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Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he assure me that he will ensure that there is communication between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Cabinet Office on the issue of analogue switch-off? To be perfectly blunt, I am not convinced that this point has been taken into account.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I guess that the fact that the Cabinet Office is advising and briefing on this matter and was able to provide me with an instant responseno doubt not entirely adequate as far as the noble Baroness is concernedindicates an awareness of this point. But I intend to pursue the point to satisfy the noble Baroness, and I shall communicate with her and others who have joined in the debate on this precise issue.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is important to know in advance what arrangements have been made for dealing with an emergency. As my noble friend Lord Elton points out, making a dash for the Gents, only to discover it has been turned into a Ladies, can lead to some anxious moments. However, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has convinced me that the Government will plan for these things rather better than the House authorities, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) Regulations under subsection (3) may, in particular, make provision
(a) requiring those authorities which control ports, airports or frontiers as well as local authorities to install special equipment to monitor the contents of lorries, containers or other objects for suspicious contents or persons;
(b) requiring those authorities which control ports, airport or frontiers as well as local authorities to install special equipment designed to monitor persons, ships, other conveyances or other objects for radiological material; and
(c) requiring local authorities and other public bodies to obtain specific static or mobile equipment which is designed to identify the presence of chemical material or biological organisms or radiological substances which might be used in a terrorist attack."
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I make no apology for returning to matters to which I referred on Second Reading and in Committee, and which we debated in a rather different form in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, suggested at one stage that these matters were outwith the Bill, but he has been good enough now to agree that they are very much within the Bill.
The motivation behind the amendment is to attend to the matters we ought to be dealing with now. There are many things that we ought to be doing long before the ultimate horror of a terrorist strike using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear devices or materials. The amendment is different from the one we discussed in Committee. I have dropped from it references to the Secretary of State having powers to require individuals in the emergency services to be vaccinated or inoculated against biological agents which might be used by terrorists.
Surely the first priority is to do everything we can in the United Kingdom to protect our points of entry so that there is a chance that any mean-minded people who wish to bring in the agents for a CBRN attack will be detected at the port of entry. Whether airports, ports or frontiers, it is essential that we have, in adequate quantities, the most up-to-date equipment to try to monitor what is coming into the country if it is likely to be used by terrorists.
A great deal of this equipment exists. I have with me a pile of specifications for various pieces of equipment that I shall be talking about. There are many companies which produce this type of equipment; I have had discussions in the United States with SAIC in San Diego, southern California, and with the Smiths Group, a notable British company based in Watford. I have no connections with either of those companies, but I shall use some of their equipment as examples of what can be done and what in my view most certainly ought to be done and provided in adequate quantities.
In paragraph (a) of my amendment, I suggest giving to the Government powers to require those authorities which control points of entry into the country as well as local authorities to install special equipment, which does exist, to monitor the contents of lorries, containers and other vehicles for suspicious contents or for people who might be bringing noxious substances into the country.
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I told your Lordships in Committee that I have seen a piece of equipment called VACIS, produced by SAIC in San Diego, which, miraculously, can see inside containers and pick out people who might be inside them and other objects. That is an astonishing piece of equipment. I dare say there are other similar pieces of equipment in the world, but I use that purely as an example.
Paragraph (b) would provide for similar powers, giving the Government the authority to require those same authorities to install other pieces of equipment at points of entry which can detect radiological material surreptitiously being brought into the country. I have not seen that equipment but I understand that it exists.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said in Committee that we have some of this equipment. Yes we do. He said that the Government are doing their best. My point is that I do not think that the best is good enough. I shall most certainly not retail tonight just how much of this equipment there may be at our points of entry and where the gaps may be. That would be totally irresponsible. But I believe that it is inadequateI shall say no more than that.
Some of the authorities specified in paragraphs (a) and (b) of the amendment may be slow or reluctant to install this equipment. In my view, the Government ought to have the power to insist on it being installed. That is the purpose of the amendment.
Paragraph (c) of the amendment is different. It covers the importance of being prepared if the ultimate horror happens and a CBRN strike occurs as an act of terrorism. The vital thing in an emergency of that sort is to know at the earliest possible moment that a strike has been made. If there is chemical, biological or radioactive material in the atmosphere, in the environment, it is crucial to know as early as possible that it is there and present as a hazard. I have not inquired, but I am sure that this sort of equipment was used when, in another place, a few weeks back, an amount of what was described as blue flour was thrown at the Prime Minister. That is a prime example of how important it is to know at the earliest possible moment.
Again, this equipment exists. Smiths of Watford has been kind enough to send me specifications of equipment that it makes. I am not necessarily peddling its equipment, but it is a world leader and I am sure that there are other companies, of which I am not aware, which make similar equipment. In my view, it is absolutely essential that one has, around the country, under the control of local authorities and the emergency services, an adequate amount of this equipment which can, at the earliest moment, detect whether there are chemical, biological or radioactive substances in the environment which could be a serious hazard to the population.
I take the case of smallpox to show the essential nature of finding out at the earliest moment. There is a very narrow window of opportunity in the event of, for example, a smallpox attack. We are told that the
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incubation period between exposure to smallpox and the arrival of clinical symptoms is between seven and 17 days, with the incubation period most commonly being between 12 and 14 days. As I understand it, the victim is infectious only after the symptoms of smallpoxhigh temperature, headaches and boils or pustules on the bodyappear, but the vaccination is effective only within four days of exposure to the smallpox organisms. Hence, if one waits until the symptoms appear in a victim, one is almost certainly too late in vaccinating those who may have been in contact with that victim in the earlier stages of the infection, before clinical symptoms appear. I cite that example to demonstrate the absolutely essential nature of finding out at the earliest possible moment that that hazard exists.
As I said, I have details of the availability of the equipment. The need for urgency in identification applies across the whole spectrum of CBRN. It is essential that the Government have powers to direct local authorities and other public bodies to obtain that equipment in adequate quantities, to ensurealthough this is not stated in the amendmentthat a sufficient number of properly trained operatives is available to work it and find out whether this hazard exists. This is a crucial amendment. I hope very much that your Lordships will accept it. I beg to move.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I was hoping to ask my noble friend to deal with a point before he concluded his speech. He has raised a very important matter. I just wonder which local authorities are to be responsible. There is a wide range of local authorities, and fulfilling the requirements set out in paragraph (c) will cost some of them quite a lot of money. It would help us to know whether the requirements could be confined to, shall we say, city, borough or county councils, and not apply to local authorities below that level.
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