Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320 - 339)



  320. Who provides the secretariat?
  (Mr Bowen) I provide the secretariat. In the case of home land defence the Head of the Home Secretariat would be involved. If it was an overseas matter it would be the Overseas Commitment Secretariat. So again that is according to the case.

  Chairman: Thank you. We have some questions now on military assistance to civil authorities, and firstly key point defence.

Mr Roy

  321. Gentlemen, the Committee have been told earlier of the number of key points designated both inward and on MoD sites. To what extent are the MoD and the service commands involved in the system of security at those sites? Is that assistance given on an ad hoc, when it is needed, basis?
  (Brigadier Houghton) Perhaps I ought take this one again. I might give quite a lengthy answer to this, because perhaps—it sounds cheeky to say so—but there is a process of education and a requirement to explain some of the terminology involved. MACA and key point defence are quite unrelated things. You will recall that, as a result of the SDR, the armed forces have eight defence missions. One of those defence missions—defence mission seven—is to do with aggression against NATO's flanks. That is, as it were, deemed to the mission which gives a threat level at which certain of the actions relating to military home defence will start to be implemented. It does not have to mean that it is an aggression against NATO's flank. We last looked at implementing some of the measures of military home defence during the Gulf War, but key point defence relates to military home defence as a result of a build-up of tensional crisis in the world by which the domestic front could be threatened by some form of what we would view as conventional forms of attack. MACA is a quite different thing which is provided under defence mission one, which is peace-time security, and no doubt some of your questions will go into specific MACA areas. Within the key point set-up there are two forms of key points. There are what is known as economic key points which relate to critical national infrastructure, which are the sole responsibility of the security services, to survey and recommend the nature of the security that is given to them, and that is not anything which is laid on the military to do. There are then at the moment just in excess of 160 military MoD key points. Now, it does not mean that those 160-plus are all military sites; far from it. They are deemed to be sites some of which, if their security was to be prejudiced, would have an effect on the ability of the country and the armed forces to conduct military operations, and therefore such things as the BT Tower, the Foreign Office, 10 Downing Street are military key points even though they are not themselves military sites. The responsibility for the surveying and the protecting of those sites is a military one but that would only be enacted, not within the security mission for peace-time security, when there is a wide range of peace-time security systems and alert systems and threat systems at which other forms of security, short of those forms of attack which might be against those places in a time of war or tension—

   322. Just so I understand. You are saying, for example, the BT Tower would be regarded as a military key point?
  (Brigadier Houghton) It is an MoD Key Point.

  323. Do you differentiate at all then between the military and the non-military? You are saying there are these 160, that is the total?
  (Brigadier Houghton) That is the total number of MoD KPs we have at the moment.

  324. Which would include the BT Tower? Are there any other ones outwith that 160? Is that them all?
  (Brigadier Houghton) That is all of the MoD ones. We could furnish you with the full list of the 160 if you wanted to see everything which may or may not be included.


  325. Yes, we would, please.
  (Brigadier Houghton) There are criteria which would go into that. But then there are, as it were, a separate lot of key points which are to do with other bits of critical national infrastructure which are not the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence but are the responsibility of the security services.

Mr Roy

  326. On those non-MoD sites, what exercises, if any, have been conducted since 11 September?
  (Brigadier Houghton) On the non-MoD sites?

  327. Yes.
  (Brigadier Houghton) To be honest, I am not in a position to say. That is really a question for the security services and the Home Office.


  328. So has the policy changed since 11 September in relation to what we have been talking about?
  (Brigadier Houghton) The policy has not physically changed. The policy is under review and the policy of both sets of KPs is set by the Cabinet Office. So the security service conducts surveys of economic KPs; the Ministry of Defence with its assets conducts the security surveys of MoD KPs. The policy within which those surveys are conducted is a policy set by the Cabinet Office.

  329. Will this be considered by Mr Hoon in the home land security extra chapter? Will this form part of that extra chapter?
  (Brigadier Houghton) Yes, it will.

Mr Jones

  330. You say it is under review. It is now, what, six months since 11 September, when is it likely to be completed?
  (Brigadier Houghton) To be honest, from the respect of the MoD KPs the last review point and the promulgation of the policy affecting the MoD KPs was last issued in February of last year. In effect, given the nature of those KPs and regardless of 11 September, the policy guidance covering them is pretty relevant to the current security situation. The nature of the review is more the principles under which particular sites should be in or out of the key point list, rather than the nature of the specific defence offered.

