Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
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.
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
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.
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
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
(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
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
(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
(Mr Granatt) Yes.
Mr Howarth: With the Chairman of the
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.
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
(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.
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.
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
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.
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 publicI think it is 150,000
members of the public use the tube every hourif 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.
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.
119. Do you think there is a need for a help
line number that everybody in the United Kingdom should know off
(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