Select Committee on Defence Sixth Report


The Defence Committee has agreed to the following Report:






Since 11 September 2001 much has been done to strengthen the UK's defence and security against the terrorist threat. The Anti-Terrorist Crime and Security Act was passed by Parliament. New aviation security measures have been introduced. The Metropolitan Police has significantly increased its anti-terrorist activity. All the emergency services have been looking again at how they work together and support each other. Steps have been taken to counter the threat of 'rogue' civilian aircraft.[1] The MoD has embarked on a new chapter for the 1998 Strategic Defence Review and has proposed an additional role for the Reserves. Work has been done on measures to deal with the consequences of a chemical, biological or radiological terrorist attack. In respect of both counter-terrorism and civil contingency planning we are better placed now than we were on 11 September.

Our inquiry has taken us into many areas which are not normally the responsibility of the Defence Committee. We have tried to get a broad picture of what is being done by different government departments and agencies, and to examine how all those different efforts are managed and co-ordinated. We are concerned that, as time passes, there is an increasing risk of complacency, and of failing to face up to the scale of the threat from terrorism.



The Armed Forces contribute to the UK's defence and security principally through their deployments overseas, although they retain a responsibility for the security of UK airspace and waters.

Since 11 September Tornado F3s have been used to provide a defence against the threat from 'rogue' civilian aircraft. We support the Government's position that a decision to shoot down a civilian aircraft must be taken by Ministers (not officials or Armed Forces commanders).

The Royal Navy's role in the defence of UK waters was demonstrated in the MV Nisha incident in December 2001. That incident also saw the Ministry of Defence Police deployed under powers provided in the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act. We continue to have some concerns over the use of those powers.

The Ministry of Defence has proposed the creation of Reserve Reaction Forces to support the civil authorities in the event of a terrorist incident. Although we welcome the thrust of the proposal insofar as it gives back to the Reserves a role in home defence, the proposal does not explain how the Forces would be paid for when deployed. We are also concerned that the Forces may be deployed in chemically, biologically or radiologically contaminated environments without proper training or protection.

We recommend that certain capabilities from the regular Armed Forces should also be committed to home defence; at present none is. Airlift, including helicopters, should be one such capability.



The police have lead responsibility for counter-terrorist operations in the UK. We believe that further consideration should be given to establishing a National Counter-Terrorist Service. We also recommend that the Government reviews the arrangements for the transmission of intelligence-based information to those with key responsibilities for emergency planning.



The Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) was set up in July 2001 to bring together and co-ordinate government responsibilities for dealing with disasters. It was unable, however, to use its position at the heart of government to lead a strategic response to the new threats post-11 September. Instead of being the solution to the habitual 'departmentalism' of Whitehall, it has become a casualty of it.

We believe that the CCS should be renamed the Emergency Planning Agency (or Centre); it should be given a clear role as the public face of the Government's response to emergencies; it should be a one-stop shop for government assistance and support to local agencies in the event of an emergency; and it should take the lead in co-ordinating central government's response to massive and cross-departmental emergencies. It should have adequate resources and authority to carry out its terms of reference.

The Government has proposed a Civil Contingencies Bill to clarify responsibilities for emergency planning. But progress with it has been slow. We recommend that the Government should, as a matter of urgency, publish detailed proposals, with a view to introducing a Bill in the 2002-03 parliamentary session.

The emergency services and others are well-practised in responding to what might be called ordinary emergencies. But there are real deficiencies in the resources and capabilities required to respond to a massive emergency such as one on the scale of 11 September—

—  communication systems are not interoperable; they may also have unknown but fundamental vulnerabilities;

—  the emergency services will require more people and capabilities than are currently available. Among others, the Armed Forces have a role to play in this (see above).

—  in the event of a chemical biological or radiological attack, mass decontamination equipment will be needed; and, if ambulance and fire crew are expected to respond to such incidents, they must have the necessary training and protective equipment.

In the health service emergency planning is to be a responsibility of the new Primary Care Trusts. Their plans will need to be developed in co-ordination with other agencies including in particular the ambulance service. The Department of Health is relying on Regional Directors of Public Health to ensure that this planning is properly done.

We recommend that the Government, publishes an annual report on the measures taken and expenditure incurred in respect of home defence and security. This report should bring together the contributions of all government departments and other relevant agencies and include reports from the devolved administrations

We understand that there is information whose public disclosure could be of material assistance to potential terrorists. We have evidence, however, which suggests that the Government takes refuge in that argument without always examining it as rigorously as it should. Information should be withheld from the public only where its publication would give rise to a specific and identifiable risk.



Overall we have concluded that there has been inadequate central co-ordination and direction. The Government has not taken the opportunity to conduct a proper and comprehensive examination of how the UK would manage the consequences of a disaster on the scale of 11 September. In many areas the Government has confused activity with achievement. A strong central authority is needed to lay down clear criteria for the work of individual government departments and to co-ordinate the efforts of other agencies. We believe that our recommendations would go some way to creating such an authority. We will closely monitor developments and we encourage other parliamentary committees to do so as well. We intend to return to these issues as appropriate.


1   ie aircraft which have been hijacked by terrorists intent on using them as weapons in the manner of the 11 September attacks Back

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