Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1400 - 1419)



  1400. Can I pick up on the point about trying to identify and intercept and prevent a potential threat as far away as possible before it gets anywhere within the United Kingdom air space? I believe that your own memorandum states that the defence of the UK rests on the ability of our armed forces to undertake missions outside the UK, obviously not to concentrate on their efforts literally on the home ground. However, that contrasts with the statement in Defence Policy 2001 which said, "The UK's national security and defence depend fundamentally on the security of Europe as a whole . . . NATO is and will continue to be the primary means of ensuring British and European collective security and defence". Whilst, clearly, the UK's "vital interests" extend beyond the defence of the UK itself and I think we all agree our forces' ability to deploy overseas is an essential means of protecting those interests, just how far do you think that defence of this island itself is guaranteed by overseas deployments? I think it is something that is often raised by the public as the balance between to what extent our armed forces are deployed overseas and to what extent they feel they are here to defend the home territory.
  (Mr Ingram) Yes—are we doing too much abroad and therefore neglecting home defence as a consequence?

Jim Knight

  1401. Is that a statement?
  (Mr Ingram) No. That is me trying to articulate the public mood, the headline mood that could apply in all of this. That argument is out there. The ethos of what we seek to do, not just in this country but as part of our NATO response and other coalition responses, of course would be to identify where the threat is. If it is an aggressive country that is clearly easy and obviously if that is a country which is beginning to show that level of aggression against us all the mechanisms would come into play as to how that should then be dealt with, through all the diplomatic processes, all the other processes, but then, if war is inevitable, is it a threat against NATO? Is Article 5 then triggered? Where stands the UN? Immediately there is a multiplicity of responses. Is it within the confines of Europe? Where stands the combination of European countries alongside NATO and all of that? That is against the aggressive country. If it is against a threat of aggression, in this case from international terrorism, it is a different quality of aggression. It is not armies marching against us. It is not necessarily sophisticated weapons of destruction. It may be crude weapons of mass destruction which may be located here, so intelligence gathering and best use of intelligence will become a critical factor in all of that to identify where the source of the threat is, how then we can deal with that particular threat. If it is within a country with which we have good relationships they may be able to tackle that domestically. If it is a hostile environment then we may have to take international or unilateral action depending on the circumstances, again depending on the nature of the threat, specific or general. It goes across that layer of issues which we have now identified within the SDR new chapter of the prevention approach, the deterrence approach, the coercion to try and encourage action to be taken within that area of where the threat is coming from and then to seek to disrupt it if it is being funded by countries encouraging this and by then taking that on to try and stop the funding route of that and, as I say, through the diplomatic route as well, but ultimately to destroy that threat if necessary. Have we by our actions in recent times, whether in Sierra Leone or the Balkans or Afghanistan, weakened our resolve in this? The answer to that would be fundamentally no. If anything, we are doing all of those things. We are identifying where the threat is, different manifestations of it, how then it threatens other aspects of this country where terrorism could grow in countries of potential threat to us and trying to tackle it there. The best and most graphic example of that, and that is why I mentioned it in my opening comments, is Afghanistan, because that was a network of international proportions which we were tackling; it was tackled at source but recognising that it could be elsewhere. We are ready in all of those postures but that does not mean to say that we do not have a look at what those postures are and see if there are ways in which we could better refine it and that is what the new chapter examination is all about.


