Select Committee on Defence Sixth Report


  1. We noted at the start of this report that there were inconsistencies (if not contradictions) in the public assessments of the implications of 11 September by different parts of the Government at various times. In general terms it seems that the urgency demonstrated on the counter-terrorist side has not been matched on the civil contingencies side. This may be because counter-terrorist activity involves fewer agencies and those that are involved are more used to working together. It may be that it was easier to identify specific urgent steps—for example in terms of legislation—for counter-terrorist than for civil contingencies activity. And maybe the UK's long experience of terrorism was one of the reasons for that.
  2. We have found little evidence of an openness on the part of Ministers to any fundamental reassessment of the basic structures of the UK's defence and security measures, including civil contingency planning. Assistant Commissioner Veness raised the possibility of establishing a National Anti-Terrorism Service within the police, but we found no ministerial interest in pursuing the idea. Both the police and local authorities questioned whether the concept of a particular lead government department for each emergency was still appropriate. Ministers did not appear to be interested in the arguments.
  3. Throughout the Government's assumption has been that existing structures and arrangements are the right ones. All that is needed is to find ways of 'ramping' them up in the event of a catastrophic attack, or attacks on the scale of 11 September. We have seen no evidence of any serious attempt to calculate what such ramping up would actually involve. We believe that by taking this approach the Government has missed an opportunity to conduct a proper and comprehensive examination of how we, in the UK, would manage the consequences of a disaster on the scale of 11 September.
  4. There has also been inadequate central co-ordination and direction. We have been critical of the CCS, but that criticism is not of its staff or their commitment, but of the lack of necessary resources and political leadership provided to it by the Government.
  5. If the events of 11 September had not been able to galvanise Whitehall departments into constructive, co-ordinated and urgent action, it is difficult to imagine what would have. Our criticism is not that nothing has been done. On the contrary a great deal of effort has been expended, but it has been expended without clear strategic direction. It seems to us that, in many areas, the Government has confused activity with achievement. We believe that more could have been achieved if a strong central authority had laid down clear guidance for the work of individual departments, rather than a weak central secretariat chasing round trying to tie up the separately constructed efforts of each department. The management of the procurement of a common communications system for the three emergency services has been a good example of this. One of the Government's objectives from the emergency planning review was to encourage chief executives and senior managers to become more directly involved rather than leaving everything to their emergency planning officers. We would like to see a similar approach promoted in central government. We hope that the appointment of Sir David Omand as intelligence and security co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office will encourage that development.
  6. Nonetheless much good work has been done. In respect of both counter-terrorism and civil contingency planning, we are better placed now than we were on 11 September. We have been impressed by the professionalism of many of those whom we have encountered during this inquiry. We remain, however, disappointed both by the lack of imagination and radicalism in looking for new solutions to match the new threat and by the lack of strategic co-ordination and direction provided by central government.


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