Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1460
WEDNESDAY 22 MAY 2002
MP, MR BRUCE
DENHAM MP, MR
LESLIE MP AND
1460. If there is any additional information
that you would like to send us to convince us more that emergency
planning procedures and staffing and premises and co-ordination
are going to meet a whole range of contingences, please send it
to us because we still need a little convincing.
(Mr Ingram) Can I respond as well? It
seems to me in some of the preamble to the questions earlier you
were indicating that we did not have a coherent structure, that
there was no confidence in that structure, that it was not delivering
on the ground, Mr Jones was intimating that. I think if this is
an inquiry then it is not to come with that preconceived notion
but to try and establish
Mr Jones: I am sorry, Chairman
Chairman: Let Adam finish, please.
Mr Jones: It is important.
1461. Excuse me, Mr Jones, let Adam finish and
then you can come back with your question.
(Mr Ingram) I think we should try to establish the
ground truth in this inquiry if that is what you are seeking to
do and specific areas will then develop. As we have tried to argue
from here, everything we do is tested by exercises. There have
been major exercises undertaken across the wide range of the services
that need to be pulled into place. Lessons are always learned
from that. The important aspect of this, I would argue, is that
much of that is below the parapet because when we learn the lessons
we do not tell everyone about those lessons because who is then
going to have that type of attack upon us. We can try and seek
headlines in this but this is about effective delivery of the
emergency services and therefore it is not all just tested in
exercise terms but also tested in reality. The MV Nisha was a
classic example. That incident proved to be of no threat but the
reality was that it was tackled very, very effectively. There
is nothing to indicate that if a similar threat arose that the
combined services across a range, whether it is police, whether
it is military support, whether it is emergency services, whether
it is linkages between local authorities and the health service
in terms of consequence management, could not deliver on the ground.
I think you are wrong to give some indication that Government
is not delivering on these key areas. The reality is from my experience,
both from my time in Northern Ireland and my time in the Ministry
of Defence, we have a highly, highly efficient, highly co-ordinated
and highly effective delivery of emergency response across the
reach of the threats that are posed. Can we be better? Yes, of
course we can be, that is what we are doing, your inquiry will
help us in this and that is what we do those exercises for and
why we are constantly looking at ways to refine that.
1462. Thank you. We are coming back to the role
of the Ministry of Defence and the military in this process. Certainly
what Mr Jones said is not some kind of "emotional spasm",
it is honestly based on a four or five month inquiry, which is
not yet completed, and that is why we are seeking additional information.
When we do produce our report it will be very, very fair.
(Mr Denham) It would be enormously helpful to us as
Ministers, Chairman, before you complete it, if there are specific
areas of concern that we hear of them. I am not aware of criticism
that the police are completely unprepared or do not know what
their command structures are or that the view is the National
Health Service does not have well developed emergency plans. Whether
I pick up there is a specific issue about local authorities we
need to address or whatever, I think we would like the opportunity
to know exactly what it is that is being suggested is simply so
fundamentally wrong in the capacity of the emergency services
and the co-ordinating structure to deliver. It is important to
distinguish between that and the impression an individual may
have given on a bit of Government Secretariat and this Committee.
We are talking here not just about what has been put in place
since last June but the structures that have been built up, tested,
tried in practice, tested and developed again over a long period
Chairman: I can assure you, gentlemen, we are
very responsible and when our report is published it will be very
fair based on a lot of things we have heard, and heard in confidence
that will not be included in our report, and if there is any follow-up
we would wish then certainly we will approach you.
1463. I want to come back to the Minister because
I actually find his comments quite insulting frankly, it was not
an emotional spasm at all.
(Mr Ingram) I never used that phrase.
1464. I found your comments quite insulting.
There are serious concerns that have been raised with this Committee
as part of this inquiry both from local authorities, the police,
the Fire Service, the aviation sector, the private sector, Transec.
Are we supposed to ignore them? Because if that is the case, Mr
Ingram, and I know you would not want us to exist as a Committee,
that is our role. These questions we are asking today are not
things that we just think up as a Committee, they are things that
have been put to us. There are some serious concerns out there
and they will be part of the report. To come at this, as you three
seem to be today, that everything in the garden is rosy is not
the impression that we have been given.