  1402. The SDR said something like for the first time in a generation there is no threat to the UK home base. That was written in 1998. Experience has shown that there is a threat to the UK home base and I suppose the question is, have we got the balance right? I am not in any way opposed to expeditionary warfare if required, but one has the impression that the events of September 11 really indicated clearly to us that the use of the military for homeland security defence purposes was very important. While I welcome the new chapter to the SDR, were you surprised or would there have been any evolution of MOD policy if September 11 had not taken place to secure the home base greater than perhaps the SDR was prepared to project?
  (Mr Ingram) Again, one of the other aspects of the new chapter is looking at specific home defence activities, probably through the TA or better use of the reserves. That is something which we are looking at and on which we will probably be announcing some conclusions at a fairly early stage. Some of the comments which have been made and some of the examinations which have been made about that then takes us down particular routes of what then do we do with that element of our resources and how best do we utilise them? We are coming to a conclusion on all of that. We do not yet have a final position adopted in that. That, as I say, will be determined very shortly and I would hope that you would find some worth in that when it is published. The question is, would we have done this without September 11? If not September 11, there may have been something else. There may have been another greater realisation of a threat to the security of the world in that sense from growing international terrorism and therefore do we need to do something? Is it a specific issue for us? I cannot say with certainty that that would of itself have triggered it but my assumption would be that that would have been a trigger. It seems to me that we do a lot on the back of triggers. Something happens and then we say, "Are we getting this right?", and then, "Do we need to re-examine it?" The end of the Cold War caused that type of examination. What was our defence posture? Did we need to change our defence posture? Yes, we did, and then it was refined later on in terms of the SDR. By looking at it in the new way, through the new chapter, we are looking at certain specific ways in which this can be done with a lot of the focus on home defence. There are many triggers that happen in terms of government awareness about threats. Specifically on the terrorist issue you just need to look at the different types of legislation we have brought in over time in response to Irish terrorism, and it is usually when something else happens that we then say, "Do we now need another set of emergency measures in response to that?", the most recent of course being the Omagh tragedy when we brought in a range of new measures and then on the back of that a new definition of the Terrorism Act which applies in this country. Triggers can bring about a re-examination but of itself that does not mean to say that everything that was there was flawed. It just may mean that we need to do something better and more focused. That is really the drive and the intention behind the new chapter. It is better that we take time to get it right rather than knee-jerk and give an instant response because we have to examine the totality of where the threat is coming from.

  Chairman: Good. We cannot wait to see the new chapter.

Mr Crausby

  1403. The 1998 Strategic Defence Review told us that "support against terrorism of all kinds will remain of the highest priority for the foreseeable future". Mr Denham told us about the work programme in his opening statement since September 11 and, to be fair, he also said that effective measures were in place. Can you tell us what the armed forces have actually done between 1998 and September 11 2001 in pursuit of defending us against the threat of terrorism? I just wonder how ready we would have been if September 11 had been an attack on the UK.
  (Mr Ingram) Remembering that the main attack on the US was a civilian target, of course, and the Pentagon as well, if the knowledge had been there that those aircraft had been coming in specifically targeted on targets in this country, we had a state of readiness. We had mechanisms in place to deal with that specific threat. We could go through a range of other scenarios where we could point out what we were doing, whether it was in terms of an attack on water resources or a chemical attack in this country or a biological attack or a radiological device attack, and yes, we have had states of preparedness in advance of the SDR and so that is part of the overall delivery of this. Then you need the intelligence to know what the threat is and then how you respond to that. That is the real key to this, that the capability is there, but then you need to know that it is going to happen. The nature of asymmetric threat is that you cannot predict precisely what is going to happen and therefore you can only imagine and best define those scenarios and put in place those mechanisms ready for that. The threshold of the level of attack has now been lifted post-11 September and it is because of that that we look at other elements of our preparedness. Since then we have put in place quite a range of enhancements, correctly so, building on that which is already there. They are not new capabilities; they are enhancements to existing capabilities, more extensive coverage and so on.

