Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 410 - 419)




  410. Welcome, gentlemen. Thanks for coming. I must say to all the members of the public who have stumbled upon this meeting that I am afraid we shall be going into private session fairly swiftly, after maybe 20 minutes, at which stage I am sorry, you will be asked to leave. This is only the fifth occasion I can recall in 20 years that we have had an almost completely private session; it is not a regular occurrence. The MOD is not mentioned at all in the Civil Contingencies Secretariat's consultation document Emergency Planning in England and Wales, which was published last August. Apparently, although the MOD was not mentioned, which surprises me, it was consulted before its publication. Did the MOD ask that the armed forces' role be included or excluded?

  (Mr Bowen) Mr Davenport led on this and was involved in the process in the summer.
  (Mr Davenport) The answer to that question is that we saw this consultation document in draft and were content that it did not make any mention of the MOD. The reason for that was that the consultation exercise was aimed principally at local authorities, to seek their views on their greater involvement in the emergency planning process rather than being aimed at the MOD or any other organ of central government.

  411. It does seem rather strange as the Ministry of Defence and military personnel are often called upon. The omission of the Ministry of Defence looks like an oversight; it just looks so absurd to say nothing whatsoever about the Ministry of Defence. Is this a justification after the event or is this the explanation?
  (Mr Davenport) No, that is the explanation. We were consulted in advance and were content with that. It certainly was not an oversight. That is not to say that we are not going to be involved in considering the results of the consultation exercise at national level and we fully expect to be so.
  (Mr Bowen) It may be worth saying that the thrust of the consultation document was about whether a statutory duty should be laid upon local authorities and whether there should be funding to enable them to fulfill those duties. That seemed to me to be the thrust of the consultation document, not the Ministry of Defence and its involvement in emergency planning.

  412. I understand that seven government departments replied to this consultation document. Was the Ministry of Defence one of them?
  (Mr Davenport) No, because we were content with the document in the first place before it was published. We will be involved with other departments in considering the results of the consultation.

  413. I have to accept that explanation until a better one comes along. This is taking bureaucracy just a little too far to leave the Ministry of Defence out. It was not that the Ministry of Defence did not want to go up front and indicate that they were there then the local authorities would have an easier route of calling military personnel. Are you saying it is not that? You just wanted to be left out; leave us alone.
  (Mr Davenport) It is not that we wanted to be left out, it is that we certainly did not want to detract from the main targets and direction of this exercise, which was focused primarily on local authorities in an effort to get them more actively involved in emergency planning and that does seem to have been a very positive result of the consultation exercise. It may well be that it will be for consideration whether the Ministry of Defence might in some way be part of this statutory relationship between local and national authorities; that is something we shall consider with all the departments as part of following up the consultation exercise.

  414. I am pleased that you will not be left out of our report, in fact you figure very prominently in it. Is the Civil Contingencies Secretariat's work on emergency planning taking full account of the MOD's work on the New Chapter and vice versa?
  (Mr Mann) Yes. For clarity, I am taking forward the work on the New Chapter. The straight answer to your question is yes, it is in two senses. First of all, they are doing work on vulnerabilities and resilience and so on, as I think has been explained to you, and we are taking the results of that work and looking at what we might do to enhance our arrangements. Secondly, we believe we have some areas where we can contribute to their work some particular skills, which we have suggested to them.

  415. Do you have any idea when we shall be able to see the New Chapter? If you do not, nobody will. I have heard conflicting alternative dates. Can you give us the definitive date?
  (Mr Mann) The definitive date is the one the Defence Secretary announced, which was the spring or early summer. I do not think he has crystallised it beyond that; certainly I have not heard.

  416. Do you put money on early summer rather than spring? You are writing it, are you not?
  (Mr Mann) I am not a betting man, Chairman.

  417. I shall put my money on the later date rather than the earlier one. What sort of meetings would you have had to explain to the Civil Contingencies Secretariat what you will be doing? Have there been regular meetings?
  (Mr Mann) A range of meetings from the Head of the Secretariat downwards, depending on the topics to be covered. For example some which were about resilience issues. If we can invert that, our resilience base is perhaps a terrorist's tempting target and we need to be aware of that.

Mr Howarth

  418. Can you explain what the resilience issue means and a bit about it if possible?
  (Mr Mann) Certainly. A resilience issue is if we were to lose this facility, what kind of an impact would it have on our life, our lifestyle, the economy and so on. Clearly if we have identified that, there is a possibility that others have identified that. If you invert, the other side of the coin is something we and others need to worry about. That is one strand. A second strand is pan-governmental co-ordination. Clearly we are one part of that. The Ministry of Defence has to fit within whatever structures are put in place for the co-ordination of the response to an incident. We need to be part of that. We need to know the way in which their thinking is moving so that we can be part of that. We can make sure that we fit comfortably.

Mr Rapson

  419. I am still suffering after the answers to the first questions when the MOD did not really get involved in the planning. Could I ask about the Emergency Planning College? Did the MOD or armed forces take advantage of that at all? If by some miracle they did, how many personnel attend the courses, how frequently and on what subjects? Is MOD involved in the running of the courses and the content of the programmes?
  (Mr Davenport) Yes, we are much involved and have been for some time and, if I may say so, not by a miracle but by deliberate planning. In particular they run a regular six-month course on civil/military co-operation which we both provide lecturers for and students for and that is our main connection with them. That arrangement has been in place for some time.

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