Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002
400. They are important men in this process,
I take it?
(Brigadier Houghton) They are from the perspective
of the military. I go back to the policy framework within which
we operate which is that there is no element of the forces which
are under their command who are in any way resourced or dedicated
to this task. Therefore it would be wholly misleading within this
consultation process at the moment for the armed forces or, the
Ministry of Defence, to pretend to local authorities and emergency
planning officers, that there is a great quantity of military
capability stood by and dedicated to come to their assistance
in their hour of need, that simply is not the case. The only thing
that can be promised is on any given day there will have been
a rolling assessment made by the local Brigadier in liaison with
his other Service colleagues. They will be aware that they can
bring this amount of capability to the party to help out and they
will go through a process of pre-planning and contingency planning
to see what can be done on the day.
401. Thank you for that very pragmatic and clear
answer. It does lead me on to the fact that an understanding that
a regional brigade covers a large area with a small quantity of
both regulars and territorials. This is further complicated for
some would argue good reasons, some would argue bad reasons by
the removal of two of these figures, namely the commanders of
two 52 brigades from this particular equation to form two 52 infantry
brigades. How are those two brigadiers now going to be replaced
inside this planning process?
(Brigadier Houghton) Within Scotland in 52 brigade
there is a natural, as it were, synergy between a single brigadier
and the devolved government in Edinburgh. Therefore that process
of co-ordination will be carried on throughout Scotland as a whole
through that one brigadier. Within 2 brigade, again my understanding,
this is detailed land command business is, that, he continues
with his residual ICP tasks and he hands them off to his deputy,
which is his stay behind infrastructure party, in the event of
him being committed outside his area.
Chairman: I am sure we will come back to this
in our next session. We will move on now to assistance to health
authorities, Frank Roy.
402. Gentlemen, we know that the health authorities
are able to ask for military assistance under the MACC arrangements.
Have any of those arrangements changed since September 11th?
(Brigadier Houghton) No, they have not. Again, it
is not MACC that would be MAGD, it would be Military Assistance
to another government department. There are some standing operations
by which the military can be called upon to produce additional
ward capability and emergency ambulance cover. There has been
no change to that. I think you have to see that in the context
of what the armed forces have in respect of medical capability.
The armed forces medical capability is optimised for deployment
and is relatively small. The most significant elements of it are
within the territorial army in terms of what the Armed Forces
can mobilise for large scale effort and large scale warfare and
most of that is bedded out within the National Health Service
as it is. As it were, you would be robbing Peter to pay Paul if
you were asking the National Health Service to call on the military,
the majority of whose capability is actually within the National
Health Service. The other thing, I think that ten or 15 years
ago there were not frequent but a number of occasions upon which
army capability was called uponthere might have been other
services involved as wellto man ambulances. I remember
my own band, the Green Howard band who were trained up as medical
assistants as well, going to man ambulances during an industrial
dispute. The qualities of clinical governance that now exist and
have grown within the National Health Service and medical practice
are not ones to which routine combat medical training now reaches.
Clearly you will understand that our deployable military capability
is one which is optimised to provide battlefield first aid and
evacuation back to areas and hospitals where that level of clinical
governance is met. We do not hold within our frontline units medical
capability of the sort that would be required in the civil sector
to meet routine peacetime requirements of the civilian medical
403. Could I ask for clarity on that. In this
post devolution time, are the agreed arrangements the same, for
example, in Scotland which has health as a devolved issue? Is
it the same, for example, as England?
(Brigadier Houghton) Correct because the MAGD procedures
would be authorised from the Ministry of Defence here, not through
a devolved thing to Edinburgh.
404. Could I ask you, obviously these attendants
need training exercises, how often are the training exercises
(Brigadier Houghton) We are not talking about medical
now, or are we? We are talking about exercises in the round?
