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Olympic Games: Security

Volume 738: debated on Thursday 12 July 2012


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat as a Statement an Answer given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to an Urgent Question in the other place. It is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, the Government’s overriding priority is to use all resources necessary to deliver a safe and secure Olympic Games. That is what the public and the House would expect. The security operation has been meticulously planned. It will be the largest and most complex security operation in this country since the Second World War. Police plans and those of the security and intelligence agencies are well advanced. The success of the policing operation around the nationwide Olympic torch relay gives confidence in the robustness of police planning. Contingency planning has always been central to our security work, should any changes be needed at this late stage. The Games security picture can change rapidly, and so we have deliberately built in flexibility to respond to any challenge.

As the Defence Secretary has already told the House, we had always intended to deploy 7,500 military personnel to support the venue security operation organised by LOCOG—the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. These military personnel have already started to deploy to venues to support the rolling search and lock-down process between now and the start of the Olympics. They are already working alongside the police, LOCOG, the commercial security provider G4S, and accredited volunteer staff. As the venue security exercise has got under way, concerns have arisen about the ability of G4S to deliver the required number of guards for all Olympics venues and within the timescales available. The Defence Secretary and I, along with other Ministers, have been constantly monitoring this situation and the security contracts over many months. In consultation with LOCOG and G4S, we have now agreed that it would be prudent to deploy additional military support to provide greater reassurance.

I therefore requested additional MoD support, and the Defence Secretary has authorised the deployment of a further 3,500 military personnel. This will bring the total number of military personnel supporting the safety and security of the Games to 17,000 in a variety of roles, including military deployed on wider functions than venue security. The Chiefs of Staff support an increased deployment and have confirmed that the deployment will have no adverse impact on other operations.

The Government have committed £553 million for venue security and remain confident that we will deliver within that budget. Ministers across government recognise the burden that this additional short-notice deployment will impose upon individual service men and women and their families, especially over the summer holiday season, so we will ensure that all those taking part receive their full leave entitlement, even if it has to be rescheduled, that no one is out of pocket due to cancelled personal arrangements and that all deployed personnel are appropriately supported.

We have agreed with LOCOG that there will be 10,000 Olympic and Paralympic tickets donated to the armed services via Tickets for Troops. Access for 2,000 to spectator areas in the Mall for the Olympic cycle road races and Olympic marathon will also be made available, as will the right to buy 2,000 Olympic park tickets. In addition, a total of 7,000 tickets have now been offered to the troops for the dress rehearsals of the opening and closing ceremonies—a significant increase to recognise the extra commitment of military personnel.

I can confirm to the House that there remains no specific security threat to the Games and that the threat level remains unchanged. Let me reiterate that there is no question of Olympic security being compromised. In this country, we have the finest military personnel in the world. They stand ready to do their duty, whatever the nation may ask. Our troops are highly skilled and highly trained. This task is the most important facing our nation today. I know that we can rely on our troops to help deliver a safe and secure Olympic Games that London, the country and the whole world can enjoy”.

That concludes the Answer from my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for coming to the House to make a Statement. It may have been better had the Home Secretary made a Statement to the House of Commons rather than there having to be an Urgent Question. We are 15 days—just over two weeks—from the Olympics. We have enthusiastic and excited athletes, and their families and friends, all over the world. Some are already in London. Many are now making their way to London. I appreciate that an event of this scale presents enormous challenges in terms of security, sporting arrangements and logistics. Obviously, no one can guarantee that there will not be the occasional minor hiccup. However, I wonder what is going on at the Home Office.

We have already had an announcement this week that the Home Office cannot guarantee that all the desks at border control at Heathrow will be staffed as visitors arrive. This, however, is of a very different order. My understanding is that, on Monday, when she was very specifically asked about recruitment at G4S, the Home Secretary told the other place:

“The Home Office has put in place a number of assurance processes to ensure that we have effective and robust scrutiny of venue security planning. We have been testing our plans thoroughly and are confident that our partners will deliver a safe and secure games”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/7/12; col. 9.]

