Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)

MR ALAN GOLDSMITH, MR RON DOBSON AND MR PHILIP SELWOOD

9 SEPTEMBER 2003

  Q40  Chairman: In that case, how should their contribution be managed?

  Mr Dobson: Via the regional resilience forums.

  Q41  Lord Roper: With regard to the commercial sector—for example, some of the private security industry—how would you see them being properly brought into this?

  Mr Goldsmith: Category 2, I believe. The ACPO view is slightly different from CACFOA on that, in that we believe voluntary agencies could quite probably be treated as category 2; in other words, they are consulted because they work on a local basis, usually through the local authority. Providing a list of who would be category 2 in particular is difficult because there is so much local variation. As an example, in Lincolnshire we might actually want the marsh wardens who work in The Wash actually to be involved at that level. I am sure that to put them in the list would not mean that in London you would have marsh wardens . . . I do not know! But there needs to be that flexibility because we are talking about a local response.

  Mr Selwood: If I may add, Mr Chairman, to the comment about voluntary organisations. Clearly the ambulance services around the country work very closely with the British Red Cross and St John Ambulance, but I agree with Alan that those mechanisms have to flex. The procedures are well-placed and we would continue to do that, but to place them into category 1—and I know that is not what is being suggested—would I think be unnecessary and fragile.

  Q42  Mr Jones: If I may touch on the issue of local resilience teams, are they needed as well as having a regional resilience team?

  Mr Goldsmith: The question is perhaps wrong. It should be: Is the regional resilience team needed as well as the local resilience team?

  Q43  Mr Jones: I would agree with you.

  Mr Goldsmith: Local resilience teams are in being at the moment. They work well. They are about trust at a local level, usually on a police force area—which is purely coincidental: it is a handy size. That works well and certainly I believe that would be removed at very great risk and very great peril because most emergencies—not all but most—start at a very local level and then escalate—as I say, not all but the majority—and therefore they need a very local response.

  Q44  Mr Jones: Do you have any use for the regional resilience team at all?

  Mr Goldsmith: Regional resilience teams are there. It is not a question of whether they should be there; they were a given, if you like. The ACPO view is that we have to work with them, we have to see how they develop. There are some issues which I believe are best dealt with at that level; one in particular being the provision of temporary mortuary arrangements, which most police force areas/local authority areas find it difficult to provide and which, quite rightly, could be provided on a regional basis. Again, in practice that is what has been happening with mutual agreement between counties, between police forces. So I think there is a role there for it. How far that goes—and here I am talking about planning rather than the response—in the planning phase, I think we will have to wait and see, but as they are there we will endeavour to work with them.

  Q45  David Wright: Could you outline what role the military currently have in terms of working particularly at a local level at the moment. What kind of role do you think they should have in planning and responding at a local level? Would you like to see greater definition in the draft Bill?

  Mr Goldsmith: From the ACPO point of view, I would just go back to a number of meetings I have attended with the military both on a national and local level. The one thing the MOD will say consistently is: "You cannot include us in plans because we do not know what our availability will be, we do not know what resources will be there." When it comes to planning for an emergency, one needs to make sure that what you plan for will be there on the day. That is not to say that we should not use them and in practice, of course, we do, by going through a military district to say, "This is the task we have got. What have you got? How can they help us?" Clearly the role of the military in helping any local response team deal with an emergency, depends on what other commitments it has. If more military resources go to Iraq, then there will be fewer to assist in terms of contingency planning. But they are certainly written into the plans in terms of contacting, and the military will immediately send a liaison officer to work with the local strategic coordinating group to establish what resources are needed and what they can provide. To include them in any greater detail runs the risk of not being able to fulfil the plans. In a sense, they are an added bonus if they are available but something of which we are very conscious.

  Q46  David Wright: You are basically suggesting that they need to be written into the structure but really there is a national draw-down issue in terms of resource availability.

  Mr Goldsmith: Indeed.

  Q47  David Wright: And that needs to be understood in the context of the Bill. Is that right?

  Mr Goldsmith: That is my view.

  Q48  David Wright: Is that a correct summary of what you are saying?

  Mr Goldsmith: Yes.

  Q49  Mr Jones: The announcement last year of the MOD setting up their regional teams of, you know, 500, how does that fit into what you are saying?

  Mr Goldsmith: We are still working through that but, again, the regional resilience force will not be available at very short notice. They are talking typically of 12 or more hours to get 500 individuals there. When dealing with an emergency, one has to write that into the plan. We have had discussions with the military, with the lieutenant general who is heading up the Reaction Force, so they will be included in there in that sense, but, again, one has to be very careful about deciding how many are available and for what purpose they will be used.

