WEDNESDAY 22 MAY 2002
Mr Bruce George, in the Chair
Memorandum submitted by, Home Office, Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defence
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON ADAM INGRAM MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, and MR BRUCE MANN, Director General, Financial Management, Ministry of Defence, RT HON JOHN DENHAM MP, Minister of State for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety, and MR ROBERT WHALLEY, Head of Unit, Organised Crime, Drugs and International Group, Home Office, and MR CHRISTOPHER LESLIE MP, Parliamentary Secretary, and DR JOHN FULLER, Acting Head Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Cabinet Office, examined.
(Mr Denham) Chairman, I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce the session. With my colleagues, Adam Ingram and Chris Leslie, I would like to explain briefly for the benefit of the Committee our arrangements for counter-terrorism and civil contingencies. I would like to introduce my official, Bob Whalley, who is Head of the unit in the Home Office which provides security policy advice to the Home Secretary and to Home Office Ministers. My colleagues will introduce their officials. The Home Secretary has lead responsibility within Government for counter-terrorist policy. His chairmanship of the Ministerial Committee on Terrorism and the Civil Contingencies Committee allows him to maintain a clear oversight of the issues and measures being taken to strengthen the UK's ability to respond to the terrorist threat. The Home Office's national counter-terrorist contingency plans are tried and tested. They have existed for many years and allow the UK to respond to a wide range of terrorist threats including those which might involve the threatened or actual use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials and new threats. The assessment of the terrorist threat is a continuous process and via DOP(IT)T which, as you probably know, Chairman, is the name of the relevant committee, the threat has been analysed and planning assumptions made for the prioritisation of protective and consequence planning across all departments. As a matter of sad necessity we in the UK have developed considerable expertise in fighting terrorism. We have learned to be prepared, to plan, to review and to take further action where required. Following the tragic events of 11 September, the Home Office, Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence have been at the heart of a major cross-departmental programme of work designed to enhance the resilience of the UK and counter the new indiscriminate threat of terrorism from abroad. I would like to emphasise that, although a great deal of effort has been expended within the UK since September 11, effective measures to respond to the threat of terrorism were already in place. The Government not only accepts but actively embraces the case for contingency planning and for conducting exercises to test those plans. For many years the Home Office's national counter-terrorist exercise programme has enabled police forces around the UK to test their response capability in conjunction with the military and other departments. Three full-scale operational exercises have been taking place each year. This is one of the main reasons why the UK's crisis management machinery works - and I believe works well - when we have had to deal with real terrorist incidents. I am not, Chairman, pretending that any of this makes the UK a risk-free zone. There can be no such thing. But it is right that we should keep things in context. Our priority now is to strengthen our response arrangements by identifying any gaps and weaknesses and by taking the necessary remedial action.
(Mr Leslie) Mr Chairman, if I may take up the mantle on the points that Mr Denham has raised, I should for the record perhaps introduce myself and say how much I welcome the Select Committee's inquiry. I am Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office and, following the machinery of Government changes after the last general election and the establishment of the Civil Contingency Secretariat, I took on responsibilities for emergency planning activities. To my right is Dr John Fuller who is the Deputy Director of the Civil Contingency Secretariat and will be aiding and supporting me throughout the day. I also, following in particular September 11 and the constitution of the Civil Contingencies Cabinet Committee, chair one of its sub-committees on UK resilience. All I want to say in opening is that from what I have seen in work in this area so far the civil authorities in general have built up over decades a great deal of expertise, not only in anti-terrorism activities, but also in emergency planning in general. Our aim has to be of course to enhance preparedness, to build on partnerships with others which are so vital in this area and to really embed a concept of resilience into the mainstream of our work across all Government departments. As John has already said, we have to guard against both complacency on our part but also unrealistic expectations that are out there, but I do believe that we have raised our game significantly and we are testing our capabilities at all times and we do stand ready to cope with emergencies and disruptions whatever their source.
(Mr Ingram) Chairman, you are familiar with me as the Minister for the Armed Forces. You know that I always welcome your inquiries. We always wait for the conclusions with some anticipation.
