Examination of Witnesses (Questions 556
WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002
556. Gentlemen, thank you very much. I am sorry
for the slight delay: I have just arrived myself. My inclination
is to talk about transport in central London! You may be rather
surprised to be appearing before the Defence Committee but I am
sure it has been explained to you that we are doing, more or less
with the acquiescence of other committees, generally a cross-cutting
exercise. Although the Ministry of Defence has an important role
in emergency planning, I think it is very helpful that one committee
is trying to go right across the spectrum of emergency planning
and defence and, by default, it is us who have been chosen. I
would like to kick off by asking a couple of questions on the
emergency planning review. The LGA has a number of criticisms
of the current emergency planning arrangements and of the Government's
review, which we will be coming on to later. Firstly, do you believe
that the current arrangements designed for civil emergencies could
provide an appropriate basisand, I emphasise, appropriate
basisfor dealing with the consequences of a terrorist attack
more or less on the scale of September 11? I do not think anybody
would be able to cope perfectly with such an emergency, but do
the current arrangements provide the basis for dealing with a
mega crisis, a mega attack?
(Mr Shuttleworth) The current arrangements,
we think, do form a basis, an appropriate basis, for dealing with
terrorist attacks. Local authorities do plan to deal with the
consequences of an event and not necessarily the cause. We do
not get involved too much in that. We do have the structure and
the plans in place to ensure a response. Obviously there needs
to be some enhancement of those plans on the scale of September
11 attack. Much would depend on the magnitude and nature of any
attack and the capability of central government to provide support
for the local response.
557. Would anybody like to add anything to that?
It is a very crucial question. You can elaborate on it if you
like. If I may carry on, then. Do you think all authorities should
be required to plan against such events? Would that be superfluous
in respect of small authorities away from urban areas? I know
Lockerbie would defeat my own question, but would you expect every
local authority, every emergency planning structure, to be on
a par with London or Birmingham or Manchester?
(Mr Griffin) I think the point, sir, is that, when
an event happens, all types of authorities are likely to be involved
in the response, and certainly all types of authorities are likely
to be involved in the recovery therefrom, and the response frequently
involves authorities undertaking normal functions in abnormal
circumstances. If they are going to respond effectively under
those circumstances, they need to have prepared for that in two
ways: first of all, prepared themselves so that they are capable,
and also prepared how they are going to work with other authorities,
other partners, so that the response and the recovery can be effective.
So the short answer, sir, is yes.
558. Asking this question is like asking the
Ministry of Defence if they have believe in defence, but there
are some sceptics who wonder whether the local authorities really
are up to the task of dealing with such a potential catastrophe.
(Mr Griffin) There are two points I would make about
that. One is that, if an event happens, the local authority is
going to be called on to respond, partly because there is nobody
else, partly because in any form of response you have to have
a local response: only the local organisation knows local circumstances,
only the local organisation knows what resources are available
locally. So the local authority has to be involved and, for that
matter, it is appropriate that the local authority should be involved,
because, if something happens, the local community will look to
the local authority for a response. It does not matter what the
structure is, they will expect that kind of community leadership
from the local authority and will expect the local authority to
respond. I think your question is framed in the context of September
11. Clearly, as my colleague said earlier on, one of the problems
in envisaging how one would deal with such a massive emergency
is what resources would be available: How could any organisation
manage an effective response? I think, from that point of view,
one needs to be looking not at: Is a particular body involved
or not involved? but how all the authorities, how all the agencies
which need to be involved are going to be involved and how that
is going to be effectively coordinated. I think those are the
more appropriate issues.
559. This area is filled with departmental rivalries
and institutional protection of one's turf, but could you imagine
a situation where there is a major disaster affecting a medium-sized
authority and central government sends in a team of heavies and
says, "This is out of your pay grade"?
Could you see biting back, people saying, "No,
this is our patch. We are X county, this is us. You can give advice"?
How would an outside expert fit into this sort of structure in
a major crisis?
(Mr Griffin) In a sense that question depends on the
assumption that there is a team of heavies ready to come in and
I think that is a very questionable proposition. It is fair to
say that there are certainly departmental turf boundaries in central
government and there can be similar issues involved sometimes
in local authorities, but I think that, if an event occurs, most
of us have arrangements in place which establish quite clearly
who takes the lead and I cannot see a situation in a major emergency
of local authorities saying, "No, we don't want you here,
we don't want your help." On the contrary, I think in most
instances, if you are talking about a massive emergency, we would
be looking for support, we would be looking for additional resources.