Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1420 - 1439)



Jim Knight

  1420. Help me with this issue. The derogation can only be made in time of war or a public emergency threatening the life of the nation. It would seem that we need that derogation as you described earlier in order to be able to detain people that we do not really want here but we cannot send them anywhere else, and that is almost in order to prevent us having a public emergency. If the judgement is that these are dangerous people that we need to detain, then it is to prevent the emergency, it is to prevent the war; it is not because that has arisen. The continued use of the derogation seems problematic to me. I supported the Bill and voted for it but there seems a difficulty in there in continuing to use it for very long.
  (Mr Denham) I am not sure I entirely follow the logic. I suppose the logic is that if you manage to detain everybody who could possibly be at threat then there would be no threat so you would have to let them all go. I am not sure that is where we are at the moment. If we remember the circumstances in which Parliament chose to enact this legislation, the feeling in Parliament was very clearly that this legislation was necessary and that the ability to have a derogation from ECHR was justified by the circumstances at the time. I would simply say to the Committee that I do not believe anything has changed since the time at which Parliament made that judgement and therefore it remains justified. Having said that, as was quite reasonably done in the passage of the legislation through both Houses of Parliament, a number of safeguards were built into the Act. There are provisions in terms of the way it is being used. The Terrorism Act is already being reviewed annually by Lord Carlisle and he will also review the immigration and detention provisions in Part IV of the Act. The whole of the Act will be reviewed by a committee of Privy Council as chaired by Lord Newton of Braintree. There is a time limit on the legislation. In other words, I think that the end of the process gave us a piece of legislation that was quite justified by the circumstances at the time and the circumstances which we have now but in which careful safeguards were built in because Parliament wanted to ensure that it would be alerted if there were problems.

  1421. I entirely accept that, Minister. What I am suggesting is that what will change at the point at which we come to review this is public opinion and a feeling of crisis, a feeling of emergency, because hopefully the legislation will have been effective, hopefully we will live in a more secure environment, but if we then have to repeal that legislation or let the derogation go, then we will be in a more insecure environment as a result. Do we therefore not need a more permanent arrangement than we have at the moment?
  (Mr Denham) At the end of the passage of the Bill the Home Secretary was satisfied that he had a piece of legislation that enabled him to address the weaknesses in the previous package of anti-terrorism legislation. We accepted that Parliament, I think for understandable reasons, wanted to have some safeguards and some checks and some reviews built into that because it is quite far-reaching legislation, and I think what was produced is workable now and enables—and indeed will require—Parliament to take a further set of decisions in the future. At that time the job of Government will be to assess honestly in the situation we face whether the circumstances that led to support the principle of derogation continue to exist or not. If they do it will be the responsibility of Government to persuade Parliament that the Act should be continued or amended in the light of experience, and indeed to try to take the public with us.

  Chairman: Thank you. Mr Leslie, your delay in coming in will now be remedied. Throughout our inquiry there have been one or two little criticisms, not about you personally, but about the Civil Contingencies Secretariat from all quarters, so we are having a generally all-party probing of this matter.

  Mr Cran: Chairman, thank you for taking my introduction away from me. It is very kind of you indeed. I suppose, Mr Leslie, I am looking at you and certainly at Dr Fuller, but of course others who want to come in, please do. The Civil Contingencies Secretariat is in a deceptively important position in the fight against terrorism. It is in a fairly pivotal position, is it not? Without going into the details of the exact words of why it was set up, it was certainly set up to improve co-ordination as between partners and to get rid of departmentalisation and so on. Tell us how successful you think you have been. I know you are going to use words to tell me this, but convince me with something other than words.


  1422. Excuse me: what are you asking for?
  (Mr Leslie) Give us a clue.

Mr Cran

  1423. Actually, actions.
  (Mr Leslie) The point to stress at the outset is to emphasise the role of the Cabinet Office and particularly the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in facilitating an integrated and co-ordinated response. As I mentioned at the outset, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat was established in June, of course before September 11, and, also as I said at the outset, I do not seek to be complacent about perfection at all times but nor would I wish to see unrealistic expectations from other quarters about perfection in that respect. There has been a very steep learning curve undoubtedly, particularly since September 11, in making sure that we have all the necessary procedures and personnel and structures in place to cope with the wide array of potential crises and emergencies that can occur. There are 1001 incidents that you and I can think about and try and model through how we would respond, on which government department would take the lead and so on, and we have been trying to do that. What I have been seeking to achieve is an ability to focus in on general capabilities that the Government needs to have that will be able to help us respond and recover whatever type of disaster incident takes place, and there are key capabilities that I think we need always to make sure we are on top of. I have been quite impressed with the work of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. They are not alone. As I say, they are helping to co-ordinate the response but of course each Government department has its own lead responsibility for its own particular areas and no doubt we will go through those later on. I think it is that measure of extra co-ordination, joining things together, that we have been trying to do our best to achieve.

