Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 800 - 819)



  800.  You do not see them doing much more than that?
  (Mr Sharp) No.

  801.  Do you think they ought to?
  (Mr Sharp) Yes. I definitely think that we need a crisis command team that can bring together all the appropriate departments look at what happened with foot and mouth, it went down to one department which did not understand the implications for tourism and the wider scenario. Forty-four per cent of UK companies were affected by foot and mouth, 70 per cent of UK companies were affected by the fuel crisis, both of those were appallingly handled because there was no central authority managing that crisis and that is what we need.

  802.  Mr Wood, you are pretty well into this, what would need to be within that crisis management centre in the CCS? What kind of expertise? Would they rove? We have had people from local government coming in extolling the virtues of local government and civil emergency planning, admitting one or two flaws in the system, but there are those sceptics who think that local authorities are okay for minor crises but the moment you get above a certain point there needs to be people moving in in an "advisory" capacity from central government pretty quickly. Do you see this sort of stepping in as necessary? Would you prefer to leave it to the local authorities if there is a stepping in? Could you just give us some outline thinking as to what that positive model ought to contain?
  (Mr Wood) I think there does need to be that clear mandate for central control and there needs to be the experience of a variety of disciplines of incident management, police, armed services and to an extent the intelligence services. There needs to be that cross-fertilisation of experience. Whether it is done under MACP powers or other legislation is up for debate but I think that there is a huge amount of experience of dealing with those sorts of crises within central government and particularly within the defence sector. Now we are seeing that grow with their experience of how they are dealing with support of larger style operations abroad I think they can bring an awful lot to the table.

  803.  Should that be structurally a part of the CCS or separate but called upon?
  (Mr Wood) I do not actually know enough about the CCS to be able to comment constructively but I think that the way in which elements of how I have seen MACP activity take place in the past, that is a conduit and a structure that could be used, but it needs to be timely.

Mr Cran

  804.  MACP?
  (Mr Wood) Military Aid and Civil Power, sorry. Where the civil authorities can call upon the expertise in central government to provide—

  Chairman: I see Mr Ponsonby has noted that down. You pulled our leg once again, Mr Ponsonby, about our lack of knowledge of your acronym, do not drum it in a second time.

Rachel Squire

  805.  What you were saying made me think very much of the presentation that we have received from the Dumfries and Galloway emergency planning officer where they have developed a team of the key people who will come together depending on what type of crisis it is, the relevant person will take the lead. They then very much saw themselves as there to enable all of the other relevant agencies, police, military, come together. I am curious whether you have had any contact with that kind of approach that they have developed on the basis of experience and whether you see that as a kind of relevant model?
  (Mr Wood) I think that is the sort of model we are talking about. There is always this reluctance at local government level to engage central government and particularly to engage some of the other expertise in other Government departments and I can understand some of that reluctance because of the way we are structured and the way in which Government is controlled. They have that experience and, therefore, they have the best sources of advice available to them. They have the practical experience of actually implementing it and doing it. They practise it more frequently than the local authority does, but that is not decrying the enormous energy and effort that has been put in by some of the local emergency planning authorities to prepare their plans and to know when it is time to pass over the control or to seek assistance. I think that sort of model is correct and is justified. For central government to have that role there needs to be this lead and there needs to be a clear mandate what they are going to do and it needs to be clearly focused. Just believing that they are going to be a postbag for "we will decide who will deal with it today depending upon who is in" is not going to be successful.
  (Mr Sharp) Would you say the FEMA model is a model that we should work to?
  (Mr Wood) Yes, possibly.
  (Mr Sharp) Are you aware of that?


  806.  Yes, we have been to the States.
  (Mr Sharp) I believe that is an approach where a disaster can be declared and, therefore, resources can be mobilised. That is something that would be very valuable for us. We were discussing outside that it was not until this House actually caused the debate about the role of the Army in the foot and mouth crisis that actually the Army were called in. That was how it appeared from the outside, that it needed this House to actually call for support from the Army and yet it should have been there immediately.

Mr Roy

  807.  Can I just pick up on what you were saying about the need for close relationships and the process of speaking to the private sector and Government. Could I ask your opinion. Does the private sector have confidence in the Government's ability to handle commercially sensitive information?
  (Mr Wood) I think I touched on that in one of my previous answers. There is a lack of trust there currently but I think that it is one that can very quickly be overcome. If we get to the point where we are seeing that two-way flow of information and we are seeing threat assessments provided to industry and an encouragement of reporting of incidents that are not necessarily attributed to a particular organisation or name then I think that trust will develop and over time it will get better. I listened to a presentation by the High Tech Crime Unit Industry Liaison Officer not so long ago in which he suggested that the issue of confidentiality and agreements being signed between them and industry on sharing information is something that they would consider and respect. I think that is a way we should be going.

  808.  At the moment do you think that the current arrangements are secure for handling this type of information?
  (Mr Wood) I think very much like you mandate on the defence industry sector, they have to meet a standard to protect that information or they do not receive it. There have to be clear protective security measures around how that information is going to be handled and controlled.

