Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)




  100. Brigadier, you have made so many references to that blue book you might leave it behind when you leave.
  (Brigadier Abbott) Chairman, I would gladly service you with it but, given that this is the master copy for the amendments, I would rather photocopy it first.

  Chairman: We will have to gain access to another marked up version.

Patrick Mercer

  101. This venerable document, Military Aid to the Civil Community, was published in 1989 and we have already touched on emptying dustbins and other similar tasks that might have fallen under MACP in the past, and clearly the foot and mouth crisis was probably our most recent understanding of how it might have changed. The need to guard against the increased terrorist threat and possibly to respond to an actual attack on the UK, will this require a change in the arrangements for the well established practice of MACP?
  (Mr Granatt) I am not in a position to say that at the moment. I would like to ask Ian if he can answer that because he is more familiar with the detail of the arrangements than I am. Again, I think this strays into territory which is not ours, it strays into territory which is essentially the province of the Home Office rather than us.
  (Brigadier Abbott) In effect peacetime security is the defence mission that allows this. Out of that there are four military tasks: MACP, number one, GB, number two Northern Ireland, MAGD is the change, Military Aid to the Government Departments, and I think that is effectively a contemporary orientation to what has happened and that is why references pre-1998 have switched now to MAGD in that respect, and Military Aid to the Civil Community. It is the civil community in the way that cascades down. Your particular question was about MACP. I do not think there is a change on the MACP side but that is not to say that there will not because one does know that MoD are engaged at the moment in reviewing this. If it is a mechanism that allows them to better execute, splendid. I think as we saw MACM going to MAGD we may well see a similar change. As I am aware, these are the current procedures that we have in place, they are keyed in with the defence mission of, in this case, peacetime security and that is a wide embracing capture.

  102. Leading on just briefly, we have been told that cost is a major obstacle for local authorities when considering requesting military assistance. Are you looking at this issue?
  (Mr Granatt) This, I think, comes into the area of the Bellwin Scheme, for example, where a local authority can apply for recovery of costs, which was used most recently in handling floods where exceptionally 100 per cent of costs are going to be repaid to local authorities. That essentially is not one for us, it is for the sponsoring department, the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions. They mentioned the need to review these arrangements and keep them up to date in the Local Government White Paper, as I recall, but I cannot give you a specific reference.


  103. As I recall, I may be wrong and please correct me if I am, but if it is life threatening the MoD have to cough up. I do not know what "life threatening" is. If, therefore, the local authority has to decide what life threatening is and the Ministry of Defence do not agree then maybe the local authority will say "we cannot provide the funding either for the military or we cannot provide the funding for civilians to do the job". Might this be clarified in any of your inquiries?
  (Mr Granatt) I think the MoD are looking at this. I have to say my observation is if there is an immediate threat to life there is no question that the MoD will deploy and they will do it at their own cost. There are essentially three ways in which they get involved. One is that sort of instant arrangement, which usually involves the police contacting the MoD, then there is an arrangement where a local authority through a Government department might contact the MoD, and the last one, which is a high level one, is where ministers might be involved in that request. I think the MoD look continually, but again this is a question for them, at how effective these arrangements should be. I do not think they are shying away from the fact that there is an expectation that they should do it, I think they are looking for the most flexible way of doing it but, of course, at the end of the day they do in some circumstances have to look for the costs.

Mr Howarth

  104. Is this not something that you should be looking at? As you are the nub of all this should you not be having some input even though the ultimate decision taking must be for the relevant department?
  (Mr Granatt) I am confident that if the MoD are looking at this that we will be talking to them about it. The reason I give you the information is because I have been in dialogue with them.

Mr Jones

  105. Is not the nub of this inquiry, which we said from the beginning, that in the United States post September 11 you had clear action in terms of what the President did in appointing a co-ordinator and there was a sense of people working together. What we have still got here is departmentalism in Whitehall, in this case between the MoD, Central Government and local government. Is it not a fact that surely if we are going to get the maximum benefits out of the review what we generally need is joined up government?
  (Mr Granatt) I think you are right and I think ministers share that priority. One of the reasons that we are here is to make those arrangements more smooth. I take your point entirely on that.

  106. Perhaps this is the wrong question to ask a civil servant but are you confident that in the usual labyrinth of Whitehall and its committees, etc., that that will actually be done?
  (Mr Granatt) That is one of the things that we are here to do and I intend, as my colleagues do, to help that happen. There would be little point to us being here if we were not in the business of expediting that sort of arrangement.


  107. And you might one day be in one of the labyrinths.
  (Mr Granatt) Yes.

  Mr Howarth: With the Chairman of the Defence Committee.

  Chairman: I would be delighted to be there in the safety of an MoD labyrinth or whatever. This is the final run now, gentlemen, there are three or four more swift questions.

Mr Roy

  108. Mr Granatt, you said at the start of this session with regard to the public communication that it should be timely, effectual, continual and thorough. Does the Secretariat have particular responsibility for providing the public with information only once an emergency has actually happened?
  (Mr Granatt) What we provide is a centre that can co-ordinate public information with a number of partners inside and outside Central Government and can provide advice on all the means to do it in a particular circumstances. The News Co-ordination Centre, which is the term for the unit which does this, is capable and has deployed a large number of different techniques, everything from call centres to advertising, to normal media liaison and, indeed, one of their functions in a major emergency is to make sure that there is a hotline for elected Members of Parliament or other authorities to ring in to. In terms of preparation and planning they are involved—

  109. Do you know the number because I do not?
  (Mr Granatt) It is not a number I am going to give out on the air because I think you would want to make sure you could get through.