(Brigadier Houghton) If I could speak particularly
about counter-terrorist capabilities, which are the ones which
clearly need exercises, there are three levels of exercise. At
the top there is the AGLOW series of exercise, the second level
is the REMOUNT series of exercise, the bottom level is the New
Salesman. There are about 14 to 15 NEW SALESMEN level exercises
a year, four REMOUNT exercises and one AGLOW level exercise. Just
to give you a little bit of detail on that. The AGLOW level, that
would involve ministers making decisions within COBR and from
an MoD perspective would involve the full run out of the panoply
of our counter-terrorist capability whether or not that is Special
Forces, CBRN, EOD related, that is the AGLOW level. The REMOUNT
level, of which there are four excersises a year, go to the level
of exercising the police gold level of command and the ministerial
and other levels are then simulated by what we would call a higher
control in military parlance. Then the NEW SALESMEN level, of
which there are 14 to 15 a year, are really one day desk top exercises,
scenario planning on table top models, study day type things.
That is the annual cycle of exercise.
406. Can I ask you also more specifically, in
the event of a chemical or biological terrorist attack, is there
any direct assistance which could be given to the NHS?
(Brigadier Houghton) Not into the NHS. We could cover
that a bit in closed session. Dare I say it, it is a wholly different
skill set. The capabilities and training of paramedics in the
London ambulance service is far and away in excess of what we
would bring to such an incident
407. You would not advise?
(Brigadier Houghton) No.
(Mr Davenport) No, the military effort in that sort
of situation would be geared very much to dealing with the incident.
If it was a suspect CBRN device the first thing would be to try
and ensure the device was not activated and if it was, to minimise
Chairman: Thank you. The last set of
questions from Rachel Squire.
408. I think we would all agree that what is
absolutely crucial in dealing with either a potential threat or
actually responding to a terrorist incident is clearly communication.
The success of any operation depends on it. We have heard that
the Ministry of Defence and the emergency services appear to have
separate communication systems. Can I ask you what problems that
does create or could create in co-ordinating information about
possible threats and also responding to actual incidents?
(Brigadier Houghton) You highlight an area of concern.
Again, this is highlighted in the SDR new chapter work. It is
identified anyway in the forward programme for the purchase of
communications equipment to enhance the land regional chain of
command. At the moment our deployable communications systems are
not compatible, nor are they necessarily yet compatible within
the blue light services themselves. The blue light services are
going over to a system called BT Airwave. It is the intention
that we would equip those forces which are likely to be employed
on MACA operations, particularly the MACP with this system. I
cannot, as of today, guarantee it will happen. It is a fight for
resourcing priority, so as I say I cannot guarantee it as of today.
Clearly this will be an enhancement to our counter-terrorist procedures.
Hitherto, working on discreet nets, meeting up with liaison points,
using mobile phones, fixed installations, it has been workable
but it has been identified as an area where we need an enhancement.
Rachel Squire: Thank you, Brigadier.
You have effectively answered my second question which was that
improvements to the communications systems, the procurement of
the future home defence radio systems should ensure that inter-operability
and capability and compatibility. Given you are not yet sure there
is an absolute guarantee that will occur I would say, Chairman,
it is clearly an area that we need to make clear our view as a
Committee is essential.
Chairman: Thank you. You will be most
envious when I tell you that when we were meeting Mr Richard's
assistant when we said to him "All this will cost a lot of
money" he shrugged his shoulders and said
Mr Hancock: We are a rich country.
Chairman: Yes. Some of the problems we
have identified which we are addressing in the very early stages
of our inquiry are going to cost a lot of money and we have been
vigilant for a long time. I do not think this Committee nor yourselves
will allow the lack of any assistance from allowing any decision
makers to feel that the worst is over and therefore we can get
away with a bit of incrementalism, of which the British are renowned.
The good news is we will let you go. The bad news is we would
like you to come back please.
409. Would it be possible just to ask you to
write to us and clarify the position where you would expect there
would be the ability of the military to be able to talk to the
blue light services.
(Brigadier Houghton) When there will?
Mr Hancock: When that will be achieved,
that there was absolutely a coherent communication network which
enabled each to speak to each other across the nation.
Chairman: Thank you. You will drop us
a note. Thank you very much.