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Olympic Games: Security

Volume 739: debated on Monday 16 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 another place. It is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, since I updated the House on Olympic security last week there have been several allegations in the media, and I want to deal with each of them.

First, it was reported that Ministers knew there would be a shortfall in security staff last year. This is untrue. HMIC reported, at my request, on LOCOG’s security preparations last September, and it recommended several measures. HMIC reported again in February and concluded that LOCOG had plans in place to deliver the required number of security personnel. Neither HMIC report identified specific problems with G4S scheduling.

Secondly, it was reported that the Minister for Crime and Security had attended meetings in which he was told there was a security staff shortage. In fact, G4S repeatedly assured us that they would overshoot their targets. As I told the House on Thursday, G4S only told the Government that they would be unable to meet their contractual obligations last Wednesday and we took immediate action.

Thirdly, it was reported that we must have known about the shortfall because the military was put on standby in April. This is also not the case. Seven thousand five hundred troops have been part of the security plans since December. A further 1,000 were on standby in the event of flooding or other such civil emergencies, and we placed a further 2,000 on standby as a precaution in case the threat level increased. The 3,500 troops whose deployment I announced last Thursday are a direct response to the failure of G4S to meet its contractual obligations. A further contingency will remain.

The Government have strengthened the oversight of the security planning operation since we came to office. I would like to go through, briefly, what has happened since the bid for the Games in 2005.

From the beginning, the organisers planned to use private sector personnel for venue security. LOCOG confirmed they would be using private sector security personnel well before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. LOCOG started the procurement process for security personnel in April 2010.

When we entered government in May 2010 we instigated a comprehensive review of Olympic safety and security planning overseen by the then Security Minister the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones.

That audit and review identified a shortfall in LOCOG’s venue security budget, which we addressed in the Comprehensive Spending Review, but we recognised that with a project of this size and scale, even this additional funding might not ensure the level of security we needed. So I also asked for outside assurance of LOCOG’s venue security planning.

In 2011, I commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to carry out an inspection of LOCOG’s venue security plans. As I have already said, this led to several recommendations that were acted upon by the Home Office, the police and LOCOG.

LOCOG and the Home Office monitored delivery throughout the following months. G4S assured LOCOG and the Government continuously that it would be able to deliver its contractual obligations, but on Wednesday 11 July, following the difficulties with scheduling which the company has acknowledged, G4S notified LOCOG and the Government that it would not be able to provide the numbers of security personnel specified in its contract.

I want to be clear that this was the first time that G4S admitted to any Minister that it would not be able to deliver the numbers of security personnel that it had promised. We acted immediately to make further contingency arrangements by agreeing the deployment of 3,500 further troops. That brings the total military contribution to the Games to 17,000, including personnel from all three services.

G4S has failed to deliver its contractual obligations, but we have the finest military personnel in the world—troops who are willing, ready and able to step in when their country calls—and we can be sure of their professionalism in helping to deliver a safe and secure Olympic Games”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for coming to the House this evening to repeat the Statement.

I have listened carefully to the Statement and in it the Home Secretary says that following a report from HMIC in February 2012, LOCOG and the Home Office monitored delivery throughout the following months. How was that done? What were those checks and monitoring systems that the Government put in place to ensure that security personnel were being trained and would be in the right places at the right times? Did the Home Office and LOCOG fail in their monitoring, or did the Government and LOCOG just hand over the entire security operation to G4S with no checks or monitoring other than a government Minister sitting in meetings listening to false assurances from G4S?

I noted what the Home Secretary said in her Statement about the Minister, James Brokenshire, not receiving information about security staff shortages. So what was the purpose of James Brokenshire attending those meetings? What happened at those meetings? Did LOCOG and the government Ministers just sit there and listen to assurances from G4S that it was on target and everything was okay? Did anyone ask for evidence that that was the case?