  110. If there is a hotline for Members of Parliament I would have thought, as a Member of Parliament, I would known about it.
  (Mr Granatt) Whenever there is a major emergency we make sure that we do issue the number, but we do it in circumstances where you can be sure you can get through.

  111. You are not proactive, ie you do not say "in the event of an emergency this is the hotline number"?
  (Mr Granatt) At the moment our accommodation is changing and if I gave you a number today it might not be the same number tomorrow. If a circumstance arose we would issue it immediately.

Mr Jones

  112. Is that not a nonsense, the fact that if there was an emergency and something happened, how would you know how to get in contact with us to give us the number to ring?
  (Mr Granatt) The initiative came from ministers who were very concerned indeed that Members of Parliament could get in touch with that sort of information quickly.[3]

  113. If we do not know the number how can we get in touch with you?
  (Mr Granatt) Would you like me to return to what you were saying?

  114. I would like the number really.
  (Mr Granatt) We are working with an organisation called the National Steering Committee for Warning and Informing the Public, which has been around since 1996, which has been looking, with a wide membership including Central Government, broadcasters, local authorities, emergency planners, at better ways of informing the public at times of an emergency. As you will know, the general public warning systems that are in place tend to be centred around things like COMAH sites, and Kevin may wish to add to this, and in places like Norfolk where the sirens are still retained for warning the public about flooding. Clearly we face circumstances now, or we might do, where we need to give the public good information about what they might have to do in case they are facing something to do with, say, a chemical attack. We are making sure that we have got a range of measures in place that can meet that demand.

Mr Roy

  115. I am still not convinced that if those measures are in place enough people know exactly what those measures are. On the same point of being proactive, do you believe, for example, that if there was a white powder found in the London tube system members of the public—I think it is 150,000 members of the public use the tube every hour—if they saw a white powder, would know what to do about it or if they thought some sort of gas had been exposed to the air that members of the public would know what to do? The reason I bring that up is my constituency office last week received a package with white powder in it. I happen to share a constituency office with Scotland's First Minister. We had a lady, it was her first day, she had opened it and white powder had spilled out and I just noticed it and told her to stand back, but during all of that period there were members of the public in that particular office. I then phoned the police, waited half an hour for four police officers to come and meanwhile the members of the public had moved out of the way. The secretary still had white powder on her skirt. One of the police officers cleaned the desk up just dressed ordinarily. Two hours later we waited for a special unit to come in from Glasgow and by that time the officers who were first present had cleared up the dust and put it into white bags. All during that period I thought there was a serious breakdown of knowing what to do. Primarily I do not think the secretary knew what to do, and I certainly did not know the number of any help line for an MP, I therefore had to phone the police and members of the public did not know what to do and, more importantly, the police did not know what to do when they arrived. This was only last week. Do you think that is what would happen in other offices throughout the country and, if it is, is this not an indication that those proactive measures do not exist in the eyes of a lot of people?
  (Mr Granatt) I cannot answer for the actions of the police service. I do know that they have put in place measures so that when somebody contacts them with the sort of problem that you have just had, they make an assessment very quickly of what is likely to happen and from what I have seen I am confident if they felt there had been something which could have been a credible attack their reaction would have taken that into account. They are not in the business of deploying police officers to deal with these things in a way that would enhance the danger to the public. That is the process that they have put in place. They have got a large number of police officers trained already to be first responders to this sort of thing. When an incident comes in they assess what is happening and then they take the appropriate action. In terms of guidance to the public, through our mechanisms and the HSE we ensure that guidance is available publicly, it is on our website, it has been sent around, it is with the police.

  116. Could I just stop you there. I understand the need with modern technology for there to be a website but, with due respect, and I have said this time and time again, the vast majority of my constituents do not have access to the website. I do genuinely fear that officials sometimes, because they are using computers day in and day out, think that Mrs Bloggs has got one but she does not. Therefore, we have to be proactive. What method do you think we should implement, ie here is a need for a help line, not just for Members of Parliament? There is a need for people to know out there "what number do I call if there is a problem with white powder escape or anything". Members of the public do not know that help line number so, therefore, there is a need to be proactive and do this, use television adverts, newspaper adverts and leafleting where ordinary members of the public can have access to that information.
  (Mr Granatt) Can I make two points. The first point is if there is an emergency the obvious number to dial is 999. That is the best way of getting help quickly.

Mr Hancock

  117. Do you really think that?
  (Mr Granatt) That is the emergency number.

  118. You might as well drive round and get a policeman rather than phone them.
  (Mr Granatt) I am sorry, sir, I do not think I can accept accountability for how the police delivered at that particular point. I have to say the police have got arrangements in place, including a 24 hour co-ordination centre, which is based at Scotland Yard, and is in constant touch with, for instance, the Department of Health where any police officer can get advice very quickly if they think they are facing a credible threat. The mechanisms are there with the Department of Health, with the police and others 24 hours a day to make sure advice is available and an appropriate response is made to these sorts of incidents.

Mr Roy

  119. Do you think there is a need for a help line number that everybody in the United Kingdom should know off by heart?
  (Mr Granatt) I note what you say, sir. We did some research about what the public required during these sorts of emergencies. One of the findings was that they did not want us to issue a large amount of information while there was no particular threat and they, therefore, made the point that they did not want to see information issued that would help people mount a "credible" attack or a hoax.

3   Note from Witness: As referred to in these paragraphs, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat aims to provide Members with access to up-to-date and accurate information during an emergency. CCS will ensure that a telephone number is quickly promulgated to MPs in these circumstances. We are in the midst of accommodation changes which prevents us from providing a longstanding number now. Back

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