Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2001
FRENCH CBE FRAES
RAF AND MAJOR-GENERAL
60. Can you tell us a bit more about this? I
want to question you in more detail about this. If your slide
is appropriate, then fine.
(Mr Webb) Two very important roles are played by the
armed forces here, but they are different. The first of them is
the actual defence of the homeland in the sense that the armed
forces have always defended Britain from attack from the sea and
in the last century by air and missiles. That is a straightforward
defence task. It is listed amongst those the Chairman enumerated
at the start and is a direct defence responsibility which is why
I said that such steps as were needed to strengthen that are being
and have been taken. Let me just say that on the air defence side
assets are in place and at readiness to respond to a threat with
RAF F3 Tornado fighters and a command and control system is in
place to take the necessary decisions. I would rather not get
into details. It would actually be helpful to potential adversaries
for them to know much more detail about how we do that. The professional
people who work on these issues at RAF Strike Command, who are
participating in a study, know all about evaluating the various
ways of doing this as between surface-to-air missiles and fighters
and so on. This is a professional air force business and they
know how to get the right answer. Yes, we take that very seriously
indeed. That is a specific defence task and we shall as part of
this review be saying that we have done some immediate steps on
that, but asking whether there is a longer-term dimension to this
which would imply not just making best use of assets we have instantly
available, or quick upgrades, but what about the longer term capability.
Yes, that will all be part of the study. The second thing we do
is what I have on this slide here which I stole from something
else so it is probably not beautifully designed for the occasion.
What that talks about is military assistance to the civil authorities.
(It is actually from a press briefing I gave earlier in the year.)
What that is about is where there is not a specific Ministry of
Defence responsibility to lead on the subject, but where we support
either other departments or the civil power. I shall come on to
more detail. The bottom two items on this listwhich is
why it is not perfectly organisedshow you what the military
could do and you have been familiar with this on foot-and-mouth
and so on, to support other government departments or to deal
with military assistance to the civil community which includes
emergencies. If, God forbid, we had some terrible incident in
the UK, local police, the so-called blue light services, police,
fire, ambulance, can apply immediately to their local military
command and if life is in jeopardy, they do not need to ask the
Ministry of Defence but they will get straight on and provide
that assistance as they have done. Those are the bottom two items.
If the police, or some other government department responsible
for security at some establishment, came and said they were worried
about their ability to defend this against a terrorist threat
established by the Security Service, they really either lack resources
or they just do not think they can cope or they need to have a
lethal force on a scale which cannot be provided by armed policemen,
then they would apply to a military command and I know my Ministers
would be immediately inclined to render such assistance and that
could, if it were appropriate, involve the reserves. We would
call up reservists and ask them to come and join in on that task,
if that were necessary. It has not got to that point so far but
the mechanism is there. Certainly, as part of this review, we
will want to ask whether we need more of this on a long-term basis.
That is where you get to the reserves. Yes, looking at whether
there is an increased role for the reserves in this area will
be part of this study.
61. Mr Mercer is going to deal with the downstream
consequences of military involvement in some kind of terrorist
attack which you describe as an emergency. What I am really anxious
to look at and I know I am pressing on the boundaries of what
you are prepared to release, but you did say earlier, that countering
public fear is an important part of the task of the Ministry of
Defence. Those images of 11 September are burned in people's minds
throughout the world, not least of all in a major country like
the United Kingdom where the public do perceive that we have put
ourselves perhaps more in the firing line than others by our stalwart
and right support of the United States. They then look around,
they see the Tube, they see power stations and they ask what steps
the Ministry of Defence are taking to ensure that we send the
clearest possible signal that these are not going to be vulnerable
targets. Everything you have said so far has been in the conditional
tense. We would, we might.
(Mr Webb) No, we are.
Mr Howarth: Can you tell us what you
are doing now. You have told us about the F3's and I would just
make one observation, if I may, on the F3. I do not believe they
are stationed at Biggin Hill.
Chairman: We do not want to go into that.
