Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002
380. You have had a run-out of that, have you?
(Brigadier Houghton) The Nisha?
381. That is one example I wanted to talk to
you about. You tracked that ship for a third of its journey round
the world, from the Horn of Africa to the English Channel.
(Brigadier Houghton) We did not; the MoD did not.
382. All right. The intelligence services, if
we are to believe what we are told, were made aware that the ship
had a potential terrorist element on board. That ship was tracked
for a considerable distance. You knew that and you must have set
in motion your pre-determined plan for it. You passed Weymouth
Bay, which was presumably your first safe harbour for bringing
that ship inshore so that it could be searched properly; you let
it go past there, you let it go past Bournemouth Bay, which was
the second option, and the third option you let it sail past,
which was Sandown Bay. You let it then move another 50 or more
miles up the Channel. You then intercept it, you turn the ship
round and you bring it back to Sandown Bay. You had days, if not
weeks, to plan the interception of that ship. You smile, Brigadier,
but maybe we should be told here in the Defence Committee in a
private session what were the basics about that. None of the civil
authorities was warned until the ship was finally brought to a
stop in Sandown Bay.
(Mr Bowen) Can we return to this in private session?
383. That is the only real threat that has materialised
since 11 September that the UK public have been made aware of.
The people who know about the sea and know about things like the
Navy's ability to stop a ship would have thought it rather strange
that you let that ship go so far up the Channel.
(Mr Bowen) None the less, the ship was stopped and
searched. Can I just make one point about public reassurance?
I think, Mr Mercer, you mentioned No 5 Squadron and there is an
element of confusion that certainly appeared in the media.
384. Please understand that I did add the caveat
that there was an awful lot of flannel in the press about it.
I do not wish to wave a finger at you and say, "Please explain
No 5 Squadron". None the less, the way it is reported in
the press adds to public concern.
(Mr Bowen) Agreed, but perhaps I can just say on the
record that quick reaction aircraft will continue to fly from
RAF Coningsby notwithstanding the disbandment of No 5 Squadron.
That is the key point in relation to the availability of reaction
Patrick Mercer: Point taken.
Chairman: Thank you, and I think in due
course you will have to answer Mr Hancock's question on the Nisha
in more detail. One thing is absolutely certain to me. We had
planned some 25 sets of questions and we are now up to question
6. I do not think we are going to be able to telescope our questions
into the time available. I think we will go on to 12.45, Mr Bowen,
and then we will have to call you back, I am afraid, because there
are so many things we want to ask.
385. We have already touched on some of this
in terms of reaction and obviously it is dependent in a lot of
cases on intelligence in terms of what you do. Can you tell us
something about what the mechanism is for initiating action? Let
us say you get police intelligence that a nuclear power station
is under threat. What is the system for how plans are put in place
to authorise that, both nationally and also, more importantly,
at a local level? How is it co-ordinated in terms of getting information
down and making sure that the plans are in place to counter that
(Mr Bowen) In the event of a detailed threat emerging
against an installation such as a nuclear power station, that
is something that would be centred on the Cabinet Office very
rapidly. There would be a Cabinet Office reaction. There would
be a Home Office lead to that. I would imagine that there would
be a summoning of a committee which could be available within
an hour to have discussions and to assess intelligence.
386. Who would this committee be made up of?
(Mr Bowen) This would be a terrorist threat. This
would be effectively the Cabinet Office briefing room that would
be activated and, depending on the certainty of the information,
it would either be at official level or it might be ministerial.
If it is clear intelligence you might end up with the Prime Minister
in the chair, it might be the Home Secretary in the chair. It
will depend upon as it were the quality and the nature of the
threat, the timing of it.
387. Let us say it is a gold nugget piece of
intelligence you have got. What would happen?
(Mr Bowen) My expectationand it is not my direct
business in the sense that somebody else runs itwould be
that the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister would want to hold
the meeting with his immediate ministerial colleagues and with
officials to determine a course of action. It would flow from
that meeting and there would be police, the military, intelligence
agencies and others involved. Presumably the DTI would have a
role in it. All those who have an interest would be assembled
around the room to deal with that issue. The information would
flow very rapidly in terms of getting it down the chain of command,
certainly the police chain of command, out to the locality.
388. Let us say you needed a military response
to it. How would that go down the chain of command to the local
level? How would you get that activated?
(Mr Bowen) If the requirement was for a military reaction
defence ministers would need to agree to that. It could be done
round the table, assuming the ministers were there (which would
be very likely) and then that would flow through the normal chain
of command which involves the Director of Operations in the Ministry
of Defence and the Director of Military Operations, Brigadier
Houghton, but maybe I should ask him to take it on from there.
(Brigadier Houghton) It depends on two things. If
there was not a general change to the threat, that would be handled
on the normal basis through the TIDO Committee, a Cabinet Committee
which reviews the threat of Irish and domestic terrorism, and
if it is just something that is on a general basis, non-specific
or actionable, that would result in the dissemination of a threat
warning and a change to the alert state, so that in a generic
sense the alert state on military property was increased and similarly
in the civil sector. If there was a specific piece of actionable
intelligence then it might lead to COBR being called to see what
sort of contingencies might be put in place in order to protect
against a specific threat materialising. The lead in all this
counter terrorism is the Home Office and the police take the lead
in the prosecution of counter terrorism within Northern Ireland
and mainland GB. As far as whatever military assets might be put
at the disposal of
389. Even if it was a threat, for example, against
an Army installation or a defence place?