  1424. I knew I would not get quite there, which is why the Chairman's facetious remark was not appropriate. I then move on to ask my question another way. In your statement, and I presume that this relates to the Civil Contingency Secretariat, you said, "We have instituted a continuous programme of improvement, testing and honing of our capabilities to deal with wide-scale disruption, whatever the source". Could you put some clothes on that? What do you mean by "continuous programme of improvement" and so on?
  (Mr Leslie) As you will know, and this is not just something that has occurred since September 11, the thing to stress, and particularly in the UK, as John Denham has been mentioning earlier, is that we have got a lot of experience, sadly, in dealing with terrorism and other incidents and a lot of structures have been put in place to cope with incidents. That did not just occur on September 11 so we have had of course for many years regular exercises of testing emergency planning, scenarios; some of those are very wide-scale and live in their operation. Lots of those other types of exercises taking place. You can take the top operations. We are trying to run through things at both real time and real scenarios as frequently as we can. We are also trying to look at the basics of Government. Some questions are very large, often very local. The thing I always try to emphasise is that whatever incident takes place the chances are that initially it will require a local response from the emergency services and then trigger a number of other mechanisms if and when extra support needs to be augmented to the scene or at a strategic level, so working through those arrangements I think is very important. I have been focusing on capabilities of local authorities up and down the country, their emergency plans, and it is a very, very wide area of policy.

  1425. That leads me neatly to the next point that I wanted to ask. You said in your statement, and it has been repeated elsewhere, that we must not be complacent. This is not a political point, it would be the same if Ministers of my party were sitting there. The great problem with this sort of thing is the farther away you get from an incident such as 11 September it is just terribly difficult to maintain the level of readiness and all the rest of it that one would hope you could maintain and so on to exist. How are you doing that? How are you getting over this complacency?
  (Mr Leslie) I think the key thing to stress is the stronger structures that we have managed to put in place, and I do not just mean the Civil Contingencies Committee of the Cabinet and the sub-committees that have been established and working very, very hard, particularly since 11 September. I am talking about arrangements in respect of military aid to civil authorities. I am talking about the way in which we train and support local authority emergency planning officers, for example, through the Easingwold Emergency Planning College. I think we had 8,000 people go through there last year and we are looking to increase the breadth and depth of courses that take place. We are now trying to mainstream and embed, as I was saying at the beginning, the theory of resilience planning into the day-to-day Civil Service operations that go on in a whole series of different Government departments so that, as you will know, just as there are considerations about efficiency of Government in public expenditure of financial audit, for example, I believe there is a much greater scope for consideration of resilience matters in the day-to-day decision making that takes part in Government. As you say, there are clearly fashions—that is probably the wrong word—there are clearly greater levels of attention at particular traumatic times but I do believe that we can sustain that if we are focused, and we certainly have support from the Select Committee in this, on always keeping our attention on these important matters.

  1426. But you do concede that it is a difficult job, is it not?
  (Mr Leslie) Undoubtedly difficult but I think it is necessary and it will happen.

  1427. Can I move on to something else. A number of witnesses have questioned, I was about to say criticised but let me use the word questioned rather than criticised, what they understand, and indeed what I understand, is going to be the case, the practice of nominating a particular department to lead in the case of a particular terrorist incident, namely whatever is nearest the bailiwick of a particular department. The feeling is that what that does is it dilutes the expertise which could be built up over time to deal with these terrorist incidents and, therefore, it has been put to us that it is much better that the lead be taken by perhaps the secretariat. What say you to that?
  (Mr Leslie) I know that there are existing published scenarios in the Dealing with Disasters publication by the Home Office that discuss how and when a lead Government department role would be taken up. I think that is a publication which if you have not already seen it you should have sight of. I know that we have been working on clarifying lead Government department responsibilities in that range of potential scenarios quite actively in recent months and I suspect that there will be much more in the public arena about that in due course. As far as I am concerned there is clarity about which Government departments do take the lead in various different situations.
  (Mr Denham) If I could add a point, Chairman. The Home Secretary obviously chairs the Civil Contingencies Committee which is supported by the Secretariat as part of this work, and I think I would robustly defend the way in which lead departments are being developed. Part of the thinking behind the establishment of the Secretariat prior to 11 September was, of course, the experience, for example, of the fuel dispute and a number of other events where it was recognised, not in a dissimilar way to some types of terrorist attack, that apparently quite a small event could have a major impact throughout society because we live in a very interconnected society. By its nature it is impossible to identify and plan for every one of the thousands of possible scenarios that could happen and therefore what is needed is a broad set of capabilities to respond right across Government owned in each of those departments, so that when the unexpected, or the slightly different from what you might have expected, turns up people are still able to respond. I think what Mr Leslie says is right, having lead departments within that overall framework actually expands our capacity to respond and expands our flexibility in a way in which, if you like, a very narrow, possibly incredibly highly professional but nonetheless very narrow, organisation not connected into the delivery of services would not be able to do.
  (Mr Leslie) I think it is important to emphasise that we do not just simply farm out responsibilities.


