Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 479)



Rachel Squire

  460. We should also be interested to know how you work out the priorities, ***
  (Mr Mann) Brigadier Houghton has explained the first wave of enhancements which have been put in place. We are now looking at further enhancements. Some of the complications have been mentioned already: very skilled people in very short supply. We are looking at those both for incidents at home and for incidents overseas.

Mr Jones

  461. ***. What changes have you implemented since 11 September in terms of what could be a threat? I take your point about local involvement but we heard in the last evidence session that there is a big question mark over the joined-up thinking or even interactivity between local emergency planning outfits, local police, local authorities and the local commander. One of our advisers who has been an emergency planner for the last 15 years said he had never been invited to a local planning meeting with the local armed forces. What concerns me is that you might have this in place for the South East of England, which is fine, but how are you going to ensure that at an early stage there is that seamless interface between the military at local level and police and local authorities?
  (Brigadier Houghton) The first part of your question was to do with enhancements since 11 September. Within the specific area of ***, we have not done this overnight, we have added *** structure. This was because the ammunition technical officers of the RLC, have peacetime commitments to ammunition custody and the technical aspects of ammunition within the armed forces. They also have MACA commitments under MACP. The same organisation, although not the same individuals within it, are also called upon to do elements of our deployed operations overseas. Such was the overstretch within that unit that it was deemed we needed to add more capability in there, so we never had to run the risk of drawing off UK peacetime capability to meet the demands of deployed operations.

  462. How is that being paid for?
  (Brigadier Houghton) By the army, MOD sourced.

  463. Just from the budget?
  (Brigadier Houghton) An enhancement. We do things called compensating reductions within the Army, so we shall identify manpower headroom in some area in order to pay for this.

Mr Howarth

  464. You ran a bit fast over that one. Actually what you are saying is that you are going to cut capability somewhere else in order to plug this gap.
  (Brigadier Houghton) No, you are presuming we are cutting capability. All the time in an evolving force there will be places where you keep on making efficiencies, certain capability will become redundant, you adjust the nature of your capability so it best matches the threat you face. You do not have to make a cut in capability to make an enhancement.


  465. We have heard that for the last 20 years. I do not believe a word of it.
  (Brigadier Houghton) So *** in terms of manpower, although I would not say all those have arrived overnight because there is a training bill attached to that. Also in terms of equipment purchases of things like the standard wheelbarrow robots you see which deal with IED's and also within the technical capability of the ***.
  (Mr Mann) Interfaces. I think the Committee got onto this last time so if I repeat something which was mentioned last time, forgive me.

  466. We did not get any answers last time.
  (Mr Mann) There is supposed to be a structure of joint service co-ordination group meetings involving the armed forces on the one hand and a range of local authorities and local agencies on the other. We acknowledged at the last of these sessions that in some areas their performance was patchy. As well as improving arrangements for liaison locally, which we can go into if you want to do so, we have mandated that those meetings will, at least from our side of the table—

Mr Jones

  467. It does concern me a little bit because in terms of one of the more well developed military planning outfits, which is in Tyne and Wear and which I was involved in when I was a councillor, clearly there, it did not actually take place. The actual head of emergency planning had not even been invited in 15 years to one of those meetings. If it is not happening where you have a set of five councils, which I would say are the better councils in terms of preparing emergency plans, it is not happening anywhere is it? Or could you give us a list of where these meetings have taken place?
  (Mr Mann) It has been patchy in the past. I am not trying to defend the past. What I am saying is that in future we are going to say from our side of the table that those meetings will happen. It does of course require other people to come to them. Secondly, we should not forget the range of other liaison locally done by people on a day to day basis as well as the more formal civil structure.

  468. But if you are going to have a joined-up service at local level to respond to what we could possibly have done before 11 September, it does not bode too well if you have people who are supposed to be in charge of military planning and local authorities not even being invited to these meetings. Could you provide us with a list of where it does actually take place?
  (Brigadier Houghton) To take you back to what the policy framework is, surely it is 180º the other way round. It is not the responsibility of the armed forces to be inviting these people along to their meetings. We are in support of the civil authority. If they are having a planning and liaison meeting, it is the armed forces that might be invited along to that. We do not keep any capability contingent to these tasks.

