Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Rachel Squire

  20. In terms of the general duties of the Secretariat, can you clarify for me how you work with the Scottish Parliament, particularly the Scottish Parliament but also the other devolved assemblies?
  (Mr Granatt) We have close, continual contact with both the National Assembly for Wales and with the Scottish Executive. Ministers from those devolved administrations are represented on the CCC. On the working parties, we invite the devolved administrations to join us whenever possible and we exchange information on our arrangements. I am not afraid to steal their good ideas, and I am sure they are not afraid to steal mine.


  21. Would we have to replicate the structures you established in London and the equipment you purchased north of the border? Has that been sorted out yet?
  (Mr Granatt) The Scottish Executive has very good arrangements in hand for itself. If something happens north of the border, they would take the lead in a civil emergency context, and I would say that I am envious that their facilities are in place whereas some of mine are not yet.

Mr Howarth

  22. You are not going to have competing IT systems which do not talk to each other, which tends to be a Home Office problem?
  (Mr Granatt) I do hope not. The major exchange of information could happen over the government secure intranet which is common to all of us. Where we have IT problems, we are looking very hard to make sure things are compatible, but I am not aware of any particular significant IT problems we have come across so far. Ian is reminding me that the Ministry of Defence have their own systems and they are separate.


  23. Having taken a long interest in communications within the Army and within the Ministry of Defence, I would not like to see the MoD as a role model for any other organisation. You are talking to a sceptic when it comes to MoD radio sets and mobile phones.
  (Brigadier Abbott) In which case, Chairman, you will realise my comment to Mike Granatt. The answer to Mr Howarth is that actually the MoD has a different system from that which we have within the government, and the government secure infrastructure does not extend to the MoD, therefore we have to have separate CHOTS terminals if we are to communicate. The point is though that those terminals do exist in the Cabinet Office briefing room where we are wont to do it, and we have secure communications in terms of telecom and fax which are available on our desks.

  24. But work is being done on reconciling the different communications?
  (Brigadier Abbott) That is correct, and the gateway is being established so we can transfer across.

Jim Knight

  25. Are you exercising scenarios to test that?
  (Brigadier Abbott) Most certainly so. To give you an analogy, what we are all faced with post-11 September is an iceberg. What you are dealing with here is just that above the water, because the size of this problem goes across not only central government and the capital but also the nation and the devolved administrations. When one wrote the papers over the resilience, we looked at the resilience of government, the capital and the nation, and the Scottish Executive had their own input into that. On the aspect of exercising, in this coming week alone we have two exercises, one of which is actually Exercise Capital Spring, which is about London. There we are looking at the boroughs, the emergency services. We have MoD input. We are then taking it up to central government so we are able to play it at central government level. That is this next weekend, which is not unusual. In addition, we also have an exercise which is taking place with British Telecom. If we capture British Telecom and one other user, effectively we have 80 per cent of the crucial infrastructure. When one asks questions—and I come back to my point about Y2K—"Do you have independent systems, do you have resilience in your structure", they will say yes, but when they are asked about their service providers, they will say, "Yes, we sub-contract it" and you find it will be two sub-contractors using the same piece of fibre-optic cable on the same side of the road. So there is an awful lot of detailed work we have to continue with. These two exercises this week, both of which are national and central government, are an indication of the degree of the work which is on going.

Patrick Mercer

  26. Are they command post exercises or field training exercises? What is the equivalent?
  (Brigadier Abbott) One is a field training exercise, as we would know it. The BT one, which is at the centre, which is not here in London but outside of London, is establishing the resilience of their systems by flicking switches off and making sure that contacts and circuits are in place. I would describe that as a field training exercise. It is a full deployment, it is for two days, and this is a considerable risk to them but it shows that is the degree of work they are prepared to do. That is the degree of investigation we need to undertake if we are to pursue this in a pragmatic way. The exercise over the weekend is more of a table-top exercise, a command post exercise, and in fact it involves all the emergency planning officers from London, plus the chief executives, plus the arrangements for emergency services, plus central government players, and the intention is that that is the initial culminating point of a series of workshops. So far one has done over 33 workshops on "business continuity planning", an expression which came about with Y2K, and frankly if it lets people orientate themselves to it, let's keep with that brand name. That is the work which will continue this weekend, and it is about scenarios which have been worked out by the London Metropolitan Police, which is Operation Wardell, and that is looking at the resilience of London against incidents, which gives us an opportunity of bringing together this mutual arrangement. It will be tested again in May or June, which is where we will do a command post exercise. where we will ensure that messages can be passed simultaneously to London, to Cardiff, to local authorities, to the emergency services. Then one is left with the size of an exercise which was held last year, and possibly you are familiar with, and that was Exercise Trump Card. This was a chemical exercise, or scenario with a chemical element, which involved MoD as well as other players in London. So, I think, fundamentally there are three levels, and we have an example this week of two of them. We do not have the massive one, although—back to your questions earlier about the integration of counter-terrorist activities—myself and one of my staff, and another from another part of CCS, will actually be away, three weeks from now, up in Scotland when we do one of their counter-terrorist exercises. This reinforces the point that once an incident or explosion has gone off, the consequence management is exactly the same.


