Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1220 - 1239)



  1220. I accept that. Your successes might not be seen. The more successful you are, the less people will realise. Some time ago now you met with Muslim leaders explaining about counter-terrorism which I think was a very sensible act to prove to our Muslim friends that they are not all tarred with the same brush and if we can treat them with the same sort of maturity that we do the rest of the population that is great. What emerged from that meeting? Was there a great coming together? Were they listening in a way that was just passive? Has anything positive come from that apart from good relationships?
  (Mr Veness) It is a very vibrant and frank discussion, and all the better for that. It is not a one-off meeting, Sir, it is something we do very, very regularly, the next is this week. We met as recently as last week because, as you will appreciate, there were understandable concerns in relation to planned events, notably the rally in Trafalgar Square which took place yesterday. We thought it wise, and in fact it was requested, that we explained precisely what was intended in order that could be an event which passed as peaceably as possible. It is not just good sentiments and aspiring words, it is very real achievements in respect of a very frank exchange, some modification of police behaviour, some understanding on our part which we did not have before and, to give you a practical example, a very effective stewarding of events which has arisen through those, a great sense of responsibility and wanting these events—justifiable demonstrations of public expression—to pass off peaceably. If one compares the position which prevails regrettably in France and in Belgium in terms of the number of attacks, we have had too many attacks here but, by comparison, I think that is due to a process of communication. Certainly we went out of our way to reassure the 99.99 per cent of utterly law abiding Islamic citizens in the United Kingdom that Parliament had intended these provisions—these extraordinary provisions—to be there for people who kill and maim and bomb and that was what as a police service we were going to use them for. We were not going to use them to round up the usual suspects or engage in fishing expeditions. I think that led to political balance because on one Saturday morning in saying that, I was demonstrated against by those who are particularly extreme on the Islamic front and the next day or the next day after I was accused of not going on fishing expeditions by The Daily Telegraph so I regarded that as political balance.


  1221. I have a large number of Muslims in my constituency and the impression I have from consultation is that the overwhelming majority are very, very law abiding who are profoundly embarrassed and angered at the implications on the Muslim community as a whole.
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

  1222. Certainly I welcome the meetings you are having. Are you certain you have a very broad group of representatives of the Muslim population because they do not always speak with one voice? You are certain you are advised to have a very wide range?
  (Mr Veness) We try and be as inclusive as possible. It is not only Islam, we seek to have a similar dialogue with all of the faiths, particularly those that feel fear of any form of victimisation. It is a regrettable fact that across a wide range of faiths there are significant instances of people being attacked, spat on, abused, places of worship, places of education being attacked as we have dramatically seen, so these are very real issues. If I had a concern, Chairman, in relation to the inclusiveness of the group, it would be in terms of the generation we are not speaking to. We do not have a ready reliable line of communication, for example, to the young Muslim youth in this country, on a completely frank and constructive basis for debate. That is a challenge that we are seeking to address but it is an obvious gap.

  1223. I understand the Armed Forces are little better recruiting amongst ethnic minorities. I know it is not directly your province but you seem to be able to answer questions on most everything so I do not feel guilty about asking you this. How is your recruiting amongst ethnic minorities (a) in the Metropolitan Police and (b) more broadly?
  (Mr Veness) We are making encouraging strides but, again, it is nothing like where we would wish to be. In particular, we are not achieving the movement of either divisions in gender or divisions in background with the totality of diversity and moving those officers into the more specialised areas of policing with anything like the representation that we would wish to do. We are absolutely determined to carry on and to drive this ever harder because what we want within policing, particularly within specialised policing but it is true elsewhere, is the very best of the talent of the public that we seek to serve. Unless we have got a diverse workforce then we are not going to achieve that.

