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Armed Forces: Fire Services

Volume 479: debated on Monday 1 September 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what contingency plans there are to use armed forces personnel in the event of a (a) fire service strike, (b) terrorist incident and (c) influenza pandemic; and what changes have been made to those plans since the coming into force of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. (221392)

The armed forces provide assistance to the civil authorities at their request and primarily when the civil authorities lack the necessary capabilities. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 has mandated that civil authorities should have contingency plans in place to deal with a range of civil crises. As a result civil authorities have developed their capabilities to deal with a wide range of challenges.

In relation to strikes in the fire and rescue service, responsibility for contingency planning rests with the fire and rescue authority, and not the Secretary of State for Defence. Fire and rescue authorities are required to have in place a contingency plan which does not rely upon support from the armed forces. Accordingly the armed forces do not have any contingency plans in place, but Defence Ministers would consider any requests from the Department for Communities and Local Government, the lead Government Department responsible for the Fire and Rescue Service on a case by case basis.

The Home Secretary is primarily responsible for the safety and security of the UK population including protecting the public against terrorism. The police and other first responders have a wide range of capabilities to deal with terrorist incidents. The armed forces do provide some niche capabilities, for example Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams, and have contingency plans in place to make specialist capabilities available should they be required by the police or other civil authorities.

Planning for the effects of an outbreak of pandemic influenza is ongoing and cross government plans are being developed. The magnitude of Defence assistance that could be provided during any outbreak would of course be dependent on how badly the armed forces have been affected by the outbreak.