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Lord Lucas: My Lords, that is a fairly clear no. I shall let the matter lie there but I shall come back to it under the next group, which is where the consequences of this will come to light. If the Government will not tell us in any formal way how, for instance, they have been exercising to deal with a major flood, or a shortage of fuel, or whatever else it might be, I want to be sure that we shall be able to find out those things informally and that we shall not just be told, "It is none of your business".
In not involving themselves in this Bill the Government are saying that we can trust them to do all the exercising and the preparations. But how do we hold them to account if they just will not tell us what they have been doing? That is what worries me. The noble Lord says that there will be all these reports but I am not aware of any of them. I have never seen any of them. Perhaps the noble Lord could give me a list of the things that are available at the moment to say what exercises the Government have been doing. I asked him for that last time but I think I got an answer that they could not answer.
It is all very well saying that there is no need for a formal reporting mechanism, but it has to be very clear that these things actually are available when we want them and are not just bits of information that are not collected because the Government cannot be bothered. It is absolutely crucial to this whole thing working that the Government do their bit. If it is not in this Bill and they are not going to tell us about it in a formal way, I really would like to know where I go to find out details of the Health Department's
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exercising for civil contingencies. Where should I look? If the noble Lord can answer that question in writing, I shall not return to the matter at Third Reading.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I shall endeavour to invoke more Cabinet Office correspondence on the matter and put the noble Lord's mind at rest. Many publications outline what we do and plan and how we engage with the issue. I am happy to provide the noble Lord with that information.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 43, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 44. I am eager once again to address the crucial issue of central government's role as a responder in a major emergency.
I believe it is imperative that this legislation clearly defines central government's role in an emergency. While local responders and local emergency plans are certainly comprehensive and developed, the question still remains of what action central government are to take in co-ordinating the response to a large-scale emergency situation.
The very nature of an emergency is that it creates chaos and uncertainty. Therefore, should not this legislation include provisions to ensure that the Government have adequate resources to plan for such a situation? Is it not our duty, in addition to modernising the legislative framework for civil protection, as the Minister stated in Committee, to
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provide that national emergency planning, training and exercising are integrated with that of local responders?
With respect I do not agree with the Minister's statement that the Government do not need specific legislative authority to plan for an emergency. It would be irresponsible in our view to pass legislation that goes only halfway towards providing a solution for the management of emergency situations.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, remarked in Committee that devolved administrations and local government are in charge of emergency planning within their sphere of responsibility. The Minister also stated that the UK Government work very closely with the devolved administrations. I hope so. Therefore, I do not see the objection to amending this legislation to codify the Government's role in emergency preparations and in requiring the involvement of central government resources.
Recent examples where central emergency planning was lacking include the fuel crisis and the foot and mouth outbreak. Certainly those experiences have taught us only that central government play a central rolea key rolein containing emergency situations.
These amendments therefore, by widening the scope of category 1 responders to include central government departments and their agencies throughout all countries of the United Kingdom, would allow for far greater oversight of emergency response preparations and the efficient co-ordination of resources.
It is the strong opinion on these Benches that this group of amendments would greatly improve the legislation. Indeed, in proposing these amendments we are responding to what the Joint Committee said in its report:
"We recommend that the role and responsibilities of Government Departments, the National Assembly for Wales and regional government are outlined on the face of the Bill and that they are given a statutory duty to undertake their responsibility".
Lord Garden: My Lords, we have looked at this matter in different ways at different stages and I still think that the Government have not addressed the concerns which the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has outlined.
We are looking at the ways in which we can have joined-up government, both vertically and horizontally, for unknown emergencies. It seems very strange that each time we consider this the Government are unwilling to place themselves under the same requirements as they do local authorities and other category 1 and category 2 responders.
On the last occasion I tabled an amendment that specifically identified the Ministry of Defence as having a role in this matter. I have not tabled it this time but the rather neat amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, returns to the idea that we need local authorities to know what central government will provide so that there is no duplication. We need a whole
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range of joined-up activities that are missing at present as there is no reference to the central government area. I strongly support the amendment.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as both the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said, we have had this debate more than once already. I shall not disappoint or alarm the House when I say what I have said before; namely, that we remain to be persuaded. This is not a measure that we consider we can support.
