Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 359)



Mr Hancock

  340. Are you aware of any plans to make better use of the Territorial Army by bringing in legislation which would enable their calling up to be done far quicker than it can be at the present time? Are there any plans to ask the various territorial detachments around the country to set in chain an emergency response plan so that they themselves would be prepared to be called up and deployed? It is not always about specialist equipment or tasks, it is sometimes just about having people.
  (Brigadier Houghton) You are starting to venture now into what is the SDR work, but I can reassure you there has been a specific concentration on ways by which we could involve the TA and reservists from across the three services more widely and with a far more speedy response. One of the specific ones is through a mechanism called "voluntary planned", and there is "compulsory planned", and there are a number of these, but I think it would be quite wrong, until we have conducted the consultation process with employers, with the TA, with the chain of command and other interested bodies, to go firm on what the eventual findings might be.

  341. How long do you expect that process to take?
  (Brigadier Houghton) It is hoped that the consultation process leading to the costed options will all be complete by April.

  342. Will that include an audit of the available units and the personnel involved?
  (Brigadier Houghton) Correct, in determining what the numbers might be and the framework of the footprint or distribution.

  343. That will be available?
  (Brigadier Houghton) That is part of it.

  344. Will that be made available to the civil authorities?
  (Brigadier Houghton) You are now taking me down something which is speculation.

  345. No, I do not think it is speculation, I think it is very important. You told us the Ministry of Defence had a plan to respond to requests from civil authorities, in some areas there is no full-time military presence but there are territorial units. It is no good the civil authority going to the Ministry of Defence if the only people available are territorials or reservists, there must be a proposition for them to be able to make contact with those sources.
  (Brigadier Houghton) That exists already.

  346. With territorial units?
  (Brigadier Houghton) With territorials and regulars. There exists already within the country in each military regional area a mechanism by which the three services grouped together in a joint co-ordinating group meet with local planning authorities and emergency planners.

  347. So you are happy there is currently in the possession of emergency planning officers the ability for them to call on territorial units?
  (Brigadier Houghton) Not necessarily to call on territorial units. I take you back to the framework, which is MACA. There is no standing remit placed on the resources of the armed forces to meet civil contingencies. They are allowed to call on them on an "as available" basis, and the blue and green books go into how this is done[1]. Within a large part of Great Britain, this is the brigadier commanding the local army regional area, and he has an aggregation of the capability which is at his disposal on any given date. It is part of his responsibility to do that. So he will know on a rolling basis if there happens to be a civil contingency in his area; the sort of military capability which he would be able to put at the disposal of the local authority wherever the crisis might be.

  348. I live in hope that, that actually is the case, but I somehow doubt it. We have been sent a copy of the ministerial responsibilities but there is no mention on this at all about what minister responds to the civilian authorities. Who is the minister responsible for civilian responses on the part of the military? There is no minister identified on the latest ministerial responsibilities list, it does not feature at all.
  (Mr Bowen) As I recall, Mr Hancock, the list lists the three ministers, subordinate ministers, to the Secretary of State. I think the Secretary of State would be the normal point of access.

  349. So if the local authority had a problem, they would try to get the Secretary of State, would they? Come on!
  (Mr Davenport) It would normally fall within the duties of the Minister for the Armed Forces, Mr Ingram[2].

  Mr Hancock: It needs to be clearly identified, does it not? We are talking about a changed world now where a civil authority might have to call for political guidance to get the release of substantial military resources fairly quickly. Can I draw your attention to this document, The Military Aid to the Civil Community .

  Chairman: Which edition is that?

Mr Hancock

  350. This is the latest edition, 1989. It was first written in 1968, last up-dated in 1989. I have looked at this and this is a very, very confusing document. It concentrates mostly on obligations after the event to pay, to insure and to make sure you have filled in all the required forms. Have we come up with a formula which cuts through most of this red tape now and which is available, asking people to write in quite detailed form what they are expecting, a brief description of the work expected of the military, the financial liability, who has got the third party insurance cover to cover service personnel, who has agreed to meet the cost? This is all very interesting but when you have a flood and you have people injured after an explosion, somebody having to sift through this and wondering whether or not their head is going to roll because they have not filled in the required form is not a very satisfactory state of affairs, is it? If we are working on the basis of the 1989 format I think we are in some sort of trouble. Have we updated this and made it easier?[3]

  (Mr Bowen) No, Mr Hancock, that is the latest version that is extant.

