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Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): It might be sensible for my hon. Friend to remind the Government that for many decades we have had a Health and Safety Commission, a Health and Safety Executive and safety representatives at work. People have not been frightened by the analysis of risks at work and ways to reduce them. What he suggests is not quite analogous, but it is pretty similar to what we face in our daily lives at work, and have for many decades.
The fact remains that the Government are willing to spend money and resource on health and safety issues, and even on anti-obesity programmes. They are willing to spend time training children in what not to do in a pan of boiling chip fat is tipped over them, but they seem unwilling to address this particular issue, although we have done it before.
In 1937, training started for the whole population in knowing what to do in the event of attacks by weapons of mass destructionI am talking about aerial bombardment and poison gas. By 1938, the population were properly equipped, as far as they could be, and properly trained. My mother, as a 13-year-old in north-east Nottinghamshire, knew precisely what to do in the event of her being gassed. A game was made of it.
The fact remains that when the sirens went in September 1939that siren system, I might add, has been completely scrappedthe population filed carefully, quietly and without panic into their shelters and got on as best they could with whatever business they could conduct from there.
There was no panic. The population were told what was going on and they were warned. It is impossible to say how many lives were saved by that training, but I am
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sure that many hundreds were saved who might not have been otherwise. Similarly, we carried out training of the population during the cold war, and to a much lesser extentI am sure that other hon. Members will back me up on this pointduring the Irish Republican Army campaign in Northern Ireland and in this country.
If the Minister believes that there is no need for information or training, I ask her to consider the impact of a terrorist incident on, say, the Madrid scale. Let us conjure with the idea that one of our major cities is attacked three weeks before a general election, and that only 200 are killedthat sounds blunt and cold, but the fact remains that only 200 were killed in Madrid, although more than 1,000 were injured. What would be the political ramifications of a lack of information and training? Will our population forgive any Government for such an attack, as, in many ways, the American population forgave their Government?
It is fair to say that 11 September came out of the blue. Despite the appalling casualties, the majority of the population were willing to indulge the Government's lack of knowledge and pull together as a nation. Will we do that? First, how many of our people will say, "No, we were warned and nothing was done. There was no campaign of public information and precious little public training. There was even precious little training of the emergency services"? Secondly, those who opposed the war in Iraq will say that we have brought it on ourselves. Thirdly, and most tellingly, let us suppose that, in that hideous attack, 100 people were killed instantly and another 100 died as a result of burns that could not be dressed, of being poisoned by gases released in the area from which they were not evacuated or of being unable to get blood transfusions through. It would not have been because the emergency services had failedI, for one, am a great admirer of everything that our emergency services dobut because they have simply not been allowed to exercise properly.
Sergeant Roberts died because he did not have the right equipment in Iraq. The Minister will remember what the tabloid newspapers made of that. If 100 of our people die because the emergency services have not been able to train effectively, the press will blame the Government. They will say, "You have killed our children, our spouses, our uncles." I strongly suggest that, in those febrile conditions, the Government will not survive that kind of blow.
The Minister will say that exercises have taken place. During a debate some weeks ago on Londonthe debate concentrated on the preparedness of LondonI put several points to her about the level of training that had occurred. She only partially answered the question. She made the point that many civil contingencies exercises are taking place, and I wholly concur with her that something is being done. How many exercises, however, are live? How many involve the full panoply of the blue-light services, at a rush hour, with traffic on the roads, people on the pavements and in the undergrounds, and when the blue-light services have not been warned that the exercise will occur? Only by doing those sorts of exercises will the lessons be learned. How many parts of London have removable road signs and road barriers so that ambulances, fire engines and police
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cars can travel along the pavements when gridlock prevents access to the site of the incident? I know that the Minister will say that endless exercises are going on, but not one, to the best of my knowledge, has taken place in those conditions. Even OSIRIS II, which was as good as it got, was done on a Sunday, with the blue-light services warned beforehand and already in place.
New clause 2 makes the case clearly for six members appointed by the Secretary of State to be representative of category 1 responders, another six to be representative of category 2 responders, and for up to six other members to be appointed by the Secretary of State. It would provide that the Secretary may by order make provision in respect of the duties undertaken by the emergency public education and training board. I commend the new clause to the House, because unless the Government get a grip of their public information and public training, this country will suffer when the inevitable attack happens, and it will do so needlessly.
I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about this issue, as I have been involved in considering the Bill with him throughout its progress. I was concerned about the direction in which he was taking us, as his argument seemed to be that the Government should commit themselves to an education and training programme so as not to be blamed if something goes wrong. Another perspective is the concern that all this is political, and that it would over-stress the population and create too much of a sense of alarm.
I recognise that the balance is somewhere in the middle. We all want to give the appropriate information, but I want to put on record my concern that we can end up politically creating a climate of fear. My perception is that the United States Government, through some of the legislation that they have passed, have started to create a climate of perpetual warfare and threat. There are equal dangers in that. That is a counter-perspective, and I recognise that we need to occupy a sensible position in the middle.
Amendment No. 100 would insert the word "resilient" in relation to the kind of public information systems that we are asking local authorities to maintain to warn people about an emergency that is about to happen or is happening. I can predict the Minister's responseI am sure that she will say, "Of course, the Government would expect those networks to be resilient." My concern, however, is that that is not currently the case.
When the Government are asked what they are doing to inform the public, we are frequently told that they rely on websites. As hon. Members may know, I am keen on the development of the internet, and spend a lot of time using it. I would not describe it as always resilient, however, and there is something of a myth about the resilience of the internet in the context of some of the emergencies that we are imagining. Its resilience depends on peering points, where peers get togethernot the House of Lords, but usually a warehouse somewhere in east London where computers "peer" with each other. Increasingly, those may be the subject
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of attacks, both deliberate and accidental, given their complexity, and my concern is that we are starting to depend on technologies that may be less resilient in an emergency than some of the older technologies such as radio broadcasts, which may be more appropriate in those circumstances.
Because of the multiplicity of different media types, we are ending up in a situation in which resilience needs to be at the forefront of planners' minds. It may not be deliberate, but the kinds of assumptions that we have made previously about how to get information out may no longer apply. For example, if we wanted an all-channels television broadcast, it used to be the case that we would negotiate with a few major broadcasters. Now, an all-channels television broadcast must go out on 900-odd different channels, involving many different broadcasters. A range of media outlets creates additional complexity.
My concern in putting the amendment forward is to establish that local authorities need to think about the question of resilience far more than they have done to date. Although there are a lot of communications methods available, they must not simply rely on the fact that those will work at a time of emergency.
I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I am looking for a strong statement that there will be an attempt to tease out failure points, and that local authorities will be required to address potential failure points rather than being allowed to get away with lazy assumptions about communications mechanisms that may work in emergencies.
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