That was on Monday. Today is Thursday and we have a very different position. This morning I heard James Brokenshire MP on the radio, talking about his conversations with G4S, in which he said that he kicked their tyres. I am not quite sure what that means, but clearly it was as effective as the last time I kicked a tyre when I had a flat travelling to work.

Are the Government now satisfied that all G4S staff are fully and appropriately trained? Has she seen the BBC reports today from recruits who are saying that they are in limbo? They have been appointed but not contacted; they have not been trained, and do not really know what is going on. Also, when did the Home Secretary—or the Home Office—first become aware that there was a problem of this scale and that action would be needed to employ additional troops? What are the implications and penalties of the G4S contract? The number of personnel that have been needed in security has been a bit of a moving feast. There are some planning issues. My understanding is that the contract originally signed in December 2010 with G4S was worth £86 million for a certain number. Then LOCOG received further advice about the security needs and the contract increased to £284 million. What discussions have there been about the nature of that contract and if its terms and conditions have been broken?

I listened carefully to the noble Baroness’s Statement. I had a copy of it when the Answer was given in the Commons, and hope that she can help me with something. She said that it was always intended to employ 7,500 military personnel to support the venue security operation. She also said that there would be an extra 3,500 military personnel deployed and that the total would now be 17,000. I was not quite sure how the original estimate of 7,500, plus 3,500, came to 17,000. Either there have been other increases between the first announcement and the one today, or it is significantly more than 3,500 in addition to the original 7,500. When did the Home Office first have discussions with the Ministry of Defence about the possibility of having to deploy extra military personnel? The Statement says that discussions have been going on with G4S for months. When was the potential for further thousands of troops being required raised with the MoD?

What notice of the loss of leave will the soldiers receive? My understanding—mainly from press reports—is that military personnel are being recalled from leave after serving in Afghanistan. The Statement says that they will not be out of pocket for any personal arrangement that they have to cancel. What other arrangements will be made for them to continue to have leave? It is one thing not being out of pocket. However, I suspect that the value that they place on being with their friends and families on leave is greater than not being out of pocket. Can the Minister tell me if, having cancelled the leave arrangements for service personnel, the Government will give them further leave arrangements? I hope that they will. What impact will that have on future operations in Afghanistan?

All of us want the Olympics to be an enormous success. There is enormous distress over the Home Office’s statements this week. I seek an assurance from the noble Baroness that somebody has got a handle on this, that they know what they are doing and that the Home Office has a knowledge of all security arrangements, knows how many staff it has, know what is required and can guarantee that it can meet those requirements.

My Lords, first, let me make it clear that the Home Office took decisive action yesterday once the matter with G4S that we are discussing today crystallised. We were able to do this because we have monitored progress closely and had contingency arrangements in place, so there is no question of our security needs not being met. I stress that we were in a position to act yesterday because we were prepared to act should that be needed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked a range of questions and referred particularly to a statement that the right honourable Home Secretary made on Monday. On questions about when the Home Office was aware of the issue, I can say that over the last few months the Home Office has been doing its job properly in monitoring the way in which arrangements for security have been developing. In the last couple of weeks it became apparent that, as we were getting nearer to the Games, some issues might require a different and additional contingency action. That only crystallised yesterday and, because we already had arrangements in place to take action, that is what we did.

The noble Baroness referred to those who have gone through the process of applying to G4S to take up the opportunity for employment in security at the Olympic venues. I share her concern for anyone who has gone through a process of application and is left in a state of uncertainty as to whether they will be called upon and employed to do the work they had hoped to carry out. Although we have taken the action we have because G4S cannot confirm that it is able to deliver all the manpower that it is contractually obliged to deliver, it is not yet the case that it will stop recruiting. The process of getting ready will continue through to the Games. The nature of security deployment is such that the agencies which employ people in this kind of work do so at short notice. Therefore some of the people who are still uncertain as to whether or not they will be employed may yet be contacted. However, that is a matter for G4S.

The noble Baroness asked about the contract with G4S and whether its failure to meet its terms would lead to penalties. I will make a couple of points in response. The contract is between G4S and LOCOG, not the Home Office, so it is a matter for LOCOG to ensure that it is rigorous in its pursuit. Obviously we will make our views on this very clear to LOCOG: that it has the responsibility for deciding and acting on the terms of the contract and for making sure that G4S is held accountable for any deficiencies in the delivery of that contract.

