Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Home Office (10 June 2002)

  During my evidence before the House of Commons Defence Select Committee I offered to provide supplemental evidence to the Committee on several questions following the Ministerial evidence hearing of 22 May 2002.

  I enclose answers to the following questions Q1409, Q1411, Q1418, Q1457 (includes the membership of DOP(IT)(T), Q1471, Q1474, Q1485, Q1486 and the potential use of biometrics to monitor passengers at airports.


  The Home Secretary, who has ministerial responsibility for counter terrorism in the UK, and his ministerial team spend a considerable amount of time addressing a range of issues under the broad heading of countering terrorism. It is difficult to estimate exactly how long each of us spend on counter terrorism issues in the average week, but I can assure you that both of us give this area the highest priority at all times, and our immediate attention should an incident arise.


  Ministerial Group on Protective and Preventive Security—composition and terms of reference.


  Secretary of State for the Home Department (in the Chair)

  Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

  Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions

  Secretary of State for Health

  Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

  Secretary of State for Defence

  Chief Secretary to the Treasury

  Secretary of State for Trade and Industry

  Minister of State, Home Office

  The Director General of the Security Service and the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers will attend as required. The Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland, or their representatives, attend regularly. Other Ministers and the heads of the other Intelligence Agencies will be invited to attend as necessary.


  "To keep under review the Government's policy on preventive and precautionary security measures to counter the threat of terrorism in the United Kingdom and to British interests overseas; and to report to the Sub-Committee on International Terrorism as appropriate."


  Provided by the Defence and Overseas Secretariat.


  Part 2 of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security (ATCS) Act contains measures to allow the UK to take action to freeze the assets of overseas persons, or governments, who are threatening the economic interests of the UK or life and property of UK nationals or residents. The provisions of the Act permit the UK to impose sanctions in cases of urgency where neither the UN nor EU has yet agreed a course of action, or in those instances where it is appropriate for the UK to act unilaterally. [These provisions replace section 2 of the Emergency Laws (Re-enactments and repeals) Act 1964].

  The freezing orders are not intended for frequent use, and the numbers of orders made should not measure its usefulness.

  At present, we are freezing the assets of terrorists on international lists using our powers under UNSCR 1373, put into effect in the UK by the Terrorism (United Kingdom Measures) Order 2001. The restraint orders in part 1 of the ATCS may be employed against individuals in the UK, but not against external threats. UNSCR 1373 while allowing the UK to freeze the assets of terrorists does not define terrorism, or allow for unilateral action to be taken by the UK against groups or individuals not on international lists.

  There may be situations where neither of these powers are applicable, for example where the UK sought to freeze the assets of individuals within a foreign government taking action against UK interests. Even if such actions could be classified as acts of terrorism, the elected heads of government could not be classed as terrorists.


Range of powers under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001

Summary of Sunset Clauses the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001

  1.  Sunsets on Part 4—Immigration and Asylum

Section 29 Duration of sections 21-23

  The provisions in Part 4 have an overall sunset clause of five years.

  The power for this is contained in Section 29 (7) and states that three sections (sections 21 (Suspected international terrorist: certification), 22 (Deportation and removal), and 23 (Detention)):

    "... shall by virtue of this subsection cease to have effect at the end of 10 November 2006."

  However, five years is the maximum period that the provisions in the section can be invoked, so within this period, and subject to the provisions of section 29, there are interim provisions for expiry and renewal for these same sections:

    —  Section 29 (1) states that sections 21 to 23 will, subject to the further provisions of the same section, expire at the end of the period of 15 months from the date of Royal Assent (effectively 14 March 2003)

    —  The other provisions in the section are contained in subsection (2) and allow the Secretary of State to use an order to:

    —  repeal sections 21 to 23;

    —  revive those sections for a period not exceeding one year; and

    —  provide that those sections shall not expire in accordance with subsection (1) or an order under paragraph (b) or this paragraph, but shall continue in force for a period not exceeding one year.

  2.  Other Sunset Provisions

  2.1  Part 14—Supplemental

Section 123 Effect of report

  Section 123 (1) states that the report finalised by the Committee of Privy Counsellors may specify any provision of the Act as one to which section 123 (2) applies.

  In section 123 (2), this effectively means that any provision specified as above ceases to have effect at the end of the period of six months beginning with the day on which the report is laid before Parliament.

  This, however, is countered by section 123(3) in that subsection (2) does not apply if a motion has been made in each House of Parliament considering the report before the end of that six month period.

  2.2  Part 11—Retention of Communications Data

Section 105 Lapsing of powers in section 104

  Section 105 (1): Section 104 (Directions about retention of communications data) lapses at the end of the initial period unless an order authorising the giving of directions is made under that section before the end of that period.

  The initial period is the period of two years beginning with the day on which the Act is passed (effectively 14 December 2003).

  The initial period can be extended on one or more occasions by the Secretary of State by affirmative order. Any such order would need to be made before the end of the initial period.


Organisation challenging proscription under Schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000

  21 international organisations were added to Schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in March 2001.