  1428. I do not like to use the word "farm" after the experience of foot and mouth.
  (Mr Leslie) We do not just divvy up. There are a couple of good examples about how we actually supplement the lead Government department arrangements: the sub-committees of the Civil Contingencies Cabinet Committee, the London resilience approach, the team led by Nick Raynsford, the Minister of State at DTLR as well as being Minister for London, that looks across the piece at the questions in respect of the capital, other matters relating to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear questions. There is a thematic approach that supplements the departmental responsibility model.
  (Mr Denham) I am never quite sure whether ministerial involvement reassures or concerns the Committee but it does, I think, have the added value through the Civil Contingencies Committee that Ministers from departments are clearly aware of where their department has responsibilities as part of the overall set-up. It is not possible for departmental Ministers or Secretaries of State to say another Minister, whether in the Home Office or the Cabinet Office, is responsible for making sure the country can respond, and I think that is an important part of the process.

Mr Cran

  1429. Just so that I am clear, in your original answer, Mr Leslie, you said that further information will be in the public domain shortly. Did I get that correct? If so, when?
  (Mr Leslie) I think that there is a rolling programme of publishing and updating documents such as Dealing with Disasters, a publication that I mentioned earlier. I understand that we are looking to bring into the wider arena awareness about departmental responsibilities and I will be certainly talking about that and when we can do that shortly.

  1430. One more question, Chairman, and it is simply this. Let us just assume for the sake of argument, let us think of 11 September, who would have thought that three aircraft would have been hijacked in the manner that they were, I think probably very few of us. Therefore, it is not against that background outwith the possibility that you could have a multi-faceted attack, either in the United States or Britain. If that were the case how would your scenario work then? It is multi-faceted, it covers a number of the bailiwicks of a number of departments, would one department in those circumstances be nominated to be the lead department? How do you deal with it?
  (Mr Leslie) At a national level, of course, the Home Secretary as Chair of the Civil Contingencies Committee takes the ultimate lead in these matters.

  1431. Of course, I understand that.
  (Mr Leslie) And I think that really is the primary—

  1432. But below that would he not in normal circumstances, I do not know what the procedure would be, nominate a particular department to take the lead? I am just asking in a multi-faceted attack what would happen.
  (Mr Denham) Of course it was not, fortunately, an attack on this country but if we look at what happened on 11 September, the attack took place in the United States at about two o'clock our time. It was the COBR organisation that brought together officials and then Ministers from across Government. In a very short space of time a whole series of decisions were taken and implemented. By the next day there were, what, a thousand police officers on the streets of London adding to reassurance. Public reassurance messages were co-ordinated through the media. A no-fly box was established across London. A whole string of enhanced airport security was put in place. I think that actually demonstrated the resilience of the model because we have a co-ordinating mechanism that brought people together. Clearly it was the police who put the police on the streets and it was the people who do airport security within the DTLR who did airport security and did the no-fly box. The communications system, which is still being built up, which was requested for the first time by CCS on that day, did the public reassurance. In other words, when we need to bring people together for a multi-faceted response the idea is that part of the picture knows what they are going to have to do and has the confidence to know that they can deliver. We will continue to build on that. Exercises are held, we test this out and we find where the system might be weak. My personal view is that the response of the system, even on September 11, showed it had the ability to deliver a lot of important decisions and make them happen in a very short space of time, and that is prior to the work we have done since then.

