|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Heald: My right hon. and learned Friend will have noted that amendments were tabled on compensation and the costs of compliance. I know that he would have wanted to speak if we had reached that group.
Although we welcome the structure of the Bill and the duties placed on local authorities and other responders, we question whether enough has been done to protect human rights, and to make a practical reality of the necessary response to an emergency. We called for a volunteer reserve to deal with emergencies, and we have debated that today. I believe that there is a mood in all parts of the House in favour of a greater role for volunteers, and the Government should have conceded the point.
We called for proper public information and training. The Government seem to be moving on thatall too slowly, but I predict that they will produce a booklet for every household in due course, setting out some of the threats and some of the necessary information. [Interruption.] I am told that they will have to do so, now that I have predicted it. It is a pity that a Minister could not just stand up at the Dispatch Box and say, "Yes, we will be doing that." We would have liked to see a senior Minister in charge of homeland security and the response to terrorism, rather than the current Home Office/Cabinet Office/Ministry of Defence mishmash.
It is true that we have seen some improvements in the Bill as a result of the Committee stagefor instance, the provisions on cross-border issues and on not treating the protection of Government activities as an emergency in itself, the improved drafting in clauses 1, 2 and 18 on the meaning of "emergency"although there was more to discussand of course amendment No. 93, which improves protection for human rights.
At the end of our deliberations in Committee, I said that we had not had a sausage from the Government. Perhaps by now we have had a cocktail chipolata; none the less, there is more work to do in the other place. [Interruption.] I am told that they do not have cocktail chipolatas in Wales, and I believe it; perhaps I should have said "a lamb chop".
On Second Reading, I said that there was much in the Bill to probe, challenge and improve. There is also much in the Bill to welcome, and we have made limited progress in trying to improve it. However, there is a lot still to do and the battle will go on elsewhere. Many of the matters that we have been unable to discuss tonight will be returned to in another place: the issues dealt with in new clauses 4, 6, 7 and 9; the important issues of ministerial responsibility, compensation and what really
24 May 2004 : Column 1403
constitutes an emergency; procedure; human rights; and the question of emergency co-ordinators being competent people for the task.
Peter Bottomley: To those who expected the House to have lengthier debates on these issues, it is worth emphasising the importance of the leaflet to which my hon. Friend referred, and of the Minister's description of the serious issues being considered. In doing so, we should consider the ministerial answer that she gavemy hon. Friend will have seen itconcerning feedback on Home Office guidance on mass fatalities. That is serious information, and in the light of the Government's concern about how people should respond to mass fatalities, in terms of coroners and the disposal of bodies, we begin to understand why this Bill and the debate matters, and why the debate in the other place will matter even more than ours, given that we have been unable to go through everything in detail.
Mr. Heald: I agree with my hon. Friend. These are very serious issues, and it is wrong that the House of Commons should be unable to debate them in the detail that they deserve. For my part, I would nevertheless find it impossible to vote against a measure that establishes for future emergencies a new structure with which I agree. This is the sort of dilemma that one sometimes faces: on the one hand, the Bill does some good things, but on the other, we as an Opposition have not been treated as we should have been.
Dr. Moonie : I shall be very brief. This important Bill provides for the long overdue updating of two Government functionsthe making of emergency legislation, and the planning framework for dealing with disasterand it will create the conditions for an effective and resilient planning network in dealing with emergencies. As Chairman of the Joint Committee, I examined the Bill before it was introduced, and I congratulate the Government on having listened to the points that we made. The fact that the report was unanimous indicates why the Government felt it necessary to take proper cognisance of it, and they have indeed moved a long way. The Opposition will doubtless stress in the other place their argument that many important matters are still to be decided, but in my view the important matters were decided in the Joint Committee and the Government listened to us. It should be recognised that definitions and safeguards have been strengthened in important areas.
I accept that we are not going to agree on the question of the need for a single Minister to run things. I take the view that when one needs a multi-agency response to disasters, it is a great mistake to concentrate on one area. However, I want to stress the need for a proper audit of the process that we are about to undertake. Such an audit would ensure that the Government's wishes are properly carried out, rather than lip service simply being paid to them, and it would ensure that best practice is disseminated as quickly and effectively as possible once bright ideas had been made. I do not believe that the way to proceed is necessarily to have a separate Ministry or a plethora of national committees, which would actually
24 May 2004 : Column 1404
reduce resilience. What is important is to get the process under way and to look at it carefully. I still believe that an independent inspector would be the best way to achieve proper scrutiny of what the Government are about to do, but perhaps that issue is best dealt with in another place.
It is nearly three years since the dreadful attack on the twin towers. It is high time we got down to proper planning. The Bill makes a sound start, but no more than that. There is still a lot of work to do.
Mr. Allan: I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie), who did an excellent job in chairing an effective Joint Committee. One could not tell the party allegiance of the members of the Committee because they engaged with the issues. They were not partisan, which is entirely appropriate for pre-legislative scrutiny. In this forum, we tend to adopt a slightly more partisan approach. I will not engage in too much of a love-in with the Government in view of their changes to the Bill, for fear of upsetting the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who was upset at the beginning of our proceedings today.
We had different concerns about parts 1 and 2. We are disappointed that we have not discussed the part 2 issues, which are of greater concern to Liberal Democrats than the part 1 issues because they deal with fundamental liberties and the way in which the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom works.
On part 1, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) referred to the service as a Cinderella service. The Minister has done an admirable job today in picking up the brief but, in defending the Government's position, she said that they gave lots of extra money for the civil defence grant. She neglected to tell us that they did so only in the face of a legal challenge to the Government by local authorities. It was not a willing move and the trend was clearly of central Government wishing to cut funding.
The Government were forced into offering additional funding. The climate in local authorities and, importantly, in business is all about cutting margins and not doing things that are not strictly necessary. We must be honest. We will face a charge of hypocrisy if we will the ends but not the means. We must be realistic about the difficult climate that we face.
On part 2, our concerns were about the locks and the way in which the definitions work. That is now much clearer, particularly following the work of the Joint Committee and the response to that. We were also concerned about compatibility with the European convention on human rights. Although we did not have a chance to debate it today, I am pleased that the Government tabled amendment No. 93 in response to concerns expressed in Standing Committee to ensure that certification takes place.
Our concern is the risk of abuse of these sweeping powers by a future Government, which should concern all of us as constitutional democratic politicians. It is right that we tried to explore that as best we could.
The hon. Gentleman refers to scrutiny and the comments in relation to audit. Does he believe, as I do, that the sanctions that are available in respect of
24 May 2004 : Column 1405
regions and authorities that are not evidencing a high standard of planning and preparedness are not exactly clear, or indeed very enforceable?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|