Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300-319)|
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
MP, AND MR
300. So the answer is yes, is it?
(Mr Hoon) As I say, I am not going to make your story
for you by commenting on any particular countries, because you
are giving me a hypothetical. What I am saying is that my job
as Secretary of State for Defence for the United Kingdom ultimately
is to ensure that there is a proper defence available to the citizens
of this country and this country's interests, and that is what
301. Wherever it comes from?
(Mr Hoon) Wherever it arises, of course.
302. Secretary of State, that leads me straight
to the point about Iraq, because there have been suggestions made
that we do face a threat from people operating from Iraq or from
Iraq itself. Lord Owen at a recent conference at the Royal United
Services Institute suggested that it was more or less axiomatic
that the Americans would go on to Iraq next and that there would
be a kind of domino series of attacks by America on places which
they regard as harbouring terrorists. Can you tell us whether
you are aware of any additional threat at the moment beyond that
which emanates from Afghanistan? Are you aware whether any of
those who have been in Afghanistan have removed themselves and
may be operating from another state? If the United States were
intent upon going after, say, Iraq or elements within Iraq, do
we have the capability of assisting them, and in principle would
we? That is a sort of practical question, not a theoretical one.
(Mr Hoon) It is a very clever question. We are very
well aware, and we all were aware, of the fact that Al-Qaeda has
tentacles in a very considerable number of jurisdictions, including
this one, for example, and determined efforts have been made to
deal with those tentacles in a number of different countries.
The response, as I indicated earlier, may depend on the most effective
way of dealing with that threat. In our society the most effective
way is acting upon information that we have, making arrests wherever
they are clearly justified, and certainly acting against their
sources of finance, their communications, their ability to use
and smuggle weapons, all of which, as I indicated earlier, although
I cannot prove it, I am sure has had some impact already. I think
that across the spectrum then there are different means that may
well be appropriate according to the places in which Al-Qaeda
and similar organisations operate. In a state that, for example,
has very little ability to control what happens within its own
borders, then certainly a degree of invasive military response
may be appropriate, but that will have to be judged in the light
of the information, its proximate threat and whether that is the
best way of dealing with it. Those are options that are, and have
been, looked at thoroughly and will continue to be considered
and reviewed as we go along.
303. But you do not see an immediate threat
emanating from Iraq or elements of Iraq at the present time?
(Mr Hoon) Actually, as far as Iraq is concerned, I
have not seen any evidence to link Iraq directly with Al-Qaeda.
304. Secretary of State, in your series of questions
which you cleverly posed to us so we could avoid asking you our
own questions, I suppose, you list amongst them the role of the
armed forces in dealing with problems upstream, which we have
been dealing with in the context of doctrine. You then talk about
"How do we engage the causes of terrorism as well as the
terrorists themselves? How do we do so on a cross-Governmental
and coalition basis and what is the role of the military, if any,
in this? How do we avoid the use of force becoming our opponent's
own recruiting sergeant?"clearly an issue of difficult
balance and policy. Are you convinced, as Major-General Milton
was when he came before us, that the doctrine is sufficiently
flexible to serve us in this regard in the fight against terrorism?
In particular, in the section "Military Strategy and the
Relationship between the Policy and the Doctrine" it says:
"In contrast with the potentially fluid and changeable nature
of policy, military strategic level doctrine is informed by fundamental
lessons learned over time about the ways in which military forces
can be used effectively in support of policy." It seems to
me that the very nature of the terrorist threat is that you have
to predict the unpredictable, and that learning from the lessons
of the past is not necessarily the right defence against terrorism.
(Mr Hoon) I think that is absolutely right, and I
can see that we do have to build on our experience. It may well
not necessarily be the most recent experience; it may be that
we have to go back, as Simon was saying, to campaigns in the past
and learn some of those lessons. Certainly in the immediate aftermath
of the events of 11 September a good deal of very hard thinking
was done inside the Ministry of Defence in order to work out what
was the appropriate military strategy. I suspect, when and if
that is ever published, that it will involve some novel thinking
and some novel elements, because inevitably all practical situations
involve us responding in new and different ways. In answer to
your specific question about the doctrine, I think the doctrine
is sufficiently robust to deal with the terrorist threat, but
it will evolve as those threats evolve.
305. Even though it says in there that the doctrine
is quite a rigid thing?
(Mr Hoon) This is published in a modest way, recognising
that it may have to be republished as we go along. I do not think
there is any great surprise in that. I suspect that there are
those who might well go back to Chinese military strategists and
say that actually it was anticipated a long time ago, but the
nature of modern societies is that unfortunately we are not all
that good at collective memory, we tend, as you say, to deal with
the very recent threat, and I think one of the challenges that
we have to face up to is adjusting to threats that would have
been entirely common in the Middle Ages. Certainly the idea of
international organisations across boundaries that had no respect
for, even if there were a concept of, the nation state at the
time would not be particularly surprising 500 or 600 years ago.