(Mr Denham) Chairman, clearly that is not what we
1465. No, that is not right.
(Mr Denham) I do object to the implication that nothing
has been done, that nothing is being put in place and nothing
has changed, which is the implication of what Mr Jones has said.
1466. Chairman, I think we have to get a slight
balance into this. I think the concerns we are talking about are
not individual concerns about the performance of the police, the
performance of the armed services, the performance of the Fire
Service and so on, of course we are not saying that. It is a question
of is the Civil Contingencies Secretariat doing this mammoth job
of co-ordination properly? We have to be convinced that it is
doing it properly.
(Mr Denham) That is helpful.
Mr Cran: Then the other question is once it
takes a decision are the co-ordinated measures across the emergency
services going to work or not? For instance, there is a question
of radio compatibility as between the fire services and the armed
forces and indeed we are told the two are not compatible, so if
we had a situation where they needed to talk to one another somebody
had better have a mobile phone or they probably could not. Those
are the things that concern the Committee. I just thought that
1467. I think Mr Mann would like to join in
on this. Please, you are very welcome.
(Mr Mann) If I may just respond on the point about
communications. As I think I told the Committee, although it was
in private session, we have decided that we will join the club
on the secure communications network that is being put in place
by the police and emergency services, so there will be that kind
1468. It was not the MoD we were worried about,
it was the Fire Service.
(Mr Denham) Can I take that as an example of whether
the structures are capable of moving or not. Decisions on a separate
approach to procurement had been taken in different emergency
services prior to 11 September on the basis of assumptions that
were current at that time about the need or otherwise for interoperability.
As a result of the work that we have been doing since those assumptions
have been revisited and it has been decided that the police, who
already have a system, the ambulance and fire brigade services
will be procured with compatible and interoperable technology.
I think it is reasonable to say that without the structures that
we have here that bring together the emergency services, the civil
contingency planners, that decision might not have been reopened.
It was reopened, it was looked at again in the light of 11 September
and a different approach is being pursued. I give that as one
example out of a substantial number of issues which this structure
has been able to say is a question which is either new or we need
to revisit it again, are we going to review our decision? The
decision is taken right up to ministerial level within departments
and that is what is going to happen.
(Mr Ingram) Can I just give another example because
I have heard criticisms from local authorities that liaison with
the Army is not as it should be. Whether that is right or wrong,
whether that is an established fact, we will be putting two extra
liaison officers into each of the regions to deal with that very
specific issue. That is without having a debate about whether
it is right or wrong, it is simply saying if there is a perceived
weakness out there let us deal with the perceptions as well as
trying to tackle some of the bigger elements.
Chairman: I do not want people to get
the impression that there is any animosity here.
Mr Cran: Not at all. Absolutely.
1469. Between the Committee members maybe, but
not between the Committee and the witnesses!
(Mr Denham) Mr Cran has been very helpful, I think,
in illustrating the way things are.
1470. Minister, when we had the Fire and Ambulance
Services here, the system of Airwave that was coming in deliberately
had not included a number of essential component parts. It did
seem rather ridiculous to have a massively expensive programme
where some of the component parts had decided that for one reason
or another they were not going to participate. Now you say the
Fire Service has joined?
(Mr Denham) The Fire Service and Ambulance Service
will procure radio systems that will be interoperable with the
police and with each other.
1471. And the timescale?
(Mr Denham) The timescale will be a procurement, as
the previous one would have been, over a period of several years.
It will take time to put into place. I will have to get back to
you on that.
Chairman: Please do, if you do not mind.
1472. Will the South West Fire Consortium be
recompensed for having gone too early?
(Mr Denham) Issues arising from the procurement decision
will obviously have to be dealt with in due course, and I think
that is the appropriate thing for me to say this afternoon. No
doubt when you took evidence from witnessesI do not know
what the date wasthey may well have been aware that the
issue was under consideration but of course, quite properly, they
did not raise it with the Committee. I do think it is a good example
of revisiting a decision because circumstances have been changed,
and having, I hope, the courage to take the right decision where
lots of arguments could be deployed for not changing.