(Mr Ingram) We could spend the next two hours debating that one. I have with me Bruce Mann, who is the Director General for Financial Management within the MOD. The primary role of the armed forces is the defence of the United Kingdom against external threats. The Committee will be well aware of the work that is still being done by the armed forces to combat the threat from international terrorism at its source. Six months ago Afghanistan was a haven for Osama bin Laden and his network. There is still work to be done but along with our many allies we have made it plain that we have the will and the ability to ensure that there are no safe havens for him and his kind anywhere in the world. Of course there remains a risk of a terrorist attack in this country. I know my officials and those from other departments you have questioned have made it clear to you that the prime responsibility for combating this threat lies outside the MOD. That does not, of course, mean that the MOD contributes nothing. We fully recognise the importance of the task and our ability to provide specific specialist capabilities in the fight against terrorism in the UK. My Department has already given you a great deal of information on these capabilities, much of it classified, and further classified information can be provided, in writing, if you wish. The MOD contributes to a comprehensive response which combines the resources at the Government's disposal. The Government mechanisms, which are summarised by important phrases such as "the Home Office lead" and "police primacy", are both determined and able to combine resources - including those of the armed forces - to combat this threat.
The Committee suspended from 4.26 pm to 4.36 pm for a division in the House
(Mr Ingram) I interpret that question as meaning about point defence on sensitive sites. Would that be the direction you are coming from on this, or specifically in terms of what? I am not quite clear as to what you are seeking.
(Mr Ingram) So specifically on the aircraft?
(Mr Ingram) There is a general issue underlying that as well in relation to the last time we were in a conflict, although this is a different set of circumstances. The SDR came into play and of course that laid down new precepts, new concepts and a new focus on how we should be addressing our defence posture and taking that capability to where the threat lies, which we believe is beyond the shores of this country because we are not under direct attack in that sense. The SDR dealt with the generality of that and of course the new chapter to the SDR then looks at events post-11 September to make sure that we have got our posture right. It is not a new overall review but it is to make sure that the things that need to be done will be done based upon that examination and then upon that analysis and then best delivery of what is required. As to the air defence of the United Kingdom, I think you have had detailed information on this in confidence as to the mechanism by which this applies. It would be wrong for me to go into timings of response and again I think that possibly has been made available to you. The coverage of the United Kingdom we believe to be sufficient in terms of that air response but, having said that, that does not mean to say that we would not examine the basics of the aircraft in terms of response time because we have to look at where possible attack points could be. However, the use of aircraft must be the line of last defence because that is a point at which the threat is then going to impact. Our best option is to try and deter that from happening, either before, if it is a civilian aircraft, it takes off or, if it is in flight, knowledge which then gives us a better ability to deal with this before it comes into our territorial area. There are a number of mechanisms which can apply in the countries in which aircraft take off, in-flight if an awareness is made, and the alerts that can then happen to the possible country of attack before we then have to deploy in country if it is then directly threatening an immediate target within the UK. I do not know if that answers our question.
(Mr Ingram) You are talking about ground defence. Again, I think this would be better dealt with - and I am not dodging the question - in private session because one then has to examine the nature of the sites, the location of the sites, and then what do you do? Is it one site, is it a multiplicity of sites? What do you do in terms of readiness and the utilisation of those resources? It is an easy response and a defined response but then a judgement has to be made: is it the best response in all circumstances? I have tried to define the way in which the threat should be tackled as far away from the shores as possible and then to have in place mechanisms which then specifically deal with that response covering the whole of the UK and not necessarily one specific site. Ground defence, by its very nature, would be likely to be located around one or more sites. That may not be the target.
(Mr Ingram) Yes - are we doing too much abroad and therefore neglecting home defence as a consequence?
(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.
(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 Omar 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 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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 making a 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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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 CEAC 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.
(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.
(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 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.
(Mr Denham) I am not sure I entirely follow the logic. I suppose the logic is that if you manage to detain everybody who could possibly be at threat then there would be no threat so you would have to let them all go. I am not sure that is where we are at the moment. If we remember the circumstances in which Parliament chose to enact this legislation, the feeling in Parliament was very clearly that this legislation was necessary and that the ability to have a derogation from ECHR was justified by the circumstances at the time. I would simply say to the Committee that I do not believe anything has changed since the time at which Parliament made that judgement and therefore it remains justified. Having said that, as was quite reasonably done in the passage of the legislation through both Houses of Parliament, a number of safeguards were built into the Act. There are provisions in terms of the way it is being used. The Terrorism Act is already being reviewed annually by Lord Carlisle and he will also review the immigration and detention provisions in Part IV of the Act. The whole of the Act will be reviewed by a committee of Privy Council as chaired by Lord Newton of Braintree. There is a time limit on the legislation. In other words, I think that the end of the process gave us a piece of legislation that was quite justified by the circumstances at the time and the circumstances which we have now but in which careful safeguards were built in because Parliament wanted to ensure that it would be alerted if there were problems.