Mr Hancock

  331. Who can influence that, the in and out? Where are the influences for that decision being made coming from?
  (Brigadier Houghton) That is done within the KP Review Committee, on which the MoD is represented, along with the intelligence services, Cabinet Office, Home Office. It is within a Cabinet Committee on which my directorate is represented.

  332. Has anything been taken out since 11 September to make way for others that have been brought in?
  (Brigadier Houghton) Not that I am aware of.

  333. So it is not dictated to by the resources available to protect these key points?
  (Brigadier Houghton) No.

  Chairman: Thank you. We have a group of questions now relating to assisting local authorities and emergency services.

Mr Mercer

  334. Other than the events of 11 September and before that, we saw the troops deployed for things like flood defence and clearly the highly publicised assistance with foot and mouth disease. I have a series of questions relating to that. Could you outline the administrative routes for seeking approval for military assistance in each of these cases? How long does it take from an emergency like that being declared to actually seeing troops on the ground?
  (Mr Bowen) Let me start. I should say as I start that Brigadier Houghton has particular responsibility in his job description and within the Ministry of Defence for the delivery of military aid to the civil authorities and has been heavily involved in the last two years, so you will find him speaking rather a lot, probably, in answering these questions. But in terms of what the channel is for approvals, in general terms there are two routes. One, a crisis disaster emergency appearing on your doorstep—maybe a disaster, a threat to life, it maybe flooding—something that actually involves the local authorities and their immediate response, and that can actually trigger an immediate action by the local authorities to the local service unit, and that service unit, if life is under threat, will respond immediately to that. That is, as it were, the emergency route. There is a more deliberate route which comes through from the top and where other government departments which have the lead indicate in government, in Whitehall, that they need assistance. That is a top-down approach which will involve Cabinet Office co-ordination and probably the involvement of COBR, the Cabinet Office Briefing Room, to decide what the policy should be and what other departments need to be brought in to solve the problem. In that case the decision-making process can be very quick. The Ministry of Defence will be represented, maybe ministers, will be present round the table and decisions can be made very quickly. The time it takes between the decision being made and troops being deployed rather depends on the specialism, the location and all that, but it can be a matter of hours. That would be my general approach.
  (Brigadier Houghton) I think it is important to note that other than a couple of niche capability areas, where only the armed forces have that capability, the armed forces do not keep any manpower or resources contingent upon or dedicated to what we call generically the MACA tasks. MACA covers three different areas—tell me if you already know this—MACP, military aid to the civil power; MAGD, military assistance to other government departments; and MACC, military aid to the civil community. In terms of MACC, military aid to the civil community, of which the most obvious example would be something like military aid to support counter-flood relief activity or the aftermath of the Lockerbie air disaster and those sorts of things, it is very much bottom-up; there is no bureaucracy involved in it, there is no legal overarching decisions, no defence council orders or anything like that needing to be signed. That is bottom-up and we would just report up through the military chain of command and inform the ministers that this was ongoing. So long as there is a risk to life there is no question of any charges being made or anything like that. Within MAGD, military assistance to other government departments, examples are wide ranging. Some of this, going back in time, was more to do with calling on military assistance in industrial disputes in order to maintain essential services—dustbin men strikes, firemen strikes, those sorts of things; more recently, as you pointed out, the foot and mouth business. Here there is a requirement to give legality to the orders we issue to our service people. Because it would not normally be a lawful order to order a serviceman to drive a Green Goddess, carry a bag of coal, slaughter certain livestock, a defence council order has to be signed. That can be done in a matter of hours, depending on the nature of the specific situation; it can be done very quickly. Similarly, with MACP, where there is a requirement within the civil authority to call on the capability that only the military possess—you might be talking about a specialist search of a venue where there is going to be a high profile event and there could be a security problem with it—MACP again has to be ministerially authorised but this can be done by a duty minister within a matter of hours at any time of the day or night or at weekends. So there is no reason why there should be any delay at all in bringing the appropriate military capability to a situation on the ground so long as that military capability is available because, as I said at the outset, we do not keep other than in certain specific niche areas, military capability contingent to the MACA task.