  351. It is a nightmare, is it not?
  (Mr Davenport) But it is currently being updated.

  352. Good. Will that take some time? Is somebody planning that at the moment, several lawyers and others?
  (Mr Davenport) No, I do not think the lawyers—

  353. What is the timescale for that then?
  (Mr Bowen) I do not know.

  354. Goodness me. The world has changed considerably, has it not? We are facing all sorts of threats and we are asking you to work to this sort of document. I would think most people, picking this up, would say, "Goodness me, the last thing we want to do is get the Army involved. We might not be able to pay for it." Come on. Can you let us know when you intend to update that to make it simpler and to take some of the obligations because it is a two-way thing? It is the person requesting who has to do it and the receiving military officer who has to be sure that he is covered there. I am somewhat confused that there could be the possibility that people would not ask and people would not respond because they did not really understand what they could or could not do. It should be crystal clear, should it not, Mr Bowen?
  (Mr Bowen) I think that is a reasonable point, Mr Hancock, and I think the updating of it is urgent, but I would also say that I do not think that the processes and the contacts rely exclusively upon this handbook, this document. I think that the contacts are actually a good deal better than that. For example, we have the Joint Services Co-ordinating Group which is run by the regional Army brigadiers who bring in not only the Services but the local authorities and the emergency services. There is a contact and a network that is in existence. It is not just a question of people saying, "I must look at my book and see how this works".

  355. Do you then expose to the local authorities, and in that I take the police and the fire service and the civil authority, the key national points that you are suggesting, both military and non-military, which could be vulnerable? Are they brought into your confidence on that? I am looking to you, Brigadier, on that one.
  (Brigadier Houghton) I am not certain that it has ever been requested of them. If they wanted to they could get access to it, but I am not really certain where the question is coming from.

  356. If, for example, you are responsible for the civil community who live around a potential target, is the chief executive of that local authority told, "You are now living amongst a key national target which we are protecting? You yourself should be ready to make available resources if the immediate community have to be evacuated, if there is a chemical threat or if there is a nuclear threat, or if there is a terrorist threat?"
  (Brigadier Houghton) With due respect, I think you misunderstand the role of the military in this. The military are not the conduit for letting local authorities become aware of this sort of thing. It is the Home Office.

  357. What, for military sites that you are asked to guard?
  (Brigadier Houghton) All key point sites flow from the Cabinet Office.

  358. Who is it then? You make this decision. This is a fundamental point to the way in which resources are used. My constituency was substantially flooded in September 2000. There was no assistance from the military on the ground. There was subsequently naval assistance through pumps that were supplied, being brought from Wales, but if there had been another emergency in one of the many key national defence places in Portsmouth there would have been a significant problem.[4] I want to know whether or not the local authorities are given the sort of information which enables them to prepare themselves for the potential of the things that you think are serious enough for you to have them on your list of key points and which the military are charged with guarding.

  (Brigadier Houghton) Yes, but there seems to be some confusion between action in the event of flooding and what needs guarding.

  359. If there is a flood and then a problem in one of your key sites in the same location, like the City of Portsmouth, where there could be a civil emergency and a military emergency, in such a close-knit geographical area anything that happens has a knock-on effect into the civilian population. That is the same in most military garrison towns and the same in most naval ports.
  (Brigadier Houghton) What I would say is that the process of integrated contingency planning which is carried forward by the aggregation of the local authorities, the blue light services and the military, continues on a month by month basis at a local level where they exchange problems of this nature and identify what the military capability can be brought to bear in a specific situation. A degree of desk-top planning and crisis management preparation goes on in that respect. I would hark back to the fact that those things which are to do with the guarding of military KPs is something that relates to urgent tension and crisis in the build up to war. It is not the thing that affects day to day guarding in an enhanced terrorist situation. Those things that relate to flood relief and pumping activity and all that are something for which the military are simply not responsible. If there is a statutory requirement to produce solutions to the overflow of sanitation points, that is something that is vested in the local authority.

  Mr Hancock: I understand entirely that, but the civilian authorities are responsible in both situations. If there were people living next to a military base which was under terrorist threat and people had to be re-housed in an emergency and they had to be evacuated, old people had to be shifted, local authorities need time to get into place those preparations. It is no good if they do not know that you yourselves are considering these locations as potential threats. They will not have planned to do that, and to move 50-odd people from an old people's home is an extraordinarily difficult logistic operation. To move them out could kill some of them and that has to be planned for. I want an assurance from you that local authorities are taken into your confidence. One of the things we have been told is that cost is the biggest obstacle of involvement by the military. I want to make sure that local authorities can minimise their costs by planning properly for the eventualities that you foresee on your property.

  Chairman: When you see the transcript, Brigadier, if there is anything in addition you would like to pass on to the Committee to help clarify these things for us, please send it in.[5]

1   The blue book is "Military Aid to the Civil Community in the UK - A pamphlet for the guidance of Civil Authorities and Organisations" and is available fom HMSO. The green book is an internal MoD reference book entitled "MACA in UK in peace". Back

2   The list detailing the division of responsibilities between MoD Ministers identifies the Minister (Armed Forces) as having responsibility for MACA operations. Back

3   The Home Office / CCS publication "Dealing with Disaster" provides the framework within which the more detailed plans of the emergency services, local authorities mas other organisations are normally prepared. It places MACA support in context. Back

4   Ev 81. Back

5   Ev 81. Back

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