Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I wish to speak briefly in support of this amendment, to which I have added my name. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that I
 
9 Nov 2004 : Column 781
 
approach this matter in a much more positive way. I take on board the words of the noble Lord, Lord Garden. We are talking about primary legislation that we understand is intended to remain on the statute book for years to come. Notwithstanding the fact that the equipment which my noble friend envisages may not be so brilliant at present we should feel encouraged given the speed of technological change and development. It is crucially important that this Bill takes account of this kind of equipment that we should have at whatever cost. That may seem rather rash but the reality is that we are talking about having civil contingency planning that will protect the citizens of this country to the best of our ability.

I believe that one should consider this amendment in the positive light that my noble friend intended. With regard to the Channel Tunnel, I hope that the word "frontiers" would automatically encompass and include any reference to the Channel Tunnel.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is right to say that there are many avenues through which materials can be brought into this country which one would far rather could not be brought in. However, modern transport has made it much more difficult for the normal authorities to check whether anything which you do not want to come in is being brought in.

In one of my earlier metamorphoses I travelled to Southampton to see what happened when a container ship came in. A 120,000 tonne container ship may carry 2,000 or more containers. It arrives in a port and in the space of the next 12 hours 400, 500, 600 or 700 containers might be offloaded and another 400 or 500 put back on. At that rate of handling it is impossible to check every one absolutely immaculately to ensure that its contents and its bill of lading are identical. The whole purpose of the operation is to get the ship out of the port again as quickly as possible. The containers are then manhandled off to their individual destinations. In such a system there are immense technical difficulties in checking every container, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, rightly indicated.

However, one should not rule out the possible development of further equipment. Certainly if detection equipment could be built into the handling equipment—that seems to me a perfectly proper thing to do—one might have a system in which every container is checked automatically as it arrives. As regards how that is paid for, it would become part of the normal handling charge which applies to each and every container.

I do not think that we should raise obstacles; we should recognise difficulties. My noble friend's proposal is a good one and it deserves serious consideration.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I do not want to raise an obstacle but I want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, a question which arises out of what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has just said. If a container is refrigerated can any of the equipment that is available now detect what is inside it, bearing in mind that most of the biological agents that might come in through our ports would have to be kept in
 
9 Nov 2004 : Column 782
 
cold conditions, and so the obvious thing for anyone wishing to smuggle such material into the country to do would be to include it in a shipment of otherwise legitimate refrigerated materials?

Unless we have equipment which can detect the contents of refrigerated containers without opening them, the objection raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is valid. One obviously could not open up every single refrigerated container that came in a container ship to see whether there might be minute quantities of biological agents sealed in a shipment of otherwise legitimate material.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for provoking this important debate. The issues that it raises have a heavy bearing on the Bill. The noble Lord is seeking to probe our capacity to detect and deal with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents. The amendment would enable Ministers to require local responders to purchase equipment designed to identify the presence of CBRN material and deploy that equipment at ports and airports.

I shall begin with the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Onslow. He posed the right question, because he said that any government who missed the opportunity to take the powers to impose this kind of requirement and later found that they did not have the powers to do something that they plainly should have done would be negligent. That is absolutely right. The Government already have the powers to impose the type of requirement that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, seeks in the amendment.

Those powers are contained in the Airports Act 1986, under which the Secretary of State may give directions to the operators of airports in the interests of national security. There are also extensive powers under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, which require port authorities to undertake screening and monitoring. In addition, under Clause 5 of the Bill an order could be made requiring local authorities to perform their functions in a particular way. In a sense, that misses another point of the amendment, which is to seek assurance about the importance that the Government attach to developing our counter-terrorism framework and developing a high state of the UK's preparedness.

Part 1 of the Bill is about establishing a clear framework of roles and responsibilities for those involved in local civil protection work. It is merely one part of the Government's wider counter-terrorism and resilience agenda. Just because that is not contained in the Bill does not mean that we do not see that as being important. We are not complacent about the threats that we face, nor are we indifferent to the problems that confront us in having frontiers and boundaries through which some 85 million people travel each year. That is a challenge in the context of the types of issues that have been raised in this debate. I wish to offer some reassurance on those issues.

The resilience to disruptive challenges is already high. There is a strong tradition of effective planning and response at the local level and 30 years of Northern
 
9 Nov 2004 : Column 783
 
Ireland terrorism has established a capability within government and an awareness among businesses and the public which puts the UK in a comparatively strong position. But we are not complacent. Since 11 September 2001, the Government have substantially increased the country's counter-terrorism efforts and have improved contingency planning and resilience to a range of emergencies.

We have set ourselves the strategic goal of,

Reducing the risks breaks down into four broad mission areas: preventing terrorism by tackling its underlying causes, pursuing terrorists and those that sponsor them, protecting the public and UK interests, and, importantly, preparing for the consequences. Developing our capacity to detect and deal with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear terrorism is a key part of that agenda.

I referred to this matter at Second Reading and it has been debated in Committee. We have put in place the Key Capabilities Programme to develop that preparedness. This programme identifies the generic capabilities that underpin the UK's resilience to disruptive challenges, however they are caused, and ensures that these capabilities are developed. There are 17 such capabilities, including dealing with CBRN material.

This work is co-ordinated by the Home Office and is delivered through the cross-government resilience proqramme. This aims to improve co-ordination of CBRN research across government; focus that research on developing the capabilities needed for a resilient response; be linked to anticipated developments in the threat so that enhanced capability—provision of equipment—is available at the correct time; and provide the evidence base on which to build policy and planning decisions, so that we can fill capability gaps and ensure that resources are allocated and targeted to the highest priority programmes.

The emergency services have the best detection equipment currently available and the Government are working with them to develop this capability still further, in line with their specific needs. The police have a well developed capability which is being strengthened through specialist training at the National Police Training Centre. The fire service, through the New Dimension Programme, incorporates the procurement of radiation monitoring equipment for deployment at incidents involving radiation to give early on-site indication of the release of hazardous radioactive material or radioactivity.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is particularly anxious that the resilience of our ports to the smuggling of illicit persons or materials is strengthened. For that reason, the Government long ago put in place Programme Cyclamen, which is designed to screen for the illicit movement of radioactive materials by traffic entering the UK by air, sea and the Channel Tunnel. The screening programme includes container and road freight, post and fast parcels, vehicles and passengers, and will use a combination of fixed and mobile detection units.
 
9 Nov 2004 : Column 784
 

As noble Lords will appreciate, it would not be in the interests of national security to give details of the implementation programme—precisely the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. But I hope that what I have said will go some way to reassuring the noble Lord on this point. We are not complacent about chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear terrorism. We will continue to invest in the capabilities that our assessments of risk show that we need. As a number of noble Lords have said, it is right that we harness new technologies to this endeavour. I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for sharply highlighting this issue, and, in particular, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling.

As a number of noble Lords have said, the amendment contains defects. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, very astutely made the terminological point. We need to be concerned to ensure that we stay on the case and have equipment and powers that may be needed to match the challenge. I am confident that we have those powers—I made specific reference to them—and I hope that noble Lords will take careful note of that point.

I owe an apology to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. I wrote a generic letter on 1 November that covered some of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, regarding smallpox vaccination. Included in that correspondence was a reference to the particular issue about which the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, asked. I shall read that into the record now, because it would help and I shall ensure that the noble Lord has a copy. If other noble Lords have not received the letter, I shall ensure that they have a copy of it. In any event it is already placed in the Library. The noble Lord asked for a quantification of the risk of vaccination against anthrax. Our response stated:

I hope that answers the noble Lord's point. If not, I shall seek further and better particulars and advise the noble Lord accordingly.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page