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Mr. Collins: New clause 1 has enabled us to have a useful discussion about the current status of the Government's civil defence review, which, of course, started long before the events of 11 September but has no doubt been greatly informed by them. I have some questions for the Minister about that. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), however, that amendment No. 1 has the stronger case behind it. It is similar to points that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I raised at earlier stages of the Bill's consideration, and were it to be pressed to a Division, we would be inclined to support it.
I strongly endorse the tributes paidon both sides of the House, I am delighted to sayto the work of the emergency planning officers. They are not the most glamorous of our public servants, and they do not have television series such as "London's Burning", "Casualty" or "The Bill" made about them. None the less, they play a very important role in the provision of emergency services in this country. Whether they are involved in military operations or emergency responses, it is the logistics and the pre-planningthe work done in advancethat can make all the difference to the effectiveness of the ambulance men, fire service personnel or police officers on the ground, and it is important that we should all pay tribute to their work.
It is also worth noting that since we had a bit of a discussion between the parties about the level of the Government grantthe Minister is smiling nowwe have seen an interesting example of a rare but not entirely
I do not know whether the Minister had a tussle with the Treasury or whether it was simply an easy conversation with an old pal, but we congratulate him on having succeeded. That is why we are not expecting a 25 per cent. cut, as we were at an earlier stage.
Howeverthe Minister would not expect such an encomium to conclude without at least one "however"there are still a few points on which it would be helpful to have clarification. When the Bill was introduced, the explanatory notes said that expenditure in the present financial year was expected to be about £19.5 million. Last week, however, in the welcome parliamentary answer to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), it was said that in the next financial year expenditure would be roughly the same as in the current financial year£18.6 million.
When the House decides whether it should support amendment No. 1, which would postpone implementation of the Bill, it would be helpful to know whether £18.6 million is a revised, updated and more accurate assessment of expenditure in the current financial year, or whether we are still facing a reduction. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) rightly said, it would also be helpful if the Minister clarified the basis on which that figure was calculated. Parliamentary representations are a splendid basis on which to take public expenditure decisions, but they are not always the most stable and predictable indicators for local authorities, so it would be helpful to know how the figure was produced.
Secondly, will the Minister confirm that even if spending in the current financial year will be £18.6 million rather than £19 million, the Government's proposed grant for the next financial year, although not a swingeing cut, as was at one time feared, is still a freeze? There certainly will not be an increase, so it is difficult to say that changes have been made in response to the events of 11 September.
In that context, does the Minister recognise that the reason why many people outside the House would think it appropriate for the Bill to be passed only if a delaying amendment such as amendment No. 1 were made is that there will be incredulity at the idea that the Government are introducing legislation on emergency planning and civil defence that is not wanted by emergency planning officers at this stage, and which makes it possible for the grant to be capped, at best, if not reduced in real terms?
Is the Minister aware that I have seen a copy of a letter sent to him a couple of weeks ago by the honorary secretary of the Emergency Planning Society, who wrote from the emergency planning unit of Hampshire county council:
Mr. Collins: I am not sure whether we should go too far into who was responsible for what in connection with the fuel shortages in September 2000. I shall take the hon. Gentleman's attack on successive Labour Budgets in the spirit in which it was intended.
I suspect that the most the Minister will be able to say is that the Government have, on reflection, decided to keep spending roughly at present levels. However, it is notable that even at present levels of funding, there are difficulties. For example, the county emergency planning officer of Oxfordshire says that internal funds have been spent on planning for the countering of a toxic chemical threat. In other words, the local authority had to transfer resources from other areas of its expenditure to deal with that crucial and worrying aspect of the post-11 September threats, because present funding levels were not adequate. Similarly, the officer for Gloucestershire is worried that many members of the public assume that there are large numbers of men in suits, as he puts it, ready to deal with threats of toxic or chemical warfare, when in fact there are not.
Amendment No. 1 has particular merit, in that the context in which such decisions are being taken will presumably be much clearer in a year's time. A number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members have made the case for a delay for reconsideration, because we are still in a position of flux. When the Bill was originally introduced, the events of September 11 had not occurred. When the Bill had its Second Reading and was then considered in Committee, the war in Afghanistan was at an earlier stage. We still do not know the exact nature of the external threats facing our country after the successful and wholly admirable actions taken by the United States Government in Afghanistan draw to a close. However, we do know that in some respects the position is even more worrying than before. I do not wish to dilate at any great length on the discovery of British citizens in Afghanistan who had been serving with Taliban forces. It is simply enough, for these purposes, to recognise that the Government, in drawing up the Bill, cannot have been aware that there would be a number of British citizens, normally resident in this country, prepared to support a terrorist threat from that quarter. That is necessarily a matter of concern.
I do not propose to go into the matter in any further detail, beyond using it as an opportunity to ask the Minister if he could address some of the issues relating to the review and the territory that it will cover. The review is intended to be fairly broad and all encompassing. The emergency planning officers who are deeply sceptical about the Bill are strongly in favour of the Government's review and hope that it will be undertaken swiftly.
When does the Minister expect to conclude the review? When do the Government propose to introduce legislation on the back of it? It is clear that a strong consensus exists in central and local government that new legislation will be required comprehensively to overhaul and replace the Civil Defence Act 1948. Have the Minister and his colleagues had full and detailed consultations with other Governments about the conduct of the review? Has he sought the views of Tom Ridge, who has been put in charge of homeland defence by the United States Administration? Is there not an important European Union dimension to this? We are clearly facing common threats and there may be a case at least for pooling experience if not for a joint response.
I should like to add my congratulations to those expressed earlier in the debate to the people who worked as trading standards officers and emergency planning officers at the height of the foot and mouth crisis. My county of Cumbria was the worst affected in the country. About half the cases in the United Kingdom were in Cumbria, and an awful lot of people worked extremely hard. Can the Minister tell us, either now or laterI appreciate that he may need to write to some of uswhether the Cabinet Office's review of emergency planning will be closely linked with the work being done by the various Government-established inquiries on the lessons of the foot and mouth crisis? In particular, will the Cabinet Office ensure that there is a published contingency plan in the event of a further outbreak of foot and mouth?
How will the review address the post-11 September concerns that many right hon. and hon. Members will have on behalf of their constituents who live near nuclear power stations? Sellafield is not in my constituency but it is in my county andas one of my constituents rather chillingly pointed outonly 25 miles away as the fall-out flies. In the light of the events in New York a few months ago, what will the review have to say in respect of air and other defences for such facilities?