Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660 - 679)



  660. Even knowing that there are not enough vehicles, not enough ambulances, that is information that could be used by a terrorist organisation in a devastating way.
  (Mr Hoult) Absolutely.

  661. You have to hopefully give great care to that.
  (Mr Parker) Talking from a non-local authority point of view, talking from the utilities in particular, the publication of their plans could have a very devastating effect. The national infrastructures, as far as electricity, water and gas is concerned, if you published those, that would be very material to any enemy as well as to the public.


  662. The Federal Aviation Authority published a list of all the weak airports and all of the points why they said they were weak and when I said "is this not a terrorist's manual", I was told "well, we have a fairly open society" and there is the appalling dilemma, so if you are al-Qaeda and get hold of this list— I think Boston was one of the airports that was listed. You mentioned a list of deficiencies of equipment, etc., if there is any document that your organisation has published on this it would be quite helpful to receive it.
  (Mr Cunningham) I will certainly be able to send you a document which was prepared by all the agencies in the North East of England for circulation to local MPs. I would certainly be glad to send you that.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

Patrick Mercer

  663. This is probably one, I suspect, for Mr Parker. It is a privilege to live on the banks of the Trent and so far I have not been flooded yet, but my area of Newark frequently is. Anyway, that is beside the point. You will have seen recently some Moroccans, we do not know for whom they were working but we have our suspicions, were arrested in Rome with plans of the Roman water system and carrying cyanide. What are the risks of terrorists using the water supply either in terms of disrupting it or poisoning it?
  (Mr Parker) The actual disruption to the water supply can be achieved obviously by attacking the pumping stations and that sort of location. The risk of putting something into the water supply, again, it would depend very much on where in the system it goes. Within the water industries there are security measures taken particularly at the treated water space. In other words, once water has passed the initial treatment works, once it is treated and therefore suitable for consumption, from then on security measures are in place to stop any of the entrances being attacked, both physical measures and also by CCTV and by telemetry.

  664. Do you see it as being a major threat?
  (Mr Parker) No.

  665. You do not?
  (Mr Parker) No, not with the measures which are in place.

  666. What advice or guidance do you have from central government about this very subject since September 11?
  (Mr Parker) Quite a lot. We have a close relationship with our Government Department, which is DEFRA, and from them through to the security services.

  667. When you say "quite a lot", is that a written document?
  (Mr Parker) It is a regular written document that comes out which tells us what the security implications are and what the risks are to the water industry both from an international and a national point of view.

  668. That is a written intelligence summary?
  (Mr Parker) Yes.

  669. Presumably it is a classified document?
  (Mr Parker) It is classified and within each company we have people who have security clearance.

  670. What level is it classified at?
  (Mr Parker) Confidential.

  671. Is that monthly?
  (Mr Parker) It is on a regular basis. Not necessarily monthly. It depends what the changes are. If there is a change to the security risk then we are told. That can come out in written documents or we do have within the industry a system of rapid communication, secure communication, so it can come down to each company very quickly usually by fax.

  672. By secure fax?
  (Mr Parker) Not secure fax but we do make sure that only the correct recipient receives it.


  673. Does each authority have security staff, a security adviser, security consultant?
  (Mr Parker) We do have within the emergency planning department a security adviser but that is a local home grown position, it is not a specifically trained person but someone who acts in that role and gets advice direct from Government.

Mr Cran

  674. I wonder if I could move you on to ask a question or two about the suggestion you have made for a National Emergency Agency. I have read the document that you put to the Civil Contingencies Secretariat but you just do not give us enough information why you think this agency would add to the—
  (Mr Cunningham) I think the main reason for that is it is a decision that the Society came to after some 10 or 11 years of asking the Home Office Emergency Planning Division to do things like introduce proper guidance, introduce credible national standards, introduce performance indicators, and also to disseminate guidance and good practice on a national basis. There is currently nobody doing that in a properly co-ordinated way. Some local authorities will do it off their own bat, they will send what they consider to be good practice around. At the moment there is no central government department which actually employs professional emergency planning officers, so we do not feel as if there is a national organisation which has got the competence to set itself up to say "this is what good practice is, this is what the national standard should be". We also think that whilst we believe that legislation will be a very, very important improvement, we would also like to see inspection to make sure that people are doing what they are statutorily bound to do and we think that would have to be a national organisation to do that. We did not know whether or not it would be better to use the Audit Commission or the Fire Service Inspectorate or one of the established inspectorates and we came to the conclusion that since this inspectorate would have to inspect a wide range of organisations that it should be a new national body.

  675. Just trace it out for me why you think this could not be done within an expanded Civil Contingencies Secretariat?
  (Mr Cunningham) I think that it could be done within an expanded Civil Contingencies Secretariat provided there was a willingness to do it and provided that the Civil Contingencies Secretariat went down the road of actually appointing people full-time to the job of driving and leading the emergency planning process. At the moment I am aware that there is a lot of hard work going on by civil servants and the CCS but to my knowledge nobody has got it as a 100 per cent job, it is 10 per cent of somebody's job or 50 per cent of another person's job. We feel that there needs to be a full-time focal point and a number of people driving this on so there could be more people employed by the CCS to do it.
  (Mr Hoult) One of our major gripes to the CCS is that we feel they do not understand what emergency planning is, what a local authority emergency planning officer or colleagues in utilities such as Mike do. We are convinced that they do not have an understanding of what we do.

  676. I have looked at your document, the proposed new national structure for EP, and a National EP Agency is sort of bolted on under the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. I am just not clear, is it going to be a freestanding agency with enforcement relationships and I presume that will be with the Cabinet Office through the CCS? Just give me a bit more information because it has got to be independent, has it not?
  (Mr Hoult) This was an idea put forward by a number of colleagues that had looked very closely at FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the United States. They saw the way that worked and felt that there could be a role for a similar type of organisation in this country. It is reasonable to say that not all of us within the emergency planning fraternity are of the same view. Many of us have concerns which Mr Kerry expressed very ably earlier that what we do not want is an agency coming in taking over, taking over with control, pushing us out of the way, as it were, and taking responsibility for things which are our responsibility at the end of the day so we have to be careful. I think on balance, and as things have moved forward and we have seen the work the CCS is undertaking, that this can be something which in time we would like to see the CCS move forward with.

  677. Are we talking about a big agency? You must have given some thought to what you are asking the Government to do.
  (Mr Hoult) I think what we are asking Government to do is to have in place co-ordination arrangements for how the co-ordination will work between local government and central government and how the co-ordination will work between local governments within certain areas, neighbouring authorities. The fire service, for example, they do have it laid down how they should have cross boundary relationships. We have nothing like that for emergency planning and some sort of framework which enabled us to fit in with that would be useful.

  Mr Cran: I understand that. Could I ask a very sharp question.

  Chairman: You think it is sharp.

Mr Cran

  678. I do not mean it in that way. I mean asking a very definite question. Have you given any idea as to the size of agency you are talking about?
  (Mr Cunningham) Yes.

  679. Is it just another bloody quango, in other words?
  (Mr Cunningham) No, no. I believe this could be done with approximately 30 people provided they are the right people and they are competently trained and provided they have the authority and the teeth that legislation would give them.

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