Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



Syd Rapson

  60. We both represent the same authority.
  (Mr Granatt) Okay. If I can turn to your first question about best practice to Ian Abbott.
  (Brigadier Abbott) Thank you for raising the opportunity here of just illustrating some of the work which was in place before 11 September. Although 11 September is a milestone in our thinking in fairness aspects, such as the realisation that we ought to be more joined up and we think we can do it better if we co-ordinate it. Therefore the CCS comes about and gives birth beforehand. I this is an important marker. One of the aspects which was in place beforehand, since the election, since the mayor, since the appointment of GLO, since the GLAs, how do we strap this mechanism together. It is a similar message which has to be brought home both to Scotland and also to Wales because there we have exactly the same changes, and Northern Ireland is there. How do we change? I think one of the key points which is behind all our thinking is let us not lock ourselves on a date. Let us realise instead that life is Darwinian, and that there is a need for us to adapt. If we were to say "These are the structures in place" then frankly they will be out of date as soon as we publish it. I am pleased to say this manual here is full of amendments because they need to be full of amendments. How do you take the matter forward here in London is actually part of exercise Capital Spring this coming weekend. There we see there is effectively a structure, a command and control structure. When I mentioned before, Mr Howarth, about the individuals being on the ground, what I mean is we do not wish them to wait for the system to come, because the cavalry will be too slow in coming. I believe that the first responders and the boys who are on the ground are the ones who will give the instant and best picture. Then, as it builds up, it goes forward. But it does allow us to bring up this point. There are probably two parallel processes here. One is command and control and it is fairly rigid. It starts rather like the police do in these services over a bronze, silver and gold approach. So we go up from the tactical, the operational, the strategic and then the Government being the grand strategic level. That must react and respond very quickly. I think parallel to that, Mr Rapson, is this matter over communications. If we do not get the communications channel aligned, synchronised and correct we will fail in tackling the centre of gravity and that is one of public confidence. Our hope is that the model that we have come up with for London will be exported as best practice around the country. We look at areas like Birmingham, like Manchester, we have sporting activities there, we have large groups of individuals there as well as the static sites which seem to be classic targets in that respect. We would like to say: "This looks like the way we ought to be doing it, we would like to export that as part of the exporting of best practice".

  61. Do it in London, get it better, well organised and then roll it out.
  (Brigadier Abbott) Precisely so.

  62. Rather than say Portsmouth has not received any information, it is sensible to do it in the centre where it is likely to happen and then export it out.
  (Brigadier Abbott) This is precisely the point, Mr Rapson, over why do we mention—and I must articulate this—the capital? I mention the capital because fundamentally the strike against the States was about icons and therefore we have to look at this location, for instance, as an icon. We have to look at the capital. Also it has the byproduct, of course, that it is the cerebral centre of Central Government and what passes, and what moves out, and consequently we need to protect it.

  Mr Hancock: You are not talking about this place.

  Chairman: Would you repeat that? I did not believe it the first time.

Mr Howarth

  63. Unlikely to repeat it.
  (Brigadier Abbott) I did mention that it was Central Government as opposed to one particular place. I was using it as a verb as opposed to a noun. If we do not get that right then I am afraid we will be wrong. The additional point is one that in exporting it, if one looks at Southampton Water and the threats which can come around there, what we see is that there is a Government Minister, we also have a mayor, and we believe that they carry similar and aligned responsibilities. One is about orchestrating, the other is about reassuring. We think that is probably the model which will go forward in other areas but I am speaking ahead of the exercise.