306. I think the Chinese quotation I would use
to supplement my first question, Secretary of State, was "You
don't pull down one part of the city wall to build up another
part." I will send you my collective works of Chinese military
(Mr Hoon) I had not realised that Walsall was in China!
307. Secretary of State, it will hardly be a
surprise to you that this Committee, in common with other Select
Committees, is beginning to look at whether Government is structurally
and organisationally prepared for the sort of attack that we saw
on 11 September. I am not asking you to put yourself in the position
of the Prime Minister, because you have just said to me, "Go
off to 10 Downing Street and ask him, he's in charge of the Government."
It was Mr Webb, when he came before us last time, who said to
us that for air and sea-based threats the MoD takes the lead,
and where it was land-based security the Home Office takes the
lead. The Committee I think took the view that that was something
which had built up over a long period of time. Therefore, if that
is correctand you could say that that is not correct, but
if it isthe question is, if that has been developed over
time, is it the right way of approaching this? Therefore, are
you beginning to look very carefully at these sorts of structures?
(Mr Hoon) My judgement at the moment is that it is
the right way of dividing the direct responsibility, but I think
the one thing that I have come to appreciate in the time that
I have been doing this job is, particularly given the kinds of
crises that we have had to deal withand they have been
many and variedthat they have necessarily involved a number
of other government departments in co-ordinating a response. It
may simply be the increasing complexity and organisation of our
society where a crisisI was not just thinking of the foot
and mouth difficultiesin the 1960s probably mainly concerned
the Ministry of Agriculture, but which, certainly in the responsibilities
I had, involved around the table most of government departments,
because most of government departments which in one way or another
were either affected by the crisis or were involved in providing
a solution. Therefore, I suspect that it is increasingly the case
that terrorism, by definition, when we are dealing with a potential
threat to the mainland of the United Kingdom, involves both the
home departments and the departments that are more likely to be
concerned with overseas issues. So I think joining up the response
is a crucial part of modern Government's reaction, though it does
not actually make a huge difference who has primacy in terms of
policy, because as soon as there is a threat we would expect that
a number of government departments would be involved in the response.
308. It is worth pursuing that to this extent,
to sayand this is not a political comment, there are plenty
of examples in the Government that I support, and I guess there
are plenty of examples in the Government that you are presently
a member ofthat all of that was in place for a number of
other contingencies, but I am afraid the fact is that it just
did not work out, because the job of co-ordinating Whitehall and
government departments is a very big one indeed and, as somebody
said to us this morning, tough wars are of course fought. When
we are in the face of the sort of circumstances we are now, surely
we have to cut all of this out? How would you respond to that?
Or have there been no circumstances in which this has occurred?
(Mr Hoon) No, I think you make a fair point. Government
has learned some of those lessons as it has gone along. I accept
that we continue to learn lessons and I accept that in the making
of policy there are inevitably difficulties between different
states, but that tends to be in rather slower a time when people
perhaps have the opportunity of making difficulties. Frankly,
my experience of dealing with crises is that Government works
very well. It may not give the answer as quickly as we all might
like, but in terms of bringing people together and getting them
to work one with another, my experience of crises is that civil
servants and others have worked magnificently and have responded
with a great deal of determination to get the right result. As
I say, there are times when we all feel that it takes longer than
it should, but I think that has been in the nature of the crisis
that we have had to deal with.
309. Let me tempt you a little bit further and
see if I can get you to answer this one.
(Mr Hoon) I answered the last one.
310. I am going to pray in aid Simon Webb here
when he was giving evidence to us on a previous occasion. He was
quite unrestrained when Mr Howarth put the question to him about
should we follow the example of the United States and have a form
of whatever it is calledHomeland Director. Doubtless he
or she would not be called that, it would be a minister or whatever.
Mr Webb said, "Absolute nonsense." He said, "This
is not going to work" and so on. Can I tempt you to say whether
you agree with him or disagree with him?
(Mr Hoon) I think what I have found from my involvement
in a number of different crises isand this is the point
I made to you at the outsetthat it may well be that a department
has the prime policy lead on a particular subject, but in a crisis
actually what happens and happens pretty often is that a number
of government departments come together and try to sort it out.