As to the noble Baroness’s questions about troop numbers, perhaps I may offer a little further information by way of explanation. The total number of military personnel that will be deployed for the Olympic Games is 17,000—that is the total number, including the additional 3,500 announced today. However, that 17,000 is for a wide range of activities. The numbers for venue security, which is where the additional troops will be deployed, will now be 11,000. So, of the 17,000, 11,000 are for venue security; the remainder will be deployed on specialist activities which would not be carried out by anyone other than military personnel.

The noble Baroness raised questions about the effect of the announcement today on the military personnel concerned. I restate and reiterate what I said when repeating the Home Secretary’s Statement: we value very highly our military personnel, all of whom do excellent work for the nation both here in the UK and overseas. Clearly we want to make sure that any inconvenience experienced by the military personnel who were not expecting to be deployed but who will now be deployed is taken care of. However, the units that will be deployed were aware of their contingency role. These units were already designated as part of the contingency response to be called upon.

As far as leave is concerned, all military personnel will get the leave to which they are entitled, even if this may involve rescheduling their leave. I realise, of course, that that does not address any disappointment that people may feel when they are required to make changes to their arrangements—I respect that—but we are trying to ensure that any inconvenience or expenses incurred are addressed without any question whatever.

My Lords, I remind the House of the benefit of short questions in order that my noble friend will be able to answer as many questions as possible.

My Lords, when my noble friend replied she referred to the fact that two weeks ago we had an inkling that this was not happening. Can she give a better guide to the process of the information that was being fed to and fro, and give the House an idea of what was happening and when? When did we know there was going to be a problem? That is the core of this situation. We have a reserve and are deploying it, but when did we know that we might have to call on it? That is the big question. Secondly, will anything that goes wrong be brought front and centre in a review process of what happened in the Games? A legacy of learning from mistakes will be important.

My Lords, as I said before, this has been an ongoing process. The Home Office and other departments have been properly and actively involved in ensuring that the arrangements for security have progressed in line with our expectations, in order that our security needs are met. However, it was only yesterday that it became clear that the right decision to take was for the Government to deploy additional troops so that there would be no question whatever of our security being compromised, as indeed it will not be due to the action that has been taken.

As to my noble friend’s other point with regard to review, of course after any major event such as the Olympic Games there is a process of review where any lessons will be learned. The most significant point is that the Government have acted decisively. We have been able to act decisively because we have been prepared to do so and can do so. As a result, there has not been any compromise of security at the Games.

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that it is tragic that £553 million has to be spent on security at the Games—especially if one thinks back to the way Games were in earlier days—and that ground-to-air missiles have to be placed as a defence on top of blocks of flats? That sum would solve our problems in relation to legal aid and many other matters. Is it therefore not puzzling that the Government have not thrown their weight behind the request from many quarters that the origin of these problems should be remembered—namely, that there should be a one-minute silence in memory of the athletes who were killed at Munich? That was the origin of the problems that we have today in relation to security. In the light of the terrible history of 1972, can she assure the House that the accommodation of athletes will be properly secured?

I obviously share the noble Baroness’s concern and consideration for the events of 1972 and their associated history. As to her question about accommodation, while I do not have any specific information today, I am quite confident from the briefings that I have received that arrangements for the athletes are comprehensive and that they will receive all the support and facilities they need to make their stay here successful from their own individual point of view, comfortable and secure. We all hope that they will enjoy their experience in London, which I am sure they will.

In thanking my noble friend for repeating the Statement, I immediately declare an interest because I am a director of ExCeL, where a significant number of Olympic events will take place. The Statement the Minister has made today comes as no surprise to anybody who has been trying to organise and see that there is effective security. I say very simply, and as a strong supporter of this Government, that the Home Office must sharpen up its communications with LOCOG and G4S. A number of people identified for some time the scale of the challenge for G4S in recruiting that number of people who had to be cleared, trained and available. It was a massive undertaking and warnings were clearly given.