Did the Government say, “Is everything going to plan and on time?”. Did G4S say, “Yes”, and did the Government just say, “That’s okay”? If the Home Secretary’s Statement, repeated in your Lordships’ House, that the Home Office and LOCOG weremonitoring delivery, is accurate, it is hard to understand the Home Secretary’s Statement, when she says later:

“I want to be clear that this”—

that is, Wednesday 11 July—

“was the first time that G4S admitted to any Minister that it would not be able to deliver the numbers of security personnel that it had promised”.

It is essential that we know about the monitoring arrangements to which the Home Secretary refers in her Statement. Will the Government publish the minutes or notes of the meetings that James Brokenshire attended on behalf of the Home Office? Can we have an assurance that that is not the usual way that the Government do business with business partners?

When the Home Secretary was asked earlier whether she could confirm the exact number of security staff that G4S would provide for the Games, she appeared unable to do so. I have been given a transcript of what she said in the House of Commons. She said:

“They are, they are, we are, continuing to accredit personnel for G4S and they are continuing to schedule personnel for the Olympic games and the precise balance of the numbers … they will be providing … will become clear over the next few days. But this is, this is, well, I suggest to Honourable Members opposite that they actually look at the statements that have been made by G4S about how they are dealing with this issue and what the problem is and the suggestion that somehow … this is a problem for us is not the case”.

What number of personnel is G4S now saying that it will be able to provide for the Games? What action are the Government taking to ensure that we can all have confidence in the training, support, management and adjustable arrangements for security staff to be in the right place at the right time?

Can the Government assure your Lordships’ House that the shortfall of security staff now being provided by G4S will not result in any additional cost to the public purse? I am greatly relieved that contingency plans were in place, although, obviously, government failures to identify the problem meant that they are having to be used very late in the day. I have great confidence in our Armed Forces—more than in G4S or the Government—but are the Government satisfied with the accommodation arrangements being provided for the Armed Forces, as this is being done at very short notice? I have received a number of reports—I would be happy to receive assurances that they are not correct—of soldiers having to be put up in shopping centres, school gyms and hurriedly constructed large shed-type accommodation. What will be the costs of those and who will meet them?

The Government have assured the Armed Forces that they will not be out of pocket for any family holidays or events that they have booked. That is small consolation for a soldier who has been in Afghanistan and now sees his leave cancelled to undertake security arrangements for the Olympics. Can you imagine how much he would enjoy being with family and friends? Who is meeting those costs?

There is great pride in London hosting the Olympics, and we all want it to be a fantastic experience for everyone who attends and takes part, but the Government really have to get their act together.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness in her final remarks. I think that all of us want to ensure that this will be a great experience for all those not only taking part in but attending the Olympics. Across all parties, on all sides of this House and another place, we want to ensure that. We also want to ensure that we deal with security matters in the most appropriate manner. That is why I can give the noble Baroness an assurance, as I did in repeating the Statement, that we increased the amount of money available for security after reviews that took place just over a year ago. That was the right thing to do, and we made sure that we have the right plans in place. When these problems arose, as the noble Baroness should have acknowledged, our contingency plans came into effect very well, and there were ways to deal with these matters.

If I may, I will deal with the questions that the noble Baroness put to me one by one. She first asked how we were monitoring these matters. I could run through an extensive list of meetings that Ministers—both the Home Secretary and my honourable friend Mr Brokenshire—had with LOCOG and G4S, but I shall not delay the House at this stage by detailing every meeting, all of which I have listed here. I assure her that we can make public in due course how many meetings there were and when they took place. I will take advice as to whether minutes of those meetings can be made available, but I shall not answer that question for the moment.

I can say that G4S provided detailed data—as it should; that is part of the contractual arrangements—and detailed assurances. As my right honourable friend made clear in her Statement, it was only on 11 July, last week, that G4S admitted that the programme was not on track. I do not think that noble Lords opposite should try to suggest that there is some conspiracy going on. There has been, I will not say a cock-up, but let us say a failure of management, which was not quite what it should have been. I do not know whether the noble Baroness heard the comments made by the chairman of G4S this morning on the radio, but that became apparent from them.