So I would prefer not to have that separation, because I think
that in the modern world it is fairly artificial. You see it in
relation to dealing with the kinds of threats that international
terrorism can pose. It would not make a lot of sense to say there
should be one department or one minister that concentrates simply
on the homeland aspects, when in fact the threat might have its
origins in a training camp in Afghanistan and those people may
well be moving money and weapons across the world which might,
for example, involve people from the Foreign Office or associated
with the Foreign Office in dealing with that. Once the threat
arises in the United Kingdom, it may well be the counter-terrorism
responsibility of the Home Office. You may want to reassure the
population that you are dealing properly with that, and therefore
it may well be a local government function. I believe that in
a modern and very complicated world, the challenge to Governmentand
you are right, some of the governments in the past have not always
had all that much success at it, but I think we are getting better
at itis to join up those different elements and make sure
they work very effectively one with another.
311. So you are developing this in a way, so
I accept that. None the less, there is something called the Civil
Contingencies Secretariat which comes under the Cabinet Office
which you are not responsible for, but the Deputy Prime Minister
is responsible for that, is he?
(Mr Hoon) Ultimately, yes.
312. So would it be the case that the Deputy
Prime Minister would be answering for the wider aspects of the
co-ordination within Government of what we are talking about in
the fight against terrorism?
(Mr Hoon) The best way of overseeing these responsibilities
is through the Cabinet Office, again in order to demonstrate that
this is not a single department's responsibility. By giving the
Cabinet Office the overall responsibility, it is designed to demonstrate
that we are bringing together the different departments in order
to tackle the problems.
313. In a letter from the Ministry of Defence
it says, "Cabinet Office. The recently established Civil
Contingencies Secretariat is primarily responsible for assessing
the resilience of all Government Departments in the face of emergencies."
The question is, of course, how resilient are you? I am pretty
sure you are going to say, "Very resilient." What have
you said to the Civil Contingencies Secretariat? Or, more interestingly,
what have they said to you?
(Mr Hoon) We have obviously, as all departments of
Government have, in the period since 11 September had to look
very carefully at the implications of those events for the way
in which we conduct our business. I am not going to go into the
precise threats that we have given thought to, because that will
be of assistance to those who would threaten us, but I can assure
you that a very considerable amount of work has gone on right
across Government to think through the implications for Government
and the way it responds on the events of 11 September.
Chairman: I must say, to relieve any anxieties,
the Civil Contingencies Secretariat is chaired by the Home Secretary1.
Mr Cran: So he is the Homeland Director.
Chairman: The Sheffield part of it! I think
314. Secretary of State, I want to pursue where
James Cran was going a little bit more, in particular in terms
of the practical arrangements and co-ordination across Government.
Clearly the Deputy Prime Minister was not as confident as you
are about how well the Civil Service responded, because he, in
August 2001, commissioned a discussion document to look at the
future of emergency planning in England and Wales because, one
assumes, he did not think it worked that well during the fuel
crisis and severe flooding in the autumn and winter of 2000 (foot
and mouth was not mentioned in there).
(Mr Hoon) I am sorry to interrupt, but I think that
is a little unfair. I indicated earlier that there are always
lessons to be learnt, there are always refinements we can make.
Certainly my experience of each of those crises is that we did
identify in each of those crises things that we could do better.
I do not accept that it did not work well. I actually think it
worked extremely well. It could work better.
315. In each of those episodes the armed forces
were used to good effect and perhaps helped the civil power co-ordinate
and respond more efficiently, using the channels that the armed
forces have. Within that context, do you think the principle of
the military assisting the civil agencies only as and when they
are called in is still appropriate in the context of this terrorist
threat, or do you think we need more permanent co-ordination?
We have talked about the United States. I think it was in France,
there was mention this morning, that the Health Secretary was
responsible for co-ordinating the whole thing on a more permanent
basis and is held to account and is democratically accountable
in that way.
(Mr Hoon) My experience of dealing with crises is
that I found myself in the rather strange position at one stage
of chairing a Cabinet Committee dealing with foot and mouth, which
was not something I had anticipated doing when I was appointed
Secretary of State for Defence, and it certainly extended the
limits of my knowledge of agricultural matters quite comprehensively.
It does demonstrate that actually governments make decisions pragmatically.
Clearly you need to have a response to a potential threat in place,
you need to have a structure to deal with that, but if you are
simply waiting for that threat and sitting not doing a great deal,
then your response is unlikely to be as sharp as is necessary,
therefore what you need to haveand I think this was the
role of the armed forces, particularly in those crises, specifically
foot and mouthis the ability to scale up to a crisis. Most
government departments can deal with (if I can call it this) a
routine crisis, they have people with the skills, with the knowledge,
with the ability to respond. What the armed forces were able to
bring to bearand I think this is very important about the
skills that they haveis the ability to take what might
start out as being a crisis that is relatively routine and scale
up the response in a very short space of time, particularly using
logistics skills to be able to respond to a much bigger crisis
and bring in people quickly to be able to deal with that in a
way that does not cause confusion and difficulty. I think that
was a particular skill that I regarded as being absolutely crucial
in that particular crisis.