Having said that, and wearing another hat, I welcome the fact that troops are to be available. The Minister rightly distinguished between the numbers when the noble Baroness raised the question: the Typhoons and HMS “Ocean” and the famous surface-to-air missiles on the roofs of flats are one lot, and then there are the unarmed, venue security searching parties who will do us nothing but credit. A lot of visitors to our country will meet some of our servicemen and find out what excellent ambassadors they are for our Armed Forces. I am delighted that they are to be offered these free tickets, which is only right.

We still face a major challenge here. The remaining people needed have to be properly trained and checked. I hear one or two very worrying stories about that. Is it essential that they can all speak English? I hope that that is a requirement. There have been one or two stories about that which do not seem very satisfactory. The challenge is just starting now. Having recruited all these people who have agreed to serve for G4S under temporary contracts, they have to turn up on time and they must be there early in the morning, well ahead of the opening of the venues so that they are ready to do their work. They will have to face the challenges of transport in London at that time to get to work. The simple answer is that there needs to be not just the numbers that have been announced today—if those are the numbers that have been precisely calculated of the military support—but also a further strategic reserve of people for the accidents and problems that may well arise with the difficulty of making sure that these temporary people working for G4S are there on time and doing their job. We all wish the Olympics well. It is an amazingly big challenge. However, we need to sharpen up communications and build in now contingency reserves for that.

My Lords, I share with my noble friend the warm words of tribute he paid to our Armed Forces. I agree with him that the sight of our Armed Forces in London during the Olympic Games, the work that they will do, and that they will be part of the security effort for the Games—it has always been planned that they would be—will mean they are an important element of the welcoming tone, nature and discipline and the kind of effort and efficiency that are necessary.

On my noble friend’s points about the Home Office, of course I will relay back to the department his comments about the need for improved communication. There is always room for people to improve in that area. However, as I have said before, this is a contract between LOCOG and G4S. LOCOG is the commissioning body with regard to the contract. The Home Office has been very closely monitoring the way in which it has progressed and, because we have been doing that and liaising closely with other government departments, we have been able to act, taking the necessary decision that was made yesterday.

On the effectiveness of those who have been recruited, G4S has rigorous selection processes. My noble friend is absolutely right that everybody needs the right skills to do the job. If they are in a role that has contact with the public, they must be able to communicate with them, which of course requires them to speak English.

My Lords, it is complete nonsense for the Government to suggest that they discovered this problem two days ago. It was two years ago that they realised the deficiencies in the security at the Olympics and transferred private contracts to LOCOG to develop the personnel for security. I have raised in the House of Lords this matter of the deficiencies in contracts and the inability to provide sufficiently trained and well-paid people to do the job. I wrote to the Home Secretary protesting about this matter five weeks ago and asking her to investigate it. She referred me to LOCOG as the body with the responsibility. I wrote to LOCOG in July and it told me that the criterion for contracts is value for money. There was nothing about security or safety, only value for money.

Will the Minister recognise that it is not only G4S that has failed? Other companies at the moment are failing to fulfil their contracts. Will she now review those contracts that exist with LOCOG and see what they contribute? During that review, will she reconsider this whole idea of outsourcing public security to private companies? However eminent they look with their boards of chief constables, eminent people and Members of this House, that does not guarantee that there will be security or safety for the public. It only guarantees the prime responsibility of those companies: to make profits. That is the essential difference here. That is what the Minister needs to look at if she is really concerned about the security of the Games.

My Lords, as I have already said, the arrangements for security at the Games involve a combination of different participants—the police, the military and the commercial provider, G4S. The noble Lord talks as if only G4S had been commissioned to provide security. That is not the case. As I said, the approach involves the police and the military. That has always been the case.

On the point he made about the other company, about which he wrote to the Home Secretary following the Jubilee weekend, that is a separate matter. The people he referred to in that contract are not part of the security arrangements.

But they are not part of the security arrangements. I restate what I have already said because it is important: the Home Office has been reviewing the way in which things have developed. As issues started to develop over the past couple of weeks that made it necessary for us to be ready to act, we took the necessary steps so that we could act. We acted yesterday. The security of our Olympic Games is not compromised because of that.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Ministry of Defence started thinking about and planning for a military contribution to the Olympics over four years ago? At that time, it was told that the requirement would be relatively small, limited to a number of specialist personnel and certain discrete capabilities such as air defence. Of course, nobody believed a word of that and two things were predicted with complete confidence: that there would be a requirement for a large number of military personnel and that at least elements of the requirement would emerge only at the last moment.