(Mr Denham) At the end of the passage of the Bill the Home Secretary was satisfied that he had a piece of legislation that enabled him to address the weaknesses in the previous package of anti-terrorism legislation. We accepted that Parliament, I think for understandable reasons, wanted to have some safeguards and some checks and some reviews built into that because it is quite far-reaching legislation, and I think what was produced is workable now and enables - and indeed will require - Parliament to take a further set of decisions in the future. At that time the job of Government will be to assess honestly in the situation we face whether the circumstances that led to support the principle of derogation continue to exist or not. If they do it will be the responsibility of Government to persuade Parliament that the Act should be continued or amended in the light of experience, and indeed to try to take the public with us.
Chairman: Thank you. Mr Leslie, your delay in coming in will now be remedied. Throughout our inquiry there have been one or two little criticisms, not about you personally, but about the Civil Contingency Secretariat from all quarters, so we are having a generally all-party probing of this matter.
Mr Cran: Chairman, thank you for taking my introduction away from me. It is very kind of you indeed. I suppose, Mr Leslie, I am looking at you and certainly at Dr Fuller, but of course others who want to come in, please do. The Civil Contingency Secretariat is in a deceptively important position in the fight against terrorism. It is in a fairly pivotal position, is it not? Without going into the details of the exact words of why it was set up, it was certainly set up to improve co-ordination as between partners and to get rid of departmentalisation and so on. Tell us how successful you think you have been. I know you are going to use words to tell me this, but convince me with something other than words.
(Mr Leslie) Give us a clue.
(Mr Leslie) The point to stress at the outset is to emphasise the role of the Cabinet Office and particularly the Civil Contingency Secretariat in facilitating an integrated and co-ordinated response. As I mentioned at the outset, the Civil Contingency Secretariat was established in June, of course before September 11, and, also as I said at the outset, I do not seek to be complacent about perfection at all times but nor would I wish to see unrealistic expectations from other quarters about perfection in that respect. There has been a very steep learning curve undoubtedly, particularly since September 11, in making sure that we have all the necessary procedures and personnel and structures in place to cope with the wide array of potential crises and emergencies that can occur. There are 1001 incidents that you and I can think about and try and model through how we would respond, on which government department would take the lead and so on, and we have been trying to do that. What I have been seeking to achieve is an ability to focus in on general capabilities that the Government needs to have that will be able to help us respond and recover whatever type of disaster incident takes place, and there are key capabilities that I think we need always to make sure we are on top of. I have been quite impressed with the work of the Civil Contingency Secretariat. They are not alone. As I say, they are helping to co-ordinate the response but of course each Government department has its own lead responsibility for its own particular areas and no doubt we will go through those later on. I think it is that measure of extra co-ordination, joining things together, that we have been trying to do our best to achieve.
(Mr Leslie) As you will know, and this is not just something that has occurred since September 11, the thing to stress, and particularly in the UK, as John Denham has been mentioning earlier, is that we have got a lot of experience, sadly, in dealing with terrorism and other incidents and a lot of structures have been put in place to cope with incidents. That did not just occur on September 11 so we have had of course for many years regular exercises of testing emergency planning, scenarios; some of those are very wide-scale and live in their operation. Lots of those other types of exercises taking place. You can take the top operations. We are trying to run through things at both real time and real scenarios as frequently as we can. We are also trying to look at the basics of Government. Some questions are very large, often very local. The thing I always try to emphasise is that whatever incident takes place the chances are that initially it will require a local response from the emergency services and then trigger a number of other mechanisms if and when extra support needs to be augmented to the scene or at a strategic level, so working through those arrangements I think is very important. I have been focusing on capabilities of local authorities up and down the country, their emergency plans, and it is a very, very wide area of policy.
(Mr Leslie) I think the key thing to stress is the stronger structures that we have managed to put in place, and I do not just mean the Civil Contingencies Committee of the Cabinet and the sub-committees that have been established and working very, very hard, particularly since 11 September. I am talking about arrangements in respect of military aid to civil authorities. I am talking about the way in which we train and support local authority emergency planning officers, for example, through the Easingwold Emergency Planning College. I think we had 8,000 people go through there last year and we are looking to increase the breadth and depth of courses that take place. We are now trying to mainstream and embed, as I was saying at the beginning, the theory of resilience planning into the day-to-day Civil Service operations that go on in a whole series of different Government departments so that, as you will know, just as there are considerations about efficiency of Government in public expenditure of financial audit, for example, I believe there is a much greater scope for consideration of resilience matters in the day-to-day decision making that takes part in Government. As you say, there are clearly fashions - that is probably the wrong word - there are clearly greater levels of attention at particular traumatic times but I do believe that we can sustain that if we are focused, and we certainly have support from the Select Committee in this, on always keeping our attention on these important matters.
