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Civil Contingency Planning

Volume 404: debated on Wednesday 30 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his Department's (a) responsibilities and (b) assets with regard to civil contingency planning; what funds are committed; what action he is taking within his Department to improve such planning; and what action he is taking in collaboration with other Departments. [102627]

I refer the hon. Member to the written statement given on 3 March 2003, Official Report, columns 72–77WS by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Blunkett) on civil contingencies as part of the debates on the approval of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, Order 2003 and the Intelligence and Security Committee Report on the Bali bombing. The statement refers to the Lead Government Department Paper which the Cabinet Office placed in the Library of the House on 23 July 2002, and which sets out the role of the lead Government Departments in planning for and managing crises.I also refer the hon. Member to the answer given on 21 March 2003,

Official Report, coilumns 957–58 by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Alexander).

The Ministry of Defence does not take the lead in any area, but regularly provides support to lead agencies and Departments in responding to civil contingencies through the provision of Military Assistance to the Civil Authorities (MACA). In doing so, the Department draws on its military, scientific, and technical expertise. The Department plays a similar supporting role in preparation and planning the response to these contingencies. With the exception of a small number of specialist operations, however, no assets are dedicated to the task. Support draws on those resources available at the time. Unless life is in danger, the civil authorities are charged for this support.

The MOD has recently conducted a detailed review of its response to the threat from international terrorism. The Home Office and other Departments and agencies were involved in this work, and the MOD actively sought the views of the public. The results were published in the White Paper, "The Strategic Defence Review: A New Chapter" (CM5566 volume 1), presented to Parliament on 18 July 2002. These include improvements to the regional command and control mechanism across the United Kingdom, the formation of 14 Civil Contingencies Reaction Forces (drawing on the Armed Forces Reserves) and an enhanced role for 2 Signal Brigade. All of these improvements are designed to enhance the MOD's capacity to provide support in the event of a serious terrorist incident in the UK. These enhancements are currently being implemented, at an estimated cost to the defence budget of £60 million over four years.