Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1440
WEDNESDAY 22 MAY 2002
MP, MR BRUCE
DENHAM MP, MR
LESLIE MP AND
1440. This was the London survey, was it, you
were referring tothe Nick Raynsford survey which was sent
to all the London boroughs?
(Mr Leslie) Could you repeat that?
1441. I think Kevan Jones is referring to the
(Mr Leslie) I think John Fuller can deal with that.
(Dr Fuller) Certainly. The survey relates to the work
that the London Resilience Team have been carrying out. I believe
that we had 33 questionnaires sent out. All of those questionnaires
have been returned and are currently being analysed. There are
going to be follow-up visits to all the authorities that returned
the questionnaires, and individual feedback to each authority.
Overall it is allowing us to take forward the work in London under
the chairmanship of Nick Raynsford to ensure that the capital's
response is properly co-ordinated at the cross-London level.
1442. What form are the follow-up visits going
(Mr Leslie) I think it would be useful if we sent
you a note on that because this is quite a discrete bit of work
in the London area.
1443. I got a copy of the consultant's report
last week and at least one London borough sent their questionnaire
back and if you read it at face value it gave quite a glowing
picture of the fact that they had an emergency plan. They have
recently had a consultant look at their emergency plan who says
it is complete fiction, he says it is there on paper but not there
in practice on the ground. To what extent are you actually going
to ensure that it is not just local authorities ticking boxes
and sending it back to you, you are going to make sure that what
they send back to you is actually working in practice? At least
in this one London borough it is not even though the form sent
back to you speaks in glowing terms about what they have got.
(Mr Leslie) I cannot comment on a specific case but
what I do know is that we have to look at the wider statutory
framework in which emergency planning officers work and the duty
that I believe they should have to prepare certain types of plans.
There is a big piece of work going on right now about future legislation
because, do not forget, since the 1948 Civil Defence Act we have
been working on certain assumptions that have changed quite dramatically
to the modern day. I think one of the proposals in the Emergency
Planning Review, and I do not know if you have had a chance to
see that document, was the question of certain statutory duties
to include certain elements in emergency plans prepared by local
authorities. So we are actively looking at how we can bolster
and improve those at a local level from local authority to local
1444. The survey was just a paper exercise,
was it not?
(Mr Leslie) No, I do not think so. I think it is quite
an important piece of work and I think we are addressing the legislative
framework as quickly and as effectively as we possibly can. I
really do think that the auditing and general inspection approach
taken by, for example, the Emergency Planning Society, the work
of the Emergency Planning College, the community in general in
the emergency planning fraternity is very professional and whilst,
as I say, there is no such thing as
1445. You are in charge of it.
(Mr Leslie) Whilst there is no such thing as perfection
in any of these matters, I believe that there is a robust framework
out there in each local authority.
1446. That is nonsense, I am sorry.
(Mr Leslie) And there are returns required in the
Civil Defence Grant requirements.
1447. You cannot have it both ways. You can
hardly say that you take a robust approach to ensuring that emergency
planning in the areas is actually working and at the same time
argue that somebody else is responsible to ensure the standards
(Mr Leslie) I am not saying that somebody else is
responsible. There are a variety of ways of checking.
1448. You are supposed to be in charge of it.
(Mr Leslie) That is right, and there are a variety
of ways of checking that local authority emergency plans are strong
1449. What are they?
(Mr Leslie) One way, for example, is in the returns
in respect of the Civil Defence Grant as paid out by the Government.
John, if you could add the facts.
(Dr Fuller) If I could respond factually on the questionnaire.
The initial visits have taken place to the local authorities but
those were only the first visits and there are going to be follow-up
visits to ensure that the boxes that were ticked are actually
true, that the actions are following on the ground and it is not
just a paper exercise. That is all happening under the auspices
of the London Resilience Team which works to the London Resilience
Forum chaired by Nick Raynsford and Deputy Chair, the Mayor.
