Home Secretary David Blunkett has issued a challenge to emergency planners who claim the UK is ill-prepared for a terrorist attack.
Blunkett tells emergency planners to do their job
Patrick Cunningham, from the Emergency Planning Society, was reported to have said more needs to be done to cope with a terror attack's aftermath.
But Mr Blunkett said if that was what the group believed: "Why aren't you doing something about it?"
His Tory shadow David Davis replied that it was the home secretary's job.
The row erupted in the Commons after Liberal Democrat David Heath asked how the public could be expected to have confidence in the emergency planning system if "those on whom we depend for our defence are not confident they have the resources or officers".
Mr Cunningham had reportedly told The Independent on Sunday that local authority planners would be able to offer little more than "a token
gesture of support" in the aftermath of a major disaster.
"It is absolutely
unbelievable," he said. "We are concerned that our own emergency plans are not going to meet public
expectations. It just does not make sense."
However, the remarks angered Mr Blunkett, who said: "I would put out a challenge to the emergency planning department and to those who purport to speak on their behalf.
"If you are an emergency planning officer and you believe something is inadequate, if you do not believe you have the resources, if your local authority ... is not doing the job ... why aren't you doing something about it?
"What's the point of being an emergency planning officer if you do not do your job at the local level?
"If you do not have the resources, you can raise the issue."
'Sensible suggestions only'
Mr Blunkett then turned to MPs: "Has any single member of this House been approached by their emergency planning officer?"
He questioned whether any of them had written to him or his ministerial colleagues raising their concerns.
Mr Blunkett said he only knew about them from reports in the papers, on television and radio.
"We would happily take them seriously when they come forward with their own plan, their own suggestion of improvement.
"That's what's called a civil society linking up with the political society so that not everything is the responsibility of those sitting in Westminster."
But his remarks prompted Mr Davis to insist: "With the greatest respect, you, the home secretary, are over all responsible for this area and you have to pay attention to these people.
"These after all are the people in the frontline who will be carrying out your work in the event of a disaster."
Mr Blunkett insisted that "sensible, practical suggestions" would be taken onboard.