  Mr Dobson: If we use the example of the London Resilience Forum, which is already in existence, we do include the military in the discussion around plans, etcetera. Alan is absolutely right that we do need to be very cognisant of the response times and the availability of the military. I think the setting up of the local resilience forums, the military is going to assist in that process. I think from a military point of view as well there is significant benefit in being involved in the regional resilience forums because they are at least aware of what the plans are and therefore able to adapt their response, maybe when it is available, to fit in with the plans which they know from the civil emergency services are already in place. As an association we feel that, yes, we do need to take account of the potential restrictions on the military capability for deployment in these circumstances, but there is certainly advantage in involving military partners within the planning at a regional level so that they are aware of what the plans are.

  Q50  Lord Lucas: Of the existing organisations in categories 1 and 2, who if anyone should be the lead coordinator in planning and responding to an emergency? The Bill proposes that category 1 responders should assess the risk of an emergency occurring. Are all category 1 responders in a position to assess risk? Who is best placed to assess risk? What scope have category 1 responders to prevent or reduce an emergency from occurring?

  Mr Goldsmith: In terms of emergency, I go back to the point about separating response from planning. In terms of planning, if any of the category 1 responders should take the lead then, in my view, it is the local authority at the county level. That appears to me appropriate. When it is response, in most cases it will be the local chief constable, although it will depend to some extent upon the incident; for example, in foot and mouth then the police had a supportive role rather than a lead role. I think it is dangerous to start saying that this organisation or that organisation will always have the lead. There needs to be a flexibility about that response. In terms of risk assessment, our view is that it is a team approach by the category 1 responders working together. It might be that for some risks the lead is taken by one of those responders in agreement; there will be others when we would want to work together.

  Mr Dobson: We would agree with what Alan has said. I think on the issue of who takes the lead role there needs to be differentiation between the planning and then the response to the incident. The response to the incident does need to be specific to the incident, who takes the lead role. We can see distinct differences between a foot-and-mouth or a fuel-type crisis as opposed to potentially a terrorist-led crisis which should always have the lead from the police. From a risk-assessment point of view, we agree that it needs to be a coordinated risk assessment, where category 1 agencies are required to carry out risk assessments relevant to their own response to various types of crisis. But whether or not all agencies currently have the capability to carry out those risk assessments comes back once again to the new responsibilities being placed on category 1 responders particularly as a result of the new Bill, and therefore developments that some agencies would need to make in order to be able to comply with the new requirements being placed upon them.

  Mr Selwood: I agree with both my colleagues. Just to add value to the conversation, the primacy alters, particularly in some of the more catastrophic type measures, and it may well start off with police colleagues acting as the lead coordinator but it soon becomes, say, a health problem and therefore health starts to take the lead. The way that the Bill is constructed would allow for that, I think.

  Q51  Lord Lucas: At the beginning of an emergency, do you always know who is in charge?

  Mr Selwood: We do.

  Mr Goldsmith: Yes. It is not necessarily "in charge". The term I think we have all used consistently has been "coordinate". There is a strategic coordinating group established if a major disaster is declared. There is a very early meeting and it is agreed who will chair the Strategic Coordinating Group and therefore coordinate, but at no time would a chief constable command fire service or ambulance resources or vice-versa.

  Mr Selwood: Indeed, just to add to that, we are very comfortable with the notion that the fire service take command of the inner, very hazardous area; the police prevent other people coming in; and the paramedics pick up the patients and so have primacy in terms of delivering clinical care. It is that sort of arrangement which brings command into some sense in what is otherwise a chaotic situation.

  Q52  Kali Mountford: I am pleased you know what you should be doing in the event of an emergency but I do not know if the public do. What role, if any, do you think the public needs to play in the event of an emergency—perhaps one unforeseen so far? What role should they play in the development of contingency plans? What should they be told, if anything at all? Having decided that we might tell them something, who do you think should do the telling? What is the balance between proper public awareness, so that they can perhaps play a part in preventing an incident as opposed to perhaps creating such an atmosphere of fear that people feel unable to do anything at all?

  Mr Goldsmith: Public information is critical in managing a major incident. The issue about what the   public can do to help is a difficult one. Unfortunately, on a number of occasions the public will hinder even when they are given advice not to, particularly in the sense of a major fire, perhaps, or a major road or air crash. "Please stay away from the area"—well, of course, not every one does that. A number of people do try to go and "rubber-neck" the situation, which causes problems for us. In terms of public information, provided nothing is done which could compromise either national security, if we are talking about a CPRN incident, for example, or, indeed, the safety of officers for any of the services working at an incident, my view is that we should be as open as we can be. That has to be, though, I think a judgment at the time. Again, the Strategic Coordinating Group would come up with a media policy, a public information policy to work that through, so that we did not have, for example, someone from the press office of the fire brigade saying one thing, someone from the ambulance service saying another or from the police another. We work very closely. All of these actually are very much tied in with "Dealing with Disaster", which is recognised, I think worldwide, as being the way to handle major disasters.