62. There is the question of just how realistic
this defence is, but Mr Webb may not want to go into too much
detail. Can you tell us as far as you are able what actual steps
are being taken?
(Mr Webb) May I go back to what I said before? Air
defence assets are in place. I said nothing about would, should
or anything else. They are in place and at readiness at this moment.
They are currently, at this very moment, at readiness to respond
to a threat. If you went to RAF Strike Command this morningI
do not think they would mind me saying the role they play in thisyou
would find that in their air defence centres there they are geared
up for precisely this issue. In terms of that being a specific
Defence responsibility, we are geared up for it. Ministers have
said on the floor of the House that we are geared up for it and
we are. I really think the detail is not helpful. This is a somewhat
different point. I am sorry to keep coming back to this but there
is a constitutional point here about defending say a power station
on land from a terrorist threat, where the constitutional position
is that either the government department or the police take the
lead on that. I have said already, and I know that troops are
available if required to help with those Defence roles, that if
we cannot cope with it or it makes more sense to use reserves,
then we would use the reserves. As part of a study which I am
privileged to lead, we shall be looking at whether, in the long
termset aside the arrangements which are in place for the
short termwe need more of that. We need to analyse what
the job is though. It is easy enough to say, "Let's have
more people", but let us be sure we have a job for them to
do and that they are trained and equipped to do it.
63. What about Rapiers used by the TA?
(Mr Webb) If that were the best solution to the problem,
I am sure we would provide them.
64. One of the many criticisms we had of the
SDR was the downsizing of the Territorial Army. There were reports
that only half the members of the Territorial Army were available
for service. Is that report correct? If so, does it mean that
the new strategy and policy post-SDR is not working?
(Mr Webb) I do not recognise that in a precise sense
but I confess I am a non-expert on the detail in that sense.
65. Will you write us a note on that please?
(Mr Webb) Yes, I shall be happy to do that. What I
am trying to do is prejudge our long-term view. Let me just come
at it from this point of view. We talked earlier about this question
of whether you can rely on intelligence, in which case under the
manoeuvrist principle you might be able to get to it before it
got to you, so you would not have to go through this. If you felt
a long-term vulnerability and you thought that some level of increased
deployment of the armed forces in support of the police was helpful,
perhaps if only to provide public reassuranceDo you recall
some years ago when aircraft hijacking was fashionable we used
to do deployments to Heathrow, used to send light armoured vehicles
down there and that was probably a bit about deterrence and a
bit about reassurance and we used to do that and that is a role
we could undertake again if it were relevant. You could see, could
you not? I know my Ministers have seen that the public at large
might be quite happy to come into a reserve and take on that job.
It would not necessarily involve overseas service because that
would get you into some complicated military money questions,
but you might have people who would like to come and help in that,
to play a part in the homeland defence themselves. That is the
sort of thing we shall be looking at. I do not want to jump into
something when it may not be necessary. If something needs to
be done now, if a request comes in from the Chief Constable today,
we will meet it. I am looking at the longer term and we need to
mull it over. One of the questions is whether people, members
of the public, would like to contribute in that way.
66. I am sorry to bang on about our SDR report
being better than yours, but I will. We said, ". . . the
cuts in the Territorial Army infantry, engineers and yeomanry
are shortsighted. The TA are still a valuable resource as long-term
insurance against the unexpected, and re-roling should be considered
before cuts". We urged the MoD to reconsider the level of
cuts proposed and that was ignored. We went on to say, "In
an asymmetric contest it is quite possible that, in addition to
other asymmetric weapons', the UK homeland could be targeted by
terrorist action designed to disrupt civil society directly, using
high technology instruments such as chemical and biological agents,
electronic attacks on computers and command and control systems,
and attacks on major public utilities. The SDR does not address
the capacity to deal with such a threat" and it goes on.
You can see why I have a degree of cynicism about the last SDR,
because many of the things we raised have regrettably come true.
