Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

A joint memorandum submitted by the Home Office, Ministry of Defence and the Cabinet Office (22 May 2002)



  1.  The Memorandum submitted to the Committee by the Ministry of Defence (D/Parliamentary/21/42 of 23 January 2002) made clear the wider political, diplomatic and military efforts that constitute the government's response to the challenges set by the events of 11 September.

  2.  A key component of that work has been the defence and security of the UK itself. Since 11 September, the Home Office and Cabinet Office have been at the heart of a major cross Departmental programme of work designed to enhance the resilience of the UK. The Ministry of Defence, with its supporting role, has been closely involved in this work.

  3.  The Cabinet Committee structure provides the ideal framework for managing the work. In particular, the Home Secretary's Chairmanship of the Ministerial Group on Preventive and Protective Security (DOP(IT)(T)) and the Civil Contingencies Committee (CCC) allow him to maintain a clear oversight of the issues, ensuring that effort is correctly prioritised and any difficulties identified are addressed quickly and effectively. The Prime Minister receives regular and detailed reports on progress made.



  4.  DOP(IT)(T), which is chaired by the Home Secretary, is responsible for determining policy for preventive and precautionary security measures in the United Kingdom to counter the threat of terrorism. It is supported by a number of official committees and ad hoc groups; these deal with a range of subjects and issues such as civil aviation security standards, security at ports, terrorist financing and the protection of key sites. DOP(IT)(T) and its supporting committees and groups are supported by the Defence and Overseas Secretariat in the Cabinet Office.


  5.  CCC, which is also chaired by the Home Secretary, has responsibility for making the country more effective in planning for, dealing with, and learning lessons from emergencies and disasters, including those caused by terrorists. It is supported by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) which has taken over some of the emergency planning responsibilities previously exercised by the Home Office.

  6.  The CCC has three sub-committees, CCC(CBRN): CCC(LR) and CCC(UKR):

    (a)  CCC(CBRN) is chaired by the Home Office Minister for State, John Denham. It reviews contingency and other arrangements to protect the UK against the effects of a terrorist attack using CBRN means;

    (b)  CCC(LR) is chaired by the Minister for State for Local Government and the Regions, Nick Raynsford. It reviews contingency arrangements for London, particularly in the light of the terrorist attacks of 11 September;

    (c)  CCC(UKR) is chaired by the Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office, Christopher Leslie. It reviews contingency arrangements for key suppliers, services and other systems which support the life of the community, particularly in the light of the terrorist attacks of 11 September.


  7.  Any information on a possible threat to the UK or UK interests is carefully assessed by the Security Service, and this assessment is disseminated to the police and relevant government departments who will respond accordingly. The general level of the threat from international terrorism to the UK and UK interests overseas is also kept under constant review.

  8.  At a strategic level, the Joint Intelligence Committee considers issues which may affect UK security including those related to international terrorism.

  9.  DOP(IT)(T) and its subordinate committees are regularly updated on the threat from international terrorism in order to inform the development of policy for preventive and precautionary security measures in the United Kingdom.


Counter Terrorism

  10.  The Home Office holds lead responsibility for co-ordinating the response to the terrorist threat within Great Britain. FCO takes the lead in responding to the threat against UK interests overseas. But these departments do not stand alone. The response to any terrorist incident relies on a co-ordinated approach and the Government draws upon the resources of other departments, the security and intelligence agencies, the police, the Armed Forces, scientific and other specialist advice, local authorities and the emergency services.

  11.  A terrorist incident is a crime. The primary responsibility for responding to it lies with the Police and the Police force in whose area the incident occurs would take operational control and command of the incident at the scene.

  12.  The Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR), managed by the Defence and Overseas Secretariat, is the national crisis centre from which the central Government response to all types of major crisis is co-ordinated. In a terrorist incident, COBR is responsible for determining the Government's overall political strategy, including responding to any political demands made by the terrorists which is passed to the Police Incident Commander at the scene. The Home Secretary would take the chair in response to a terrorist incident in Great Britain. Ministers and/or senior officials from other government departments with a significant interest would also be present.

  13.  A team of Government officials would be sent to the scene to assist and advise the Police Incident Commander. MoD also has a range of specialist capabilities, developed both for conventional and counter-terrorist operations which can be made available to the police on request.


  14.  Central government's initial response to a major incident or disaster would come from the lead government department—for example DEFRA would lead on environmental contamination. DTI would lead on an accident at a nuclear power plant, DTLR would lead on transport accidents. The role of the CCC, supported by the CCS, is to provide the central focus for the cross-departmental and cross-agency commitment, co-ordination and co-operation necessary if the country is to deal effectively with disruptive challenges and crises.

  15.  In the event of a terrorist incident likely to have grave consequences for the UK with which a single lead department would be unlikely to be able to cope, the CCS would activate its co-ordination centre in parallel to the central preventive arrangements in COBR. Planning and support teams would be established, and there would be a direct channel of communication with any CCS staff in COBR. Staff from other government departments would be called in to advise on departmental contingency plans and provide technical advice on the response to the threat. Results would be fed back to COBR.


  16.  We believe we have effective—and co-ordinated—structures and procedures for responding to a terrorist attack, or the threat of such an attack. But we are not complacent. All those involved in our counter terrorist machinery are keenly aware that the arrangements in place must deliver the best possible safeguards for the UK and its wider interests.

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Prepared 24 July 2002