  27. When you look at your list of meetings, conferences, perhaps you could look to us sending somebody along—one of the advisers—because this is not something we are going to produce a report on, put in a pigeon hole and forget about. Would you mind?
  (Brigadier Abbott) Of course not.

  28. Also with the Royal College of Defence Studies, perhaps you could look at whether somebody could come along as an observer.
  (Mr Granatt) Happily.

  Chairman: When you talked about central communications, I was mindful of the fact that during the Cold War one of the major routes of transmitting information, part of our defence, went right in front of the Soviet Embassy, so the task of digging that up was probably fairly simple! I hope you are not making those mistakes.

Mr Howarth

  29. Could I follow that up by one about communications? We were told by one of our advisers that there is a new radio communication system being introduced for the police and other emergency services called TETRA—it is an acronym, I do not know what it stands for—and we were advised that the Army had made a bid to be included in this programme and was awaiting a response. This is an expensive system. Currently the military are relying on mobile phones. Perhaps the Brigadier can indicate to us whether there is a likelihood that the MoD will be included and whether he thinks it is essential the military should be on this communications net?
  (Brigadier Abbott) TETRA is a form of technology. It is a label which goes on it, it effectively allows digital communications over a wide area. I think we all enjoy, although they are switched off at the moment, our own mobile phones. If you have digital technology, then you are allowed to use it as a mobile phone. And you are allowed to use it, as we may have experienced in the military and you will have seen, as what is commonly expressed as "the all-informed net". So often when the message needs to go out, you want to inform the majority quickly. These types of phone—and in particular the system the police are going for which is known as Airwave—allow this technology and allow you to interface it either as a phone or as an all-informed net. This is exceedingly useful. Although again I cannot speak for the Ministry of Defence, it is my understanding that the MoD wish to be aligned to this technology, and that their communication system of choice is that it is exactly the same as the police. From the view of the CCS, this would of course be very prudent and make sense, so we would of course support it if we were to be asked. I would see that the joint planning staff, which I think reside currently at Headquarters and at Wilton, and also elements of counter-terrorism, and also those elements which are involved in planning possibly in the regional structure, would be amongst the vanguard of those we equipped with this tool. You may also say it would be a logical extension for something on the emergency communications network, for once the technology is in place and the network is in place, you have a degree of robustness. You have a system of technology in terms of HPT. Which is where the system, if it loses one part, tries to find its own way round. This is useful because switches can be taken out and the switches are very vulnerable points. So if we have a software system, an algorithm, which says, "I cannot go this way, I will try and find another", and that again gives us a resilience. That is one of the principles we would be after. To summarise, I think it is very sound, the police are going for it, my understanding is that MoD seek this also. I would support that. It makes eminent sense for all those who work in conjunction with the MoD supporting the police on deployments—MACA et cetera—to use the same technology.
  (Mr Granatt) I think the key thing to focus on here is the outcome, what is required in terms of interworking and inter-operability. I think the advantage that digital technology gives one is the means to link systems are not confined to having one common infrastructure. There are different systems, there are ways of making sure those infrastructures can be linked. There is also a need to consider how widely that needs to be done, and Ian Abbott's outfit is looking with others at what level of interaction is required between the services, because that of course will determine what is necessary. There are different forms of interworking and inter-operability. There is quite a difference between making sure that control rooms know what each other are doing or whether you foresee something like talking from one service's vehicle to another, which has its own problems if training is different, if procedures are different, if terminology is different. So the issues are not simply technical, but the outcome is something we have to focus on first to make sure those things mesh.

  30. I think, Chairman, that leads us very naturally to the next aspect of our question, which is to look at alternatives to the present emergency planning structures. Your document, Dealing with Disaster, in 1997 said that the Government review in 1989 concluded that, "disaster response would not be helped by the creation of anything in the nature of a national disaster squad; prime responsibility for handling disaster should remain at the local level where the resources and expertise are found." You have just indicated that there are different standards and regimes of training within different organisations. Can I put it to you that in the light of the events of 11 September there is perhaps now a question mark over whether responsibility for emergency planning should remain with local authorities?
  (Mr Granatt) Let me clarify the differences you have just referred to. I was not talking about differences within organisations, such as within the police service, within the fire service—

  31. No, between the organisations.
  (Mr Granatt) Between the organisations there are different procedures, so the radio procedure and the use of radio by the police and fire service is different, and you have to take that into account. That is what I was referring to. I think we are very fortunate in this country in having organisations which are locally based but which are trained, equipped and exercised to national standards, and often exercise those plans and procedures at very large scale where necessary. I think we would need to think very hard indeed before we undermine those arrangements. One of the things that is sitting on the table next to Brigadier Abbott is the ACPO Emergency Manual. That is a tribute to the fact that the emergency services under the leadership of the police have worked very hard to make sure that their systems and planning are integrated. The role of government in this circumstance has been for many years to ensure that when national resources need to be deployed, national decisions have to be made, the government stands ready to do that. To think about a national emergency squad which would parachute in on top of well-understood, well-practised local arrangements would need thinking through very carefully indeed. I hope what we are doing in making sure there is an efficient and effective interface between local arrangements and national arrangements goes a long way down the road of making sure they do add up to a good national response.