The noble Baroness then asked what numbers G4S will be able to provide. Again, I cannot give her the exact number at this stage. It will depend on how many complete the training and make it through the accreditation process. G4S cannot yet provide a precise answer, but that is no different from other sporting events—although I appreciate that this is a much bigger sporting event—that take place regularly. Sporting events of this sort obviously have to be dealt with by firms of this sort because there is no way that the Government could do it on our own.

On the costs to the public purse, G4S has confirmed that it will meet any extra costs associated with the military deployment, including accommodation and compensating soldiers for any lost leave. On the noble Baroness’s last point, again, I cannot precisely answer what accommodation will be provided for the additional soldiers, but we will ensure that they are accommodated in the most appropriate manner. I can give the categoric assurance that none will be out of pocket in any way and there will not be any extra cost to the public purse, because that will be met by G4S.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the important thing now is to plan for the immediate future rather than to look further forward? Who is now in overall charge of the security operation? Is a single individual in charge for both those recruited by G4S and the troops who are now being brought in? Secondly, there are reports that the computer to be used to allocate people to their posts was not working properly. Is it working now? Finally, there have been questions whether those recruited have the necessary language qualifications. Is that a problem or not?

My Lords, working backwards through my noble friend’s questions, if people do not have the appropriate language skills, they will not get accreditation to work. I cannot comment on whether the computer has not been working at the moment but I will make inquiries and let my noble friend know. As for who is in charge of the overall security operation, obviously, in the end, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is in overall charge and that will cascade down through all the usual people below her. The Armed Forces will report to their individual officers, but others will be involved in the process working out. G4S employees will obviously be a responsibility for G4S, but they must be properly accredited before they begin to work on such matters.

My Lords, I raise two questions of a legalistic nature. First, when the contract was placed with G4S, how many other bodies, agencies or companies were in any way shortlisted for consideration? Secondly, the Minister has assured the House that G4S intends to compensate in full any losses suffered. Is that a term of the contract? Was it a penal clause or is it an aspiration on the part of G4S?

My Lords, I do not have the details of the contract in front of me, but I can once again give the assurance that G4S has made it quite clear that it will meet the extra costs resulting from the errors that it has made. I can categorically assure the noble Lord that there were others who bid, but I am not in a position at this stage to say who they were.

My Lords, this is the third time in eight days that Parliament has received assurances from this Government that the security of the Olympic Games will not be compromised. The Government’s desperation in drafting in not only the Armed Forces but now the police is an indication of the total failure of the private companies involved to deliver on their contractual requirements to ensure Olympic security. Have the Government investigated the question I raised with the Minister during the Statement last Thursday regarding the fact that there are other companies almost bound to collapse and not provide their contractual requirements on fire security matters? Can the Minister tell me?

The desperation involved in drafting in the armed services clearly shows that the Holy Trinity of the Government, LOCOG and G4S has contributed to the failure to provide proper security for the great experience of the Olympics to which the Minister refers. Will the Government reconsider the possibility, particularly with regard to G4S and the police, of the intention to privatise our police forces? G4S is already negotiating for both the West Midlands and Surrey police forces. Will the Minister support the police authority in the Surrey area, which has cancelled its G4S contract, and will he encourage the West Midlands authority to do the same? When will he recognise that public service cannot be replaced by private service?

My Lords, the noble Lord overstates his case, and overstates it rather badly. There is no question of privatising the police force, as he claims, although obviously there are certain parts of police work that can be done by private sector companies. That does not mean we are privatising the police force, which is a separate issue and nothing to do with what is happening here.

We are talking today about the security of the Olympics and different bits of security that will be carried out by different people. As the noble Lord knows perfectly well, private companies are always brought in to provide most of the basic security at any major sporting event in terms of checking bags and checking people as they go in. This is what happens at Wembley, at test matches, at Wimbledon and on many other occasions. The Olympics are no different, except they are bigger.

We entered into a competitive process with a number of companies—G4S won and it has not delivered as it should have done. We have made this clear today and in earlier Statements. We have appropriate contingency plans in place to make sure that if G4S failed in part of its job we could meet our obligations to have an appropriately secure Olympics. That is what we are going to have, so I think the noble Lord going on a rant of this sort is not helpful and does not do any good. We had made sure that we have answered all relevant questions—that is what we hope to do to as well as providing a properly secure Olympics.

