Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Mr Granatt, welcome to you and your colleagues. You may be wondering why the Defence Committee is undertaking this inquiry, that is another question you can ask us in a private session. This is a very important subject we are looking at because we are examining the military security consequences of September 11 and we want to be in a good position to undertake an inquiry which cuts across departmental boundaries and, I might add, probably prejudices, and we look forward to the inquiry. You will see we have five advisers, which is an indication of how seriously we are taking the subject, and we are grateful you have come along to this first public session. Would you like to introduce your colleagues for the shorthand writer?
  (Mr Granatt) By all means. On my right is Brigadier Ian Abbott, who is on secondment to us from the Ministry of Defence. He is the Director of Capabilities Management within the Secretariat. On my left is Mr Kevin Wallace, who has been involved with the work of the Emergency Planning Division of the Home Office and local authorities for a great many years and has a lot of experience in that area. We thought these two colleagues would be helpful to your inquiry.

  2. Thank you. If there is anything you prefer to say in private, Mr Granatt, please indicate to us and at the end of our public session we will go into private. We do not like doing it very often but because this has a high sensitivity about it, we will do just that. Is there anything you would like to say by way of opening?
  (Mr Granatt) We have sent you a brief memorandum which explains what we do, I think probably the best use of everybody's time is if we invite your questions.

  3. In the memorandum you refer to, you said, "there was a fundamental re-examination of contingency planning arrangements". Can you tell us how radical you and the Cabinet Office are prepared to be in reality? Does your re-examination include, for example, the CCS itself, the lead role of local authorities in emergency planning, the constitutional doctrine under which military assistance is provided to civil powers? Maybe you can give us some indication of the ethos within which your re-examination is proceeding and the way in which your office has been structured?
  (Mr Granatt) I think the best way to start is to give a bit of the history.

  4. Please.
  (Mr Granatt) The Government looked back at the events since, for instance, the millennium period and the number of crises which have been dealt with. The Prime Minister came to the conclusion that he wished to see better arrangements for making sure that government itself was resilient to the handling of crises. The role of the Secretariat is essentially to do that. It is to help ensure that government, and indeed the United Kingdom, is more resilient in the face of the sort of disruptive challenges which can lead to crises. So in terms of the difference between the way things were done and the way things are being done now, I think we are looking as much now at ways of pre-empting crisis as well as emergency planning, and emergency planning is still a very important part of the work which is going on. That is the reason why, of course, the emergency planning responsibility moved from the Home Office to the Cabinet Office, and it is now placed at the centre of government where we can influence more easily the way in which the machinery of government operates and reacts. We are looking at a number of activities which we hope will contribute to greater resilience, to a greater ability to withstand disruption. Apart from our classic secretariat role, which is to make sure the centre and all relevant departments are aware of an issue which might be breaking and are involved in any collective decision-making or contribution, we will have a role in a major emergency of making sure that information is properly co-ordinated. I think one of the things which has emerged from the handling of recent crises is the need very quickly, if problems are widespread across the country, to make sure that the information from a great number of sources is properly reconciled so decision-makers can make their decisions effectively. We are setting up a horizon-scanning process to look across the economy, to see if we can spot trends which may need departments to think about whether they might be facing disruption, and to see whether there are cross-cutting issues or issues which combine to form cross-cutting problems. We are also developing some capability packages to help departments who might be facing a crisis, and clearly it is a time of great stress if the department does not usually get involved in emergencies. Some do obviously; departments like International Development are handling crises and emergencies as part of their business but other departments do not handle them regularly. But it is clear from recent experience that help with augmenting their staff, advice on planning, help with ensuring communication works well across government, are functions we should put in place at the centre to help departments face these sorts of things. Those capabilities are the business of Ian Abbott's directorate. Part of the operation which we have inherited, and which has been in place for some time, is news co-ordination, which is the ability to make sure that departments co-ordinate what they are saying in terms of public communication. Of course, in a crisis effective public communication is extremely important; resolving any crisis requires good communications with the public—timely, effective, continual and thorough. We are also looking at the way the Emergency Planning College does its work. It is a very, very important asset that we have. It was part of the Home Office arrangements, it has been involved in helping to train people involved in emergency planning since 1937 in one guise or another. We think it has great potential to not only do the training work which is done, the learning work which is done, but also get involved in more research into the way crises have been handled, to help spread best practice, to help with distance learning. We are looking with our colleagues at the Centre for Management and Policy Studies in the Cabinet Office at the way in which we might help improve the training of senior civil servants who might have to face crisis circumstances more often than perhaps they did in the past. We are looking at developing a framework for national resilience. By that I mean looking at the partnerships in the community, both communities of interest and geographical communities, to improve the way that organisations work together in planning and also in reaction to a crisis. This will require partnership between ourselves and a great number of organisations, not least local organisations, who of course will make up the bulk of those organisations, and we have a major project which will look at mapping the infrastructure to make sure we can do that. Last, but certainly not least, we are looking at the aftermath of September 11. Our brief history is that I and my fellow directors were actually up at Easingwold at the Emergency Planning College on September 11, looking at how we would structure the Secretariat to take its work forward. We were looking originally for a set up date of February this year, but on September 11 circumstances changed for us. We have been involved in a great deal of work since then, looking across a number of areas at the resilience of the UK in the face of new assumptions which have to be made about threats.

