Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the British Red Cross

  I am pleased to enclose the Red Cross submission in response to the June 2003 consultation document on the draft Civil Contingencies Bill.

  The British Red Cross welcomes the Civil Contingencies Bill. When enacted, it will provide a much-needed single framework for civil protection in the UK with clear reporting lines and accountabilities. Our submission makes three substantive comments on the draft Bill:

1.  HUMANITARIAN RELIEF

  Humanitarian support for people affected by a disaster is an essential part of emergency response. Given this, the absence of any mention of humanitarian relief in the draft legislation is a significant omission, which should be addressed, in the final text. This should include specific recognition of this key aspect of civil protection.

2.  CATEGORY 1 RESPONDER STATUS FOR THE RED CROSS

  We consider that the Red Cross should be included as a Category 1 responder in the Civil Contingencies Act, given the legal functions established under our Royal Charter and the Geneva Conventions.

3.  ROLE OF THE VOLUNTARY SECTOR

  We consider that the Act should be more inclusive in its approach to the involvement of the voluntary sector in emergency planning and response. Voluntary sector resources are substantial, and would be required in the event of a national emergency. The final legislation should place a statutory responsibility on Category 1 responders to fully involve relevant voluntary organisations in all aspects of civil protection.

  We would very much welcome an opportunity to give oral evidence on our submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee.

  The British Red Cross has three substantive comments on the draft Bill:

1.  HUMANITARIAN SUPPORT

  Humanitarian support for people affected by disaster is an essential part of emergency response. It must become an increasingly important element in emergency planning. There needs to be specific recognition of this key aspect of civil protection in the Act. Given the importance of responding to the human needs created by emergencies, the absence of any mention of humanitarian relief in the draft legislation is a significant omission, which needs to be addressed in the final text.

2.  CATEGORY 1 STATUS

  Emergency response is the central purpose of the Red Cross. We deal with the human consequences of disaster. Since its foundation in 1870, the Red Cross has played a major role in meeting the humanitarian needs created by national disasters and emergencies, in peacetime and in war. Skilling up and scaling up to sustain our emergency response capacity is our current top service priority.

  Accordingly, the British Red Cross considers that it should be included as a Category 1 Responder in the Civil Contingencies Act. The legal functions established by our Royal Charter and the 1949 Geneva Conventions place obligations on the British Red Cross that are similar to those of the statutory authorities listed in the draft Bill. The Red Cross is the only voluntary sector organisation, which has a legal status of this kind.

  A detailed explanation of the legal responsibilities of the Red Cross to respond to emergencies, and the obligations this imposes upon it, is set out below.

  The Red Cross would seek to reflect its obligations as a Category 1 responder in Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with its statutory partners at national, regional and local level. While there may be concern about the capacity of the BRCS to respond as a Category 1 Responder under the eventual Civil Contingencies Act, this can be addressed in large part by the ability of a Minister to make regulations about the extent of a duty and the manner in which a duty is to be performed (sub-sections 2(2) and 2(3)). That is, the Minister could tailor the British Red Cross's duties to match our capacity.

3.  ROLE OF THE VOLUNTARY SECTOR

  The Red Cross considers that the Act should be more inclusive in its approach to the involvement of the voluntary sector in emergency planning and response. The final legislation should place a statutory responsibility on Category 1 responders to involve relevant voluntary organisations fully in all aspects of civil protection.

  The resources of the voluntary sector are substantial and will be needed in the event of a national emergency. A requirement to engage with them is an essential part of the primary legislation. We believe that this would be welcomed by our statutory sector partners, who are well aware of the need to draw down resources from across the voluntary and community sector in the event of a major national emergency.

THE BRITISH RED CROSS'S LEGAL DUTY TO RESPOND TO EMERGENCIES

  The British Red Cross Society (BRCS), as a recognised National Red Cross Society (ie recognised by the UK government and by the ICRC), has legal or statutory obligations arising from three special sources (ie in addition to its own Royal Charter and national law): the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols; the 1986 Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and resolutions of International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (the last two named, the Statutes and the International Conference resolutions, were adopted by representatives of all States party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, including the UK, as well as by components of the Movement).

  Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, a National Society such as the British Red Cross has certain special tasks. It acts as an auxiliary to the medical services of its country's armed forces on land (Geneva Convention I, Article 26), and at sea (Geneva Convention II, Article 24). The National Society provides relief to prisoners of war (Geneva Convention III, Article 125) and to civilian internees (Geneva Convention IV, Article 142). It also has the right to assist civilians in its country during armed conflict (Geneva Convention IV, Art. 30), including during occupation (Geneva Convention IV, Art. 63). The UK and other States parties shall facilitate the National Society's humanitarian activities during an international armed conflict or occupation (Additional Protocol I, Articles 81(2) and (3)), and the National Society may offer its services to carry out its humanitarian work during a non-international armed conflict (Additional Protocol II, Article 18(1)).