  32. How many people would you say are currently employed by local authorities specifically on emergency planning?
  (Mr Wallace) It is in the order of 500, I would say.

  33. Throughout the country?
  (Mr Wallace) That is those whose specific job is concerned with emergency planning. What we have tried to do since the early 1990s is to make sure it is not just emergency planners who are writing plans which are not known by anybody else, but it is involving social services, transport people, in writing their own plans and training for them. It is difficult to say how many more but it is a wider span, but I would think in the order of 500.

  Chairman: Could you say, hand on heart, career on the line, should there be a major, major incident in one of 20 local authorities that they would have all the kit necessary, all of the ability to communicate with neighbouring authorities if the incident took place on the borders of two authorities, that all of the staff engaged have got some kind of diploma or been through a form of training? I speak with some experience. My authority today, Walsall, has just had an appalling report published by the Audit Commission where virtually every single service of the town has been seen to be grossly unsatisfactory. I am sure emergency planning is good. Authorities, as Gerald said, vary in quality from the excellent to the very good to the frankly lousy. If there was a terrorist who wanted to find a lousy authority it would be a very easy job going through local government journals or talking to councils.

  Mr Hancock: Absolutely.


  34. Or writing to the Audit Commission. We will explore this further. If, as Mr Granatt has said, all institutions of local government are perfectly able to deliver we would want in our report to be able either to endorse or question that assessment that emergency planning is competent if largely remaining in local authority control.
  (Mr Granatt) If I can clarify what I was talking about with the Emergency Planning Manual. I was talking about the emergency services, the blue light services. The Emergency Planning Review which started in February 2001, and was the subject of a consultation paper issued just after the General Election, made it clear that the Government's view was that the Emergency Planning Response among local authorities was, indeed, patchy and something needed to be done to improve that arrangement.

  35. The component parts might be in reasonably good shape but the central co-ordination still needs a lot of work.
  (Mr Granatt) The front line services, I think, are in very good shape. I think the next response along the line is something that the Emergency Planning Review recognises needs better attention.

  36. What special attention are you giving it?
  (Mr Granatt) If I ask Kevin to outline what the Review is about.
  (Mr Wallace) The main problem that we have at the moment, I think, is that we are working under Civil Defence Legislation and the main thrust of the Review is really to examine to what extent new legislation should be brought in to require local authorities to undertake emergency planning. At the moment, save for particular circumstances of a chemical site or a nuclear site, there is no general duty on a local authority to plan to deal with an emergency.

  37. That is incredible, is it not?
  (Mr Wallace) That is what the Review is seeking to put right.

Mr Crausby

  38. I hear what you say about local authorities and the value but has it not radically changed since the inception of emergency planning. Even as a force to civil defence the early days were largely concentrated on the aftermath of nuclear war and the natural boundary for that is obviously the local authority. Is it not very different now? Are not the boundaries very different? The truth is that even in those early days some people in the cities wondered about the sort of emergency planning procedures and the aftermath of nuclear war and whether there would be anything to plan for in certain parts of the country but now we are into a very different business. Some of the certainly city local authorities have very small geographical boundaries. Does it make sense in these changing circumstances, after September 11th, to still work on that old fashioned basis?
  (Mr Granatt) I would like Kevin to explain what happens about co-operation between authorities and mutual aid, which may be helpful.
  (Mr Wallace) I would agree with you on the nuclear planning when it was all very difficult and a number of authorities did not see the point, frankly, in doing that. That led to the reviews in the early 1990s when we were planning for an Armageddon, if you like, but not Lockerbie, Herald of Free Enterprise and that sort of thing. There has been a huge shift, I think, in local authorities' planning for emergencies now. They see the relevance of it and they recognise that nobody can have all the resources to deal with any problem that comes along. They would have in place mutual aid arrangements with neighbouring authorities, as indeed the blue light services do, so that the police come in behind forces under pressure, so do the fire service and the ambulance, and I would expect local authorities to do the same. What we lack at the moment, I think, is a clear leadership from the centre backed by legislation in order to ensure that is in place. It is in place in the better authorities but I agree there are some authorities who are not in that category.

  Chairman: We will come on in a bit more detail, if we may, to local authorities but certainly I think this Committee ought to go and look at an authority you think is exceptionally good and then we will get ourselves invited along to a local authority that falls into the other category. That should be quite stimulating, interesting and embarrassing.

  Syd Rapson: Walsall.

  Chairman: It would be quite easy to meet the staff in Walsall, there are only one and a half of them.

Mr Hancock

  39. Just on this integrated plan that exists. I would be interested to know if you could explain whether there is a single local authority in the country that can communicate to the blue light brigades—ambulance, fire and police—without having recourse to a telephone system?
  (Mr Granatt) It is an interesting question. One answer would be that our emergency communication network provides a link outside the public switched telephone network, for example.

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