  1433. I have no doubt about that, but my colleagues are much quicker than I am on these occasions, and I am not quite sure I had got there. The answer to my question is, yes or no. If there is a multi-faceted attack in the United Kingdom, I accept there is plenty of co-ordination and I accept the Home Secretary will be sitting there constantly. All I am asking is, would that include more than one department as the lead department? That is all I am asking.
  (Mr Denham) I think there is a slight misunderstanding. The lead department role does not mean a lead operational department. If a terrorist bomb goes off, the police co-ordinate the response to the terrorist bomb and work with the other emergency services, work if necessary with the military authorities through the co-operation agreement. On a major incident there would be co-ordination of other responses by Government. There is a need to understand, in areas where potentially more than one department has an interest, which has the lead responsibility in terms of developing policy, developing capability and being able to contribute to the multi-faceted response. This does not cut across what would happen in the circumstances of a terrorist event or indeed of many other major disasters.

  Mr Cran: Chairman, I have got there. Thank you very much indeed.

  Chairman: You can explain to me afterwards!

Mr Jones

  1434. Can I just say that Mr Cran may have got the answer to that, but I do not think any of the rest of the Committee have. It is not complicated at all. It is about answering questions, Chairman. I think we must get back to answering clear questions. Mr Leslie, you said you were quite impressed by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. I have to say, you are obviously very easily impressed, because it certainly has not impressed this Committee, and I do not think that certainly the witnesses that we have had in the last few weeks have been very impressed by its operations. Clearly it is the worst excesses of departmentalism that are still in existence. If you are talking about reassurance, Mr Denham, I do not think Mr Granatt reassured me or any of this Committee in terms of his performance before this Committee. Mr Leslie, you say about a co-ordinated approach. Let us take, for example, local authorities. Why is it, then, that if you are taking such an emphasis on local authority emergency planning, you cut the budget, for example, of Durham by 10 per cent this year and a number of other local authorities' budgets by up to 10 per cent, if it is such an important issue? The other point is the fact that you have recently sent out a questionnaire, I understand, to local authorities asking what their local emergency plans are. One, how many have you got back and two, what have you actually done with them?
  (Mr Leslie) I can tell you at length about the Civil Defence Grant Act 2002.

  1435. Please do.
  (Mr Leslie) That, as you will know, went through all its parliamentary stages and concluded around January/February time. That was a response to a legal challenge a couple of years previously by Merseyside who discovered a lacuna in the legal framework in respect of being able to determine a specific grant from authority to authority, after which point, in the last financial year, local authorities were essentially able to have a demand-led claim on the Civil Defence Grant Fund from the UK Government. The Government believed, I think quite rightly—as I do myself, as someone who took through the Bill—that we need to have a more national strategic and co-ordinated approach to the allocation of Civil Defence Grant, rather than a more haphazard demand-led arrangement where some authorities were able to double their budgets very easily and other authorities did not do that. My own personal belief—and I feel this is very, very important—is that we need to have a fair and a comprehensive formula approach to the allocation of resources, because all resources are limited and we should not shy away from that. If we are going to allocate the Fund, then there needs to be a formula looking at a flat rate for the basic service provision that we require, looking at some reflection of population and so on, in the type of formula that we use at a national level. So the level of Civil Defence Grant stood at around £14 million in 2000-01, and at its demand-led peak it plateaued around £18½ million. We have managed to sustain that demand-led total envelope in the way that we allocate that sum for this financial year, but we have used a formula in the way that we share that money out across the country. We have made sure that no authority is penalised more than 10 per cent. We have also allowed other authorities the opportunity to have a fairer share if they have not benefited from that demand-led arrangement. I hope that is clear.

  1436. No, it is not actually. What you are basically saying is that in Durham where they had their grant cut by 10 per cent, the council taxpayers of Durham are having to subsidise emergency planning, are they not?
  (Mr Leslie) I can certainly send you a note about Durham.[1]

  1437. Yes or no?
  (Mr Leslie) Council taxpayers subsidise all emergency planning arrangements and always have done, because my understanding is that local authorities supplement, or in many cases should supplement, emergency planning arrangements from their own budget, not just their ring-fenced budgets. Let me just say about Durham, if there has been a 10 per cent reduction, as you say—and I do not have the figures in front of me—because of the formula, then I am fairly confident that they will have had a far more significant increase in the funds that they received for the financial year 2000-01 to 2001-02.

  1438. In respect of what?
  (Mr Leslie) In respect of the amount of money that they would have received in the previous financial year before the demand-led arrangement was in place.

  1439. In relation to emergency planning?
  (Mr Leslie) In relation to Civil Defence Grant. So I am quite confident that Durham will not have been penalised if you look at it over that period and the re-institution of the formula approach.

  Mr Jones: Can I have the answer about the survey?

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