to" so that everyone is absolutely clear, when picking up the guidance, what it means and the extent to which the voluntary sector will be properly involved. I agree with the Minister that the amendments will, to a large extent, avoid that awful creeping approach to response and consultationthe box-ticking that creates a bureaucratic nightmare. We certainly do not want that. We are looking for practical involvement, and the voluntary sector will be there to provide it.
That is quite right, but there are many occasions when the bodies ought to look further ahead than that. Members of the public ought to possess information to help to deal with an emergency, and at such times it is necessary to some extent to exercise control over what people do when they become aware of one.
Subsequent to my raising the matter in Committee, we have at last developed that in this House. Before Committee, had someone created an incident here, none of us would have had a clue what to do and we would all have rushed for the exits. Now we know that we will immediately receive instructions from someone on the Government Front Bench on what we should do in any particular circumstances, inspired by the wisdom of the Clerks. This House can see the advantage of that; we know that there is a much greater chance that we will take the right action by following such a course in an emergency. I expect that most of us, if not all of us, would wait for those instructions rather than doing something that may, through our selfishness, jeopardise the lives of others.
If one is to take that picture wider, those who believe in the advent of global warming and higher sea levels must at some stage believe that there will be serious floods in East Anglia. People ought to know what to do should such a day occur. We do not want everyone jamming the roads so that those desperately trying to get in, with whatever rescue and flood-fighting
9 Nov 2004 : Column 768
equipment is needed, cannot move. People who live in low-lying areas ought to know what they are expected to do, so that if they go to a particular hump they will be rescued from it, and that they do not need to set out on the A14 or whatever. People should know what to do in advance. Perhaps they should listen to a particular radio station in East Anglia, because it will be the one that tells them what to do when the disaster occurs.
If people know such things, their reactions become much more predictable and controllable, and it is much more likely that the emergency will be able to be controlled without interference from people looking after themselves or doing the wrong thing out of ignorance. If we get an emergency that involves any kind of infectious disease, it will be extremely important for people to know what to do. As one sees from history, people's reaction to the plague was to have a strong urge to get out, which very often resulted in it being carried elsewhere. We will be keen to avoid such a reaction, and the only way to do so is for people to know in advance that, should such a thing occur, a certain kind of behaviour is expected of them.
The English are generally pretty good at that. We queue in an orderly fashion. When two lanes of a dual carriageway converge, people generally behave in a rational way and everything goes perfectly. If I were trying to pursue the same legislation in France, I might have my doubts. Anyone who has been skiing in France knows that queues are a matter of combat, not of when one arrived in them. However, we can generally be counted on as a nation to behave pretty well, so long as we know what is expected of us.
I would like to see the duty in the Bill. I agree that it will not apply in every case, because it will not be appropriate to a lot of emergencies dealt with by the Bill. However, there will certainly be some to which it applies, such as the example of East Anglia. Having people know what is expected of them well in advance would be a great advantage, and I would like to see it in the Bill. I beg to move.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I want to speak to Amendments Nos. 21 and 22, which are grouped with Amendment No. 7. I was a little disappointed by the Minister's response to similar amendments that we proposed in Committee. It is important that the Government do not underestimate the public feeling that everyone wants to know and to be informed of what might happen. People want to know what to do when something happens; they want to know the best way to protect themselves and their families.
One reason why I propose the amendments again is that, since the Bill began its passage through the House, Ofcom, the regulator, has put out a consultation document on the possibility of analogue switch-off, region by region, commencing some time in 2007. The idea is that we switch over gradually to digital. I would like the Government to take on board my concern about the possibility of having analogue switch-off, region by region, without being absolutely sure that all those living in those regions will have access to digital television.
9 Nov 2004 : Column 769
I am concerned about how the public are to be informed in the event of a perceived threat or unprecedented act. What if some members of the public find themselves unable to access television because they are in a region where there has been analogue switch-off without 100 per cent digital coverage of every home? That is an example of where it is tremendously important that the Government do as they always say and have joined-up government. I am talking about the Cabinet Office having a clear line of communication on the subject with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
My noble friend referred to listening to particular radio stations. The intention is that analogue radio will not be switched off for some years to come, but I am deeply concerned that an awful lot of people do not listen to radio, or that if they do it tends to be very local radio. Therefore, it is tremendously important that we ensure that all channels of communication, the most important of which, in my view, is television broadcasting, are always available. We must also ensure that the Government do not proceed with a policy unless they can be absolutely sure that analogue switch-off will not deny to all those living in a particular region access to their television sets at any time. I hope that the Government will take that point on board in their discussions with Ofcom.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|