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Mr. Francois: For the record, I inform the hon. Gentleman that my constituency is called Rayleigh. It is in Essex, and I am honoured to represent it.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. An effective warning system must be understood by everyone. For instance, in 1940, everyone knew what it meant when the church bells rang. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.

Mr. Miller: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I hope that the Department will consider the

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application of the technology that I have described, which was brought to my attention by a member of the Emergency Planning Society.

Some military considerations have been raised. The BBC's website is reporting what is happening in the US, where the security services are considering in what circumstances additional security will be required. I am sure that our security services will do the same.

The space shuttle Endeavour is due to take off again on Thursday. For the first time, a 30-mile no-fly zone around the launch site at the Kennedy Space Centre has been imposed. That is based on the assessment of risk, and we in this country must consider the relationship between our civil defence on the ground and the use of military services.

In the previous debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry gave a clear assurance that, since 11 September, the RAF has been on stand-by to deal with any problems to do with nuclear safety. That is a fresh dimension that needs to be taken into account.

I wish to comment on the proposed funding regime, and on the review of standard spending assessments. My district emergency planning liaison officer recently sent me a copy of a document containing the local response to the review of emergency planning drawn up by the chief executives of the district councils in Cheshire, and by the chief executive of the county council. A combined response of that sort is appropriate in Cheshire, where areas of risk spread across district boundaries. That requires local authorities to work together.

I commend the document to my hon. Friend the Minister. In response to the question of whether funding should be delivered through the SSA, it states that

That contrasts with the removal from SSAs of ring-fenced sums of money, which is what most hon. Members want the review of SSAs to recommend. However, it is possible that some common ground exists. The chief executives go on to state that they

are in place. Equally, the direct responsibilities of shire districts must also be considered in any study that is undertaken.

It is sad that so few hon. Members are in the Chamber this evening to debate these matters, which have important ramifications for areas such as mine where there are large hazards. The relationship between our civilian emergency workers and the more obvious aspects of emergency response after 11 September must be examined.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the Bill. It is a simple measure that will put us back on an even keel, but a much more long-term study should be undertaken to guarantee to citizens that the House takes seriously the risks that some people face. Parliament and Government must give proper resources to meet the needs of the emergency services.

7.16 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): The House readily and rightly pays tribute to the various emergency services—the police, fire and ambulance services—when there is a

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major civil emergency in this country. However, hon. Members rarely congratulate the people behind the scenes who plan and co-ordinate the activities of those organisations. On behalf of my party, I therefore join in the tributes that have been paid to all those who work in civil defence, and to the emergency planning officers.

On 15 May 1997, I had the pleasure of speaking after the Minister made his maiden speech in the House. I recall that I referred specifically to the quality of that speech and the confidence with which it was delivered. Nothing has changed: the Minister lives up to the high expectations that we had of him. I am grateful for the way in which he described the Bill's contents, and for the way in which he set out what he called the "bigger jigsaw" of the country's civil defence structure. I am sure that the House is grateful for the opportunity to raise various issues in respect of civil defence, as they affect the Bill.

It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins). I pay tribute to him for introducing a new word into the lexicon of Conservative thinking, which he did when he spoke about the "re-profiling" of the party's views on public services.

However, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale frightened me a little later in his speech when he kept mentioning the billions of pounds that the Americans are to spend on what they call "homeland security". I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is getting ideas. For a Conservative Member to consider spending billions on public services would be a significant U-turn, although it is one that Liberal Democrat Members might welcome.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale made some important points. I agree with him that the Government are right to acknowledge that a problem exists at the present time, and that some form of legislation, at some point, is needed to regularise the way in which grants are awarded to the bodies responsible for planning and co-ordinating civil defence arrangements. However, I share the hon. Gentleman's view about dreadful timing. At the same time that we are debating the Bill, the Home Secretary is seeking to rush through the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill because apparently we are facing a national emergency.

Underlying the wording of the Bill seems to be at least the possibility of an intention to cut the money provided by the Government to support and plan for vital civil defence work including, of course, anti-terrorism measures. My fear is that if the measure is about both capping and cutting resources for councils which plan our civil defence arrangements and co-ordinate the work of various emergency services, we will have a real difficulty on our hands.

Over the past 12 months we have had floods, foot and mouth, terrorist bombs and the terrible events of 11 September. Just when we need the professionalism of our emergency services, it appears that the Government are sneaking in a 28 per cent. cut in the civil defence budget in what they call a short technical Bill.

Mr. Leslie: The hon. Gentleman's point about finance has been made before this evening. Let me make it clear again that the Bill is about enabling Ministers to set a formula to allocate the grant, not about the level of the

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grant. Post-11 September, we are looking again at all funding arrangements. Although the previous comprehensive spending review pencilled in the sum of £14 million for that three-year period, we are reconsidering the arrangements in the light of all the representations that are being made.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to hear the Minister repeat what he has said already. However, when the Bill was introduced on 22 June, the press release issued by the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs, made the Government's underlying intention very clear. It says, very specifically:

If the Minister is saying that the Government have changed their view, I would be delighted to hear it. Much more importantly, those responsible for civil defence planning around the country would be ecstatic. However, the Minister has not come to the Dispatch Box and said that he disowns what the Home Office Minister said on 22 June. The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies) said that he is confident that the Government will make changes, but the Minister did not assure him that a decision had been made. If the Minister is about to do so, we will be delighted.

Mr. Leslie: It is a simple point, and I will try and reiterate it clearly. The Bill is about enabling the Government to set a budget. It does not allocate the amount; those decisions have yet to be made. We are trying our best to calculate the level of civil defence grant for the next financial year.

Mr. Foster: Once again, the Minister has had the opportunity to stand at the Dispatch Box and disown the words of the Home Office Minister on 22 June. He could legitimately say that in the light of the events of 11 September, the Government have had second thoughts. He could say that what the Home Office Minister said in the press release at the time was reasonable, that they had intended to cut the figure from £19.5 million down to the previous level of £14 million, but that in the light of what happened on 11 September, they intended to raise the figure after all. The Minister has been given the opportunity to say that about five times, yet he has not done so. Therefore, there will remain significant doubt in the minds of many Members in the Chamber and anyone listening to the debate as to whether the Government intend to reduce the level of funding by 28.2 per cent. Until we get a clear statement from the Minister, I fear that that is the only interpretation that we can make of the Bill, because the only official statement that we have had on its meaning was in the press release of 22 June.

I go further. The Home Office Minister had the gall to say:

From what we have discovered so far today, that surely means that authorities can plan better but will probably have less to plan with.

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