So far the performance of our public services has been good on most major disaster incidents. That is no reason for complacency, of course; procedures must be constantly reviewed and funding may well need to be increased.
Britain is not equipped to defend itself against an 11 September-style attack, says the Commons Defence Committee. The Government believes the balance of its security structures are right, replied Tony Blair in Prime Minister's Questions yesterday.
Normally that would be enough to have us all fleeing to the bomb shelters, on the simple principle that whenever a minister expresses him or herself satisfied with safety, you know the worst is going to happen.
And, indeed, the Defence Committee does make some worrying points about the lack of co-ordination and full revision of procedures since 11 September. The awful lessons of the poor communications between police and fire departments in New York in the immediate aftermath of the attack should be written on the heart of every public service across the Atlantic.
But to suggest, as the committee does, that we need a whole raft of new laws and a "strong central authority" headed by a cabinet minister to co-ordinate the work of various departments is to get carried away with the drama of September. Unlike the US, Britain has had 30 years' experience of dealing with terrorism, including direct mortar attacks on Number 10, the bombing of a hotel being used by the Prime Minister and much of the Cabinet, and the attempted destruction of the Stock Exchange.
The lesson, as we have learned, is that the greatest priority has to be given to intelligence and prevention. Nine-eleven presents huge challenges but – for obvious reasons – little information by which to judge performance. It is the attacks avoided that matter – and those we rarely know about.
The response to an attack from al-Qa'ida, on the other hand, is no different in practice from the reaction to an IRA outrage, or even a civilian disaster. So far the performance of the public services has been good on most major disaster incidents. That is no reason for complacency, of course; procedures must be constantly reviewed. Funding may well need to be increased. What we do not need, however, is more ministers, another expensive department and a bigger Cabinet.Reuse content