Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460
WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
HOUGHTON, CBE AND
460. We should also be interested to know how
you work out the priorities, ***
(Mr Mann) Brigadier Houghton has explained the first
wave of enhancements which have been put in place. We are now
looking at further enhancements. Some of the complications have
been mentioned already: very skilled people in very short supply.
We are looking at those both for incidents at home and for incidents
461. ***. What changes have you implemented
since 11 September in terms of what could be a threat? I take
your point about local involvement but we heard in the last evidence
session that there is a big question mark over the joined-up thinking
or even interactivity between local emergency planning outfits,
local police, local authorities and the local commander. One of
our advisers who has been an emergency planner for the last 15
years said he had never been invited to a local planning meeting
with the local armed forces. What concerns me is that you might
have this in place for the South East of England, which is fine,
but how are you going to ensure that at an early stage there is
that seamless interface between the military at local level and
police and local authorities?
(Brigadier Houghton) The first part of your question
was to do with enhancements since 11 September. Within the specific
area of ***, we have not done this overnight, we have added ***
structure. This was because the ammunition technical officers
of the RLC, have peacetime commitments to ammunition custody and
the technical aspects of ammunition within the armed forces. They
also have MACA commitments under MACP. The same organisation,
although not the same individuals within it, are also called upon
to do elements of our deployed operations overseas. Such was the
overstretch within that unit that it was deemed we needed to add
more capability in there, so we never had to run the risk of drawing
off UK peacetime capability to meet the demands of deployed operations.
462. How is that being paid for?
(Brigadier Houghton) By the army, MOD sourced.
463. Just from the budget?
(Brigadier Houghton) An enhancement. We do things
called compensating reductions within the Army, so we shall identify
manpower headroom in some area in order to pay for this.
464. You ran a bit fast over that one. Actually
what you are saying is that you are going to cut capability somewhere
else in order to plug this gap.
(Brigadier Houghton) No, you are presuming we are
cutting capability. All the time in an evolving force there will
be places where you keep on making efficiencies, certain capability
will become redundant, you adjust the nature of your capability
so it best matches the threat you face. You do not have to make
a cut in capability to make an enhancement.
465. We have heard that for the last 20 years.
I do not believe a word of it.
(Brigadier Houghton) So *** in terms of manpower,
although I would not say all those have arrived overnight because
there is a training bill attached to that. Also in terms of equipment
purchases of things like the standard wheelbarrow robots you see
which deal with IED's and also within the technical capability
of the ***.
(Mr Mann) Interfaces. I think the Committee got onto
this last time so if I repeat something which was mentioned last
time, forgive me.
466. We did not get any answers last time.
(Mr Mann) There is supposed to be a structure of joint
service co-ordination group meetings involving the armed forces
on the one hand and a range of local authorities and local agencies
on the other. We acknowledged at the last of these sessions that
in some areas their performance was patchy. As well as improving
arrangements for liaison locally, which we can go into if you
want to do so, we have mandated that those meetings will, at least
from our side of the table
467. It does concern me a little bit because
in terms of one of the more well developed military planning outfits,
which is in Tyne and Wear and which I was involved in when I was
a councillor, clearly there, it did not actually take place. The
actual head of emergency planning had not even been invited in
15 years to one of those meetings. If it is not happening where
you have a set of five councils, which I would say are the better
councils in terms of preparing emergency plans, it is not happening
anywhere is it? Or could you give us a list of where these meetings
have taken place?
(Mr Mann) It has been patchy in the past. I am not
trying to defend the past. What I am saying is that in future
we are going to say from our side of the table that those meetings
will happen. It does of course require other people to come to
them. Secondly, we should not forget the range of other liaison
locally done by people on a day to day basis as well as the more
formal civil structure.
468. But if you are going to have a joined-up
service at local level to respond to what we could possibly have
done before 11 September, it does not bode too well if you have
people who are supposed to be in charge of military planning and
local authorities not even being invited to these meetings. Could
you provide us with a list of where it does actually take place?
(Brigadier Houghton) To take you back to what the
policy framework is, surely it is 180º the other way round.
It is not the responsibility of the armed forces to be inviting
these people along to their meetings. We are in support of the
civil authority. If they are having a planning and liaison meeting,
it is the armed forces that might be invited along to that. We
do not keep any capability contingent to these tasks.
