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London Olympics (Security)

Volume 546: debated on Monday 11 June 2012

7. What recent assessment he has made of the armed forces contribution to implementation of security plans for the London 2012 Olympics; and if he will make a statement. (110549)

The armed forces recently conducted an extensive exercise to test their operational readiness to provide safety and security, in support of the police, during the Olympic and Paralympic games. The exercise achieved its objectives and I am confident that we are well placed to deliver this important role.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the constructive way in which she engaged with the Army on the air defence missile site at Blackheath in her constituency for the exercise, and to her constituents, the overwhelming majority of whom were supportive of it.

The Secretary of State mentioned the proposal to site surface-to-air missiles on Blackheath as part of the Olympic security plan. It is my understanding that a final ministerial decision has yet to be taken. When will that decision be made, and will the Department be in direct contact with residents who live in close proximity to the proposed site to inform them of it?

The hon. Lady is right. We have received the military advice on the outcome of the exercise and Ministers will now consider it and make a final decision on the deployment of ground-based air defence systems. As you would expect, Mr Speaker, when a decision is taken, an announcement will be made first to the House, but I will ensure that the Army engages with residents who live in close proximity to the site to ensure that they are aware of all the ramifications of any decision to go ahead and deploy.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, to ensure effective interoperability between the emergency services and the armed forces, all parties involved with Olympic security will use a common communications platform?

The arrangements for effective command and control will involve military commanders being embedded with police gold commanders in their headquarters. I cannot give my hon. Friend a guarantee that they will use a common communications system, but the key decisions will be made by people sitting in the same room. They will then be passed down the respective chains of command.

My constituents living in Bow quarter are rightly concerned about the Ministry of Defence’s plans to base surface-to-air missiles on their rooftops ahead of the Olympics. I wrote to the Secretary of State about that more than a month ago. When does he intend to respond to my request for a meeting to explain the risks to my constituents and answer their concerns? The consultation has been very thin.

I am not aware of a request from the hon. Lady, but the Army and MOD officials have engaged with a number of Members of Parliament who have sought a briefing. She is welcome to come to the Ministry of Defence at any time for a detailed briefing. There appear to be a very small number of her constituents who are opposed to the proposal, and there has equally been significant support from other areas. There is no risk to residents of the building. The water tower at Bow quarter was selected on military advice, because it is the right place to locate this particular defensive equipment.

What has been done to keep local people informed about the deployment of those assets in their communities during the Olympic period?

The Army has engaged with local authorities in the first place, and more recently with local community groups. We have a standing Army capability to go out and engage with any groups that want to be engaged with, and to brief Members of Parliament. I am very happy to brief any Members who are affected by the proposals.