  Some of these provisions are permissive in character ie a National Society may or has the right to undertake a specified action. However, a National Society would be failing to abide by the conditions for its recognition if it did not actively seek to be prepared to carry out these special tasks (eg see Statutes of the Movement, Article 4(6)); it would be failing in its role as the only National Society of its country (Statutes of the Movement, Article 4(2)).

  The Statutes of the Movement have a special international and binding character. Article 2 sets out the relationship between a State and its National Society. A State co-operates with the National Society and supports its work (Articles 2(1), (2) and (3)). The National Society, in turn, supports as far as possible the humanitarian activities of the State (Article 2(3)). Indeed, a National Society must co-operate with the State as part of its humanitarian mission and auxiliary role.

  Articles 3 and 4 of the Statutes confirm the duty of a National Society to support the public authorities (eg see Article 3(1), 3(2) and 4(3)); a Society is both a private institution and a public service organisation.

  The government can expect a clearly defined line of conduct from the National Society, namely, that it will carry out its activities and co-operate with others in accordance with the Movement's Fundamental Principles (eg Articles 2(4) and 3(1)).

  National Societies also have internationally defined obligations set out in resolutions of International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Such resolutions also request States to take certain actions in favour of National Societies. In particular, States have an international commitment to recognise and utilise the special auxiliary role of National Societies, including in the area of emergency assistance (eg see Statutes of the Movement, Article 3(2), second paragraph; 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (1995), Resolution 5, paragraphs 1(c) and (d); 27th International Conference (1999), Plan of action, Final goal 2.1, numbered paragraphs 1 and 2). Concomitantly, National Societies have an internationally recognised role in disaster relief (eg 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (1995), Resolution 4, paragraph C (the Principles and Rules for Red Cross and Red Crescent Disaster Relief)).

  The British Red Cross does not have the same legal duty as statutory authorities since it is independent of the State. However, the Society does have a legal duty akin to statutory authorities since by virtue of being a recognised National Society, the BRCS has certain recognised public functions, including in the field of emergency assistance/civil protection. The British Red Cross would be failing in its duty as the United Kingdom's National Red Cross Society if it did not co-operate with and support the public authorities as far as possible in the humanitarian sphere.

  For present purposes, it seems relevant to note expressly that a Royal Charter, such as that granted to the BRCS, has a formal status even higher than an Act of Parliament. This is because it can only be amended by the Monarch. Put differently, the British Red Cross's Royal Charter is at least equivalent to Parliamentary legislation.

  Article 3 of the BRCS's Royal Charter sets out the government's official recognition of the British Red Cross, both as a voluntary aid society, auxiliary to the public authorities, and as the only National Red Cross Society of the UK. These two officially recognised roles imply certain obligations on the part of the BRCS. These obligations include the following:

      (a)  to co-operate with and support the public authorities as far as possible in the humanitarian field;

      (b)  to consider any reasonable request for assistance from the government, and to respond as helpfully as possible;

      (c)  to carry out the special tasks of a National Red Cross Society.

  By virtue of such recognised roles, the UK government has the right to call upon the British Red Cross for assistance in the humanitarian field and to expect as positive a response as possible. (The Statutes of the Movement, referred to in the preceding section, set out the relationship between a State and its National Society, and the National Society's functions.)

  Article 5 of the Royal Charter defines the BRCS's powers. These powers are an amplification and reflection of the BRCS's role and function. Article 5.1 is the very first power provided, thus illustrating its importance. Without it, the BRCS would be unable to carry out its recognised roles set out in Article 3. The exercise of this power is not at the absolute discretion of the British Red Cross, since the Society would not be carrying out its recognised roles if it did not actively seek to give effect to the power in Article 5.1.

  The reference to "autonomous auxiliary" in Article 5.1 is based upon Resolution 5, paragraph 1(a), of the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, held in Geneva in 1995. In fact, Article 5.1 of the Royal Charter is nearly identical to this provision of the International Conference resolution, and the wording is also reflected in certain articles of the Statutes of the Movement (eg Article 3(2), paragraph one, and Article 4(4)). The term "autonomous" in this context refers to the need for a State to permit the National Red Cross Society to respect the Fundamental Principles of the Movement at all times (eg see Statutes of the Movement, Article 2(4)). It does not mean that the National Society can "effectively act independently of public authorities in the humanitarian field".

  On a separate issue, there may be concern with the capacity of the BRCS to respond as a Category 1 Responder under the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill. I believe that this can be addressed in large part by the ability of a Minister to make regulations about the extent of a duty and the manner in which a duty is to be performed (sub-sections (2(2) and 2(3)). That is, the Minister could tailor the British Red Cross's duties to match our capacity.

Nicolas Young

Chief Executive

29 August 2003


 
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