(Mr Denham) Could I just add one point because it
is quite important, which is to say that in terms of London there
was a major exercise in February of this year, so whatever else
is going on it is not the case that people are just putting bits
of paper about. The aim of that exercise was to see what happens.
Clearly the work of the London Resilience Team, which Nick Raynsford
has been working with as the Minister, will be looking at the
results of that, the strengths and weaknesses, and ensuring that
they are addressed. It would be wrong to give the impression that
simply we send out a letter and people write back and say "it
is fine" and we say "that is okay then". The exercises
are a key part.
1450. We have to move on, except because I am
Chairman I can ask another question. If you are Ofsteding London,
what about the other areas? Is there any plan to get in amongst
the other local authorities to see how well they are doing?
(Mr Leslie) Absolutely, there is. This is one of the
reasons we have a UK Resilience sub-committee of CCC as well,
which I chair. Although it is not exclusively the only response
to disruptive challenges, local authorities are an important component
in that. We are trying our very best to make sure that they have
the capabilities to respond. One aspect of that is making sure
that we check and update the requirements and the duties that
they have to have sufficiently robust and strong emergency plans
1451. It is totally amazing that it has taken
up until around now to have a mechanism by which the quality,
sophistication, qualifications of the personnel involved in emergency
planning are subject to the scrutiny that they are now being subjected
to. Let us hope that the process moves along more swiftly and
(Mr Leslie) A lot of it is to do with the statutory
framework in place and I think your representations in respect
of a future Civil Contingencies Bill would be most welcome.
Chairman: We are coming back to the Emergency
Planning Review shortly.
1452. Can I just bring you back to something
you said in your conversation with Mr Jones, that you were quite
impressed by the work of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat.
I would like to reiterate what Mr Jones was saying that so far
from the evidence we have received, especially from the aviation
sector, the private sector and TRANSEC, there is certainly not
a high profile of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat among those
people who should be using that service. I think that should start
alarm bells ringing somewhere. Can I also say even the name Civil
Contingencies Secretariat sounds to me like Whitehall-speak, it
conjures up images of something from Yes, Minister where
we all talk a lot and nothing gets done. I also suspect, Minister,
if you went out there and asked the general public about the CCS
they would not have a clue what it was about and would not remember
it. Bearing in mind those criticisms I would like to ask, we are
now eight months after 11 September, do you not think that it
is time that we had some sort of figurehead, whether it would
be a politician, that would have a name that could encompass all
the roles similar to that which the Americans have done with their
Director of Homeland Security? Is it not time to have someone
who could co-ordinate and could be publicly recognised for the
work that they are doing?
(Mr Leslie) There are a number of different questions
there. I think the first thing to say is that as far as the public
are concerned we have got to make sure that there is reassurance
at large. The most important thing to stress, as we have at the
outset, is if you are looking for an equivalent Director of Homeland
Security we have one in the shape of the Home Secretary as the
person who is at the head not least of the Civil Contingencies
Committee of the Cabinet, and he is responsible for taking a lead
across the board in the big picture on these areas and that is
where the buck ultimately stops. I think it is important also
just to follow up on some of your wider comments about the Civil
Contingencies Secretariat in general. The idea is not that that
is the public face, as it were, of our response to either terrorist
incidents or disruptive challenges in general, that is one part
of the mechanism for making sure that we facilitate an integrated
response within our own internal Government structures. We are
looking and learning as we develop the work of the CCS all the
time at how we can augment and support their work. For example,
Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, has asked Sir David
Omand, the former Permanent Under Secretary of the Home Office,
to come in and give a strategic and wider supporting look across
the piece at the work of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat,
looking at questions about resources, priorities and so on.
There are a number of different ways in which we are trying to
build improvements and strength into our own internal arrangements.
I do have confidence in the work of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat,
they really have had a tremendously difficult job to do, particularly
bearing in mind that 11 September came only a matter of weeks
after their establishment.