  Q53  Kali Mountford: You did not mention at all who should take the lead in communication.

  Mr Goldsmith: The Strategic Coordinating Group would determine that if an incident has occurred, in terms of what information is given. What is it that we want the public to do? Do we want them to self-evacuate from an area? Do we want them to go inside, close the doors and windows and listen to local radio for further information?

  Q54  Kali Mountford: So it is an event by event approach.

  Mr Goldsmith: On that. And of course COMAH (Control of Major Accident Hazards) Regulations do require some industries, top-tier COMAH sites, to provide information to the public within an area around it. Again that is already well in place and well practised.

  Mr Selwood: The Committee was hearing about the Civil Contingency Secretariat earlier on and I think they have played an important part in bringing together this public information aspect of communication. Providing that piece of work continues, I think we will see some consistency, as Alan refers to, in the messages that go out. They are absolutely critical to public confidence, both before the event and in the course of the event. I think the point I am making is that there does need to be a lead government department to ensure that there is consistency across the media handling process.

  Q55  Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: If I may follow up on this issue of public involvement. Okay, we may have problems with a bit of rubber-necking, but equally there could be an opportunity for a greater involvement of the public. I am wondering whether you see that this is an element which is missing from this piece of legislation and whether you have any ideas on what might be developed that the public themselves could be planning in a contingency way, in the same way that you are seeing it being done by different agencies.

  Mr Goldsmith: I do not believe that legislation is the way to approach that. I think it is a matter to be taken in each event, because they will vary so much. It would be probably difficult to word legislation such that members of the public had a legal duty to do things. One can then get into all sorts of difficulties, and human rights legislation has been mentioned previously. Again, it works well at the moment, is my view. Where we have given public information, then it has very much worked around what is required at that time. As a simple example, the National Steering Committee for Warning and Informing the Public produced a video called Go In, Stay In and Tune in, in the sense that in most emergencies, a chemical incident or something, we would collectively want people to go indoors, stay indoors and turn on the local radio, which is used as a means of getting further information. The difficulty, of course, is that if it is a fire you are talking about then the last thing you want people to do is to go into a burning building. One has to be very careful as to how things are worded because there would be dangers of misinterpretation.

  Mr Selwood: In terms of public consultation, I wonder whether the already established community safety groups that exist, looking at crime, for instance, would be an appropriate mechanism for consulting people. But it has to be locally driven. I do not see that it can be done at a higher level than the local level.

  Q56  Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: The Home Office has set up a web site recently, which advises people to keep bottled water, to get batteries and so on. Is there not any possibility that down at regional level and local level there is initiative to be taken there to?

  Mr Goldsmith: Yes. Some have.

  Q57  Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: Can you quantify how much extra work the Bill as drafted would cause the emergency services and how much that additional work would cost? In answering that, perhaps you would clarify how the emergency services currently decide how much to spend on civil contingency planning. How do those setting budgets ensure resources are adequate. Would an indicative or ring-fenced budget laid down by central government ensure enough resources for civil contingency planning? I think you probably all realise government wants to deliver this without cost.

  Mr Goldsmith: Yes. I guess it would be better if we each spoke for our own services with regard to this. At present, police budgets are locally determined by the police authority following a draft from the chief constable, and the amount given to emergency planning is arrived at in that sense. I am quite sure that police authorities, as most other public bodies, had a reassessment of that following September 11 two years ago. I think it is inevitable—as I believe was mentioned in the previous session—that emergency planning can take a back seat as far as members are concerned: there are not many votes in it and it is not a high priority if nothing particularly seems to be happening. You get an event such as September 11 or, indeed, more local events and suddenly one realises that resources need to be put into that. My view is that an inspectorate process, whether in one's own service (in our case, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary) or whether there were to be a separate inspectorate agency for emergency planning, would be the way to test out whether (in our case, the police service) each police force had put sufficient resources into that. Because the volume of work varies so much depending upon the force, somewhere like Cheshire or Cleveland or  Essex, each with probably 40 COMAH sites, is   significantly different from somewhere like Lincolnshire with one COMAH site. Again, one cannot just separate out rural and urban, because there are nuclear power stations in Suffolk, as an example. So it is very much local need. I am hesitant to suggest that central government should dictate how any one part of the budget should be spent in police forces, because that removes the local accountability of police authorities and I believe they have that responsibility on behalf of the local population.

  Q58  Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: The recommendation would come from Her Majesty's Inspectorate, is that what you are saying?

  Mr Goldsmith: Yes, in terms of "Is this force efficient?" Amongst many other questions: Do they make adequate provision for emergency planning?

  Q59  Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: Have you any idea of potential increased costs?

  Mr Goldsmith: No, other than in terms of additional exercise and training there would be costs. But in the police service we are used to absorbing additional costs without new money, so . . .

  Chairman: Music to our ears!


 
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