(Mr Leslie) Undoubtedly difficult but I think it is necessary and it will happen.
(Mr Leslie) I know that there are existing published scenarios in the Dealing with Disasters publication by the Home Office that discuss how and when a lead Government department role would be taken up. I think that is a publication which if you have not already seen it you should have sight of. I know that we have been working on clarifying lead Government department responsibilities in that range of potential scenarios quite actively in recent months and I suspect that there will be much more in the public arena about that in due course. As far as I am concerned there is clarity about which Government departments do take the lead in various different situations.
(Mr Denham) If I could add a point, Chairman. The Home Secretary obviously chairs the Civil Contingencies Committee which is supported by the Secretariat as part of this work, and I think I would robustly defend the way in which lead departments are being developed. Part of the thinking behind the establishment of the Secretariat prior to 11 September was, of course, the experience, for example, of the fuel dispute and a number of other events where it was recognised, not in a dissimilar way to some types of terrorist attack, that apparently quite a small event could have a major impact throughout society because we live in a very interconnected society. By its nature it is impossible to identify and plan for every one of the thousands of possible scenarios that could happen and therefore what is needed is a broad set of capabilities to respond right across Government owned in each of those departments, so that when the unexpected, or the slightly different from what you might have expected, turns up people are still able to respond. I think what Mr Leslie says is right, having lead departments within that overall framework actually expands our capacity to respond and expands our flexibility in a way in which, if you like, a very narrow, possibly incredibly highly professional but nonetheless very narrow, organisation not connected into the delivery of services would not be able to do.
(Mr Leslie) I think it is important to emphasise that we do not just simply farm out responsibilities.
(Mr Leslie) We do not just divvy up. There are a couple of good examples about how we actually supplement the lead Government department arrangements: the sub-committees of the Civil Contingencies Cabinet Committee, the London resilience approach, the team led by Nick Raynsford, the Minister of State at DTLR as well as being Minister for London, that looks across the piece at the questions in respect of the capital, other matters relating to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear questions. There is a thematic approach that supplements the departmental responsibility model.
(Mr Denham) I am never quite sure whether ministerial involvement reassures or concerns the Committee but it does, I think, have the added value through the Civil Contingencies Committee that Ministers from departments are clearly aware of where their department has responsibilities as part of the overall set-up. It is not possible for departmental Ministers or Secretaries of State to say another Minister, whether in the Home Office or the Cabinet Office, is responsible for making sure the country can respond, and I think that is an important part of the process.
(Mr Leslie) I think that there is a rolling programme of publishing and updating documents such as Dealing with Disasters, a publication that I mentioned earlier. I understand that we are looking to bring into the wider arena awareness about departmental responsibilities and I will be certainly talking about that and when we can do that shortly.
(Mr Leslie) At a national level, of course, the Home Secretary as Chair of the Civil Contingencies Committee takes the ultimate lead in these matters.
(Mr Leslie) And I think that really is the primary ----
(Mr Denham) Of course it was not, fortunately, an attack on this country but if we look at what happened on 11 September, the attack took place in the United States at about two o'clock our time. It was the Cobra organisation that brought together officials and then Ministers from across Government. In a very short space of time a whole series of decisions were taken and implemented. By the next day there were, what, a thousand police officers on the streets of London adding to reassurance. Public reassurance messages were co-ordinated through the media. A no-fly box was established across London. A whole string of enhanced airport security was put in place. I think that actually demonstrated the resilience of the model because we have a co-ordinating mechanism that brought people together. Clearly it was the police who put the police on the streets and it was the people who do airport security within the DTLR who did airport security and did the no-fly box. The communications system, which is still being built up, which was requested for the first time by CCS on that day, did the public reassurance. In other words, when we need to bring people together for a multi-faceted response the idea is that part of the picture knows what they are going to have to do and has the confidence to know that they can deliver. We will continue to build on that. Exercises are held, we test this out and we find where the system might be weak. My personal view is that the response of the system, even on September 11, showed it had the ability to deliver a lot of important decisions and make them happen in a very short space of time, and that is prior to the work we have done since then.