1473. Thank you. We had a session on 24 April
with the Fire Service, and it certainly had not been resolved
then, so anything that you say will have happened subsequently.
All I must say is if you can sort out communications, then give
Lord Bach a little help to sort out Bowman. I am sorry, I am referring
to Mr Ingram now.
(Mr Ingram) I am not being drawn into that! I shall
write you a letter about that.
1474. Chairman, we cannot let Mr Denham get
away with telling us that this key equipment is going to take
years to procure. Seriously, can you give us some indication as
to when commonality of emergency radio equipment between essential
services is going to come into effect?
(Mr Denham) As I have offered, Chairman, I will write
to the Committee, because I do not want to give a date that is
wrong. The procurement will take place over a period of years,
and indeed the police system which is currently being rolled out
will take a number of years to implement and to replace the previous
1475. Do you feel satisfied with that?
(Mr Denham) I think that we are taking the necessary
measures to make sure that as replacement takes place, as replacement
must because of the existing systems, we are moving from a system
which is less than ideal to a much better system. Clearly, there
is no getting away from this, the question of resources that are
available at a particular time, as well as the technical ability
to implement, as well as the fact that we have to follow proper
procurement policiesall of these things add to the timescale
which is involved. Everybody would wish, say, to take a decision
one day and it is in place the next, but actually contracts have
to be tendered, let, programmes have to be put in place, and frankly,
public sector experience of not managing to make these things
work suggests that we had better get it right.
Chairman: No one knows better than this
Committee the time it takes from conception to delivery.
1476. I will exercise unusual self-discipline
for this Committee in this session and ask if you could, Mr Leslie,
give me a written response on the role of the proposed regional
assemblies. I noted your response to Louise Ellman's question.
I then dug out the Red Book of the White Paper and read the two
sentences that referred to it, and I would be very interested
in more reflections on the work of the Emergency Planning Review
Implementation Unit in this area. One general impression I have
had is that whilst we get a very strong presentation today about
things working well in Whitehall, it has not trickled down very
well to some people on the ground, and if regional government
is going to play a possible role in achieving that, then I shall
be very interested to hear how that will work.
(Mr Leslie) I can certainly supply that.
I can certainly say that the Deputy Prime Minister is very much
committed to making sure that we do have strong emergency planning
capabilities at government office, devolved, as well as elected
regional assembly level, and I will make sure that I will keep
you up to date not just with more information, but we will feed
you with information as policies develop.
1477. Thank you. To move on to look at the Emergency
Planning Review a little bit more, you mentioned earlier on in
principle the need for emergency planning legislation. There is
a long history of this being talked about. Certainly it was talked
about in the context of the Civil Defence Grant Act debate, and
that was the excuse for those like me who are concerned about
supporting it, when I knew you would resolve it in that legislation.
I am therefore concerned that we do not see any sign of that legislation
coming forward. First of all, can you say that the events of September
11 have changed things and confirm the need for new emergency
planning legislation? Secondly, have the events of September 11
changed your view of what should be in that legislation?
(Mr Leslie) The Emergency Planning Review began, I
think, at the beginning of August 2001, so obviously prior to
September 11, but in fact I think the vast majority of the 260
responses that we have received from the local authorities did
take into account their very immediate impressions of how they
would be affected in the September 11 scenario. I think that I
am coming to the conclusion that whilst the questions and the
scope of the Emergency Planning Review were wide, looking at questions
about duties on local authorities, how we could improve partnerships,
the funding mechanisms and so on, there are some fairly fundamental,
deep-seated questions about how we embed resilience concepts into
all our government structures much more so that we have this routine
level of operation I was talking about earlier. So I think our
commitment, which is strong, to a Civil Contingencies Bill, will
want to try to resolve most of these big policy questions as rapidly
as possible. I cannot give any commitment about the timing of
1478. You anticipate my next question.
(Mr Leslie) Surprisingly, you will be shocked to hear
that I cannot say it might be in the next Queen's Speech, but
certainly my own personal commitment to making sure we resolve
a lot of these issues is strong, and I know that is shared by
all my government colleagues whom I have been discussing with
on this issue.
1479. You are making a strong pitch for it to
be in the next Queen's Speech?
(Mr Leslie) These are matters that will be announced
in due course.
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