Mr Hancock

  64. Can I ask a follow on question to that. I am interested in the linkage between the private sector, the local authority and the military. We had a disaster in Portsmouth in September 2000 when we were flooded, not by the sea or by a river but by raw sewage coming out of a system. It was chest deep in the street and people's houses are still contaminated. The problem there was the pumping station was owned by a private company, the local authority had not had a great deal of involvement but were co-ordinating the link between the fire, ambulance and the police, and there was not a great deal of liaison between them, and the one resource which could help straight away was the MoD because they had huge pumps which could be transported. It was the linkage from a private company through a local authority to the MoD to try and get those pumps moving. The Minister has actually, by coincidence, written to me in a letter I received today and he suggests that this incident, talking about the Portsmouth one, was not a result of river flooding or whatever but separate arrangements are in place for dealing with incidents such as these, such as the Portsmouth situation where it was not a natural disaster, it was a manmade disaster which went hopelessly wrong. Now that could have been a chemical spillage. There was a real problem of getting the military to react to a local authority who in turn had to react to a private company. I am interested to know how you can develop the link which enables that process to be speeded up. It was something like seven or eight hours before the real resources which were needed to help the initial problem were brought to bear, let alone the real problem.
  (Brigadier Abbott) May I just begin with a couple of references. I think it is page Charlie 54 which is the reference in the Emergency Procedures Manual which is the reference to the Ministry of Defence and seeking assistance. There is a classified document the MoD have which is known colloquially as the Green Book, which is the guidelines where the MoD would give assistance and how that would fall. I think that puts in place that there are procedures. If people have not used them, is it because they are not practised or used or orientated to this? I think that comes down to how often have we needed these and are we rusty? As I mentioned earlier, you are actually looking at an iceberg. If you were concerned about what we had before the Cold War and what we have now in terms of resources, a second theme that no doubt you and others will have seen is to see whether or not the pendulum has swung too far from effectiveness to efficiency. Undoubtedly in going to the private sector there are efficiencies which are gained in the running costs but you may lose some of the effectiveness in terms of the consequence management if something goes wrong.

  65. Surely the public look for something which bypasses bureaucracy and has a focal point, a figure head, who can make a decision and demand and get the required resources very rapidly rather than going through a rather unenviable process of chains of command. It may be two or three different organisations.
  (Brigadier Abbott) First of all, one has to have a mechanism and I think we have a process and it is captured. I think the police and the local authorities and the MoD are probably best to speak on this. If I see that there is a process and it is not being used efficiently then it may well be that it is education that is needed. I would hope, though, that if the responsibility to react is there for the borough for health and safety reasons—there is a duty of care because it is sewage—and the requirement is for pumping and aid, then there should be a simple communication to the Ministry of Defence, and the guidelines which are here are ". . . if in the case of life threatening then you may act without guidance".

  66. To go back to Syd's point. Syd was conscious of the issue about the figure head, the person who would be there giving the reassurance. I would be interested to know how you can believe that the pattern you could establish from London is transferrable because I cannot see that myself.
  (Brigadier Abbott) As I did qualify, this was ahead of the exercise. I think I mentioned, also, that the model for London is exportable to, and I mentioned areas like Birmingham where one knows there is the potential for a mayoral position in the future, and you have to align these two responsibilities which are coming. The next stage down is whether or not one sees it in, shall we say, a smaller area, a discrete area where there is a Member of Parliament. The guidelines that one gives to Central Government, to ministers, is in the case of a contingency, one would want your ministers to be available so that we can continue with this. There is also the point somewhere that there is an opportunity for that minister to move out so that he may go to his responsibilities. I suggest that is the third level down from this and is a level that is on from that work we are doing at the moment.


  67. You said, Brigadier Abbott, about the lessons of London being exportable, best practice being exportable. Is that not falling into the trap that we have fallen into for over two centuries of paying too great attention to the susceptibilities and prejudices of local authorities? The idea of exporting best practice implies that there will be no obligation upon them to follow any lessons that London might have learnt. If they are not legally obligated to do something they will not do it. They will say,"If you give us the funding, we will do it; if you do not give us the funding, then we will not do it." I hope that if lessons are learned that they will be rather more than "would you like to learn these lessons from London" and that, where necessary, the legislation will be passed so that best practice will be imposed upon any local authority.
  (Brigadier Abbott) I do know that Kevin Wallace is best placed for this. I do believe from my experience of being a member of the MoD's Directorate of Operational Capability that it would be wrong to say that we learned the lessons. I think one's experience is that we are very good at identifying our lessons but we do not learn our lessons. In effect, the crucial element here is about whether or not there is a duty, and I think this is the comment that was passed earlier by Kevin.
  (Mr Wallace) This does come back to the legislation that we hope to bring in, and what we have said its purpose would be is to place on local authorities the responsibility to prepare and co-ordinate local planning, to require local authorities to take the initiative in bringing together partner agencies—and that would include the utilities—and also to require the partner agencies to take part in these arrangements, a little bit like the crime and disorder partnership arrangements. If this were in place then I think you could place some impositions on the local authorities. At the moment it is exhortation.

  Chairman: It is not good enough.

