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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

The government is considering whether to establish emergency planning on a statutory basis, junior cabinet office minister Christopher Leslie told MPs.

The review announced by the office in August - consultation on which ended yesterday - would examine the question of statutory footing.

He was responding to Labour MPs who argued that statutory underpinning was necessary.

Andrew Miller, whose Ellesmere Port and Neston constituency has been hit by floods, congratulated the local authority officers and other public servants who delivered their functions so well. But he wanted an explanation of why emergency planning was not firmly established on a statutory basis.

Joan Whalley, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, said it was vital there was statutory underpinning for emergency planning.

She added: 'Although we do not wish to be alarmist about events after 11 September, I still believe that it is important that we give the cabinet office all possible support to ensure that organisations such as the Chartered Institution of Environmental Health have an active role in influencing what is placed on the statute book. Such legislation should be properly implemented and properly monitored'.

Mr Leslie said she was correct about the expertise available from outside government on emergency planning. It was not the preserve of government departments alone.

'I believe that it is our duty to ensure that we have plans to detect and prepare against any eventuality as well as respond and recover, and the cabinet office will help to co-ordinate that under the leadership of the home secretary', he added.

Sara Gidley, Liberal Democrat MP for Romsey, asked whether the minister was aware that the emergency planning officers responsible for delivering those plans on the ground had received only two communications from central government, one of which was to ask for confirmation of a fax number.

She added: 'When the minister's department was asked whether it had responsibility for emergency planning, the response was 'Kind of'.

'Is that acceptable and does the minister agree that a minister of cabinet rank should be appointed to take charge of civil contingencies.'

Mr Leslie replied there already was a cabinet minister in charge: the home secretary. The cabinet office helped to co-ordinate the activities of all departments.

Hansard 31 Oct: Column 863-865

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