My Lords, I am sure that the Members of this House want to see a safe and secure Games, and that the last-minute increase in the size of the Armed Forces participation in the security operation will help to guarantee this. It is sad that we have had to have these sharp discussions in advance of the Olympics, attracting negative publicity, but that is life. I am sure the Minister would agree that there should be an investigation after the Games as to how we got into this position. Not wishing to prejudge that, I would like to place it on record, as the Minister did in his Statement, that when the Games were awarded to London in 2005 it was said that they would be civilian-run. However, that defies recent history about very large sporting events such as other Olympic Games. Was it not complacent of the Government of the day not to have planned from the outset for considerable use of the military, which has experience of dealing with large numbers of people and of using a clear chain of command, and might well have prevented the situation that we find ourselves in now?

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his words, particularly when he says that we should not at this stage be making negative comments about the Games. We want them to be a good set of Games—we want them to be secure, but not to be seen as “the security Games”. I am also grateful for his comments about what happened at earlier stages when we were not in government in terms of the original plans for the Games and how they were set up.

It is quite right that we are making use of contingency plans to bring in extra military service personnel to help out on some aspects of the Games, and that earlier on we brought in an extra 5,000 specialists from the Armed Forces to address security matters that only they could ever have dealt with, as we see from HMS “Ocean”, moored in the Thames, and other things that the private sector obviously cannot produce. We are talking here about providing some extra military personnel to deal with the problems created by the issues that G4S had. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that adequate training will be available, given that so many individuals will be coming to the job so late, and that the right training will be given to people designated to particular jobs? There was an unfortunate item on the news last night when a young man who was said to have been put forward by G4S—I think it was more than he was set up than put forward—indicated his difficulties with language.

As a more general and principled question, will the G4S contract be published? Before I am told that it is commercial and in confidence, I raise the point that both parties to a contract can agree to vary that sort of clause and perhaps G4S can be persuaded that it would be in the public interest, in both senses of the word, that the contract should be published.

My Lords, I can give my noble friend an assurance that everyone doing a job involving security will have adequate training and we shall make sure that people who do not have adequate training will not be accredited.

Regarding whether the G4S contract will be published, that might be a matter for both parties to consider after the event, so let us leave it until then. It might be that G4S wishes to publish it, or that some sort of post-mortem, as my noble friend is suggesting, might be appropriate after these Games. I do not think it is proper that we should create fears that are not necessarily there at this stage.

My Lords, we are where we are, and I entirely agree with the Minister that this is not the time for looking retrospectively and trying to find out what happened. However, the fact of the matter is that every week, every day and almost every hour we hear things that are completely disconcerting to the general public and to the people who are going to be involved in the Games, both participants and spectators. The role of the Government should always be the safety of those people and it has to be their priority. I am sure that the more the general public read, the more they are losing confidence and faith in what the Home Secretary has been doing. Heaven knows how we got ourselves into this predicament. I do not want to put it too worryingly, but it looks as if we are almost in a national security crisis and I want to know how bad it has got to be before the Minister does something about that. Every single thing that we have heard today indicates that the security we have always promised to the people coming to watch these Games is not going to be in place. So what is the Minister’s next move—we want to know?

My Lords, again, I suspect that the noble Baroness is exaggerating by saying that every day there is some new problem. There were problems last week and over the weekend there were further press reports that have now been dealt with by my right honourable friend in her Answer, where she made it quite clear that most of them are completely untrue. Although I appreciate that not many have been doing it in this House, when I listened to the debate in another place there was a great deal of unnecessary point-scoring on questions of security. It is very dangerous of the party opposite. I can assure the House that we take security as the absolute top priority but we do not want to turn these Games into the security Games. We want to ensure that there is appropriate protection of individuals, and that will happen. That is why we have reacted as we did and why we set up the contingency plans that we have. They have come into effect as a result of the failures of G4S.

