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Lord Jopling: My Lords, I strongly support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas. I want to suggest, as an example, the type of thing that could well have been in his mind in moving the amendment. Some time ago when visiting the state of Georgia in the southern part of the United States, I was struck by the fact that the main trunk roads in the coastal regions have permanent notices describing those roads as "hurricane evacuation routes". They are routes which, in the event of a hurricane approaching, are designated as being kept open to allow the large-scale evacuation of those areas. I hope I am right in saying that that is exactly the type of example that my noble friend had in mind. That is done in the United States, and I should have thought that, in many cases, such preparations could be made here with great advantage.
Lord Garden: My Lords, while I sympathise with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I think that there is a practical difficulty in terms of the range of emergency that we are discussing. I want to place on record my thanks to the Minister for delivering by hand my emergency leaflet, which the Post Office was unable to do. I have now used the website and the freephone number and have managed to obtain a second copy, so progress is being made.
However, ultimately, we are going to have practical problems both in terms of the extent of the information relating to possible emergencies and, as we have seen already even with a relatively simple emergency leaflet, in terms of distribution, which has been very patchy. Other people tell me that they have had similar problems.
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Therefore, I worry a little about having a catch-all amendment which might deluge the public with so much information that it becomes counter-productive. It is importantI should like the Minister's assurance on thisthat the local authority will have prepared the necessary information so that it can be readily sent out to the people who will be affected by a particular emergency. If that happens, one probably does not need to go to the extent of the amendments that are now being proposed.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I support both my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lady Buscombe in the spirit and thrust of the amendments. With regard to what my noble friend Lord Lucas said about the instinct of this nation for order, I recall an Australian friend, shortly after the war, queuing for a ski lift in Switzerland and, on reading the instructions, which told people waiting for the ski lift that they should not push, being gratified to find that they were recorded in three languages, none of which was English. That was itself a compliment to our nation.
On my noble friend's radio station example, I recall in the debates on the Communications Bill last year citing the case of a small town in Dakota which suffered a toxic explosion. That must be regarded as an emergency. The people of that town were much exercised as to what they should do, and they rang up the six local radio stations within their area. All six stations, which had been acquired by a conglomerate, were playing the same music, which had been determined 1,000 miles away in Chicago by the conglomerate which had taken them over. No one was manning the radio stations.
Of course I acknowledge, to paraphrase Laurence Sterne, that we order these things better than they do in the United States. But I agree with my noble friend that it would be prudent if people knew exactly where to seek assistance when a disaster as massive as that struck the place in which they lived.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I support this vital group of amendments. Without information and training, people are fairly useless when faced with a serious emergency. One never knows when an emergency is going to happen; it is completely unforeseen and we should be prepared. If we had emergency training schemes and first aid in all our schools, colleges and prisons and so on, that would become part of life. I do not think that terrorism and that kind of thing are going to go away, and the Government could do far more than they are doing to prepare society at large.
Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Baroness has just uttered words of very good sense. We are dealing with matters of practicality here, and the danger is that one will view it all as a Civil Service administration. We look at the machinery to produce the results but, as my noble friend Lord Jopling said, the results have to be produced in advance. There are fairly simple ways of doing that. For example, different routes out of an
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area can be coded by different symbols on sign boards, but it is only when the location of the emergency is discovered that the public can be told whether they should leave town by the route marked with a triangle or a circle or whatever. These things are very simple to arrange if they are thought through in advance, but they cannot be done in a hurry at the last moment.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I understand what these amendments are getting at and, indeed, one tends to sympathise with them. But I do not think that we should underestimate the innate common sense and ability of people generally. We have to be very careful that we do not confuse them with too many instructions about too many possible emergencies. A huge range of emergencies can exist and I do not see how people can be trained for every one.
I live in Reading, and unfortunately the recent terrible train crash occurred just outside Reading at Ufton Nervet. What was remarkable was not only the way in which the emergency services were able to cope and to arrive in double-quick time but the way in which the general public were able to help. Even the travellers on the train were able to help. They were on the spot; they recognised what the emergency was; and, like the marine who was injured but nevertheless went back in to help other people out of shattered carriages, they knew what to do and they did what they could.
Those of us with memories of the last war also know that in the terrible bombing of London people often knew instinctively what to do. Therefore, we must recognise the innate intelligence and ability of people, although, as other noble Lords have said, we must help them and give them as much information as we can without confusing them.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I accept that, but many other people are trained in the same way as the marine. In fact, I am surprised at the number of people who are trained in first aid who are always ready to help. I am not really quarrelling with the objectives of the amendments; I am only trying to say that many emergencies could occur and, as well as giving people as much information as possible, we must recognise that among people out there, as well as in here, there is much ability and intelligence.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is perhaps wise to start where the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, left off. His participation in the debate has been extremely valuable. He has demonstrated a common objective that we all share, which is to ensure that the duty on local responders to give advice, warnings and information to the public in the event of an emergency is effective. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, says, we can take some comfort from people's innate sense of how to respond to emergency situations. I am sure that he is absolutely right
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about Ufton Nervet. Not only did the emergency services respond magnificently, but those involved and the local public provided the kind of support that speaks volumes about people's innate intelligence, common sense and practicality in such difficult circumstances.
