Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 556 - 559)




  556. Gentlemen, thank you very much. I am sorry for the slight delay: I have just arrived myself. My inclination is to talk about transport in central London! You may be rather surprised to be appearing before the Defence Committee but I am sure it has been explained to you that we are doing, more or less with the acquiescence of other committees, generally a cross-cutting exercise. Although the Ministry of Defence has an important role in emergency planning, I think it is very helpful that one committee is trying to go right across the spectrum of emergency planning and defence and, by default, it is us who have been chosen. I would like to kick off by asking a couple of questions on the emergency planning review. The LGA has a number of criticisms of the current emergency planning arrangements and of the Government's review, which we will be coming on to later. Firstly, do you believe that the current arrangements designed for civil emergencies could provide an appropriate basis—and, I emphasise, appropriate basis—for dealing with the consequences of a terrorist attack more or less on the scale of September 11? I do not think anybody would be able to cope perfectly with such an emergency, but do the current arrangements provide the basis for dealing with a mega crisis, a mega attack?

  (Mr Shuttleworth) The current arrangements, we think, do form a basis, an appropriate basis, for dealing with terrorist attacks. Local authorities do plan to deal with the consequences of an event and not necessarily the cause. We do not get involved too much in that. We do have the structure and the plans in place to ensure a response. Obviously there needs to be some enhancement of those plans on the scale of September 11 attack. Much would depend on the magnitude and nature of any attack and the capability of central government to provide support for the local response.

  557. Would anybody like to add anything to that? It is a very crucial question. You can elaborate on it if you like. If I may carry on, then. Do you think all authorities should be required to plan against such events? Would that be superfluous in respect of small authorities away from urban areas? I know Lockerbie would defeat my own question, but would you expect every local authority, every emergency planning structure, to be on a par with London or Birmingham or Manchester?
  (Mr Griffin) I think the point, sir, is that, when an event happens, all types of authorities are likely to be involved in the response, and certainly all types of authorities are likely to be involved in the recovery therefrom, and the response frequently involves authorities undertaking normal functions in abnormal circumstances. If they are going to respond effectively under those circumstances, they need to have prepared for that in two ways: first of all, prepared themselves so that they are capable, and also prepared how they are going to work with other authorities, other partners, so that the response and the recovery can be effective. So the short answer, sir, is yes.

  558. Asking this question is like asking the Ministry of Defence if they have believe in defence, but there are some sceptics who wonder whether the local authorities really are up to the task of dealing with such a potential catastrophe.
  (Mr Griffin) There are two points I would make about that. One is that, if an event happens, the local authority is going to be called on to respond, partly because there is nobody else, partly because in any form of response you have to have a local response: only the local organisation knows local circumstances, only the local organisation knows what resources are available locally. So the local authority has to be involved and, for that matter, it is appropriate that the local authority should be involved, because, if something happens, the local community will look to the local authority for a response. It does not matter what the structure is, they will expect that kind of community leadership from the local authority and will expect the local authority to respond. I think your question is framed in the context of September 11. Clearly, as my colleague said earlier on, one of the problems in envisaging how one would deal with such a massive emergency is what resources would be available: How could any organisation manage an effective response? I think, from that point of view, one needs to be looking not at: Is a particular body involved or not involved? but how all the authorities, how all the agencies which need to be involved are going to be involved and how that is going to be effectively coordinated. I think those are the more appropriate issues.

  559. This area is filled with departmental rivalries and institutional protection of one's turf, but could you imagine a situation where there is a major disaster affecting a medium-sized authority and central government sends in a team of heavies and says, "This is out of your pay grade"?

  Could you see biting back, people saying, "No, this is our patch. We are X county, this is us. You can give advice"? How would an outside expert fit into this sort of structure in a major crisis?
  (Mr Griffin) In a sense that question depends on the assumption that there is a team of heavies ready to come in and I think that is a very questionable proposition. It is fair to say that there are certainly departmental turf boundaries in central government and there can be similar issues involved sometimes in local authorities, but I think that, if an event occurs, most of us have arrangements in place which establish quite clearly who takes the lead and I cannot see a situation in a major emergency of local authorities saying, "No, we don't want you here, we don't want your help." On the contrary, I think in most instances, if you are talking about a massive emergency, we would be looking for support, we would be looking for additional resources.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 24 July 2002