(Mr Denham) I think there is a slight misunderstanding. The lead department role does not mean a lead operational department. If a terrorist bomb goes off, the police co-ordinate the response to the terrorist bomb and work with the other emergency services, work if necessary with the military authorities through the co-operation agreement. On a major incident there would be co-ordination of other responses by Government. There is a need to understand, in areas where potentially more than one department has an interest, which has the lead responsibility in terms of developing policy, developing capability and being able to contribute to the multi-faceted response. This does not cut across what would happen in the circumstances of a terrorist event or indeed of many other major disasters.
Mr Cran: Chairman, I have got there. Thank you very much indeed.
Chairman: You can explain to me afterwards!
(Mr Leslie) I can tell you at length about the Civil Defence Grant Act 2002.
(Mr Leslie) That, as you will know, went through all its parliamentary stages and concluded around January/February time. That was a response to a legal challenge a couple of years previously by Merseyside who discovered a lacuna in the legal framework in respect of being able to determine a specific grant from authority to authority, after which point, in the last financial year, local authorities were essentially able to have a demand-led claim on the Civil Defence Grant Fund from the UK Government. The Government believed, I think quite rightly - as I do myself, as someone who took through the Bill - that we need to have a more national strategic and co-ordinated approach to the allocation of Civil Defence Grant, rather than a more haphazard demand-led arrangement where some authorities were able to double their budgets very easily and other authorities did not do that. My own personal belief - and I feel this is very, very important - is that we need to have a fair and a comprehensive formula approach to the allocation of resources, because all resources are limited and we should not shy away from that. If we are going to allocate the Fund, then there needs to be a formula looking at a flat rate for the basic service provision that we require, looking at some reflection of population and so on, in the type of formula that we use at a national level. So the level of Civil Defence Grant stood at around £14 million in 2000-01, and at its demand-led peak it plateaued around £181/2 million. We have managed to sustain that demand-led total envelope in the way that we allocate that sum for this financial year, but we have used a formula in the way that we share that money out across the country. We have made sure that no authority is penalised more than 10 per cent. We have also allowed other authorities the opportunity to have a fairer share if they have not benefited from that demand-led arrangement. I hope that is clear.
(Mr Leslie) I can certainly send you a note about Durham.
(Mr Leslie) Council taxpayers subsidise all emergency planning arrangements and always have done, because my understanding is that local authorities supplement, or in many cases should supplement, emergency planning arrangements from their own budget, not just their ring-fenced budgets. Let me just say about Durham, if there has been a 10 per cent reduction, as you say - and I do not have the figures in front of me - because of the formula, then I am fairly confident that they will have had a far more significant increase in the funds that they received for the financial year 2000-01 to 2001-02.
(Mr Leslie) In respect of the amount of money that they would have received in the previous financial year before the demand-led arrangement was in place.
(Mr Leslie) In relation to Civil Defence Grant. So I am quite confident that Durham will not have been penalised if you look at it over that period and the re-institution of the formula approach.
Mr Jones: Can I have the answer about the survey?
(Mr Leslie) Could you repeat that?
(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 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.
(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.
(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 ----
(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.
(Mr Leslie) And there are returns required in the Civil Defence Grant requirements.
(Mr Leslie) I am not saying that somebody else is responsible. There are a variety of ways of checking.
(Mr Leslie) That is right, and there are a variety of ways of checking that local authority emergency plans are strong and robust.
(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.
(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.
(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 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 Home 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.
(Mr Leslie) 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.
(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 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.
(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.
(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.
(Mr Denham) Yes.
(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 was 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.
(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 Andrew finish, please.
Mr Jones: It is important.
(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.
(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 of time.
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.
(Mr Ingram) I never used that phrase.
(Mr Denham) Chairman, clearly that is not what we have said.
(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.
(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 needed clarification.
(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 of compatibility.
(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.
(Mr Denham) Mr Cran has been very helpful, I think, in illustrating the way things are.
(Mr Denham) The Fire Service and Ambulance Service will procure radio systems that will be interoperable with the police and with each other.
(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.
(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 witnesses - I do not know what the date was - they 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.
(Mr Ingram) I am not being drawn into that! I shall write you a letter about that.
(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 policy system which is currently being rolled out will take a number of years to implement and to replace the previous systems.
(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 policies - all 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.
(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.
(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 legislation.
(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.
(Mr Leslie) These are matters that will be announced in due course.
(Mr Leslie) No.