Mr Cran

  1224. One way of, I suppose one could say, improving our response to terrorist attacks is the conduct of exercises. The Committee has knowledge of one. I wonder if you can just canter over what exercises have been conducted, if any. If you want to do this confidentially that is fine.
  (Mr Veness) No, I cannot see that is a problem. They are a very regular feature of the British way of developing counter-terrorism. In fact, one way or another it seems hardly a weekend passes without there being some form of exercise occurring, be it table top or development of particular scenarios, and I welcome that. The Home Office have the lead and they have put together a very sophisticated programme which addresses the totality of the United Kingdom which takes place at various levels that either can involve effectively Central Government acting in live mode or can involve a tier which does not require the personal involvement of the most senior players, and then probably most usefully exercises which can take place very, very regularly indeed which test the development without necessarily putting hundreds of people on the ground, valuable though that is, but takes our thinking forward in relation to new challenges and new responses, particularly at the present time. I think this is one area where probably Britain can hold its head at least highest in respect of the investment that we make in contingency planning leading to exercising and then taking that forward either by way of table top or by way of full blown exercise. On a grand scale they can be very demanding indeed. In June 2000 here within London we had Exercise Trump Card, which I think was probably Britain's largest multi-site exercise, which was geared towards what could be a chem-bio threat to multi-sites in London which was very significantly supported by a range of agencies. We are vigorous exercisers.

  1225. I am glad to hear it. You anticipated my next question because that was on Operation Trump Card. The Committee would like to know what lessons were learned and have those lessons been actioned?
  (Mr Veness) Yes. I think we would not have been able to respond as effectively, albeit more could have been done, to the white powder episodes of October and November last year had there not been Trump Card because particularly it identified the need for us to be working much more closely with health, both primary and indeed the various hospital structures of the UK. A very vigorous debate took place post Trump Card on how we could develop our interface with medical services at all tiers which stood us in better stead when we got to the demands that were made upon health care by the various public concerns around white powder. There were also the issues as to how we might adjust to changes in government because clearly London government—


  1226. Be careful on this. Change in government is a very sensitive subject.
  (Mr Veness) Changes in government arrangements. Clearly we had just gone through an alteration in the London arrangements with new features and how we were going to relate not only to the boroughs but to the Greater London Authority, the role of the Mayor. All of those were very usefully rehearsed. For example, the London boroughs decided that they would effectively choose one of their own representatives to be primus inter pares in terms of taking it forward because it was not possible to have 33 people around every table. So those sort of mature and helpful decisions were made as a result of that exercise. We have sought to build upon the lessons and we will continue to do so. You put your finger on the art of this. The art is not to spend three days doing the exercise, the art is to be very cruel to yourselves in what lessons you have learned and then spend the next six months applying those as energetically as you can.

Mr Cran

  1227. My last question is simply this. It would hardly be surprising that responses in big cities, London particularly, would be very vigorous and all the manpower would be in position and so on and forth. Could we be as confident that outside the South East of England would be as well protected?
  (Mr Goldsmith) I think the answer is as well protected but given geography and locations then the time of response is the different factor and in terms of getting sufficient officers to a scene in a given time, that applies to the emergency services. Whereas I imagine if Mr Veness used his mobile phone here he could probably have 200 police officers at the front door in five minutes, in Lincolnshire and in other similar counties there are not 200 officers on duty. I think there is that difference there. In addition to the large exercise which David has just talked to you about, every police force in the country, together with their local authorities, other emergency services, will be exercising again on a range from real time through table top on an annual basis. Certainly since September the terrorist implications or the application of terrorism to major disasters will have played a part in that. On top of that, nuclear power plants, airports, all have a requirement for testing in order to retain their ability to operate. So there is a huge range across the country.

  Mr Cran: Thank you.


  1228. A couple of questions on the role of the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Defence has embarked upon a process of writing what they call a New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review. Has ACPO submitted a response to that? Did they know that such an exercise was going on?[1]
  (Mr Veness) We had the benefit of very early notice in respect of the development of New Chapter. We had the opportunity to second an officer to engage in that debate, so we had an ACPO colleague assigned to assist us in these discussions and his role has been valued within the MoD, not as a full-time assignment but as somebody to build that particular bridge. We have also been involved in each one of the workshops and the discussions, particularly those that relate to the role of where effectively CT reinforcement might be applicable in New Chapter activity. There clearly are other air and sea defence aspects as well with which we have been closely engaged. We feel that we have been included in New Chapter unequivocally and through all of the committees that have been augmented that discussion continues week by week and we have the opportunity both to submit and to comment on papers as they are emerging from New Chapter. I think the next round is imminent.