Much has changed over the past three or four years. I return to a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, made a few moments ago about earlier crises. We have learnt a lot from those. In the time since the fuel crisis, the foot and mouth outbreak, flooding and so on, we have demonstrated a very clear commitment to the resilience agenda. That agenda is championed at Cabinet level by the Home Secretary, who gives a very firm and clear lead. I do not think that anyone would deny that our Home Secretary is very clear in his intent.
I consider it is almost unarguable that there has been a major change in the quality of contingency planning in central government since 2001. As I say, that was because we reflected on some of the weaknesses which had been exposed by crises. The previous foot and mouth outbreak occurred back in the 1960s. Flooding does not occur every year and a fuel crisis does not arise every year. However, we had to deal with those three major problems all within a fairly short period of time. We had to take account of changes that had occurred in the period that had elapsed since those crises arose in the past. We had to take account of things that had happened nationally, the way in which local government had been reorganised, the impact of technology, the way in which distribution networks work and so on. That caused us to think long and hard about our approach. As I said earlier, I believe that we now have a very robust strategy in place for developing our counter-terrorism and resilience capabilities based on wisdom accumulated over many years. We have detailed contingency planning and exercising arrangements in place within central government. As I said a few moments ago, local responders understand how they fit into the wider picture. More than that, they now have a clear understanding and a good working relationship with central government. This will, of course, be enhanced through the guidance supporting the Bill.
I can see why it might be argued that in future another government might attach less priority to the issue. We went through a period prior to this Government coming to power where civil defencethis is not a criticism of the previous Conservative administrationhad a lower order of priority, as did some emergency work. We have moved on from that, due to the exigencies of events. We have set out our stall regarding what we want to do. We are establishing a clear legislative framework. It also has to be said that there are few precedents for imposing high-level duties on central governments. The Government do not consider that it is possible to do so in this case.
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Government exercises a huge range of functions ranging from legislation to the delivery of essential services and the management of public finances and advisory services. Each department has different functions and exercises its functions in a different way. As a consequence of government's diversity, any duty would have to be extremely broad.
The noble Lord, Lord Garden, said that the amendment was a neat solution. I am not convinced. We solve the problem in relation to the local response through a heavy reliance on regulations and guidance. There is sufficient commonality between the functions exercised by local responders that it is possible to impose a single statutory duty them. If we applied the same principle here, central government would be regulating and guiding themselves. That would be an interesting conundrum.
Essentially, a future government would be free to take a narrow interpretation of any such duty on themselves. So, as is the case now, the key factor in central government's efforts would not be the shape of any duty but the level of ministerial commitment. That is why we do not believe that a meaningful contingency planning dutyone that would change behaviourcould be imposed on central government. What matters is ministerial will, which is of the utmost importance.
The Government are already committed to a clear performance framework for central government in this area. Noble Lords may be aware of the document The Lead Government Department and its roleGuidance and Best Practice. It was published recently and is a type of document that, no doubt, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would like to see more of. I am more than happy to ensure that copies are made available. The document sets out a clear audit regime. Lead departments will be required to incorporate contingency planning into the annual assurance and risk control mechanism. That will form part of the central government corporate governance regime.
The process will require senior officials to ensure that contingency plans are adequate and that they are validated. It will form part of the department's statement of internal control. The Civil Contingencies Secretariat at the Cabinet Office will co-ordinate the work, ensuring that standards are maintained. However, the results will not be published. Noble Lords will understand some of the difficulties of exposing strengths and weaknesses to those who wish to do us harm.
We take counter-terrorism and resilience issues extremely seriously. We have invested heavily in that work and have in place much improved arrangements as a result of that work and that investment. It is not possible to craft a meaningful duty on central government to ensure that future governments match this Government's commitment to countering terrorism and enhancing resilience. Introducing a defective duty could even hinder effective contingency planning.
What is important at the end of the day is ministerial will. We have that will, and we have a framework that has been given a clear lead in Cabinet. That is the best
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way for us to organise our arrangements. For those reasons, I must resist the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness.
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