Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1440 - 1459)




  1440. This was the London survey, was it, you were referring to—the 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 London survey.
  (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.

Mr Jones

  1442. What form are the follow-up visits going to take?
  (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.[2]

  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 authority.

  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 are there.
  (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 and robust.

  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 in place.

  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 more thoroughly.
  (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.

Mr Roy

  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.[3] 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, then—We 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.

Mr Jones

  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 that.

  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 maybe—I do not want to be offensive—if 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 confident—and could I ask you all, as you will all be part of this process—that 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 require—not 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, Chairman—and I am sure Mr Leslie will want to talk about local authorities, and possibly Mr Ingram about the military—I 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 dealt with.

2   Submitted to the Committee, and not published. Back

3   Ev 283. Back

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