1453. I accept that 11 months ago it was set
up but we still have not established how the Civil Contingencies
Secretariat is to be used and certainly the Civil Contingencies
Secretariat does not have a high profile with us and talking about
Transec, the aviation sector and the private sector, they are
all saying that. Surely the bells should be ringing somewhere.
(Mr Denham) Chairman, TRANSEC would relate to DOP(IT)T
and to the Defence and Overseas Secretariat which is defence allied
work. TRANSEC's work is about security and preventing that terrorist
attack takes place. The Civil Contingencies Secretariat for sure,
we must be clear, is not about preventing terrorist attack, it
is about dealing with the consequences of that and other consequences.
I am not entirely surprised that organisations that are essentially
dealing with prevention of terrorism are not dealing on a day-to-day
basis. I can assure you, Chairman, that organisations like Transec
and indeed their ministers are very much involved in discussions
with the Home Secretary who is in charge both of preventative
policy and the policy that takes place after an event about these
issues, and that ministerial accountability is there, which is
why I do not think we need a Director of Homeland Defence, because
we have clear systems of political accountability to the Home
Secretary and through that to Parliament, and we have the structures
which support him. I think it is very important not to confuse
what the Civil Contingencies Secretariat does, because we have
a structure which does look at both prevention and consequence
management. Clearly the two structures have to join to hand over
and all the rest of it, but they are not the same activities.
1454. Thank you. I apologise for Mr Roy really
confusing things. He embarrassed me enormously. Perhaps the confusion
was based on the fact that the memorandum from the Civil Contingencies
Secretariat said that the CCS's tasks are to identify potential
crises, to help departments pre-empt them or handle them and to
manage a central co-ordination machinery for this wider work and
secretarial response to the Prime Minister. So it actually says
here that one of its functions is to identify potential crises.
(Mr Denham) Chairman, if that was misleading, thenWe
are of course concentrating, quite rightly, on terrorist responses.
The structures that I have just described are specific to the
terrorist type of threat. There are other things that fall within
the remit of the Civil Contingencies Committee like, for example,
flooding and issues of that sort, which do not come in front of
DOP(IT)T, so the language which applies in the generic sense does
not apply in this case. So that is a score draw, Chairman, on
the confusion issue.
Chairman: I think 3-1 to Mr Roy. At least the
Scots will be able to win something!
Mr Jones: I think 4-1, because we asked
Mr Garnett about this
Chairman: Mr Granatt.
1455. Mr Granatt. He is so memorable. He was
actually asked whether we should have one politician in charge
of this and he 1) ducked the question, 2) said there was no one
in charge. What you are saying to us today is that the Home Secretary
is in charge. That is news to this Committee.
(Mr Denham) The Home Secretary is the minister responsible
for both prevention work and the work of the security services
and so on. He chairs DOP(IT)T. The Home Secretary is also responsible
for chairing the Civil Contingencies Committee supported by the
Civil Contingencies Secretariat which is responsible for ensuring
that the arrangements are in place for dealing with the consequences
of a terrorist attack. So I think we have the person, and that
is certainly understood by us within that structure.
1456. Thank you. Can I just add, Mr Denham,
that as the CCS is so pivotal, we want to be absolutely certain
that the personnel are right, the structures are right, the co-ordination
is right, not only horizontally but vertically too.
(Mr Denham) I understand that, Chairman. I am sure
that the Committee will recognise that the involvement of Sir
David Omand, which Mr Leslie referred to, will help strengthen
1457. I have a couple of follow-on questions.
I am not a time-and-motion specialist, but how much of your time
is spent on this sort of work that we are talking about? That
would give us an indication of ministerial involvement. Or if
you cannot answer, perhaps you could drop us a note? Or maybeI
do not want to be offensiveif we picked a week, then could
you perhaps show us what ministers were involved in which committees,
or what visits? Just to give us a flavour of ministerial responsibilities.
You can include the Home Secretary in that as well, if you wish.