We would want assurances that critical infrastructure, buildings,
I shall not go into those areas of public life and public structures
and private structures which would be vulnerable but people need
assurances that they are being adequately protected as in the
Cold War the Territorial Army had a substantial role, not a very
exciting role, of guarding such buildings and structures as reservoirs,
bridges, power plants, government buildings, etcetera. I do not
have any inside knowledge, but I should have thought that we were
entering a very difficult phase in terms of the threat to this
country. The last thing I would want to do is to wake up tomorrow
morning and find that such an attack has taken place and we are
still talking or beginning to talk about whether the Territorial
Army, the police or whoever are going to be standing outside major
structures which have already been attacked. I do stress, not
in any aggressive way, but I really do hope that the Government
will look very, very quickly at who is going to stand outside
buildings. It cannot be the police, they are overwhelmed. It seems
to me that many of the Territorial Army personnel who have left
because they were no longer required, could be a resource not
just this week, next week and the week after, but in any crisis
environment that we are likely to find ourselves, which, as has
been said by many, many people, is an environment we are going
to be in for the foreseeable future. I hope that this review will
(Mr Webb) It will.
67. And remind Ministers that the departure
of Julian Brazier does not mean that this Committee is any less
interested in the Territorial Army and the reserves than it was
when he was a member of the Committee.
(Mr Webb) We shall be looking at it. It is a specific
part of the work programme to look at that. Forgive me for working
with other government departments and not just ploughing a furrow
of Defence on our own. It would be very foolish, given the very
good working relationship we have with the police in these areas,
for us to say we will come forward and do that when it is actually
a police responsibility or a civil department's responsibility.
You have to be careful also that you are asking people to do a
valid job. You would not necessarily be very sensible to have
a reservist standing outside on the ground if the threat were
coming from somewhere else. You need to do something which is
relevant to the scenario and this is why we need to do some detailed
work on it. I absolutely assure you that it will be part of the
study, including the role of the reserves.
68. I want to follow up something you said about
needing to understand whether or not people would want to perform
such a role. Obviously if they are working, similar to retained
fire fighters, it is whether their employers would want them to
perform such a role. What are you doing to ask that question?
(Mr Webb) That will be part of the study. We have
very good relationships with employers. You probably know that
there is a national employers' liaison committee. We have ways
of talking to employers about this. If there is a requirement
which it looks as though reservists would be helpful in meeting,
we would have to think through all that. In some ways I was perhaps
groping inadequately because there is the point about whether
the nation wants this or not, is there not? Employers also live
in a society and their view may be tempered by what the country
wants. You can think of countries where a rapid call-out of military
personnel is all part of life. We have tended to think of it in
the NATO era as being a response to a big war. We need to work
through this and the debate, which I hope this Committee's interest
and the fact we are doing this in the study will stimulate, will
itself help answer some of these questions about how people feel
about it. If it is the right answer we shall recommend it.
69. The question of civil emergency planning
is going to dominate what we are going to do and strictly speaking
it is the Home Affairs Select Committee, although I am not certain
whether the Home Affairs Select Committee has sole responsibility
for the Cabinet Office; the Public Administration Committee think
that they have a central role. Well, so do we. Perhaps I could
visit whoever the anonymous Ministry of Defence official is who
has the lead in this question, perhaps with the Clerk, just by
way of preliminary discussion prior to a public session later
on. That would be really helpful so you can go through organisational
charts, what you do, what the Home Office does, what other departments
do, the Wales Office, the Scotland Office, whoever is co-ordinating
within the Cabinet Office, etcetera. That would be really helpful.
(Mr Webb) I should start with the Cabinet Office because
on this end of it they have a leading role.
70. May I pick up on something you said about
perception? Would you agree that in the events since 11 September,
and you have already referred to the fear which is out there,
public perception is very important? If President Bush's appointment
of Tom Ridge did one thing, it was a clear public demonstration
that something was actually being done as opposed to what you
have described as this faceless bureaucrat sat somewhere and no-one
knows his name. I do not think that is going to give a great deal
of confidence to the public in terms of thinking that the Government
are actually doing something about it.