(Mr Leslie) No, I think there are a number of points there. The point about local authorities is they did make lots of representations, there was a lot of unanimity in certain areas, not always to do with funding preferences incidentally, there was quite a divided view about a standard spending assessment approach versus grant, but I think these things can be resolved. Any consultations that take place I think need to be pretty rapid and direct in this whole area. I cannot give information specifically about the timing of any legislative programme, that is the nature of Government.
(Mr Leslie) We have not announced or published any consultation document on the Civil Contingencies Bill process as yet but I think it is important always at all times to not just have a top-down approach to this sort of very, very fundamental legislation. We are talking about a legislative framework that is structured in respect of anticipating hostile attack from foreign powers, this is the context we are talking about, the Civil Defence Act of 1948, and that really does need modernising. I think we have got a duty to involve local authorities, the emergency services and other wider communities in doing that but that need not take an inordinate amount of time.
(Mr Leslie) It could well take the form of a draft Bill but then it may not.
(Mr Leslie) The point I was going to make was about putting these things in context. The Civil Contingencies Bill is only one measure in a vast array of issues that have already been dealt with, the Terrorism Act, as has already been mentioned, so we are not leaving stones unturned in some sort of sequential arrangement here.
Chairman: I think you can predict one of our recommendations and that is that it is in the next Queen's Speech. I give you advance warning. This is not a Home Affairs Select Committee leak, this is pretty upfront. Without consulting my colleagues I will tell you that this is going to be a recommendation that this is going to be in the Queen's Speech, not that people may necessarily pay attention. We now come to a more soothing part of inquiry and Mr Jones will resume his questions.
Mr Howarth: Did you say "soothing", Chairman?
(Mr Denham) I do not think I want to comment directly on Senator Rumsfeld's comments yesterday but we obviously know there are certain terrorist organisations that at least have had aspirations to be capable in this area, so we are giving that, I hope, an appropriate level of priority. The question was what level of priority and that is always a relative question. You will understand, Chairman, I do not want to go into too much detail about that but I think I can say to the Committee that the structure that we have enables us to assess both risk and threat, risk in terms of our vulnerabilities, threat in terms of whether there are people out there with the will and the capability to do it, and to judge our response in the light of that. The process that we have set in place enables us to take those decisions. Clearly we have to be making appropriate preparations for the possibility of a chemical, biological or radiological attack.
(Mr Denham) I think we would want to be as helpful as we can be in providing confidential information to the Committee in this area, not least because I hope that it would provide some reassurance that the process that I have described actually exists and is not something I have dreamt up for the purposes of the Committee this afternoon.
(Mr Denham) Yes.
(Mr Denham) The structure of the decision, the decision to purchase vaccine, was one on which I and a number of other Ministers should have been consulted, ie the principle -
(Mr Denham) Sorry, yes. The principle of whether vaccine should be purchased was one on which I and, indeed, a number of other Ministers, I imagine, were consulted. The decision about how to conduct the procurement and precisely what type of vaccine to procure was a decision for the Department of Health in line with the philosophy discussed earlier of there being lead departments with lead responsibilities in this area.
(Mr Denham) The decision on the actual procurement on that particular date would have been Health Ministers.
(Mr Denham) No, the sub-committee does not take detailed, as it were, operational decisions, it has an overview of a range of different scenarios, different possibilities that could happen which we test against the planning mechanisms and the contingency plans that we have got in place. It is not a centralised decision making committee on issues which are properly the responsibility of departments to carry through.
(Mr Denham) What we would do in our committee is, amongst other things, review the information that we have received regarding the possibility of, in this case, a biological attack, the capability of distributing biological agents and the strategy that should be put in place for responding to that. That is our committee and that enables us to range across all of the different people who might play a role, those who might be responsible for detecting that something had happened, those that might be responsible for moving in to decontaminate an area, which might be the emergency services, those who might be responsible for treatment programmes and for working with the public. What we do specifically is look at whether the arrangements which run across different services and different departments are properly co-ordinated. Within that, of course, there are a whole host of individual decisions that have to be taken. The procurement of equipment, for example, is not one that would be taken by my committee, that would be taken by the appropriate emergency service within their decision making structure because they have that specific expertise and that is the way that it operates.
(Mr Denham) Yes.
(Mr Denham) The information which is received from the security services and other sources enables people to make an assessment to which ministers then have to respond. We are ultimately accountable for this system.
(Mr Denham) I do not know whether that response was a private or a public communication, Chairman.