  5. Has September 11 meant that you are merely somewhat changing gear? Is September 11 resulting in an incremental change or has it really shaken the system up, which will mean you have to make some fairly fundamental changes to the ones which had been envisaged before September 11?
  (Mr Granatt) I think it has been a fundamental change in terms of getting people together to look very quickly at their plans for business continuity, at their resilience. It has been an opportunity for us to get involved with a large number of organisations, not least most of central government, all of central government, in looking at the resilience of the government machine. It has focused minds, I think, across the public and private sector on what organisations should do to protect their businesses and, perhaps more importantly, protect the public. So September 11 has had a fundamental change in that respect. It has not changed, I think, the way we are approaching building the work of the Secretariat in the longer term, that I think continues. To an extent it has proved one of our major assumptions, which is that we live in a very complex society now, that at any one time daily life is subject to changes which take place across all sorts of boundaries—transnational boundaries, among networks which are often not fully understood or mapped; and crises can arise from disruption to supply chains, for instance, which were not envisaged in the past because the nature of business has changed, the nature of society has changed, the nature of the interaction between nations has changed.

  6. Who is doing the head-knocking? You have a lot of vested interests involved in this area of competence. Are they fighting their corners? Is it very difficult to break down old habits?
  (Mr Granatt) I think people have responded positively across the piece to what has happened. Our experience has been that when we have come to people and say, "Let's consider what your plans are and how they mesh with other plans", and I am talking about central government particularly, we have had a very receptive audience and people have wanted to get engaged, and that is also true of the community outside central government. In terms of chief head-knocker, to be fair I think that is the Home Secretary, as chairman of the Civil Contingencies Committee, which has been very active since its first meeting at the beginning of October. It has gone through a number of meetings since then; its sub-committees and the working groups who support them have gone through dozens of meetings, they have considered a large number of issues and that work will continue for some time.

  7. There are powerful vested interests, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence, to name just two, with the Treasury as the biggest of the lot. Perhaps Brigadier Abbott might like to answer this question. We have been operating under the traditions of military relations with civilian society going back at least to 1688, in terms of the theory of civilian relations with the military is it envisaged that the MoD is undergoing any form of change? The MoD normally comes out pretty well in major crises—floods or foot and mouth—is there any reappraisal of the role of the military? We will come on to this in more detail later but have you anything to say by way of introduction?
  (Brigadier Abbott) In this particular case, obviously, I do not speak for the Ministry of Defence, I speak for myself within the CCS, and therefore I can give you the view as an outsider on what the MoD are engaged in at the moment and how I perceive it. First of all, one has to realise that 11 September has enabled all of us to have to re-calibrate our thinking. The ability to have synchronised and consecutive committed suicide bombers means you will have to look at incidents which are much wider than they have been in the past. Mike Granatt has already alluded to the business of central government's own resilience plans and although we have had Y2K, and that planning gave us the opportunity of looking at a particular problem within our business continuity planning, it was only one item. What we have found since 11 September is that the plans for one particular department may well be sound but the problem is they are not synchronised with the other departments. It is the ability to synchronise not only central government and the elements of central government but also down in the nation at local level, whether it be authorities, boroughs or the police, which is important. I think this message has been taken on board by the MoD. Their work which is involved in both post-11 September and the work they are doing in terms of the potential for the new chapter in SDR has engaged us fully. If I am correct, there are five sub-strands of work they are taking forward and our members have been actively engaged in three of those.

