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Volume 401: debated on Tuesday 18 March 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what emergency planning has been undertaken in preparation for a chemical or biological attack in the UK; and if he will make a statement about the state of preparedness of the (a) emergency services and (b) local authority services. [102518]

I refer the hon. Member to the Written Statement on Terrorism (Civil Contingency Planning) that I made on 3 March 2003, Official Report, column 72WS.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what evaluation has been made of the impact of the detonation of a dirty radiological bomb in a city centre; what assessment has been made of the ways in which decontamination needed can be carried out; and what calculation has been made of the likely consequential costs of such a dirty bomb being used. [101994]

The United Kingdom has well tried and tested contingency plans—developed over many years—for responding to a wide range of terrorist threats, including those which might involve the threatened or actual use of radiological materials.At a national level, existing contingency plans for dealing with the aftermath of radiological emergencies arising from nuclear and other incidents have been reviewed and adapted to cater for the deliberate release of radioactivity, or 'dirty bombs' into the environment. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) takes the lead in maintaining these plans.My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (John Denham), published the Strategic National Guidance for the Decontamination of People Exposed To Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) Substances or Material on 3 February 2003 which contains ways in which the decontamination of people is carried out. This is an approach which provides simple but effective decontamination for chemical, biological or radiological contaminants.The consequential costs of such an incident would of course depend on a number of factors, including the size of the device, the weather conditions and the area affected.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures are in place to prevent illegal immigrants being used by terrorists to introduce dangerous pathogens into the UK. [102301]

Clandestine illegal entrants detected in Kent are transferred to the Dover Asylum Screening Centre and they and their baggage are searched thoroughly as part of the screening process.Clandestine illegal entrants detected elsewhere in the country, are normally taken to the nearest police station where they would be searched before being taken into the custody area.The terrorist threat remains real, and serious. As recent events have shown, no country is immune from attack, and it simply is not possible to guarantee against more attacks in the future. However, this Government are resolute in their determination to defeat terrorism regardless of its source.The average time between application and initial decision was six months for initial decisions made in 2002. This has been calculated using all cases for which data are available, including older cases decided as part of the reduction of the backlog, as well as new cases. This compares to 20 months in 1997.Applications for British citizenship are dealt with upon receipt and are not subdivided into straightforward and non-straightforward applications.

The most recently published data on average processing times for British citizenship relate to applications lodged prior to 31 March 2001, when the average waiting time was 11.6 months.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list the pathogens which could be used in a terrorist attack against which there is vaccine available. [102302]

Our defence against bioterrorism takes account of the possibility of terrorists seeking to use a wide range of pathogens and toxins. Schedule 5 to the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 lists 47 such agents for which security arrangements must be made.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list the detection technologies available to each of the emergency services for use in incidents where terrorist threat surveillance may be appropriate. [102303]

The Fire Service has access to radiological survey meters and, in appropriate circumstances, personal radiation dosimeters. In addition, all brigades have access to explosive atmosphere monitors and local scientific advice.The Police Service has access to chemical monitors and radiation dosimeters. They also have access to specialist national chemical, biological and radiological advice.The Ambulance Service use the detection technologies of Police and Fire Services. It would not be appropriate, on security grounds, to give more specific information.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he is taking to protect the parliamentary estate against potential terrorist attacks. [102455]

Operational responsibility for security within the parliamentary estate rests with the Serjeant-at-Arms. Outside the estate's boundaries, operational responsibility falls to the Metropolitan Police Service. For security reasons, I cannot comment on the detail of the measures in place to protect against potential terrorist or other forms of attack.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the level of preparedness amongst voluntary organisations of the United Kingdom to respond to a major terrorist attack; and if he will make a statement. [96250]

The degree of preparedness of any voluntary organisation judged competent to work with the statutory agencies in handling the consequences of any civil emergency is a matter for assessment by the local authority and/or emergency service through which the voluntary organisation is registered and operates. The Government have published clear guidance on the use and training of volunteers and voluntary organisations in the following core guidance publications: 'Dealing With Disaster' (3rd edition), England and Wales (chapter 6); 'Dealing With Disaster Together', Scottish Executive (chapter 7); 'A Guide to Emergency Planning in Northern Ireland' (annex C).