469. Yes, but does that not smack in the face
of what you have just been trying to reassure us about in terms
of ***. If you are going to have this system which is going to
work eventually for these people to get to my constituency or
Frank's or Rachel's constituency, at a local level, you do not
even have the local planners knowing or talking to the local commanders
on the ground or a relationship there, frankly that chain to get
people from down in the south to react to these incidents is not
going to happen, is it?
(Mr Bowen) It is worth saying that some of these incidents
we are talking about *** . It will be dealt with locally and there
will need to be the connections locally, but the actual despatch
and engagement of a ***.
470. With respect, that is absolute nonsense.
The first reaction at local level to thisI accept there
might be co-ordination in Whitehall; a lot of co-ordinating seems
to have been going on since 11 Septemberthe initial assessment
of what is going on on the ground and the reaction to it, is surely
going to be done at a local level. Therefore it is very important
surely that if you have the local authorities and police working
very closely and seamlessly with the defence forces, it seems
to me from what the Brigadier has just said that it is not our
problem, it is the local authorities' problem.
(Brigadier Houghton) No.
(Mr Bowen) No.
471. We have this departmentalism again here
which we need to tackle if we are going to get what we do need,
a seamless response to emergency planning in this country. Frankly
seven or eight months on from 11 September I am surprised that
has not been tackled more fundamentally.
(Mr Davenport) When I say specifically on CBRN and
indeed any other counter-terrorist response, this comes firmly
under the heading of military assistance to the civil power, ***,
who would be in charge of the incident locally. Military assistance
would be provided through the police and at the request of the
police. There exists a document called *** and that document is
available to all chief constables. There is no doubt on the part
of the police what the military can provide.
472. *** . Are there any special arrangements
for Northern Ireland?
(Brigadier Houghton) For CBRN incidents?
473. White powder incidents, for instance.
(Brigadier Houghton) No. Anything which was an IED
type incident in Northern Ireland would be dealt with by the ***.
474. It would be completely separate. So white
powder would not come across to the UK.
(Brigadier Houghton) If it were something which was
suspected of being anthrax, something like that, ***.
475. I am not quite clear about the role of
the Joint NBC Regiment. Syd Rapson partly asked a question about
stretch on that. Would you like to tell us something about the
role of the Joint NBC Regiment?
(Brigadier Houghton) In respect of civil defence within
the UK, the Joint NBC Regiment ***. It is a unit which is optimised
for NBC defence of troops on deployed operations.
476. Would it be used in any way?
(Brigadier Houghton) ***. It is capable of doing a
limited amount of *** but that on a more open battlefield. The
nature and sensitivity of the equipment taking some sort of ***.
The other two things it does in particular are *** i.e. identifying
where a *** might have been used or *** might have been used and
identifying it to conduct a reconnaissance of the battlefield
so that commanders can then make risk judgements on where they
can and cannot go. It is not quite the same thing in respect of
defence from NBC within the UK. It is a very small unit.
477. What about practice? Do the service commands
and the MOD regularly practice their responses? Would you like
to say something about that?
(Brigadier Houghton) In terms of the Joint NBC Regiment?
478. Joint NBC Regiment or an incident.
(Brigadier Houghton) The Joint NBC Regiment is regularly
practised on deployed operations and has been out in ***. Outside
the specific capabilities under MACP, which the Ministry of Defence
provide for *** , the NBC elements of the consequence management
of a device going off is a Home Office lead and it is the blue
light services, particularly Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service
which deal with consequence management of the CBRN related devices.
479. I am having a few white paper incidents
occurring on my desk at the moment. Just to follow up on the Northern
Ireland answer, it has been suggested in one of my white paper
incidents that there has been some reluctance in recent white
powder incidents in Northern Ireland to bring stuff back *** because
of risks to the UK mainland and the RUC have been having to work
out arrangements with local NHS/MAFF facilities. Given that we
are in private session now, do you know anything about that?
(Brigadier Houghton) To be honest I do not. I know
that *** in the immediate aftermath of 11 September and particularly
the anthrax incidents within the United State had a period of
a significant number of hoaxes or false alarms. There was a most
unfortunate time when a particular time-share apartment holiday
firm sent 500 envelopes full of sand out as part of their promotion
and at quite the wrong time and the police were run ragged by
this. Clearly public awareness is heightened therefore the public
are quite naturally more concerned and therefore there tends to
be a lot more false alarms. There was a point at which ***. It
dealt with about *** in a week, something like that. I know that
under Home Office initiatives *** is one of the things they are
carrying forward but I have no idea at all about the incident
you are referring to and the Police Service of Northern Ireland
having to do things locally.