  8. We did ask the MoD the awkward question about who Mike Granatt was, so now we are reciprocating, can you drop us a note on what these five committees are?
  (Brigadier Abbott) Most certainly. In particular with these pieces of work, we are joining them with joint sponsorship of a seminar or workshop which is taking place next month at the Royal College of Defence Studies. Furthermore, in the work of taking forward both the threat and the reaction, because whatever happens—and I think this is the crucial ingredient—cruel though it may seem, although an aircraft may fly deliberately or accidentally into an obstacle or the ground, the consequence management aspects are exactly the same.

  9. If you have an historical concept of a lead department, and Mr Granatt, you alluded to this a few minutes ago, some departments were not designated as lead departments, does that mean they all have to go through the same process of training, that they all have to have new sets of computers and new rooms in which to operate on the off-chance they will be designated the lead authority? Or, in a crisis like that, will your Secretariat now be substituted as the lead authority by-passing the departments? Maybe the crises in the future will not simply involve one department, and therefore the concept of one department taking the lead might have gone out of fashion.
  (Mr Granatt) I think the arrangements we have in place allow for that now. There are essentially, in government terms, two stages where central government takes a particular role. One will be where it is purely a departmental matter and we will move to reinforce the department, offer help to them particularly if they do not have a particular capability of handling emergencies. We will help them augment their staff, help them look at their planning processes, help them look at the information flows they need. If we need to move to something more central, that would move into the realms of a collective decision-making body, and I would expect then for the Civil Contingencies Committee to meet under the chairmanship of the Home Secretary and for that to support the work of the lead department. If there is more than one department involved, I would expect that committee—and I am sure the Prime Minister would—to make sure the decisions and other work which needed to be done were implemented effectively. Those arrangements are in place now. In terms of the physical infrastructure, which I think you referred to, some departments have well-worked-up arrangements for handling emergencies, for example, the DTI has arrangements which it inherited from the old Department of Energy years ago when I was there, for handling civil nuclear emergencies. It has well-practised systems, it has arrangements in place, it has a built control room—

  10. Above ground or below ground?
  (Mr Granatt) I do not know, to tell you the truth.

  11. Perhaps you could find out.
  (Mr Granatt) That is a very good point.

  12. If I recall, New York's arrangements were actually in one of the twin towers, which seemed quite helpful in a major crisis.
  (Mr Granatt) We have taken on board the fact that we need to look at alternative arrangements, we should not create a bottle-neck, which is the point I am getting to, I suppose. Where a department has not got those sorts of arrangements, we would move to support them. The outcome we would look for is a co-ordination point where information can be properly assembled for decision-makers and from which advice, guidance and instructions go out. If that was not available in the department, we would use our own facilities to do that, which should be ready in the near future. As you have rightly said, we are concerned to make sure we are not reliant on just one single facility which itself could be taken out of action.

  13. Has your Secretariat received additional funding as a result of your enhanced role since 11 September? Have you taken on additional staff as a result of the heightened terrorist threat? Have you significant gaps you would need to fill? Are you going to expand further, as I would anticipate, bearing in mind the increased threat this country is under? Should your Secretariat be significantly enhanced?
  (Mr Granatt) The main extra resource which has been applied has been the people who have been taken on to look at the new work I have described, and indeed to help with the work which has flowed from 11 September. We inherited from the Home Office, excluding a set of people who look after green fire engines, about 80 people who do a lot of work in various areas whom we could let you know about.

  14. That would be helpful.
  (Mr Granatt) We have added about 30 people to that who have brought skills from across a range of departments. Some teams are teams which will, having done their work, contract again. There is a team which has looked at London's resilience, for example, which includes a lot of secondees from across London and various organisations. When the bulk of their work is done and we move into a position where we are reviewing and up-dating rather than developing new areas, I expect that to contract to a certain extent. I would expect us to maintain a level of staffing perhaps of around 100 people, given that that includes a lot of work which goes on as a legacy of emergency planning, plus the people at the Emergency Planning College. If you would like a note on how these things sit, I will certainly provide it.