I can certainly accept the intention of the thinking behind the amendments, but the approach that we have taken in the Bill probably holds good. It is worth reminding ourselves that the Bill imposes a duty on category 1 responders to make arrangements to inform the public about civil protection arrangements in their area. That will include information prior to an event and should include information about the potential for emergenciesfor example, the risks, the actions that will be taken by the authority if an emergency occurs, and the actions that the public themselves can take.
In the past, I know that much opprobrium has been heaped on the dear old "protect and survive" approach, but we have moved on from that. A booklet that we are currently circulating, Preparing for Emergencies, is a marked improvement on that. It echoes the general change in approach. I hope that we are now going in the right direction. It is certainly the intention of the Government that we have a more transparent and involving process and one that seeks to help, to advise and to comfort people during the process of an emergency. The Bill will ensure that effective public information provision is built into the very fibre of the civil protection processes.
I shall take the amendments in turn, starting with that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It would require local responders to inform the public of arrangements that may be made should any emergency occur. I assume that the purpose of this change is to ensure that local responders take steps to inform the public about the statutory authorities' response arrangements and to publish sources of emergency information and advice in advance of an emergency occurring.
It is clearly very important that local responders do precisely that but, as I explained in Committee, the Bill already provides for that. Clause 2(1)(g) already obliges category 1 responders to maintain arrangements to warn, to inform and to advise the public should an emergency occur, and Clause 2(1)(f) already requires the publication of aspects of plans and assessments.
The need to make information available about local risks, response arrangements, and sources of warnings, information and advice in the event of an emergency are brought out more clearly in the current draft guidance. That guidance has been developed in close consultation with a working group of expert practitioners.
The amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, take a slightly different approach. Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 would enable a Minister of the Crown to require category 1 responders to undertake to establish a public information and public training programme in respect of emergencies. I fully accept the need to ensure that the public receive adequate and timely information and advice about emergencies. However, Clause 2 of the Bill already puts in place a duty
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on category 1 responders to advise, to warn and to inform the public in relation to emergencies, and I argue that Amendment No. 21 is simply unnecessary.
The Government believe that the provision of information to the public is critical. Through this Bill, the Government are encouraging local responders to make more information available at a local level. Central government have also implemented a national strategy to make available more information and advice. The leaflet is a good example of that. The booklet will ensure that people across the United Kingdom have practical, common-sense information at their fingertips in the event of an emergency. The booklet promotes clearer understanding and the bringing together of advice that the Government have already issued into one practical guide for a better informed public who can help to play their part in preventing emergencies and dealing with them.
Although the publication has not always attracted universal praise, I believe that it is now one in which people have confidence. We have adopted other measures that are part of a deliberate strategy to ensure that we have increasing amounts of information available to the public on what the Government and the emergency services are doing to prepare for emergencies and how the public can help themselves. The main sources of advice for the general public are available through websites such as www.ukresilience.info, www.homeoffice.gov.uk and www.londonprepared.gov.uk. The Security Service has put advice to businesses and an overall analysis of the threat facing the UK on its website, www.mi5.gov.uk. I am told that it has already received something like 1.5 million hits, so people are obviously very interested in it. That has to be a first.
However, I would argue that training is different from information and advice. There is no such thing as a standard terrorist threat or major incident and, therefore, no such thing as a standard response. Our response to any incident, including chemical or biological incidents, accidental or otherwise, would depend on a number of factors; for example, what the danger is, who is affected by it, and how best to contain the incident. Trained personnel from the emergency services are best placed to decide the appropriate response on the ground.
To give detailed, prescriptive advice or training in advance about how to handle every potential threat could, in some circumstances, be misleading and unhelpful. Worse, it could lead to confusion in an actual incident. The advice given for one type of situation might be wrong in different circumstances.
That said, there are some basic precautions that householders can take that will help them in any number of disruptive incidents. The best first piece of advice in the event of an emergency affecting householders is: "Go in, stay in, tune in". That will ensure that they try to access, in the first instance, broadcast information which will be of critical importance.
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We resist the amendment. We believe that we are doing pretty much exactly what the movers of the different amendments seek. I believe we have the ground covered. We are making good progress and the measures proposed are already best covered.
The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, asked me a specific question about the analogue switch-off. I can see that she is anxious that I reply to that point. I am advised that the switch-off will not affect contingency arrangements and that arrangements between the Government, the BBC and other broadcasters will continue regardless. It is worth reminding ourselves that not everyone has access to a television, so the strategy will need to ensure that there are many media in which the information is given so that the key messages can be put across. That is why it is important to promote relatively new media, such as the Internet, and ensure that long-established media such as the radio networks are effective as well.
I understand the spirit behind the amendments. I believe that we have the powers that we need within the legislation. The duties are there. I am confident that the local responders will play their important role in ensuring that information is in place and that their key personnel are trained in that regard. Certainly from my personal experience in local government, I know that it takes seriously its training role and the need to ensure that it has an active, valuable and timely form of communication with the local public. I am grateful to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord for the amendments, but we do not believe that they are necessary.
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