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Lord Dixon-Smith: I have some sympathy with my noble friend on the Front Bench on this matter. It seems awfully casual to assess the risk "from time to time", whereas it needs to be a continuous rolling process. However, I have to admit that I have some difficulty with "every three months", because there are so many separate emergency plans in the county of Essex that it simply would not be physically possible to review them that often, unless one had the most enormous staff.
The plans do not need reviewing every three months, but they certainly do whenever circumstances change. That might mean changes in access, or developments in a particular industrial installation that increase the scale of the risk. It could even be the other way round:
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that an oil refinery finds it does not want a part of its installation to work at all, which might reduce the level of risk. All those things go on. There is, in fact, a process of rolling review.
We need to think about the wording. The existing wording is not adequate, but I have not heard wording that I prefer. Will the Minister look at this issue, and see if he cannot come up with something that more nearly fits the situation? As it is, the emergency planners I am aware of try to keep everything under more or less permanent review. Of course they prioritise the different areas of their work, because they know the local circumstances and can make that judgment. While a three-month period provides a proper stimulation in one direction, there are circumstances where it would be completely inappropriate. Equally, a situation might develop where a review would be necessary more often. It is a question of practice.
The wording ought to be better, although I have not put my mind to what it should be. Since I regard myself as an amateur draftsman where Bills are concerned, and usually compose wording simply for amusement and funthough always with a serious intentit would be much better if the Government would grasp the nettle and do the drafting for us.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I apologise if my question is unduly simplistic, but one of the disadvantages of the looseness of "from time to time" is that it is not immediately clear whether the phrase in subsection 1(b) of Clause 2 is the same "from time to time" as in subsection 1(a). In other words, whether the person or body is obliged by statute to perform the two functions coincidentally, or whether, although statutory, it is also permissive in allowing them to do so at different times. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that when he rises to respond.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I always like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville's, interventions. They always add a note of levity, but with a serious purport behind them, and it greatly enlivens our proceedings.
I want to start with the point I have made several times so far this afternoon. We have developed our framework in a very open way. It would be fair to say that it has been one of the longest consultative processes we have ever engaged in. I am probably going off at a tangent here, but we have had two major public consultations on this issue, we have received some 400 plus different responses, and we have given the framework a great deal of thought. To take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that the use of the expression "from time to time" was rather casual, we have not approached this issue in a casual way at all.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I certainly would not wish to imply that the Government's approach was in any way casual, and I hope that was not read into what I said. However, we are dealing with the wording of the Bill, and that is what we have to get right. I am prepared to
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accept that the Government have been assiduous in trying to get the Bill into a reasonable form, but the fact is that, when it then comes before this Chamber, it is our function to improve it if we can.
These amendments deal with the issue of risk assessment, which is critical in ensuring that the effort, resources and protection go where they are most needed. The Bill imposes a duty on all category 1 responders to assess the risk of emergencies occurring, and to use that to inform the emergency planning. I do not accept the need to require local responders to conduct risk assessment every three months. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, half made the point for us: the way in which that particular amendment is drafted would in the end impose something of a bureaucratic straitjacket, and I do not think that is the spirit behind it. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is trying to ensure that there is a necessary regularity to risk assessments. There is a problem there, though: the amendment provides too constrained a timeframe, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, is probably unnecessary. We want to retain the use of the expression "from time to time" within the legislation.
The purpose of the duty to assess risk will be to ensure that each category 1 responder is aware of the kind of level of risks they may face, so they can maintain plans to respond to them. They should assess the risk of an emergency happening as often as necessary to maintain the right level of preparedness. Local responders prepare and respond to a wide range of events, ranging from flooding to flu, from train crashes to terrorist attacks. I am sure the noble Baroness will appreciate that some aspects of risk assessment for emergencies need to be undertaken more frequently than others. It will depend, ultimately, on the range of change in the risk environmentfor example, the type and volume of traffic at an airport or on a railway. Assessing the risk of terrorism in a major city may need to be done almost on a daily basis. At the other end of the spectrum, assessing the risk of a building or a bridge collapsing will need to be done a lot less frequently.
Accepting the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness would mean that, in some circumstances, risk assessment would be carried out too frequently, causing waste of valuable resource, and in other circumstances local responders might not review risks sufficiently frequently to inform effective emergency planning and ensure that robust plans are in hand.
The current wording, "from time to time", recognises the time-consuming and resource-intensive nature of risk assessment. It also recognises that the risks faced by local responders are diverse and need to be assessed and reviewed against different timescales. Local responders support that approach. I received a letter yesterday from the Local Government Association in which it makes
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plain, in the fourth paragraph, where it sits on the argument. Its views on the matter are very important because it will have a major role to play. It says:
"The Bill requires responders to assess the risk of an emergency occurring from time to time. The LGA is aware of an amendment to be moved at Committee stage which aims to require such assessments to be carried out every three months. We believe that the wording of this clause should not be changed, as ideally good practice demands that plans should be under continual review. "From time to time" allows the flexibility to assess a risk as and when information suggests a potential change in that risk".
We need to empower local responders to make the right judgment about the frequency of risk assessment. The Government will produce helpful and practical guidance to help responders make informed decisions. We are committed to working with the practitioners that matterACPO, the Emergency Planning Society, the Association of British Insurers and the Association of Local Authority Risk Managersto ensure that we get it right.
The current draft guidance emphasises the importance of reviewing risk assessments often enough to ensure that they are fit for purpose. It recommends a wholesale review of assessments, and their implications for plans, every three years, with a continuous process of review. This guidance, to which local responders must have regard, would ensure that the duty was pitched at the right level.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: As I have carefully explained, risks vary and some emergency events occur less frequently than others. The wording enables flexibility. Fortunately, a bridge collapsing is a very uncommon experience in our society, so it would be mad to assess that risk three-monthly. On the other hand, there are other more frequent occurrences in society; therefore, we need the flexibility to respond to them more rapidly and to ensure that our plans are robust enough to ensure that the public have the highest level of protection available.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, asked whether responders need assess the risk of an emergency occurring at the same time as they assess whether they would need to respond to itthat is what the Clause 2(1)(b) duty implies. The answer is no; they are different duties. The risk of a particular event happening may change, which would necessitate a review of the risk assessment under Clause 2(1)(a). Alternatively, the functions of a responder may alter, which might necessitate a review of the kind of risks to
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which a responder will need to respond under Clause 2(1)(b). That should answer the noble Lord's point.
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