  15. Please. Are the staff in the College, which we hope to visit, all being retrained? There is not much point having people who think in old civil defence terms if the world has moved on. Is there some package of training for them?
  (Mr Granatt) I think the package we need to give people is an understanding of the work of the Secretariat as a whole, and a clear and common understanding of what the purpose is. It has been quite difficult to maintain momentum on that because we have been evolving in a sense since 11 September. Because of the way things have flowed, we have not set up structures which are immutable, because as the problems have arisen we have dealt with them. You are right, I am not happy yet we have everybody understanding how the Secretariat works in every corner, and I think following the good principles of Investors in People mean we will do that as part of our business planning process. Yes, where people need to be retrained or made familiar with new processes, we will do that.

  16. How many times has the Civil Contingency Committee and its sub-committees met since it was set up? If you cannot give us the full detail, maybe you can drop us a note.
  (Mr Granatt) I have it here, I can dig it out for you.
  (Mr Wallace) While Mike is looking for that, perhaps, with your permission, having been on both sides—I was in Home Office emergency planning and then moved over into the CCS—I can just pick up on retraining in civil defence? Certainly since the early 1990s, the Home Office emergency planning has not been totally engaged with civil defence, it had moved much more to emergency planning in the more general sense, so it did not come as a huge shock after 11 September to move from civil defence, ie war, to peacetime.
  (Mr Granatt) We have provided secretariat support for 21 meetings which includes four of the Civil Contingencies Committee, five of the UK resilience sub-committee (a committee chaired by Mr Leslie) five of the London resilience sub-committee, chaired by Mr Raynsford, and seven of the committee chaired by Mr Denham, which looks at problems of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents. For all those committees, if it is of any interest, nearly 100 different papers have been produced for consideration by officials and ministers collectively.

  17. I think you have got the best job for bureaucracy! It is very challenging and very interesting.
  (Mr Granatt) I have some very able staff.

Mr Howarth

  18. Mr Granatt, have you been able at this stage to assess whether there are any wider resource implications in this work that you are carrying out beyond the immediate confines of your own Secretariat? If you do, in the course of your assessments, identify a need for more people or systems to promote security in a particular area, have you been told that the Treasury will be forthcoming with the necessary central funding to provide it?
  (Mr Granatt) I think it would be a change in the nature of the world if the Treasury automatically said it would be forthcoming. The process the CCC has been going through has identified a number of areas where there might be a need for investment, and the Treasury, as you might imagine, has put into place a process to make sure that priorities are properly assessed for this and that they are considered carefully. There have been some immediate requirements which have been identified that the Treasury have taken on board. There is a raft of other things which people have seen, not simply through the work we have done but through the work of departments themselves, and that is going to go through a process of prioritisation which takes account of the nature of the threats which might be faced. I am not really expert on this, as you might imagine, I cannot give you too much more detail on that, I am not sure it is for me, but, as you might imagine, the Health Service have some priorities they want to look at, for example, and those have taken a high priority. Other longer-term investments might involve looking, for example, at equipment, and they will take a little longer to sort out. My observation of the way the Government has worked is to want to get to grips very quickly with significant areas of susceptibility and to make sure that what is needed to deal with them is investigated properly and fully and then to move quickly to work out what investment should be made.

Jim Knight

  19. While we are on the generality of how the Secretariat works, clearly it would be inappropriate if you were to comment in any detail on counter-terrorism but I am interested in the relationship between the Secretariat and the work that is done and your confidence in it. By its very nature, counter-terrorism work has secrecy attached to it, quite rightly, but are you still confident that the relationship is strong enough between your Secretariat and that activity?
  (Mr Granatt) We are fully engaged with the work of the Home Office and others involved to make sure our work meshes with theirs effectively. My own background includes periods with the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police, so it is with others in my Secretariat; we have regular meetings, we sit on each other's committees, and we share all the information necessary. When arrangements are exercised, we work as a team. So I do not have any doubts about that at all. Ian is pointing out that the Home Secretary is chairman of the arrangements for civil contingencies through his responsibility for security.

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