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Mr. Llwyd : If ever we needed to remind ourselves that education and instruction are extremely important, what happened last Wednesday must surely remind us. Nobody in this Chamber knew what was going on, and, more to the point, nobody knew what we should have been doing at that time. I was told after the event that we should all have sat down to await decontamination. I was one of the last to leave the Chambernot because I am brave but because I was not sure what the hell was going on. However, everybody left the Chamber.
Rev. Martin Smyth: I notice that Government Front Benchers were nodding agreement at the point about decontamination. The amazing thing was that even those at the very top of Parliament did not know what to do. It was the recipients of the attack who were in the most danger, and it was they who should have stayed put until they were decontaminated. Opposition Members should have got out of the Chamber as quickly as possible, before the powder spread. That incident highlights the very point that we are trying to get across: education is necessary in every eventuality.
Mr. Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; indeed, I could not have put it better myself. Of course, if we in this place are not sure what is going on, how can we expect the public to behave in the safest manner in a civil emergency?
In the days of the cold war, I remember receiving leaflets on what to do in the event of an attack. They made people think about such things, but they did not strike fear into them. I certainly do not recall a wave of panic around where I lived, and I doubt whether we are more resilient than the rest of the United Kingdom. Such a public information campaign was undertaken even back then, but we have moved on a bit since. We have a Government who are very keen on imparting informationalbeit selectivelyand on using all manner of media to do so. It has been suggested that websites be used, but some elderly people do not even know what a website is. Indeed, although some of us who are less elderly know what they are, we are not very good at using them.
Last year there was a severe flooding problem in my constituency, which affected two or three villages. There was the odd newsflash on television, and apparently a limited attempt was made to telephone people. The Environment Agency decided that although the incident might be severe, it would not treat it as severe because fewer than 100 houses were affected. I do not know what
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kind of message that sends. Of course, the Environment Agency denied at the time that it got it wrong, but it has since realised what happened and has publicly announced that things have been tightened.
As I said, there were some newsflashes on television, but I know of some elderly people who did not really want to watch the television that evening; they preferred instead to read the newspaper by the fireside. They and all their furniture were badly affected, and although their neighbours came to help, it was a bit late in the day. The example of those three villages shows that we needed to tighten procedures in respect of risks of which we were already fully aware. They had been flooded before, yet still the Environment Agency did not get it right.
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with great interest, but surely he is running up against the counter-intuitive wall. On the occasion of the purple powder-packed prophylactic projectile, everyone's natural instinct was to flee, when it would have been logical to stay and die for one's country and avoid spreading the problem. It is that measure of seriousness. How on earth can we educate people that it is better to stay and die than to go and spread the problem? That will be difficult. With the best will in the world, it will be beyond websites.
Mr. Llwyd: I agree entirely. I have no doubt about that, but there are other scenarios in which, although there may a serious risk, some steps that could easily be taken will minimise the risk for some people. Let us save them at least for heaven's sake, if we can.
I have a particular interest in the dirty bomb scenario. As the crow flies, I live about 15 miles from a decommissioned nuclear power station. It does not take a genius to work out that that is a real threat. Of all UK constituencies, mine was the worst affected by the Chernobyl fallout, and it is still affected. I have been to Chernobyl and unfortunately seen the effects there, too.
Mr. Heath: To move from a decommissioned nuclear installation to one that is activeHinkley Pointin the 1980s I had a protracted argument with the Central Electricity Generating Board about whether local communities should be issued with potassium iodide tablets, so that they were ready for an emergency; whether there should be muster points in village halls, which there should have been; and whether people would know about what was going to happen and which radio station to tune into to get local information. We eventually won that argument in respect of Hinkley A and B but I am not sure of the position in the rest of the country.
The point that I was trying to make was that the rods have been taken away but the medium and low-level waste remains on-site. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) agrees on that.
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Where I come from, we are living with a real danger. The local council has set up its own liaison committee. It has had a civil defence committee type of thing for many years, but no one in the local council seems to know what would happen if there were an incident, apart from one or two council officials, so again that is a failure.
I am not making any political point. If the Minister tells the House that the training board is not necessary, will she please say how we will get up to speed to ensure that the information is available, and that everyone knows in a given set of circumstances what they should be doing. How will we ensure that the public are properly protected? That is her concern, it is my concern and it is the concern of the whole Chamber.
The whole point of the Bill is to update and to strengthen existing legislation, and I fully agree with it, but if she says that it is otioseto use the usual parliamentary wordor if she uses a similar parliamentary word, will she please explain how that important information will be disseminated? How will we ensure that we reach all the countries of the UK to ensure that any riskheaven knows, we do not want it to happenis minimised as far as possible?
Michael Fabricant: The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) asked a key question: how can information be disseminated? Even the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie), who disagreed with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) made, said that lines of communication are important. My question to the Minister is: how will those lines of communication operate? If there is a flood, generally, one is aware of the problem, although, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy pointed out, that is not always the case. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) pointed out in a series of examples of catastrophes he has been involved with, witnessed or knows about, communication can break down even when a catastrophe is happening before one's very eyes.
"In the event of an attack, unless people are under the direction of the emergency services, they should go indoors and tune into the TV or radio for further instructions. The media is the main system through which the government and the emergency services will alert the public. The message is 'go in, stay in, tune in'".
That is all very well if one knows that an event has happened. When we were in Chamber, we saw the purple dye come down. We knew that the event had happened, but if a dirty bomb with a small amount of Semtex spreading radioactive material were to go off, unless
The hon. Gentleman shows his ignorance. A dirty bomb may consist of a conventional explosive in which radiological material is embedded. He was a Minister. He knows that. If a bomb were to go
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off and radiological material were spread by the wind, unless one were in earshot of the bomb, one would not know it had gone off. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newark said, the siren system has been dismantled. How would we know that we had to go in, stay in and tune in?
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