(Brigadier Houghton) Correct. If there was to be any
putting of our counter terrorist contingency capability in support
of the civil authority then clearly that is done with ministerial
approval but it would be delegated down to the Director of Operations
sitting within COBR with certain agreements as regards the specific
plans and involvement and then deployed to the ground. The police,
you may not be aware, have a tiered system of command from bronze
and silver to gold level of command. There will be a military
opposite number at each of those levels of command acting in support
of the civil authority. If it is a specific thing where experience
would more lend itself towards something like a hijack resolution
I could then go into the detailed procedures of how that would
be handled, but I think that again it is something that is sensitive
and not for the public arena. I can give more details in closed
Chairman: Thank you. I understand the
current threat in the United States involved the FBI contacting
32,000 law enforcement agencies, so I hope things are not quite
as complicated as that; otherwise your computers are going to
390. Turning now to the brigade commanders and
their responsibilities, a disturbing piece of information that
I have had is that one Chief Emergency Planning Officer has not
been invited to the Joint Service Co-ordination Group for 15 years
since his appointment. How effective are the Joint Service Co-ordination
Groups and the regional brigade commanders who do these jobs?
How much of their role has enhanced since 11 September?
(Brigadier Houghton) It is fair to say that it is
a bit like the curate's egg. Depending which regional brigade
you looked at, which chap is in command of it, what the quality
of the local authorities might be like, the leading elements of
the blue light services, would effect whether it was better or
worse. I am going back now in time, certainly pre-11 September,
probably pre-foot and mouth. I have touched on lessons from foot
and mouth. The quality of the local level liaison in crisis management
got a bit of a wake-up call by foot and mouth, hence spawning
the creation of the CCS. I think also there is a degree to which
it has suffered in that ten years ago the Cold War type regional
planning authorities were in place, but since then the process
of devolution of local government has taken its place. In the
early 1990s there was still a two-tiered arrangement for local
council authorities and they were aggregated up into government
regions, and there was then a quite robust manner in which, in
terms of integrated contingency planning, the local brigadier
and his group interfaced with the government in the regions and
the regional bases there. I think that had been eroded over time.
It got a wake-up call because of foot and mouth and has received
another wake-up call in the aftermath of 11 September. I think
it is now significantly improving. In some ways it will already
have significantly improved. It is really within the parish of
the CCS as it were from my perspective to correct some of the
complexity that has been introduced into the devolved government
and local authority by the now very much greater number of points
of contact that exist. I think that this is something that they
are working on. I am observing what is someone else's area.
Mr Jones: Can I come in on this one because
the one that Patrick refers to is one of the better examples.
It is not one council but the co-ordination of a number of councils
that I was involved in and I think it was one of the better emergency
planning joint boards. What you are saying to me basically is
that this has been allowed to develop over time, but you have
a good example of well co-ordinated local authority emergency
planning in this case between the five local authorities, which
is a leader in this country in terms of providing emergency planning,
but if the head of that has not even been invited then it strikes
me that the link between emergency planning officers and local
authorities and the Joint Services Co-ordination Group does not
really exist, does it, in practice?
391. It may well be so but it is not for the
Brigadier to answer. He will be in enough trouble after today.
(Mr Bowen) There is an effort being run by the Cabinet
Office on emergency planning in England and Wales. There was a
consultation paper launched in August which was meant to come
to some kind of conclusion I think about now. I do not think anybody
would dispute the fact that we do not believe that all the arrangements
are satisfactory in terms of local liaison and it is an area where
there needs to be improvement.
392. When will there be?
(Mr Bowen) I think we ought to see what the result
of the consultation document is and what the proposals are that
come out. The idea is that there should be different procedures
and different proposals but that is what needs to be applied.
393. When do you think they should be in place?
(Mr Bowen) I understand that the Cabinet Office are
intending that they should have concluded their consultation some
time soon and they will produce recommendations then.
394. Mr Bowen, I read the consultative document
very early, before September 11th, it seems to me the military
have been air brushed out of their thinking. Did you get a copy
of that consultative document? When did you get it? Were you involved?
It seems to me they have obliterated the military from it.
(Mr Bowen) The MoD was engaged and consulted in the
395. At what stage? Perhaps you could find that
(Mr Bowen) Before my time.
396. Not that long.
(Mr Bowen) I was not there in August.
397. What does "involved" mean? Does
it just mean letters were exchanged? Does it mean you were consulted
properly? Can you outline what the consultative procedures were
so that we can have an idea whether the Chairman's question is
valid or not?
(Mr Bowen) Can I ask Mr Davenport who was here at
(Mr Davenport) Yes, we were consulted last summer
before the document was published. There was a process of meetings,
discussions and correspondence.
398. You are happy you have not been air brushed
out, is that it?
(Mr Davenport) I am happy.
399. Did you not say "Where the hell is
the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces in all this? Could
you not have got at least a paragraph in to indicate to the reader
that it was not just a local authority exercise? Perhaps you could
drop us a note on this because I think it is a really important
(Mr Bowen) Yes.
Chairman: Again, it is outside your remit
but we have seen a very detailed questionnaire sent to all of
the London authorities and I would be delighted to see the responses,
not just in London but in every other one of the authorities.
I think that will revealif they are prepared to answer
honestlyvery clearly, Brigadier, whether what you said
is valid or not. I suspect strongly most of the questions will
remain unanswered or improperly answered or, well I will not make
any libellous statements despite the protection of privilege.
That is not your responsibility.
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