  1229. If they are written submissions maybe at some stage you could ask the MoD if a version could be submitted to us. We will be producing our report in perhaps the middle of July so it would be really helpful if we had the benefit of your contribution before that.
  (Mr Veness) Yes, of course.

Syd Rapson

  1230. The MV Nisha, the ship that was parked down in Portsmouth for some time, that was quite an exciting event with Special Forces guarding it and jumping on board, looking all over it. Were there any lessons learned from that particular incident? There appeared not to be any threat. It went away quietly, clearly that is not the whole story. Are there any lessons to be learned from that incident itself?
  (Mr Veness) As you will appreciate, there were some entirely legitimate concerns which made it essential that action was taken quickly, particularly given the course of the vessel, it was moving around the Channel and it would have taken it right into the heart of London in order to discharge its cargo. I think the action was absolutely appropriate. There are very significant lessons in respect of command and control of the particular problems of a vessel on the move. There are a range of issues that we have benefited from significantly in respect of what we can discover of a vessel in addition to having to take the rather draconian steps of boarding it with the assistance of Special Forces and the degree to which the shipping industry has opened up that debate in a very constructive way indeed. Indeed the owners of the Nisha, as you would expect, are contributors to those discussions. A great deal of useful work has progressed. What I think is even more helpful is what it means to put together an incident of maritime counter-terrorist threat in the traditional sense, which has been a ship under way that represents some sort of menace, and also to think about what that might mean in terms of the consequences of if this had not been the Nisha and it had been a vessel on which there was a CBRN cargo in some form or another, what that means then in terms of consequence management for the immediate locality and in this example, very appropriately, Sir, what does that mean for the people of Hampshire. Those lessons have been explored and continue to be so. This is not just a ship which represents a danger, it is a ship which represents a danger to sea and land within the possible spread if the scenario had been different. So a great deal of hard work continues post Nisha.

  1231. On a more general basis, are the arrangements for military aid to the civil power in the event of a terrorist attack adequate for the police?
  (Mr Veness) Yes. I described earlier on the three areas of counter-terrorist military aid which I would call designated. They are part of the counter-terrorist endeavour. Those are very clearly search, bomb disposal and Special Forces support. Those are very, very well rehearsed and we are completely confident in those arrangements.

  1232. Is it more acceptable to have armed troops guarding key sites in times of heightened alert or police officers?
  (Mr Veness) It depends, I think, upon the need for arms would be the first decision. If we confronted a threat which, for example, applied to the nuclear power industry or electric power generation which was of such a nature that it required an armed response then I think we would have to look radically at from where we could draw those armed resources. If the only way of matching the threat is the deployment of armed military personnel then I think that is a decision where certainly the question is entirely legitimate. Whether it is appropriate for there to be a long term sustained deployment of the military on a non specific threat, I would regard that case as less compelling. If there was effectively a very real need—and it was across a broad geographic span—I think we would have to do as a country what was necessary in order to defend our vital interest. If that requires soldiers on an ad hoc, one hopes, limited basis then that perhaps would be the wisest thing to do.

  1233. Very diplomatic answer. Does the threat of suicide terrorism, which frightens us all, require a more robust form of security that only the armed forces, let us say, the military can provide?
  (Mr Veness) The span of challenge, Sir, is absorbing us in great detail at the moment. There are measures that we can apply which have worked to good effect in Sri Lanka and indeed Israel but there are dimensions of the threat against which defence is very limited indeed. It is not necessarily whether armed forces are the answer there but whether armed force is the answer in those circumstances. That raises some very difficult legal issues which we are grappling with at the moment.

  1234. Would you think personally that only an armed force, whether it be police or military, can deal with a suicide bomber attack?
  (Mr Veness) At the end of the day if all other measures that one could envisage have failed or look likely to fail then I think you are absolutely right. It is difficult to imagine a balanced response to a suicide terrorism which is, after all, the epitome of deadly force impacting upon the public. When one sees the way that this has been used elsewhere in the world, not just explosives but a massive amount of metal shrapnel, ball bearings, nails which spread harm across a very significant area, if one is confronted with that scale of deadly force certainly in any other judgment we would respond with deadly force. It is finding the mechanism by which that might be deployed before the bomb goes off that is the really testing area.