(Mr Webb) I am just checking whether we can find out
whether I can give you the name.
71. We are intrigued to find out who he or she
is. The key point, whoever he or she is, the important thing perception-wise
for the public, is that they feel there is actually someone there,
that we are not having endless committee meetings and civil servants
shuffling paper but that things are actually being done. To be
fair to President Bush's appointment, he has given that very clear
demonstration to boost confidence which we do need in this country.
(Mr Webb) I know that senior Home Office Ministers
are engaged day to day on this and they are certainly publicly
72. Name them.
(Mr Webb) Messrs Blunkett and Denham. Those are the
two who are working on this subject. I am sure they will not mind
me saying so. I agree with you that we need to be convincing.
The Civil Contingencies Secretariat was itself established, in
August if I recall, because we wanted to improve the situation
after foot-and-mouth, fuel and floods. It brings to it a lot of
our experience. We have actually spent a lot of time with them
on crisis management because we are now used to rapid reaction
and this Committee knows about how quickly we have deployed troops
in Sierra Leone and so on. One of the first things they did was
to come across to us and ask us to tell them all about how we
manage these things in real time and what my military colleagues
sometimes call battle rhythm, which is about how you organise
your day so that you are on top of this at the pace required.
They are definitely on the case and have built up their staff.
We have lent some people from the armed forces to help serve in
that organisation, including a senior figure in it. They are on
it and I do not think that in our system appointing somebody for
the name would improve on having a Minister who could take responsibility
73. Would it be an option then to appoint a
specific Minister to have responsibility for this area?
(Mr Webb) I have traipsed well across the Prime Minister's
responsibilities for organising central government this morning
but starting to decide ministerial appointments is probably just
a touch beyond my boundary.
74. I was not asking who, but whether should
it be a separate Minister perhaps of Cabinet rank who would have
(Mr Webb) Where I would end up is by saying that we
need to be clear what the system is, how it works and who are
the key players.
75. Which it is not at the moment, is it?
(Mr Webb) I think we are absolutely clear.
76. You know, but we do not know.
(Mr Webb) That is what I am saying: we ought to make
77. The language of manoeuvre warfare which
General Milton used earlier and the words "Maginot Line"
approach, but our rear operations are our opponents' deep operations.
We seek to shatter his cohesion and seek his centre of gravity.
Speaking from the constituencies, if I may, our centre of gravity
needs to be defended and needs to be reassured. Surely that is
as manoeuvrist as anything else we might expect and therefore
were forces to be put in place, as we saw at Heathrow, particularly
to reassure and to deter, that would be appreciated hugely.
(Major-General Milton) I should be very delighted
for all the doctrinal staff if we could get more people speaking
in these terms; it would be very helpful to my cause. The comparisons
are not exact but may I dwell on many years' experience of service
in Northern Ireland. We used to commit people in the early days
to guarding static key points, as you may recall. Actually it
was a pretty ineffective use of the armed forces. We were in the
business more of reassurance and deterrence and what actually
was a much more effective use of the armed forces was getting
out and trying to interdict terrorists before they attacked those
vulnerable points and using other operations particularly intelligence
led operations which acted in a deep manner. I am not saying the
comparison is exact. There may well be, as we have agreed with
you, a case for reassurance operations, but do not let us kid
ourselves that this may be necessarily the most effective use
of scarce resources. That is all I am saying.
78. Conversely, I do think that there is a place
(Major-General Milton) You may well be right.
79. It is interesting people in the wilds of
north east Nottinghamshire.
(Major-General Milton) It may well be that you have
to spend a certain amount on reassurance, but it is a judgement.
I have been twice to the United States in the last month and certainly
now as you leave an American airport there are large numbers of
National Guards there. Perhaps that is reassuring, perhaps it
is not. You see far less of that at Heathrow. You do see armed
police. It is a judgement. In many ways you are better placed
to make it than we are.