  The Terrorism Act 2000 provides a mechanism by which a proscribed organisation, or any person affected by the proscription of an organisation, may make application to the Secretary of State for de-proscription at any time. So far five organisations have appealed to the Home Secretary for de-proscription. All the applications were rejected.

  The Act also provides for an appeal to the independent tribunal, the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission (POAC). Three organisations have applied to the POAC. These cases are ongoing. The Commission considers any refusals to de-proscribe in the light of judicial review principles.

  Provision is also made for further appeal following a decision of the Commission on a question of law.

QUESTION 1471, 1474

  The Civil Contingencies Committee's (CCC) terms of reference are:

    "To co-ordinate the preparation of plans for ensuring in an emergency the supplies and services essential to the life of the community; to keep these plans under regular review; to supervise their prompt and effective implementation in specific emergencies; and to report as necessary to the appropriate Committee."

  The Home Secretary, who is the only formal member of the Committee, chairs the Civil Contingencies Committee (CCC). Attendance at meetings of CCC is determined by the subjects under discussion and would normally include Cabinet Ministers, the Security Service, Devolved Administrations, and Presidents of the emergency service associations and others as necessary.

  I attach as an Annex (Annex B) a copy of the Home Secretary's letter to MPs of 9 November 2001 informing them of the committee structure of the Civil Contingencies Committee, and its sub-committees, for background information.

Interoperability of Emergency Services Communications Systems

  In their Questions 1471 and 1474 Mr Cran and Mr Howarth respectively asked for further information on the time-scale for the procurement of compatible communications equipment for the Emergency Services.

  The primary emergency services have different requirements for interoperability; this a direct reflection of their differing command and control arrangements. The police force needs a system that allows police officers at all levels to communicate with one another. The ambulance service requirement focuses on communication between the radio control room and the ambulance fleet and hospitals. The fire service system connects the officer in charge of a fire engine with the control room.


  The Police Service has adopted a single system, "Airwave". The provider of that service is O2 and roll out has already begun. Five forces have reached Ready For Service (RFS) dates. Ready for Service is the point at which the Airwave infrastructure is completely installed and the force is ready to migrate, usually over several months, to full operational working.

  This is a large and very complex programme and the Committee may find it helpful to note the process that has to be completed before a force reaches its Ready For Service date and then full implementation. The key steps in the process are:

    —  Selection of the sites for new masts, site acquisition and obtaining planning permission before build.

    —  Building the ground based network.

    —  Commissioning sites and their integration into O2's customer service department.

    —  Testing the network for coverage using a contractually agreed methodology.

    —  Integrating the network, control rooms and terminals and ensuring that business processes and people are able to deliver the business benefits. This covers issues such as following a managed installation programme to minimise the time that police vehicles were off the road and training personnel in the operation of the new system.

  Each of these phases requires specialist staff. The restrictions on access to land imposed during the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001 (and which are crucial to locating new masts) resulted in some delays to early roll-outs to forces.

  A programme of this size and complexity is always likely to be susceptible to unexpected problems of this nature. But as more forces reach RFS dates and as experience of rolling out AIRWAVE to more forces increases, then the probability of delays from technical and business process problems will diminish.

  The police service roll out of Airwave will be completed before new systems are in place in the Fire Service and the Ambulance Service. The Police Information Technology Organisation, who handle the Airwave contract on behalf of the police service, are currently working with O2 to agree the final detail of roll-out to individual forces. Ministers will take the opportunity that this offers to ensure that there is a robust, agreed plan which can be met by both contractors and forces and which delivers the Airwave system at the earliest date.

  All forces (England, Wales and Scotland) are likely to have reached Airwave RFS dates by (mid 2005 at the latest). But it is important to note that the benefits of interoperability can be achieved significantly before national roll-outs are complete, ie if a police force and a fire service in the same area have both moved to interoperable systems then those services can have the benefits immediately. Given that the need for interoperability will most commonly be for local or adjacent services, this is an important consideration.

Ambulance Service

  The Department of Health is planning to procure a nationally managed digital radio network service for ambulance services in England. The Department is awaiting confirmation from the Devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales that they wish to join in with this procurement. The Department took this approach in order to:

    —  avoid a series of separate local procurements;

    —  ensure a common standard of communications and the same technical solution across all 32 NHS Ambulance Trusts; and

    —  ensure appropriate interoperability with other public safety/emergency services.

  In order to comply with European Public Procurement legislation, it will be necessary for the Department to undertake a competitive procurement process. It cannot be assumed that procurement of the Police system, Airwave, will be the eventual outcome though the system ordered will be compatible with it.

  The procurement schedule is currently:

    —  July 2002: Official Journal of the European Community (OJEC) advert to be placed for the procurement of a single national radio network for NHS ambulance services.

    —  December 2002—formal invitation to tender to be issued.

    —  September 2003: contract for this new service to be put in place and first pilot to be implemented.

    —  Between January 2004 and December 2005: new service to be rolled out.

    —  By 2008: all NHS Ambulance Trusts to have moved across to the new service.