  1235. Now, Mr Goldsmith, the Emergency Planning Review identified the need for legislation, how urgent is that? What could the police dimension be to that legislation?
  (Mr Goldsmith) If there is to be statutory responsibility laid upon local authorities in terms of planning or indeed police, fire, ambulance, then the sooner it is in the better. At the moment emergency planning and the response to an emergency has operated well within the limits that we have been working to. The issue comes as to how that is then developed particularly in the light of 11 September. The clear definition of who is responsible and for what they are responsible would ease some rubbing points, although I have to say my experience is both locally and nationally that people get on and make things work even if there is no clear defined statutory responsibility so to do.

  Chairman: Fine. Thank you. The last questions from Mr Cran please.

Mr Cran

  1236. You will be very pleased to hear it is just about to end but before it does three short questions. The Committee learned with a little interest, and not a little astonishment at the same time, that the civil emergency services have separate communications systems from the MoD and that just raises the question of what the effects would be if there is some sort of terrorist attack where time is of the essence. A comment from you?
  (Mr Goldsmith) In dealing with the response side, the police services across the United Kingdom are now taking what is known as Airwave—it used to be known as the Public Safety Radio and Communication Project—which was a terrible acronym, now in its commercial form it is known as Airwave and that is being rolled out over the next three to four years for forces. When the project was initially envisaged the concept was that all emergency services, and indeed the military, coastguard and others that might see a role for one system, would have a common communication system and when one looks at it from afar there is a lot of logic in that. Because of the requirements of the police service for encryption and other matters, and the need to be able to speak to police officers wherever they are no matter how remote, it is a relatively expensive system that the other emergency services have not initially seen the benefit of. There has been a lot of work over the last two or three months on this matter. I was asked to chair a working group of emergency services post 11 September. One of the issues we identified as requiring some action was interoperability of radio systems. The fire services had already gone out to tender on ten regions and that then led in my view to the possibility that not just the police would have their own radio system and the fire service another but the police would have one radio system and the fire service could have ten radio systems, which again using the rationale that they had adopted of regional mutual aid would not be a problem if every brigade had the same system but if we are looking post September at fire brigades potentially being required to operate many, many miles out of their region that could create some difficulties. My understanding is that the technology does not mean that each radio system would necessarily enable one to speak to another radio system. A lot of work has been undertaken between the different emergency services, the Fire Brigade Inspectorate has been involved, and my understanding is that a paper is now with ministers on this matter because the fire brigade point of view, if I dare to speak for them, is that requires funding for which they are not equipped to deal. In terms of interoperability it would mean that at any incident, whether it is terrorist or any other major disaster or, indeed, perhaps a motorway pile-up where all emergency services are involved, one would have a common communication system. I recognise that there are different ways of using radios, for example in the police service every officer has their own radio so that he or she can be tasked independently, the fire service work on a crew basis and they do not want every firefighter to have radio communications back to the control room, they want to go from one lead tender with the senior officer at the scene having communication back. The ideal, certainly from a police perspective, is that people would use the same system. That would mean that the military, who I understand have shown an interest in the Airwave project, would be readily communicable with by the incident commander or commanders. In terms of dealing with an incident that has got major advantages.

  1237. As we sit here now if there was to be a major terrorist attack we have the prospect that the various components responding could not communicate one with the other, or at least not easily?
  (Mr Goldsmith) Not directly in the sense that if you were a fire brigade officer and I was a police officer dealing with the same incident I could not use my radio to speak directly to you, we would have to work on the assumption that if there was such a major attack then the mobile phone infrastructure would probably fall over through the sheer volume of calls, therefore you would have to go back to your control room and I would go back to my control room and they would converse.

  1238. Just so that we know it, this situation could be rectified by the Government in this paper that you put to whom, to the Home Secretary?
  (Mr Goldsmith) The Office of the e-Envoy has been involved in doing a lot of the background work. The Office of Government Commerce has been involved as well. I believe the paper is with the various ministers involved and, this is a guess, it would be the Home Secretary and DTLR for the fire brigade.

  1239. And the aim of that exercise is to get compatibility and all the rest of it between the services and the MoD?
  (Mr Goldsmith) Yes, interoperability.

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