Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I am pleased to introduce these new arrangements for civil contingency planning in Greater London. Perhaps it will assist the Grand Committee if I give it an overview of emergency and current planning in London and of where, why and how the Greater London Authority will fit into this.
The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and its accompanying regulations and statutory guidance deliver a single framework for civil protection in the United Kingdom that is designed to provide a framework to meet the resilience challenges of the 21st century. The Act sets out clear responsibilities for front-line responders and other organisations that need to be involved in the preparation for, response to and recovery from serious emergencies. The Act divides England and Wales into local resilience areas, and each of these areas has a local resilience forum at which planning and preparation for emergencies is co-ordinated among emergency responders. Outside London, there are 37 local resilience areas in England and four in Wales based on police force boundaries.
Arrangements for emergency planning in London have, since the introduction of the Act in 2005, functioned slightly differently from those in place in the rest of the country, due mainly to London’s size and its unique position as a capital city. Rather than a single local resilience area based on police force boundaries, there have been six local resilience areas for London, each with a local resilience forum, based on multi-borough groupings. This reflected London’s particular patterns of public service provision and the different local planning needs of the London boroughs.
When the Civil Contingencies Act enhancement programme was established to review the Act and its accompanying regulations in the light of five years’ experience, it identified that while the Act was, on the whole, working well, it did not properly reflect how emergency planning was actually functioning in the capital and the level at which strategic decisions were being made. While the six multi-borough local resilience forums provided a useful tier of emergency planning, the strategic role which a local resilience forum should normally take was actually being performed at the pan-London level through the London regional resilience forum. This was a non-statutory body at which key responders, central government and the Mayor of London co-operated to give strategic direction to emergency planning in London.
Therefore, better to reflect actual emergency planning arrangements in London, the local resilience area has been redefined as a single pan-London local resilience area that is based on the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police areas rather than on the previous six multi-borough groupings. As a result, the former London regional resilience forum has been redefined as the London local resilience forum. This change came into force from 1 April and means that emergency planning in London now runs in much the same way as in the rest of the country.
The change that we now bring before the Committee is necessary following last year’s closure of the Government Office for London, which played an important role in emergency planning led by the London resilience team. Its duties, which included providing secretariat support for the former London regional resilience forum, taking the lead in non police-led emergencies and ensuring that resilience plans are in place for the Olympic Games, now need to be delivered elsewhere by other parties. It is a function that we cannot afford to lose and is a cornerstone of the structure of resilience in London.
The office of the Mayor of London has long been engaged in emergency planning; the Mayor was the deputy chair of the London regional resilience forum. He is a figurehead in the event of a major emergency in the capital. We have therefore agreed with the mayor that those local planning and response functions previously undertaken by the Government Office for London that no longer need to remain with central government should pass to the Greater London Authority as the strategic non-political authority that supports both the mayor and the Assembly, and that this should be properly reflected in legislation.
The GLA’s new role involves working closely with London’s emergency responders and being involved at the heart of strategic emergency planning for the capital. The GLA should therefore take on the same legal status and duties as other responders in London, including the duties to co-operate and to share information and helping to build a strong relationship through which the GLA can best carry out its new role. The GLA assumed many of its new responsibilities following the closure of the Government Office for London in December last year. We now have an opportunity to formalise its role in legislation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome this measure and thank my noble friend Lord Taylor for his clear description of the purposes and the changes that are to take place under the Civil Contingencies Act to reflect the new structure of local government in London more appropriately by involving the Greater London Authority. The timeliness of the measure seems particularly clear in the light of the imminent international descent on London at the time of the Olympic Games. It is very much to be hoped that this structural change will give rise to discussions about potential risk and about the continuing responsibility for eliminating dangers.
I believe that the Government have also received a publication, in response to the consultation on the second phase, on 14 March. Although that response goes wider than this order, I hope that the Minister in replying to the debate might be able to say something about how that report reveals what has been considered and, in particular, the extent of the review of emergency preparedness.
This measure is entirely welcome. I hope that your Lordships’ Committee and the House will enact it as soon as possible.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for his clear explanation. However, I wonder whether the order comes back to the much heralded bonfire of the quangos and the abolition of government offices throughout the UK. Thanks to the tremendous changes following the Minister’s work on the Public Bodies Bill, we know that the vast sums that the Government initially planned to secure as a result of a bonfire of the quangos that will get rid of government offices throughout the UK will not be realised. I make no criticism of that, as I believe that that is in many ways the difference between the rhetoric of opposition and the realism of government. However, it is clear that, even if a body such as the Government Office for London has been abolished, the functions still have to be maintained. That is why this order is so important, because it will ensure the continuity of these very important duties.
The order does not raise any problems as far as I can see. As the Minister said, it will bring London more into line with what is happening in the rest of the country, which is of course to be welcomed. I also note that the costs will all be for the GLA, so central government will not face any increased burden. The Explanatory Memorandum states:
“The impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies”,
“on the public sector is minimal”.
However, I would be grateful for one assurance from the Minister. As a consequence of these structural changes, can he assure us that all the services that are mentioned in paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum will be safeguarded? Of course, pandemics and severe weather are both of the utmost importance. As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said, in these unstable times when we have the Olympics upon us in the very near future, I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that resistance plans for the Olympic Games will be safeguarded and enhanced by this legislation.
My Lords, I am very grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken for their welcoming of this draft order and for their support for what I think is widely seen as a logical development.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, sought perhaps to broaden the debate into the wider issue of public bodies. I will resist that temptation except to say that clearly there will be opportunities for a more streamlined management of London’s affairs through the Greater London Authority. That is one of the strategic advantages that this move will provide for. There will indeed be financial demands on the Greater London Authority, but the comprehensive spending review incorporated that responsibility in forward funding for the authority from central government—this process is being seen as driven not by economy but by efficiency and by the need for London to be properly co-ordinated. While the six key borough groupings provided the function, in the end the reality is that London is a whole and has to be dealt with as a whole. The support that can be given by the GLA and by its resilience team is of paramount importance.
I can say that the actual priorities in setting out a resilience plan are of course a matter for the local resilience authorities and, indeed, the forum that gives advice on such matters. These things are not immutable, but the risk assessment for the Olympics has been in place for a number of years and is regularly updated. I can assure the noble Baroness that there is no suggestion that the comprehensive focus of the London resilience forum and the resilience team in addressing the needs of London will in any way be compromised by this legislation.
I thank my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart for his broad welcome, too. He made the powerful point that, with the Olympics being so imminent, we are very much focused on security. Indeed, we have events this week as well that show how important it is that all aspects of security are taken care of. He asked about the response to the report. I am not in a position to help him on that, but perhaps there might be an opportunity to write to him subsequent to our discussions today.
I hope that the Committee will be able to commend these draft proposals.