  1404. If it was of the highest priority in 1998 what is so radically different about 2002 in the sense that we completely accept that the asymmetric threat is incredibly difficult to defend ourselves against?
  (Mr Ingram) It is on that point that I am saying about thresholds being lifted. The Sarin attack in Tokyo was another lifting of the threshold. That made countries aware of the sensitivity of certain aspects of their infrastructure. How do you deal with mass contamination and areas beyond an MOD delivery responsibility, although the MOD can be part of the playing in of how we then take on the challenge? Whether it is a threat from a rogue ship or a rogue aircraft, all of these things have been defined, as I say, before the SDR. To use the phrase that we are ready for this I think is correct because the threat was out there. International terrorism was known about. We in any event had 30 years of dealing with domestic terrorism of quite a dramatic type. Remember that a particular group, the IRA, tried to take out the Cabinet of this country. That was not mass death but if they had moved into a different phase of operation they could have been doing that. We had to be aware of that right across that period of time. Using the phrase was a statement of where we were at, not a new understanding of a new problem. What has happened since then is because of that lifting of the threshold. Is there anything more we can be doing? The answer to that is yes, and that is what we are now beginning to deliver.


  1405. Mr Denham, are you satisfied with the arrangements to co-ordinate counter-terrorist work between the police and the security services and, in certain circumstances, the military?
  (Mr Denham) Chairman, I think the straightforward answer to that is that I am satisfied that we have the structures right, that we have the lines of accountability and responsibility clear, and that they do work well in practice. It is obviously the case that through the structures that I outlined earlier we are continuously looking at the risk and the threat and our response to see if anything further needs to be developed, but I do believe that the pattern of co-ordination, the understanding between different agencies, the lines of accountability ministerially through the Home Secretary, are clear and well understood and also flexible and able to respond rapidly to new situations. That is not a complacent statement. It does not mean that we cannot constantly strive to identify areas where we need to improve, but what has built up over a 30-year period of time has I think got a lot of good professional experience and practical knowledge and practical ways of working built into it.

  1406. You could potentially have some quite sleepless nights worrying if almost a Railtrack crisis could hit you and that, if there was a crisis, co-ordination proved not to be successful. I know it is very important that you give reassurances, but when you go home at night or when you go into the office, I am sure you are probing and seeking as far as is possible that the different agencies are working effectively, but do you think that the exercises you are doing, the strategies you have laid down would be able to cope in a major crisis?
  (Mr Denham) I think the reassurance that I get is from the ability of myself and indeed other Ministers, particularly of course the Home Secretary, who has the major responsibility, to understand and discuss these arrangements with the key people, many of whom you have spoken to yourselves as a Committee, with the Head of Anti-terrorism, the representatives of the security services, and also, of course, as you put it, in a ministerial sense we have formal ways of doing that through the committee structure. We are also able to participate as observers or participants, as appropriate, in the exercises that take place where we are able to see in real time real decision makers taking part in exercises and know also that there is a detailed analysis of those exercises and work is done to identify the things that went well and the things that need to be addressed in the future. I have been in the post nearly a year. My very strong impression is of an extremely professional set of services who understand very well their inter-related responsibilities and I have been impressed and reassured by that.

  1407. When you consider the organisations and the body of persons that can be involved in various stages of counter-terrorism, one body of people gets neglected, and I promise my colleagues this is the only question I will ask. We had people along from the private security industry. It could be a couple of hundred thousand people if you added in-house security, who, as they are in the process of being regulated, could provide, if properly used, an incredibly useful additional resource. Have you given much thought to that or could you give more thought to that involvement of a properly constituted, properly regulated, professional private security industry as opposed to what has gone on for much of the last four or five decades?
  (Mr Denham) Clearly we are committed to developing a properly regulated and licensed security industry and you, Chairman, have probably had as much to do with getting the Government into a position to do that as anybody in the last 20 years, and you are very familiar with it. Whether training in, for example, counter-terrorism work or observance skills or something like that, should be part of the licensing process is something that could be considered. It is not part of our current plans and I think it is one of those issues that in particular ACPO, as the gold command, for instance, were to come to us and say they felt it would be useful, that is something that we would want to discuss. I think it is also worth pointing the Committee to the current Police Reform Bill that is going through Parliament which will create a system of accredited community safety officers. These will be a set of people not employed by the police but employed as neighbourhood wardens, street wardens, potentially private security guards and the like, and it will be possible for chief constables, with the co-operation of employers, to accredit and train and co-ordinate the activities of these individuals in the way that often happens informally at present around securing major out of town shopping centres and things of that sort. My feeling, Chairman, is that chief constables who wish to expand that family of people that they were able to work with would probably work through that accreditation training, because frankly the levels of training that can be built in and the levels of specific skills that could be added will be higher through that system than through the SIA which will be important but basic standards. That is new legislation and I think the position at the moment is that those who are responsible for this work will want to consider how they might use it. The discussion you have raised is an important one but I have to say it is not on the agenda as something that is going to happen at the moment, but I am aware of your interest, Chairman, and I share your interest in making the best use of this large group of people.