My Lords, I was part of the Bill team that worked with Tessa Jowell for several years, from the first time that we brought the Bill through all the way up until the election. We worked together to make sure that these Games were delivered by the British Parliament as a cross-party project. Up until today or yesterday, that has been so and I beg noble Lords not to start nitpicking on cross-party points.

My Lords, I am very grateful for what my noble friend said, particularly about Tessa Jowell and all the work that she has done for the Olympics ever since she put that bid in some time back in 2002, or whenever it started. The point that she made, which again I think my noble friend will be aware of, is that this is not the time to start trying to point-score on a political basis, as has been happening. We want to ensure that we have a good and successful Games, and that they are secure Games. However, we do not want security to dominate them so that they become a security Games. We want a good, successful Games that everyone will enjoy.

My Lords, could the Minister persuade our Government to talk to the Government of Israel about transferring, as a good-will gesture, the G4S personnel who are currently guarding—rather brutally—the illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories of Palestine? Could he persuade them to transfer those people, thus making the Games a great experience for Palestinians as well as for Londoners?

My Lords, in asking this question I declare an interest that is in the Lords register. Is the Minister aware of the advanced technical means of securing large perimeter areas by means such as radar, which obviously reduce the manpower required for these purposes? Is he aware that some 18 months ago an approach was made to the Olympic security authorities by a company that secured Sydney harbour in Australia? Presentations were given and considerable interest was shown by those who received the presentation but, unfortunately, there does not appear to have been any follow-up by those in charge of security at the Olympic authorities.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that technology can obviously always play a very important part in security but it would be a very rash and foolish Government who relied only on technology. In the end, one needs to have feet on the ground and to have people there who are properly trained and accredited to do the right job.

My Lords, in declaring my interest as a member of the advisory board of the British Olympic Association, whose foremost concern is for the training, welfare, health and, above all, security of British athletes, I congratulate my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Office very warmly on the action that she has taken. Is my noble friend the Minister convinced, looking forward not back at any post-mortem that might happen, that in the next few weeks—and indeed more than that—the chief executive and top management team of LOCOG have the capacity and capability to be good customers of the security that they are paying for and commissioning? They are in the front line, and have been for many years, in commissioning the security that we have had. Secondly, I also ask my noble friend for an absolute assurance that as the Olympic Games morph and transmogrify into the Paralympic Games there will be no diminution whatever in the level of security provided during the Paralympics as compared to the Olympics, because soft targets are easy targets.

My Lords, I give an assurance to my noble friend that we will maintain security at whatever is the appropriate level on the advice that we receive from those who have an interest in security matters. It is therefore unlikely to be relaxed as the Olympics morph, as my noble friend put it, into the Paralympics. As regards the assurances that he would like from me personally about LOCOG, I have not been involved in any discussions with the officials and management of LOCOG but my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has, as has my honourable friend Mr James Brokenshire. I think they could give assurances to my noble friend that they are satisfied that it will ensure that we maintain the right level of security.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this is probably the biggest mistake we have had in the preparation of the Games so far? Will he assure the House, and indeed Parliament, that when we review everything to try to get the soft legacy, which will probably be the biggest part of the legacy of this, we will get a full review of what happened, when and why, so that we can study it at leisure? There should not be any point-scoring now and we should make sure that we learn what has actually happened and ensure that the next Games or event does not repeat these mistakes. Let it make its new ones.

My Lords, I think my noble friend was at the same meeting as me when a number of potential Olympic ambassadors were briefed, and he will then remember that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport said that, however well things went, there were likely to be mistakes. That is in the nature of things and we will look at those mistakes afterwards and ensure that we resolve them so that they do not happen again. My noble friend asks that we ensure that we do not have any further mistakes the next time we have the Olympics. I appreciate that there are one or two Members of this House who might remember the previous Olympics back in 1948. I do not and I am not sure that I will be around for the next time.

I appreciate that my noble friend is now saying that there will be the Commonwealth Games in Scotland in two years’ time. I am sure that the Scottish Government will be taking all possible advice on these matters and will learn as much as they can from any possible mistakes that may or may not have happened.