(Mr Denham) Right. I have to say, Chairman, that my view - and this may not be the view of the Committee - is that it is not generally desirable that the details of these matters are in the public domain, and that is because we are looking at a process in which revealing in detail the extent to which provision has been made could indicate to people who are not friends of this country a whole amount of information about what we might think we know or do not know, or they might think we know and so on, that we would rather not be in the public domain. I think that was an important part of the security process.
(Mr Denham) I think that is something that you would have to ask the American Government. Our view here is that in terms of giving details of contingency arrangements that are being made across a range of these issues, it is not a simple thing of saying, "Let's keep it all secret because it's easier that way." It is difficult. The public has a great interest in these matters and would like to know, but we also think that we have to be careful about not, through giving details of the planning we have made, revealing more than we would want to about what we know or think we know, which might both reveal where we are right and also reveal where we are wrong.
(Mr Denham) I think there are other questions about procurement which actually I am not best placed to answer, for the reason I gave about the procurement process.
(Mr Denham) In general, I would not criticise my colleagues for seeking to make provision without actually revealing the detail of our planning in the public domain.
(Mr Denham) I think there is a difficulty. Of course since then this has got wider political overtones which have nothing to do, I am confident, with the procurement process, so I do not want anything I say about wider public disclosure to get mixed up in that. I think it is generally not desirable to have too much detail about our state of preparedness for a whole range of different possible scenarios in the public domain. That is my view. The consequence of this coming into the public domain was that more is in the public domain than I personally would have thought was desirable, because I do not think any of us wants to ----- On any one issue it does not look too bad, but if you go through every single thing that you can imagine might happen and say in a practical way, "These are all our strengths and these are all our weaknesses", is that of great use to the public or someone else? We have to be very careful about our approach to these issues.
(Mr Denham) I think the difficulty is the one of the principle. On a specific issue I do not have particular problems, but over a range of issues the danger is of getting into a situation of revealing areas of vulnerability, revealing areas where we are mistaken in assumptions we have made, and that being in areas where we have to take this seriously because these are not lighthearted matters that we are dealing with.
(Mr Ingram) Could I say that we have quite an intensive procurement activity in all of this. Sometimes when you decide to procure something it may not be readily available, so the public debate about seeking a particular mechanism or equipment, and then you get that time lag before it then comes into play, or exposing something. So to take the specific, I would ask the Committee then to think of the generality of the debate. On that they want everything. If not, where would the Committee draw the line on non-disclosure?
Mr Jones: In this case it was actually freely available from more than one source.
(Mr Denham) I think we need to distinguish between two separate issues, Chairman. One is revealing information about our state of preparedness or the assumptions we are making about what we should in fact be prepared for, and the issue which applies across a whole range of government business about the procurement of any particular thing or the way in which any particular contract is run. I do not feel able, for the reasons I have said, to give details of the procurement process in this case, although I understand that the Department of Health felt there were sound reasons given for what needed to be procured, the world position in the market and whatever.
(Mr Denham) That is something that you would need to pursue with the Department of Health. I do not really feel that I can do that, for reasons that I have given already. You will have heard from the Department of Health about that. I do not think it is for me to pass judgement on the ways in which the United States is handling these issues. I would say to the Committee that we have 30 years' experience in this country of dealing with terrorism from different routes and different origins. Over that period of time, yes, there have been failures, but there have been many successes. That has been within a context where reasonable security has been taken about what we think we are protecting against, whom we think we are protecting against, how we think we are going to protect against it. My belief is that that has served us and the wider public well, and I would be very cautious about changing the quotas that have been developed over many years.
(Mr Denham) I think this Committee, or another Committee of the House or whatever, as in any area of procurement over which questions are being raised, is entitled to ask questions, it is one of the privileges of Select Committees. I have to say though that if you want to talk about the detailed role of Ministers in this process you or another Committee should talk to the Ministers who were involved in that process.
(Mr Ingram) I gave an indication in an earlier answer that this is one of the areas that we are looking at. I do not want to set out in detail the final conclusions as to how best we can deliver on that mission or request from whichever source it comes from in terms of civil aid. We are at the point of conclusion of an examination of this, it is not far away from the direction that you are coming from, Mr Howarth. I would love to be able to say today "yes, here is the answer" but we have not yet precisely defined what we intend to do. That is coming to a conclusion. I hope it is published in advance of your final report because it could then assist you in seeing whether we have met your thought processes on this. There is a consistency in direction on this in seeking to deliver on that area.
(Mr Ingram) It is nothing to do with that.