The Ministry of Defence will not have been surprised at all by this latest development but it will have been very unwelcome—particularly the very late notice. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be sufficient time for these military personnel to be trained in the specific requirements of their duties? Since, I assume, they will be filling tasks that would properly be done by G4S personnel—and, to some extent, still will be—what are the command and control arrangements for these personnel? Who will be in charge? Will there be a military chain of command or will they report through a G4S chain? This is extremely important if we are to ensure the maximum degree of security.

I am obviously interested to hear what the noble and gallant Lord says about the initial expectations of the Ministry of Defence about troop requirements for the Olympic Games. I cannot comment on them because they would have been formed during the period of office of the previous Government. I can say that, during the time the coalition has been in power, and as we have got closer to the Games, the process of reviewing and scrutinising these arrangements has been very thorough and has allowed us to take the decision that we did yesterday.

As to the noble and gallant Lord’s question about training, I can be clear that, of course, those who will be deployed will receive the necessary training to do the task that is asked of them. They will be doing a similar kind of work—venue security—that is planned for those military that are already deployed to do it. They have not been called in to do something that is in addition to the kind of work already planned. That would include search of people and vehicles, and perimeter control. As to his question about command and control, the military will have their own command and control arrangements but will work very closely with G4S staff and LOCOG venue general managers. This will have to be a properly integrated operation. By that I mean that there will not be a separate arrangement for different contributors to the security of the sites.

My Lords, will the Government learn a wider lesson from this experience, which is the tremendous resource that the military offers of getting governments out of holes they are in from bad administration? The Minister may not remember, although I certainly do, the way in which the military had to sort out the shambles of the foot and mouth crisis, when there were piles of rotting corpses all over the country that were getting bigger and bigger. That was dealt with. However, will the Government realise that, particularly with the reduction of the number of people in the Armed Forces, there are very competent planners at senior level from all three forces who could be available to do a lot of these sorts of public sector jobs? To give one obvious example, the shambles of the UK Border Force could be taken over and dealt with very rapidly if they found a two or three star recently retired military officer to run it. I also think that there is a quite a lot in what the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, said. One of the things that government is very bad at doing, still, is writing waterproof contracts and monitoring them with the private sector. It is not so much the private sector being wicked; the public sector is extraordinarily bad. An obvious example of that is the failure to monitor the people who are given contracts to clean our roads or to make them do the job which they are paid for.

I certainly share my noble friend’s view of our Armed Forces. We are all in their debt for the way in which, from time to time, they step in and take control of situations. My noble friend is absolutely right to make that point and we keep that very much in mind. On this specific issue—notwithstanding the points that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, made a few moments ago—the involvement of the military at the Olympics has always been planned for. Some contingency was built in to our expectations and we are deploying that contingency in order to ensure that we meet our security needs. However, the manner in which we have carried out our decision on this has not been in any way short of what I would have expected it to be. As to the noble Lord’s point about contracts, I will take that on board. I remind him, again, that this contract is not with the Home Office; it is with LOCOG. None the less, he makes some powerful points and I will give them consideration.

My Lords, given that the first consideration of security is to prevent an event happening and that the second one is that if an event does occur, people are kept as safe as possible, will the Minister undertake to verify that there is co-ordination with all the emergency services, particularly with the London Ambulance Service and London’s Air Ambulance, which is a charity? Will the Minister inform the House whether there has been consideration of supplying a second helicopter to London’s Air Ambulance over the period of the Games? It has only one helicopter for a population of 10 million and we have a large increase in the number of people coming in. During the 7/7 bombings inquest, its important role in rescue was highlighted. If anything happens, the air ambulance will be critical to survival.

Co-ordination of the emergency services is, of course, essential and arrangements are in place to ensure proper co-ordination. As to the noble Baroness’s question about a second helicopter, I am afraid that I do not have the answer, but I will write to her.