  Syd Rapson: Could I re-emphasise the plea I made and it is not really a question that requires an answer but to ask Mr Granatt to take this into account. Local authorities deal with emergency planning and although very few elected members are involved in that process for whatever reason, Members of Parliament are the public representatives in place in this country, and they are not included in any of the loop at all. I am not asking for the local Member of Parliament to be the Mayor Guiliani of New York here but he certainly needs to know what is going on and he does not. I doubt if any of your thinking has gone that way. Members of Parliament need to know and need to be involved rather than get told afterwards "there is going to be a siren going off tomorrow morning because we have had a nuclear exercise in a dockyard". That does not help us. We need to be more involved as public representatives who are fairly unique to this country. If somebody could think about that and feed it in. If you need to reject it that is fine, as long as there are good reasons, but at least take it on board.

  Mr Jones: Could I pick up on this point about learning the lessons from London and rolling it out. I am not a great fan of everything coming out of London and if Ken Livingstone has got anything to do with it I have got even more concerns about it! As a previous Chair of Public Health in Newcastle with responsibility for emergency planning, there are some good examples in Tyne & Wear of very well worked out emergency planning systems, and all I would ask you to do is if you are going look at best practice is look around the country, not just London. Certainly Tyne & Wear has some good lessons. There was certainly very effective emergency planning when I was involved in it. It ranged through everything from civil emergencies to, say, aircraft crashes and was very well worked out and also, I have to say, had very good integration between local authorities, emergency services and the MoD.

  Chairman: That is in the press release for Friday.

  Mr Jones: I represent Durham.

  Chairman: Before I ask anybody else to tell us what is in Friday's briefing perhaps we could move on to Mr Knight whom I am sure will forswear the use of any publicity.

Jim Knight

  68. My question is about London and we have been kicking this around for a while so I do not think we need to dwell on it for too long. I represent a shire authority where there are three tiers of local government and we host party political conferences—and clearly I would perceive that to be our largest threat! I would want to see the lessons learned rolled out but London has a Greater London Assembly, it effectively has regional government, so do you think, given the plethora of authorities in an area like mine, that we need regional co-ordination and that kind of ability through England which will then perhaps allow your lessons from London to be rolled out—given that Scotland and Wales have national bodies—across England? Then the other question concerns the London Resilience Sub-Committee which has been set up under Nick Raynsford. We understand that it is consulting with London boroughs about their arrangements. We would be very interested to see the questionnaire and to have some indication as to how that consultation is going.
  (Brigadier Abbott) Mr Knight, the intention is for exactly that to be taken forward. There are certain things that have to be done sequentially. I know that we have mentioned threat as being the driver here and that is why we have concentrated on it , but we know that the nation is actually the greater challenge because that is where the majority of people are, that is where the infrastructure is, and if we are to have problems then we need to deal with them. We rely on the excellent activity that has been going on around COMAH, the legislation there, the integration that has been going on, and you have possibly identified yourself as being the good location to go. In terms of taking that forward, it is back to lessons identified and passing them on. They should not be dogma. They should be seen in a way of an aide-memoire for they need to be orientated in order for them to sit with the culture and sit with the environments that are there north or south. Finally, there is the aspect of how does it affect the situation? It needs to be accepted and known and that is where the crucial element that Mr Wallace mentioned earlier about the emergency planning review comes in and the fact that there is a "duty" aspect.
  (Mr Granatt) Can I turn to the regional aspect. I am not able to comment on regional government structures, that is not for us, but I think you are right that one of the things we are looking at is to stimulate regional arrangements for people to work better together. This is the purpose of mapping the national infrastructure and developing a resilience framework. I think that is absolutely essential and you are right about that. I do not think there is any lack of appetite to do that. Everybody we have talked to has said what a good idea and is turning to us to try and make it work, so that is what we are going to do.

  Chairman: Is this questionnaire part of your responsibility? Can we see the questionnaire? What about those authorities when you sent a questionnaire to all the boroughs, is that going to be reproduced elsewhere?

  Jim Knight: You took the words right out of my mouth, Chairman.


  69. I thought you were not getting to it!
  (Brigadier Abbott) In that case I did not articulate. That is precisely the work that we will be taking forward. That will be the area that will then be disseminated.
  (Mr Granatt) I do not see any reason why you should not see the questionnaire.[2]

Mr Hancock

  70. Has the exercise been done?
  (Brigadier Abbott) In London.

  71. Have the questionnaires been sent out, filled in and returned?
  (Brigadier Abbott) Yes and I think the last meeting took place last week.