  469. Yes, but does that not smack in the face of what you have just been trying to reassure us about in terms of ***. If you are going to have this system which is going to work eventually for these people to get to my constituency or Frank's or Rachel's constituency, at a local level, you do not even have the local planners knowing or talking to the local commanders on the ground or a relationship there, frankly that chain to get people from down in the south to react to these incidents is not going to happen, is it?
  (Mr Bowen) It is worth saying that some of these incidents we are talking about *** . It will be dealt with locally and there will need to be the connections locally, but the actual despatch and engagement of a ***.

  470. With respect, that is absolute nonsense. The first reaction at local level to this—I accept there might be co-ordination in Whitehall; a lot of co-ordinating seems to have been going on since 11 September—the initial assessment of what is going on on the ground and the reaction to it, is surely going to be done at a local level. Therefore it is very important surely that if you have the local authorities and police working very closely and seamlessly with the defence forces, it seems to me from what the Brigadier has just said that it is not our problem, it is the local authorities' problem.
  (Brigadier Houghton) No.
  (Mr Bowen) No.

  471. We have this departmentalism again here which we need to tackle if we are going to get what we do need, a seamless response to emergency planning in this country. Frankly seven or eight months on from 11 September I am surprised that has not been tackled more fundamentally.
  (Mr Davenport) When I say specifically on CBRN and indeed any other counter-terrorist response, this comes firmly under the heading of military assistance to the civil power, ***, who would be in charge of the incident locally. Military assistance would be provided through the police and at the request of the police. There exists a document called *** and that document is available to all chief constables. There is no doubt on the part of the police what the military can provide.

Mr Crausby

  472. *** . Are there any special arrangements for Northern Ireland?
  (Brigadier Houghton) For CBRN incidents?

  473. White powder incidents, for instance.
  (Brigadier Houghton) No. Anything which was an IED type incident in Northern Ireland would be dealt with by the ***.

  474. It would be completely separate. So white powder would not come across to the UK.
  (Brigadier Houghton) If it were something which was suspected of being anthrax, something like that, ***.

  475. I am not quite clear about the role of the Joint NBC Regiment. Syd Rapson partly asked a question about stretch on that. Would you like to tell us something about the role of the Joint NBC Regiment?
  (Brigadier Houghton) In respect of civil defence within the UK, the Joint NBC Regiment ***. It is a unit which is optimised for NBC defence of troops on deployed operations.

  476. Would it be used in any way?
  (Brigadier Houghton) ***. It is capable of doing a limited amount of *** but that on a more open battlefield. The nature and sensitivity of the equipment taking some sort of ***. The other two things it does in particular are *** i.e. identifying where a *** might have been used or *** might have been used and identifying it to conduct a reconnaissance of the battlefield so that commanders can then make risk judgements on where they can and cannot go. It is not quite the same thing in respect of defence from NBC within the UK. It is a very small unit.

  477. What about practice? Do the service commands and the MOD regularly practice their responses? Would you like to say something about that?
  (Brigadier Houghton) In terms of the Joint NBC Regiment?

  478. Joint NBC Regiment or an incident.
  (Brigadier Houghton) The Joint NBC Regiment is regularly practised on deployed operations and has been out in ***. Outside the specific capabilities under MACP, which the Ministry of Defence provide for *** , the NBC elements of the consequence management of a device going off is a Home Office lead and it is the blue light services, particularly Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service which deal with consequence management of the CBRN related devices.

Jim Knight

  479. I am having a few white paper incidents occurring on my desk at the moment. Just to follow up on the Northern Ireland answer, it has been suggested in one of my white paper incidents that there has been some reluctance in recent white powder incidents in Northern Ireland to bring stuff back *** because of risks to the UK mainland and the RUC have been having to work out arrangements with local NHS/MAFF facilities. Given that we are in private session now, do you know anything about that?
  (Brigadier Houghton) To be honest I do not. I know that *** in the immediate aftermath of 11 September and particularly the anthrax incidents within the United State had a period of a significant number of hoaxes or false alarms. There was a most unfortunate time when a particular time-share apartment holiday firm sent 500 envelopes full of sand out as part of their promotion and at quite the wrong time and the police were run ragged by this. Clearly public awareness is heightened therefore the public are quite naturally more concerned and therefore there tends to be a lot more false alarms. There was a point at which ***. It dealt with about *** in a week, something like that. I know that under Home Office initiatives *** is one of the things they are carrying forward but I have no idea at all about the incident you are referring to and the Police Service of Northern Ireland having to do things locally.

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