Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Further memorandum from the Ministry of Defence (26 November 2001)

(i)   The establishment and current strength of the reserve forces, and the level at which reserve units (or individuals) are able to be deployed [Qs 64 and 81 of the provisional transcript refer]

  1.  The Strategic Defence Review (SDR) concluded that, in the light of the likely warning time available for any large deployment, just over half of the total TA strength should be "fit for role" at any one time. Members of the TA are classed as "fit for role" when they have completed two phases of training that will vary in length depending on an individual's role and trade. Phase 1 is recruit training and Phase 2 is training designed to prepare the TA soldier to a standard at which they are sufficiently qualified to take their place in Unit training with the rest of their colleagues. A target of just over half being "fit for role" is realistic, given annual personnel turnover of 25-30 per cent, and the time needed to train new recruits (from months, to 2-3 years, depending on role, aptitude and previous experience).

  2.  Contrary to the impression given in recent articles, the TA is quite close to meeting its target for the proportion of its strength which should be fit for role, and is only 328 personnel short. Following the SDR, the majority of the TA are at a readiness state that gives them 90 days to prepare for deployment and we are confident that the majority of the TA could achieve fit for role status within that time frame. Indeed, the TA has always responded whenever the call for reservists has been made, and have consistently provided 10 per cent of the total UK forces deployed in the Balkans.

  3.  The latest figures, as at 1 October, show the strength of the TA as 40,066. This figure includes 1,164 non-regular permanent staff. The number of mobilised reservists is 647 and the number of TA on Full Time Reserve Service is 812.

  4.  Most TA Combat Support and Combat Service Support units are roled and established to operate as formed units and sub units and as such form an essential part of the Army's order of battle. TA Combat Arm units are not established to operate as formed units since their warfighting role does not require them to do so.

(ii)   The lessons that were learnt from the foot-and-mouth outbreak about countering biological attack, including those lessons drawn from the MoD's involvement in tackling the foot-and-mouth crisis [Q83]

  5.  The origins of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) earlier this year have been the subject of detailed investigations by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the police and other appropriate agencies. They have found no evidence that biological terrorism was the cause of the outbreak. It would be inappropriate to comment further on what was the suspected cause as it is possible that legal proceedings will be pursued.

  6.  The Joint NBC Regiment is a smaller specialist nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) military capability intended to support UK operations worldwide. The regiment can detect and identify NBC hazards, survey for chemical and nuclear contamination, and decontaminate affected equipment, therefore enabling the UK Armed Forces to continue to operate in an NBC environment. The Regiment is equipped with a number of specialist systems and vehicles for dealing with nuclear, chemical and biological hazards. These include the Prototype Biological Detection System (PBDS), a collection and analysis laboratory mounted on a Bedford lorry chassis, which detects and identifies airborne biological warfare agents.

  7.  the Joint NBC Regiment was not deployed during the epidemic. Airborne FMD is of no danger to humans and the use of NBC protected vehicles was not required. The range and capability of these vehicles is, in any case, very limited in comparison with the human resources which can be deployed in the UK to identify bacteria. The chief vet and his team undertook an exhaustive campaign of serology testing of livestock. Scientific modelling provided analysis on the possible spread of the disease.

  8.  The lessons learned process is now underway following the announcement by the Prime Minister of the establishment of enquiries relating to FMD. The MoD is co-operating fully with them.

  9.  The Government had recognised the need to enhance civil emergency mechanisms as a result of the fuel dispute of September 2000. Whilst MAFF made every effort to control FMD, the need for stronger central co-ordination was also recognised in the early stages of the FMD epidemic. Immediate action was taken and, for the longer term, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) was established in the Cabinet Office to provide a permanent focal point for co-ordinating civil emergency planning and a core, central Government crisis management mechanism. The Committee was briefed on the work and activities of the CCS by its head, Mike Granatt, on 15 November.

(iii)   A description (or "organisation chart") of the responsibilities of different government departments and agencies for defending against, and dealing with, different aspects of a possible terrorist attack [Q70].

  10.  The Home Office is the lead Department for counter terrorism policy and has strategic responsibility for responding to terrorist incidents in the UK. It is the civil authorities who have responsibility for providing services to the public including emergency and disaster relief and the maintenance of essential services. As such, it would by the Police (who have primacy) and other emergency services who would be the first to respond to a terrorist incident. They would call on appropriate assistance from the Armed Forces in the event of a heightened threat or an actual incident, especially if it was of the magnitude of that witnessed on 11 September.

  11.  The Armed Forces would provide assistance, under the terms of Military Aid to the Civil Power (MACP) of Military Aid to other Government Departments (MAGD). Our contingency plans for responding to a wide range of terrorist threats are well prepared, regularly exercised, tested, reviewed and refined in the light of changing domestic and international circumstances. The scope of the assistance which the Armed Forces could provide is wide ranging, but would depend on the nature of the attack.

  12.  Other broad Departmental responsibilities on counter terrorist related issues are as follows:

        Cabinet Office. The recently established Civil Contingencies Secretariat is primarily responsible for assessing the resilience of all Government Departments in the face of emergencies. Enhancing resilience remains, however, the responsibility of individual Departments and Agencies. Mike Granatt has already been in touch with you about the supplementary information the Committee required.

        FCO. Strategic responsibility for responding to terrorist incidents involving UK citizens and national interests overseas.

        Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Strategic responsibility for transport security including airport and in-flight security. They are working very closely with other Departments, including the Ministry of Defence, to make substantial improvements, primarily in the area of pre-flight and in-flight security. In the event of a specific threat, and should the civil authorities feel it necessary, the Armed Forces can be called upon to provide support at airports.

        Department of Health. Strategic responsibility for public health, including the impact on public health of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) terrorism, as well as other forms of terrorism. The Department of Health and MoD have maintained constant contact on Chemical and Biological issues to ensure there remains a clear understanding of each other's capabilities, for example the Joint NBC Regiment and Porton Down.

        Department of Trade and Industry. Strategic responsibility for the nuclear, chemical and other industries. in particular, they are responsible for issues concerning security, vulnerability and protection of nuclear power stations and reprocessing facilities.

        Cabinet Office. Responsibility for security at key sites rest with a number of Departments but the Cabinet Office have a co-ordinating role in this and chair the Economic Key Points committee. The Police can request the support of the Armed Forces to guard key sites if they fell it necessary.

  13.  Local Authorities have responsibilities for emergency planning in their localities. A consultation document, The Future of Emergency Planning in England and Wales, issued by the Cabinet Office in August, could develop further their role and place a statutory obligation on them to have robust contingency plans in place. We await the results of that consultation process which could see the enhancement of their partnerships with other agencies (emergency services, health authorities, Environment Agency, privatised utilities, transport operators and Government departments, including MoD). Emergency planning in London is highly developed and many London agencies are engaged, including the Greater London Authority. The devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also clearly involved in the development of contingency planning for civil crises. They played important roles in combating the foot and mouth epidemic.

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