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

The results of the major exercise - OSIRIS II - held around London's Bank Station will be published before Christmas, Home Office minister Beverley Hughes told MPs.

She was replying to Patrick Mercer, Conservative MP for Newark, who asked what was happening to pass on lessons learned to the regions and local authorities. He asked when similar exercises would be planned and implemented in places such as Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham.

Ms Hughes said there had been five major exercises since 2000 - before the events of 11 September - as well as many table-top and middle-level exercises. She added: 'The exercise programme for both the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear resilience programme and the counter-terrorist strategy includes a wide range of exercises; there will be another seven over the next six months on the CBRN element alone.

'I am confident that the agencies, the private sector and other departments are being brought together both frequently and effectively to test the various elements of our extensive programmes.'

She said there were exercises designed to test the planning and framework arrangements for biological attacks. One of the seven announced exercises tests the plan for a biological attack involving smallpox, as well as a range of other chemical agents.

Chris Grayling, Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell, said one of his great concerns was that when he talked to local authority chief executives, they seemed to have very little real, detailed understanding of how they would have to respond to a major incident.

He asked: 'What steps have the government taken to ensure that those who might be on the fringes of a major incident, and might therefore suffer overspill effects such as the movement of people, are brought into the loop and well versed in what they might have to do in such circumstances?'

Ms Hughes agreed that it was important to have co-ordination and linkage at regional and local le vels. On the scene, it would largely be local authorities and their partners who would respond first. An exercise called 'Counterbalance' brought together local authorities and their regional and national counterparts.

Revised guidance had been issued to local authorities, who were now being consulted on a revision of existing guidance on the CBRN programme. In addition, through the regional structures, government was assessing what progress had been made towards implementing emergency plans.

Hansard 27 Oct 2003: Column 4 - 5

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