(Mr Ingram) Remembering a key element in terms of the review of the SDR The New Chapter approach relates to the TA and the Reserves and then to look at the combination of what can be played in best to meet that type of immediate demand. I would love to be able to announce it today because we could get a headline out of it but I think this shows that we are not chasing that type of approach. This is a serious point that I am making. We have got to be careful, we have got to make sure that what we are going to do actually delivers to meet that need. It will happen soon but I cannot give you a precise date.
(Mr Ingram) If there is a shortfall, and I think there is an indication from a variety of sources that there is a need for additional immediate response activity across the whole of the UK, then we have got to seek to meet that. How precisely we do that is still to be fully clarified. I have got to say this view that somehow or other the Army should be ready for any eventuality is simply not possible. It is not just a case of deployment overseas, it is a case of availability in terms of immediate response. What I can say, going back to the ground truth debate, is when the Army is called upon it delivers. We could go through a range of recent events where it did deliver. The emergency services should not just say "if this is something we cannot deliver they can call on the Army". We have got to get better co-ordination and understanding on that point.
(Mr Ingram) I have said what I have said.
(Mr Ingram) Yes.
(Mr Ingram) I will send you a note on that.
(Mr Ingram) We are into classified territory again because explaining our state of readiness is what people want to know.
(Mr Denham) It is a difficult balance that we have to try and strike correctly all the time. You want to ensure that there is a proper state of preparedness or alertness in the public. You do not want to either do things that could unnecessarily alarm people for no great purpose and you certainly do not want to provide information if there is a specific question of threat which would directly inform a potential attacker either that we knew what they were up to or, indeed, by giving the wrong information that we had no idea what they were up to. What we have developed over the experience of terrorism over the last 30 years is, in a sense, a graded response. We are all familiar with the times when there may be a greater reassurance presence on the streets or there may be more information available to the public about watching out for suspicious packages if we are seen to be in the middle of a bombing campaign, so I think there is a constant adjustment of the information which is available to the public which complements the more targeted information which is available to certain key organisations in both the public and the private sectors.
(Mr Leslie) If you look at the wide array of possible circumstances where the public may need to have information about particular incidents or similar situations there are a number of different responses that the public sector, the Government, can make to those. Locally, of course, the police and emergency services have the capacity to inform particular neighbourhoods in particular situations. At the other end of the spectrum we have national warning systems that are also available to come into play. I recently attended a seminar with the catchy title "National Steering Committee on Warning and Informing the Public", so there are a number of bodies and experts focusing on these issues and also looking at new communications technologies as well as they develop.
(Mr Ingram) At least you understood it.
(Mr Denham) In a sense we are all accountable. The Home Secretary can be questioned by Parliament, Committees like this can question Ministers both in public and in private session where we can reveal extra information, we give classified information to the Committee, and through that to the House. I acknowledge the dilemma that you put forward and if things go badly wrong no doubt we will be held accountable for the consequences of that. It is not really possible to crawl publicly over everything that is done, as it were, and also maintain a reasonable degree of security. I think an inquiry like this one is actually welcome because your ability to operate both in public and in more confidential session does enable you to have an informed independent view of what we are doing which I am sure will help shape the way things are done in the future.
(Mr Denham) Let me again draw the distinction based on what we have done previously. If in the past, when we have had public terrorist attacks, there has been specific information sufficient to justify warning the public of the location, the time to clear an area or whatever, the system has, I think, generally worked well to do that, to get the relevant message across. If intelligence were to suggest that a bomb might go off somewhere associated with the same source, but we do not know where, it is not so clear that it is useful to say then, "We think a bomb will go off", although, as I said earlier, there is a graded response which does enable the level of messages about looking out for suspicious packages and so on to be raised. I think the question really is the one of grading the quality of the information according to the confidence that people feel they have in it. That does put a responsibility on the security services and others who are responsible for advising ministers on how good the information is and then for the rest of the system to act accordingly, but the system, I think, is designed to do that.
(Mr Denham) In practice you probably need to draw a distinction between something that is going to happen in ten minutes' time and something over a period of time, but if there were strong indications of a terrorist incident being predicted, then the Cobra mechanism would come into place. It would bring officials together, and officials are effectively on a standing instruction to bring in ministers and to consult with the appropriate ministers if there is anything which involves issues which are sensitive. Clearly, judgements about what to communicate to the public can fall into that category. So essentially it would be a process that came through the system of ministerial accountability, with the Home Secretary at the apex of that, which would actually work.
Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you so very much, that was very interesting. As you have given us an invitation to come back with further questions, I promise you we will avail ourselves of that invitation. Adam will tell me now what he was going to tell me about Bowman! Thank you so much.