Fire Service

  The Committee may be aware that the former Fire Service Minister, Alan Whitehead, announced on 7 May 2002 the government's intention to procure a national radio communications system for the Fire Service in England and Wales which would meet the interoperability requirement already agreed by the primary emergency services. That announcement also made clear that the Government would fund a new national competition to supply the equipment and that work on that would start immediately.

  The current procurement schedule is:

    —  December 2002: OJEC advert to be placed for a single radio network.

    —  April 2004: contract awarded.

    —  Early 2005: begin to roll out to all Brigades

    —  2007: completion of roll out.

  The Fire Service central Firelink team are carrying out a risk assessment in the context of maintaining existing equipment and considering options available for providing interoperability in the interim.

  Ministers have looked very carefully at the issue of interoperability of the emergency services' communications equipment. On the basis of expert advice on the legal, procurement and technical issues, Ministers concluded that the earliest practicable date for achieving interoperability across all services and the entire country was 2007-8. Naturally, they would wish that this date could be brought forward but they have had to recognise the impossibility of short-circuiting the processes necessary to conduct this procurement.

  Work to meet the government's aim of achieving interoperability will continue to be co-ordinated by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat and closely monitored by the UK Resilience Sub Committee (of the Civil Contingencies Committee) under the Chairmanship of the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Right Honourable Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, CBE.


Government's plans to make British Passport better protected against fraud including by the use of biometrics

  The UK Passport Service's efforts to combat passport fraud are directed at identifying fraudulent applications through effective authentication techniques, improved data management and protecting the passport document through advanced security features.

  The British digital passport, around 12 million of which have been produced since 1998, is one of the most secure in the world. It contains a digital photograph and digital signature of the holder, and the personal identification page is protected by a clear plastic laminate incorporating a holographic device which further protects the portrait. The personal identification page is also protected by a series of laser perforations. The use of special paper and printing techniques provide added security.

  The digital passport is machine readable, and complies with the International Civil Aviation Organisation Standard (Doc 9303) for machine-readable travel documents, and the specification for passports of the Council of the European Union.

  As indicated in the UKPS Corporate and Business Plans 2002-07 the security features in the passport document remain under continuing review in case a feature is compromised by the fraudster. Studies are being undertaken of the use of biometrics (fingerprint, iris, facial recognition) in passport books and cards both to further enhance security and to prevent the issue of multiple passports in the same identity.

  The UKPS is keeping in close touch with work being undertaken by ICAO post 11 September to develop an international standard for the use of biometrics in passports; and will be attending a major international conference in Holland in mid June to discuss and share experience on the use of biometrics in passports, representatives from the US Government will be attending the Conference to report on the new US Government requirement for biometric information in travel documents in order to benefit from the visa waiver arrangements. We are also aware that the New Zealand and Australian passport services are conducting tests on biometrics, and Australia is committed to introducing a facial recognition biometric into their passport in 2003.

  As part of the UKPS's collaboration with DVLA to develop a central identity database to support the concept of an entitlement card, the UKPS has commissioned a study by Dr Tony Mansfield of the National Physical laboratory on the application of biometrics in an entitlement scheme. This study is primarily aimed at identifying the issues arising from the use of biometrics on a one to many basis against a national database to prevent duplicate applications. This study will look at iris, fingerprint and facial recognition templates.

  As will be seen the UKPS are keeping abreast of developments in the use of biometrics in travel documentation but significant issues (capability, acceptability, legality and technology, among others) remain to be resolved before they are introduced. The UKPS firmly intends to introduce a card form of the passport book within the next three years which will provide a suitable platform for the storage of biometric data. In advance of conclusions/decisions on the adoption of biometric information, the UKPS has developed a reserve design for its digital passport in case the security features are compromised.

  Finally, in terms of strengthening its capability to tackle identity fraud which is a key business priority, the UKPS has in place a comprehensive fraud action plan. The key elements of this plan are improved linkages with trusted databases in the public/private sector, sharing of information with law enforcement agencies, the creation of a lost and stolen passport database, and a single global database of British passport issues worldwide, and strengthened internal sampling audit procedures to continually test systems and processes.

Plans to make Visas issued by the UK better protected against fraud

  UKvisas, a joint Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Department, is responsible for the issue of all UK visas at diplomatic posts overseas. Visas are already issued on specially designed vignettes that contain various security features in a common European Union format.

  A revised EU common format vignette is being designed and should be brought into use at all our visa issuing posts by April 2004. The new format will incorporate space for a digital photograph of the applicant and the EU agreement is for all common format vignettes to be issued with a printed photograph within the next five years. UKvisas expects to implement this change also by April 2004, three years ahead of the EU deadline.

  UKvisas is also working on an IT modernisation programme one feature of which will implement a central visa database accessible by all our visa issuing posts and the Immigration and Nationality Department of the Home Office. This will improve integrity and reduce the possibility of "visa shopping".

  Although there are currently no plans to use a biometric such as fingerprints or iris scans as part of the visa process, UKvisas is monitoring moves towards such use by various authorities including the Immigration Service trial at Heathrow.

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