  809.  Is there a semblance there of some sort of level of security clearance within the private sector employees?
  (Mr Wood) If necessary, yes. Again, that is something that is done within the current List X company system and other parts of the defence sector and I do not see any reason why it cannot be applied and rolled out across the rest of the commercial industry. In a lot of instances, in fairness, the heads of the security organisations in many of these commercial organisations have come from that background anyway so they are very familiar with dealing with the information and how to protect it. We have to draw that line and break down that barrier between central government and the commercial sector.

  810.  They do not come from that background because they have been thrown out of somewhere else?
  (Mr Wood) No, not necessarily I hope. No.


  811.  It is called natural career progression from the intelligence services into the more lucrative private sector.
  (Mr Wood) Paying solutions, yes.

  812.  With the List X companies and a close liaison with the intelligence services, and I have forgotten how many List X companies there are, 500, you are talking about blue ribband companies and the ones that are most vulnerable. If they would not be prepared to disclose sensitive information to a normal Government department despite the sporadic weaknesses within the intelligence services in terms of their personnel blowing the whistle maybe a greater rapport could be established with an organisation which was preoccupied with keeping its mouth shout?
  (Mr Wood) Yes. I think with the openness of the intelligence services and how we have seen it transition, I do not think there is any reluctance but they also need support to do it. To suddenly have to start supporting a huge number of commercial industry and security officers in the private sector they are going to need resourcing and they are going to need a mechanism by which they can do it and have to look at the protective security measures that are in place and the additional checks that might be needed. From the experience of where I wrote and have now got a level of co-operation there, I am sure that it is there, it just needs that extra push and I think it needs to be formalised because I go back to my earlier point that I think Government has a duty of care to provide that level of information to the commercial sector.

  Syd Rapson: I think we have expressed our concern because this Committee is a Defence Select Committee looking at this issue, it is not really our package but the Chairman has taken the lead and we are getting in there and doing it specifically.

  Chairman: I have always wanted to turn this Committee into the Private Security Committee and I think I am there.

Syd Rapson

  813.  In what must have been a ground breaking speech by Chris Leslie, the dynamic Cabinet Office Minister, on 11 March he brought resilience into play and it is now a buzz word and I understand resilience in emergency planning. He started that off and the concept is there and clearly in the minds of whoever attended the seminar, I do not know if you attended the seminar. Also, Mike Grannatt, a great man who was in charge of the CCS, was saying "We are looking at a process of putting this legislation together", not in a great rush, "that will involve further consultation and bringing for Wood something to Parliament that reflects a consensus". It is fairly sort of laid back.
  (Mr Wood) And vague.

  814.  And reflects some of your concern. Should resilience and continuity planning be a requirement for all businesses above a certain size or in certain sectors? Should it be an absolute requirement in the future to have that specific requirement?
  (Mr Sharp) I would say yes, of course. If we look at the finance sector, again, with two of our major banks having 40 per cent of the clearing capacity, and therefore critical to our infrastructure, it would be absolutely foolhardy for us as Government not to require them to have continuity. It is not just about the biggest companies. For certain key companies in the infrastructure of the country, it is essential that they should have that. There again, maybe we should say because these companies are public companies which people invest in, even if they are not critical, should they not also have continuity to protect the investors? Is it just about protecting the community or is it protecting the pension funds which are part of the community? There are three things which motivate senior people and it is encompassed in the word JIM. The middle one is interest and if you can get a senior executive's interest an initative will get going and will last about three months until somebody else comes through the door. The latter one is money and if it is going to affect their share options, etc. They will do something about it. The first one is jail and health and safety, therefore, is something that is taken very seriously because it is a jailable offence to neglect this area. If these issues are serious for us both for community infrastructure and for investment security then maybe we should make it something which is legislated for and mandatory.

  815.  You do not think that self-regulation would be strong enough?
  (Mr Sharp) We come back to the FSA issue: tell us what you want to do and we will do it, if you do not tell us what you want to do then we will think about it.

  816.  Have you got any ideas what benchmarks you will be thinking about in setting that resilience?
  (Mr Sharp) That is something that we need to work on and there is some work going on in that area encouraged by the FSA.

  817.  Could Government assist the private sector in building resilience?
  (Mr Sharp) I think it is essential we all work together. I do not think we should separate it at all, we should all work together on that.


  818.  The role of the military, getting into the area where we are allegedly more competent. The foot and mouth crisis demonstrated that in extreme emergencies the command and control capabilities of the military cannot be matched by any other agency. We think that but you are closer to the private sector companies. From your experience of those crises when the military was involved, do you think that the role of the military will be seen in the future as being extremely important?
  (Mr Sharp) The perception that we gained and has been fed back to me from several people is as soon as the military became involved then they actually saw the foot and mouth crisis focused, and the task dealt with very effectively and efficiently. Until then there was confusion and lack of leadership. You have said about the experience people have had in dealing in the military this is a resource which we should use. The flooding is another example where bringing the military in quickly can help alleviate the situation.

  819.  When I saw yesterday how brilliantly Black Rod and Attorney-General Wilcox had organised the parliamentary side I thought of writing to him to ask him if he was interested in the railways.
  (Mr Sharp) That came up on the radio this morning, can we give them the railways.

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