  1408. When we spoke to David Veness, and may I say I think you are incredibly fortunate in having somebody as competent and as knowledgeable as David Veness, he spoke of the idea of a National Counter-Terrorist Service as "a very interesting proposition", and he commented on the current arrangements and noted that "there are identifiable areas where we could make progress". Any comment on that, Minister?
  (Mr Denham) As I recall from reading his evidence, that was in the context of the same question. I do believe that the Metropolitan Police Service have in particular looked at the way in which they already co-ordinate with private guarding agencies, for example, in the Docklands area, where there is good practical co-operation. If somebody in David Veness's position with his experience wishes to raise these issues, that is a discussion we would gladly have with the police service. I would say that in what is essentially an operational matter this is something in which I would be strongly influenced by an operational police service view as to whether this would add to their capability, particularly through the accreditation route that I described earlier.

  1409. When he eventually retires, in about 15 years I hope, I hope his successor is half as good as he is, and he is not paying me to say these nice things. Following 11 September the Government of course, as you know, introduced the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001. How much use has been made of those powers to date?
  (Mr Denham) Of course there is a range of powers within the Act, Chairman. Use has been made of that, though I would have to come back to you with details of the financial powers that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has led on. Some individuals have been detained under the provisions in the Act that were introduced. I think the Act is proving a useful addition to the fairly comprehensive terrorism legislation that we had previously.

  1410. What about the banned organisations? Can you give us a clue as to what is happening with the proposed proscribed organisations?

  1411. The position with the proscribed organisations under the 2000 Act—again I would wish to check the detail—is that there are a number—I think it is a small number—challenging the proscription. They have appeals to the Home Secretary and they are challenging the proscription through the appeals procedure which has been established. That is ongoing. A number have not done so. I will be very happy, Chairman, to write to the Committee with details on where we are with the proscriptions.

Mr Howarth

  1412. Would these people have been capable of being detained under any previous legislation or has the new legislation provided the authorities with a lever which was not previously available to them?
  (Mr Denham) The problem that the legislation sought to address was that there were people—I have to choose my words with care—who essentially we were neither able to detain because we were not able to bring them in front of the courts to obtain a conviction but, because of the country from which they had come and the state of affairs there, we could not return them to that country. In a sense, whilst they were people that—and I use this in a non-legal way—we would prefer not to have in this country, we were not able to deal with them satisfactorily and so it has given us an additional power which did not previously exist.

  1413. Is that because the courts would not have allowed us to return them to those countries?
  (Mr Denham) That is part of the issue, yes. We, of course, as a Government have a position on returning people to certain situations where people's lives would be at risk, extra-judicial execution, things of that sort.

  1414. So we have untied one hand from behind our back?
  (Mr Denham) What we have done is to introduce a necessary power in a way that means that we are working legally both in terms of our national and international legal obligations and I think it is very important in taking forward the action we are taking against terrorism that as a country we work within a sound legal framework.