  72. Has the response been a fairly uniform one or has it been one where people did not really understand what you are getting at?
  (Brigadier Abbott) In terms of the reception to the questionnaire and whether or not they understand matters, that is maybe a secondary issue. What it did allow was the orientation before the face-to-face meeting because there have been face-to-face meetings with emergency planning officers inside all the boroughs. If it tees up and orientates people I think it has probably achieved 80 per cent of the task. It allowed a check-list of questions to be in place "do you have the following . . .?" We had a similar aspect over questions on contingency planning which we put out just a couple of days after 11 September and that was addressing government departments in terms of "here are 15 questions that you should be asking yourself at board level".

  Mr Hancock: Is it possible to ask when you send the questionnaire that you send us some sort of response or co-ordinated paper that you have got?

  Mr Howarth: "Analysis" is the word.

Mr Hancock

  73. Your public school education pays off every time!
  (Mr Granatt) We would need to put that to Ministers. It is being done on behalf of Mr Raynsford's committee.


  74. So you are frightened that there are going to be too many really bad replies showing that the system is not working properly?
  (Mr Granatt) No, I am not frightened. I am more frightened of the fact that this is an area under the responsibility of the Minister and I want to make sure I have got agreement to do it. There are, of course, the points about the boroughs and whether there is a problem with them as well. We have not given the people who fill in these questionnaires absolute assurances of confidentiality, but clearly there is an issue there about how we can conduct these exercises frankly.

  Chairman: We do have access to information up to the level of "NATO top secret" so that should be enough to take account of ranges of susceptibilities. We have to move fairly swiftly now. Patrick Mercer?

Patrick Mercer

  75. We have touched on this already but in the review of emergency planning, the consultation document The Future of Emergency Planning in England and Wales was issued in August 2001 with a deadline for responses for the end of October, as you know. The document makes no mention of the role of the armed forces in responding to emergencies. Your consultation on changes to arrangements for emergency planning began before 11 September. How has the scope of that work changed since 11 September?
  (Mr Wallace) There are two points I would make. One is the lack of mention of the military is probably because the military are not, at present, save for counter-terrorism, written into plans because their prime function is elsewhere. They are, if you like, the icing on the cake if they happen to be available when there is a disaster, but the MoD has taken the line that their first duty is defence of the realm and therefore they should not be written into the plan in case they are doing things in Bosnia or Croatia or somewhere else. That is the first point. As far as changes to the review are concerned—and it is not in my section any more—11 September has accelerated the drive to do something about the legislation and what goes into the legislation. It has not fundamentally changed the need to look very hard at civil defence legislation but will probably set it to one side and bring in some civil protection legislation.

  76. There is a slightly alarming sentence in paragraph 4.14 which reads: "In the last decade or so, there has been a clear reduction in the threat of war and a substantial shift of focus at a local level to preparations for response to peacetime disasters." I suggest events might have moved a little bit since that paragraph was written.
  (Mr Wallace) We could get into semantics about "war".
  (Mr Granatt) The consultation has been completed at that level, a report has been prepared and has gone forward to Ministers and I think they have no less awareness of the change in circumstances than you do. So I cannot imagine that we will not be taking into account the change of circumstance and, indeed, the various stakeholders who were involved in the consultation will have another chance to do that if they do not take a chance in the meantime; we are always open to hearing what they have to say. Of course you are right, circumstances have changed, and I am sure they will be taken into account in the way this moves forward.

  77. What analysis have you been able to make so far of the responses to the consultation document?
  (Mr Granatt) We hope to be able to publish the results of the consultation towards the end of the month. It will be put up on our web site. I can only give you a brief outline because I do not want to pre-empt the report. Clearly there was a great deal of support for the idea of partnership and the idea of duty on local authorities, and the idea of local partnership arrangements. I think that was an indication of this appetite to get involved and to have a proper structure in place, which I think is fundamental to this.


  78. Do you know how many people responded?
  (Mr Granatt) There were more than 230 different responses from organisations.

Mr Roy

  79. On the same point, what thought has been given to an implementation strategy for any new structure that would be agreed? Will that implementation be a prime responsibility of the Secretariat?
  (Mr Granatt) I really could not give you an indication at the moment. The consultation document talks about framework legislation that allows regulation to be made as one option and that seems in modern circumstances to be the sort of thing that should be put in place to give flexibility. You all know better than I how primary legislation can fix a set of circumstances and how it can become out-dated. Where the responsibility for implementing that sits, no view has been taken yet.

2   Note from witness: A copy of the questionnaire which was issued to London boroughs has been supplied to the Committee [not printed]. The Secretariat is still working on the responses to the questionnaire and will seek Ministerial agreement to provide an anonymised version of the results in due course. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 7 March 2002