316. Obviously you are going to say that you
do not want to prejudge the results of things, which is a really
good defence, but the use of reservist forces presents itself
as an obvious direction we might want to go down in order to develop
a more permanent set of trained people across the country that
have the same sorts of disciplines that the armed forces are able
to offer in those circumstances?
(Mr Hoon) Yes.
317. Alice Hills from the Shrivenham Staff College
has given us some evidence. She said that an associated danger
is that terrorism may be at its most dangerous when it falls between
overlapping governmental jurisdictions, such as foreigners exposed
to domestic terrorism or between military or other enforcement,
again pointing to the notion that in practical terms we have got
to ensure that there is an integrationAl-Qaeda in Afghanistan,
Al-Qaeda in the UKand that we cannot afford for different
departments, possibly rival departments, to be
(Mr Hoon) I think that is a very fair point, and it
is one that we need to have regard to. Ultimately the responsibility
in the United Kingdom rests with the domestic department, the
Home Office, and I believe that it remains appropriate for that
to be the prime responsibility. However, in terms of what I was
describing in terms of scaling up, there might come a point where
the threat was so comprehensive, so difficult and so long lasting
that then the civil power required the support of the military
in precisely the way, if you like, as Patrick Mercer observed
earlier, for example, as in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland
the ultimate responsibility rests with the Chief Constable, but
in terms of day-to-day decision-making there is enormously close
co-operation between the military leadership and the civil leadership.
Indeed, I am sure that in terms of individual decisions, skills
and responsibilities, it would be foolish to say that the Chief
Constable always decides or the GOC always decides; they work
as a team and they work extremely well as a team. In trying to
respond to the terrorist threat, there will be times when I am
sure there is a military lead and some times when there is a police
lead; it will depend on the skills that are available. I think
the point about those skills is that we have to use military skills
in the best way to deliver the policy objective that we are trying
(Mr Webb) I think it is this military responding to
requests from the civil authorities or civil power which actually
gives the clarity you are talking about. We are absolutely clear.
If I may say so, there is a constitutional point here, I think,
in that if you are talking to other countries or you look back
into our history, where the armed forces have decided to put themselves
onto the streets, it is a new constitutional situation. I go back
several hundred years on this subject, into the principle that
armed forces are called upon by the civil power. That may be as
a result of a phone call from a police station to their local
unit, but it might also be as a result of the fact that they are
called upon in a civil contingences operation. There are very
clear arrangements for handover to the military commander at the
request of the civil power in that situation. So it is that clarity,
I think, that helps us here and which actually then allows us
to make the best use of our resources, because the armed forces
really like to be very clear about their command control arrangements
and like to know exactly where they are going and what they are
318. But a reserve force that is trained in
a targeted way for certain things would be an excellent resource
to offer the civil power, would it not?
(Mr Webb) Yes, and they would call upon it and then
obviously use the military command chain once they had called
upon it, but the call-out would be from the civil side.
(Mr Hoon) To re-emphasise this point, in a sense,
many people would recognise what you are describing and what I
have been describing as being part of the structure of this country
through long periods of the Cold War. We had those kinds of structure
in place then, and it is part of the point about collective memory
as to whether we should not be thinking again about developing
a structure that is comparable, although different, to the way
in which we had these organisations in the past, not least because
many of those structures assumed a much larger contingent of the
armed forces than we presently have available. Charles Guthrie
reminded me on the day of his retirement that when he joined the
Army it was a million strongit is not a million strong
todayand therefore some of the assumptions during the Cold
War were based on being able to call on resident battalions in
the United Kingdom to supplement the civil power. That is not
going to be quite so straightforward in the days when the army
is around 100,000, and that is why we may well need new resources
and to look at ways of refining our existing resources to deal
with that problem.
319. Finally, how do you balance the need for
providing an effective military posture in the face of the current
threats, against the long-established constitutional emphasis
on the military supporting the civil authorities rather than the
other way around? The current Anti-terrorism Crime and Security
Bill might be seen as a movea rather necessary onetowards
a more proactive and rigorous control environment. Do we need
to go further along that spectrum?
(Mr Hoon) I think you had better ask the Home Secretary.
Mr Cran: Long question: short answer.
2 1 The Home Secretary Chairs the Civil Contingencies