  1415. Can I come back again to your comments on a National Counter-Terrorist Service? Mr Veness's views, as far as I can recall, were along the lines of the possibility of a National Counter-Terrorist Service on the lines of perhaps the National Crime Squad or the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Is his idea a runner in the light perhaps of the alternatives I have mentioned?
  (Mr Denham) I am sorry if I referred to a different section of Mr Veness's evidence. I have to say I read his evidence as somewhat equivocal on this point. My interpretation of it was that he said that in establishing NCIS and the National Crime Squad this was meeting a very clear need, a very clear gap in our criminal intelligence services and our criminal investigation services, but I do not think he was making a case that such a similar gap exists in the organisation of counter-terrorism activities. As I said at the outset, I think that the arrangements that we have at the moment do seem to me to be, certainly in terms of the way they are structured and the way they inter-relate, both robust and flexible.

Syd Rapson

  1416. Could I return to the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001? Some of the powers under that particular Act are exercised specifically for detention by relying on a derogation by the UK Government from Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. There is a derogation under that power but the derogation can only be made "in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation", and at the time all of us collectively felt that that was a real possibility when this derogation under the new powers was brought in. How will the Government judge whether the circumstances continue to apply for that and how long will the derogation continue for? I think we have only got nine people in detention at the moment from an original 144 arrested. Forty six were charged but there were no convictions, and there are ten awaiting trial, but apparently there are only nine in detention. How long is the derogation going to apply and how long can we keep that up because of the threat to the nation state?
  (Mr Denham) That is a difficult question to answer, Chairman, because we do not know what will happen internationally in this country or in other countries on the anti-terrorism front. Suffice it to say at the moment that nothing has happened since the House judged that this legislation was necessary to lead any of us to conclude that it is no longer necessary. These are things that have to be kept under review. There is of course a procedure through SIAC which is capable of reviewing the use of the Act. That I believe is a place where these arguments could be aired, but I would say that the decision of Parliament to make these powers available was a correct one because, as I say, circumstances have not changed to suggested that it was wrong. I would also comment briefly on the numbers. At the time concerns were expressed that this was a power that would be used indiscriminately, that there would be fishing expeditions against anybody who looked a bit suspicious, that people would be locked up all over the place. The figures you have given suggest that this is a power which every attempt is being made to use responsibly.

  1417. Can I address the derogation on Article 5 which was given because of that severe worry that we had? Is it endless? We made the derogation because we felt it was necessary. Does it expire after a period of time? You said there is a review. I just wondered, once you have given that derogation, do you then say, "Okay, we can turn a blind eye to the Convention on Human Rights because of this overriding worry"?
  (Mr Denham) If the derogation is applied in the case of an individual and somebody is detained under the power, and part of the argument that has to be used is that the derogation applies, then there is no time limit. It does not say, "After three months we will assume that whatever reason it was that we had the derogation must have passed". It clearly has to depend on the actual circumstances and that will depend on the progress on action against terrorism at home and abroad over the months and years to come.

  1418. I have probably misunderstood. The derogation is on the individual, not on the ability to use the Act for detention purposes?
  (Mr Denham) Either way round the argument is exactly the same. You cannot artificially apply a deadline to something that depends on the international situation. Having said that, the Act itself will fall to be renewed by Parliament. I have to confess, Chairman, that I would have to come back to the Committee with the detail of the date, but one of the agreements that was made with the Act was that that provision would have to be renewed. That is built into the process of that, but the principle that I argued was that you would not say, three months after you had started using it, you simply assumed that the derogation did not apply. Clearly that would not work.

Mr Howarth

  1419. Is it up to the United Kingdom Government to determine that we are entitled to a derogation and can we be challenged in the European Court? I think people here would regard it as being very much a matter for the United Kingdom Parliament to determine. I wondered whether we do have as much freedom of action as you are suggesting.
  (Mr Denham) It is for the United Kingdom Government, with of course Parliament, to judge whether this is appropriate. Parliament passed the legislation and the Government has to use it. That does not take away from individuals the power through the appeals procedure which was laid down to challenge that decision or to challenge the decision in another legislative forum. Both Government and Parliament have set out their will on this.

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