  335. Relating particularly to foot and mouth and flooding, those types of things, and indeed the preparations which I believe were going on during the fuel strikes—a longish question but a short answer would be much appreciated—what main lessons have come out of that? How would you improve things next time?
  (Brigadier Houghton) From foot and mouth?

  336. Yes, particularly.
  (Brigadier Houghton) Clearly the main responsibility for drawing up the lessons learnt within this is the appropriate lead department—MAFF, now DEFRA, in respect of foot and mouth—therefore I will just stick to those within the military. My primary one within the military would be the process of education of other government departments and the wider public as to the degree to which there is relatively little military capability held contingent to these sorts of tasks. If we take the example of digging pits for carcase disposal, there were something like 175,000 pieces of engineer plant available in the commercial sector, there were 20 plant teams in the Royal Engineers in the country. We simply do not now have, given the SDR armed forces optimised for deployed operations, that degree of capability available stood-by within the UK. I think the second major lesson would be relating to the command and control arrangements by which the military interfaced with the civil authority at all levels. That is not to say they were necessarily bad but I think within command and control you can always make improvements.

  337. Leading on from that, my constituency was flooded 18 months or so ago, and the cry went up, "Where's the Army?" and then, "Where's the Navy?" Clearly neither was available. In fact, it is difficult to get ships that far up the Trent anyway, even when it is flooding, but eventually we got some Fusiliers, who were quite excellent, I may say. The cry went up, "Where are our Territorials?" The answer was, there are none in Nottinghamshire. What proportion of troops that have been involved in these various operations have been regulars or territorials?
  (Brigadier Houghton) I would have to follow up with a written answer to give a detailed statistical break-down—


  338. You have learnt all the tricks from your political masters on how to avoid answering questions!
  (Brigadier Houghton) I was not briefed on any of this! By far and away the first port of call for MACA type operations is the regular manpower that is available at any given moment within the UK mainland, and a rough estimate is that at any given time without disrupting the current or next roulement of worldwide operations, Land Command could call on 15,000-ish soldiers. Therefore in terms of a ready available reserve of manpower, the first recourse will naturally be to the regulars, but clearly within the volunteer ethos a lot of volunteers wish to come and take a part, particularly in MACC activities. With foot and mouth, we were talking about tens and twenties; at no time during foot and mouth did the number of military from all three services exceed 2,100, and therefore that from the military perspective was eminently sustainable but it would eventually have had some impact on operations, but we were talking about tens and twenties. This, you will be aware, but I cannot remember the detail, is one of the things which undoubtedly we will look at in the New Chapter.
  (Mr Bowen) On the lessons learnt, inevitably our ideas are being fed into the wider lessons learnt and to the Anderson Inquiry, so these are preliminary views but there will be a wider stock-taking of what those lessons are which will come out of the inquiry. On the question of reserves, this is very much a live issue, and certainly the Secretary of State has spoken on a number of occasions about addressing the issue of reserves and the use of reserves in the post-11 September world. I think it is just worth noting that the readiness state of reserves is quite often low in relation to regulars. In terms of the availability or their involvement, sometimes they are involved in their civil capacities, certainly when you think of the medical side and maybe even on the engineering side, and sometimes the reserves are actually double-hatted in their civil and military manifestations.


  339. In this post-11 September environment, the arrival of military forces in a matters of hours could be hours too late. If there is a major crisis, not a gentle build-up to a crisis, the absence of armed forces, be they regular or territorial, can be really crucial. Our Committee banged on at length, without much effect I must say, about the SDR and lamented the lack of footprint not just for calculation purposes for the armed forces but because they might well be required. So I very much hope, Mr Bowen, as a result of this additional Chapter it will allow the civilian authorities and the Ministry of Defence to have access to military personnel, be they regular or otherwise, rather more swiftly than might at this stage be available. Because of the cut-back in both regulars and territorials, our armed forces are too dispersed. The threat is not simply from an external adversary but from an external adversary who might be operating locally, in which case I hope we are going to see a re-addressing of this lack of personnel. One can look to what is happening in the United States, a much larger country, which seems to have dealt more successfully with the use of military personnel, be they federally-directed or at the disposal of the Government. We will come back to the MoD tomorrow and certainly in a couple of weeks on this.
  (Mr Bowen) It is on the agenda.

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