(Mr Denham) It would be not something I would want
to do from the hip, Chairman, and I am not sure whether you would
wish to concentrate purely on civil contingencies matters or the
Home Secretary's work with the security services, for example,
that sort of thing. If you take all the people who are involved
in aspects of this, it would be a major job to do, but I would
say that it is a significant slice of my work. Can we consider
it and see how helpful we can be?
1458. Perhaps our offices can exchange something
on this, we can get the methodology correct and you can give us
some indication of time spent and which committees?
(Mr Denham) Yes.
1459. One of the problems that we have faced
is the incredible departmentalism involved. There may be an attempt
to co-ordinate, but whatever the theory says, it is quite difficult.
We have talked about horizontal co-ordination. Now the other way
around: regional structures, local authorities, fire services.
Are you confidentand could I ask you all, as you will all
be part of this processthat in terms of the powers and
responsibilities of those at levels below the national level,
the allocation of responsibility has been well thought out, is
functional and can exist effectively in a crisis? I think we do
have a little anxiety that perhaps some local authorities have
all the competence, all the specialisms and all of the funding
they requirenot including Durham, or every one of our constituencies,
so if you are going to say anything about Durham, please look
at our constituencies in the same light? I am not entirely convinced
that every local authority has attained the competence of what
ought to be seen as the best or the norm. Whenever you talk to
anyone from local authorities, for instance, they always fight
their corner, as all politicians and administrators do. Are you
prepared to take very, very seriously decisions that might offend
or cut against established practices and say, "No, this level
is not operating effectively. We have to provide more central
staff in a crisis to supplement you"? What consideration
have you all given to looking at the level of competence of performance
of those at levels beneath that of national?
(Mr Denham) If I can answer in general terms, Chairmanand
I am sure Mr Leslie will want to talk about local authorities,
and possibly Mr Ingram about the militaryI would be confident,
if you look firstly at the organisation which effectively will
be in the lead in terms of co-ordinating response to a terrorist
attack, which will be the police, that through the work of ACPO
TAM, through the training and so on, the chief constables and
those planners in local authorities know what they are meant to
do in a wide range of incidents, including a wide range of responses.
I am confident that the ability for them to respond, for them
to have to be able to deploy trained personnel to respond to some
of the things which we now have to give more attention to, is
significantly better than it was on September 11, although there
is progress still to be made in that area. I believe that within
the Health Service hospitals have robust plans which sadly have
been demonstrated in train crashes and plane crashes and so on,
certain disasters, which are well rehearsed and well integrated
into the system. So the generic answer is that I think we have
a very good structure in place, but the reason that we look at
different scenarios post September 11, the reason that we do exercises,
is to see whether there are weaknesses within that system, which
is why we keep coming back to saying that no one is complacent
and no one is saying that we cannot make improvements on what
we have got. You may wish to say something about local authorities
specifically, Mr Leslie.
(Mr Leslie) I think there are a lot of different ways.
As I said at the beginning, we have always got to focus on the
fact that the chances are a local response to an incident will
be a first requirement, and so making sure that we have subsequent
procedures for further requests for support or mutual aid and
so on to go up the chain. You will know about the gold, silver
and bronze command paradigm that is used by a lot of different
organisations, particularly the police, and how those things then
feed into the Civil Contingencies Committee at a national level.
One of the things I wanted to mention was our work that we have
already undertaken with devolved authorities. I have been to Edinburgh
to talk with Jim Wallace, who is my equivalent up there, particularly
about arrangements in respect of those matters. The example of
how we have looked particularly at the capital and the London
arrangement with Nick Raynsford I think is quite important too.
The announcement in the White Paper on Regional Governance by
the Deputy Prime Minister also included a section about how we
envisage at an English regional level an input on civil contingencies
planning, whether that be eventually by elected regional assemblies
or ultimately by Government offices across England, so that we
have at all levels sufficient strategic co-ordination capacity
to make sure all mutual aid requirements and so on can be properly
2 Submitted to the Committee, and not published. Back
Ev 283. Back