Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 400: debated on Monday 3 March 2003

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Monday 3 March 2003

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions


The Secretary of State for Defence was asked—

Armed Forces Deployment (Gull)

What the level of preparedness is of British armed forces deployed in the Gulf region. [99846]

If he will make a statement on the deployment of troops in the Gulf. [99847]

In three previous statements I have detailed the composition and deployment of United Kingdom forces from all three services to the Gulf region, presenting a significant and credible threat of force in support of United Nations Security Council resolution 1441 and the disarmament of Iraq.

In addition, our forces continue to enforce the no-fly zones, which has lately involved more frequent patrols and a broader range of aircraft.

Detailed planning will continue to evolve, but we currently envisage the total deployment of around 45,000 armed forces personnel. The UK presence in theatre is rapidly building to form a highly capable force. Approaching 30,000 UK armed forces personnel are now deployed in theatre, making a significant contribution to the flexible and balanced range of coalition capabilities that would be used in the event of military action.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware of various accusations, not least in the press, about the alleged inadequacies of the clothing, food and equipment that is being provided to our forces in the Gulf. Can he give a commitment that the necessary logistical support is being given so that any problems may be ironed out? Moreover, can he give a cast-iron commitment that our troops will be fully equipped and ready to meet any action that they have to take in the Gulf?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. There have been a number of particularly ill-informed media reports, including, in one newspaper yesterday, the complaint that our soldiers were getting three meals a day. I assure my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who may he concerned that our forces are being properly supported. The deployment and sustained supply of our forces in the Gulf is a vast undertaking. The Defence Logistics Organisation estimates that the same volume of equipment and stores has been deployed in half the time that was taken in the 1990–91 Gulf conflict. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the thousands of personnel, military as well as civilian, who have accomplished that.

Is there any reason why the Secretary of State cannot confirm that the command and control arrangements for British forces will be the same as they were during the Gulf war, and can he confirm reports this morning that American marines may be placed under British command?

The command and control arrangements will not differ significantly from those that operated in the course of the Gulf war. It is not sensible to talk at this stage about who may be commanding which different forces in the Gulf, but this is certainly a significant coalition operation.

Have contingency plans been made for the stationing of our troops over the next few months if it is decided to continue with intrusive inspections, or were the repeated promises by the Prime Minister that war would be regarded only as a last resort worthless?

I have made it clear to the House on several occasions that the size and composition of the forces that are being deployed to the Gulf are flexible to allow for any number of eventualities. Clearly, that involves the continuing possibility that Saddam Hussein might, even at this late stage, accept the will of the international community and disarm in accordance with resolution 1441.

Would it not assist the British troops enormously in their preparedness if the Secretary of State had some clear idea of what weapons they are likely to face? Can he say, in view of the excellent new relationship with the United States, whether the Americans are prepared to make public to him, or indeed to the general public, the extent and the size of the weapons of mass destruction that were provided to Iraq at the time when it was a friend of the United States?

The US Defence Secretary has categorically denied making those kinds of equipment available to Iraq. I underscore the fact that it is for this House to judge the contents of the dossier that the Government published as long ago as last September, which clearly set out the details of the weapons of mass destruction that we judge that Iraq has continued to develop and continues to possess.

Will my right hon. Friend provide some reassurance in responding to today's press coverage suggesting that the increased activities in the no-fly zones are a precursor to, or a beginning of, action in the Gulf? Will he comment on that?

As I said a few moments ago, our forces have been undertaking more frequent patrols in the no-fly zones with a broader range of aircraft. However, I assure my hon. Friend that they do that in response to efforts to attack them and act entirely in self-defence, in accordance with international law.

I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to forces that have been involved in logistics. I am sure that all hon. Members, regardless of our anxieties about the conflict, would tell him that if he can sort out the supply problems about which our constituents tell us, he will have the support of the House and the country.

I want to ask about the RAF. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned northern and southern no-fly zones. Have United Kingdom aircraft been involved in recent weeks in targeting Iraqi ground positions that posed no threat to the northern or southern no-fly zones? When I asked him in February whether the United Kingdom had changed the rules of engagement for our aircraft, he declined to comment. Will he answer that question today?

On the hon. Gentleman's first observation, may I just say in passing that several comments have been made about the way in which he has "unreasonably fuelled" the criticism of the logistics arrangements? I simply report that to hon. Members. Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman concentrated on the generality rather than the occasional difficulty that inevitably arises in such an operation, we might all be better off today.

On the rules of engagement, the hon. Gentleman is again somewhat misleading. He knows full well that Ministers never comment on them in detail. I assure him that the arrangements for patrolling the southern and northern no-fly zones remain unchanged. As he would expect, our forces are authorised to deal with any threats that Iraqi forces pose to them.

In the event of hostilities breaking out, does my right hon. Friend anticipate that Iraq will use chemical, biological and nuclear weapons?

That must be one of the factors that military planners take into account when preparing for any military conflict, not least in this case because continued development of those appalling weapons forms the essence of our complaint against Iraq.

Having returned this morning from Kuwait with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I join the Secretary of State in congratulating all those involved with the British military build-up there. Although there are inevitably some short-term frustrations for our soldiers, sailors and air men, we found them well prepared, in good spirits, with high morale and fully deserving much wider recognition for the success of a major deployment over a great distance so quickly.

I take issue with the Secretary of State's insistence that nothing has changed in the no-fly zone operations over southern Iraq. Is it not clear that US and UK aircraft are now pre-empting threats to allied ground forces in Kuwait that are preparing to invade? Although we continue to hope that diplomacy will avoid the need for the last resort of war, have we not already seen the opening shots of the second Gulf war?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his observations, especially those about our forces and civilians who are engaged in logistics. Although it is not always the most glamorous part of armed forces' activity, it is indispensable. Without the superb work of those forces and civilians, the fighting forces would not be able to get into and remain in position.

I repeat the point that there has been no substantial change in the arrangements for the northern and southern no-fly zones. Clearly, those forces have always been entitled to deal with any threats, whether directly to aircraft that fly above the northern and southern no-fly zones or to forces on the ground in places such as Kuwait.

But the tactics are no longer simply to enforce the no-fly zones. They reflect the Government's decision to help clear the way for the invasion of Iraq, which requires the protection of British and American ground forces that are now massing to cross the Iraqi border. The B-52s that arrived at Fairford this morning are not intended to support enforcement of the no-fly zones. We are on the cusp of great events. Would not Ministers' honesty and openness about what is going on help to win the hearts and minds of the British people?

I am sorry about the hon. Gentleman's final observation—Ministers have been as honest and open as is consistent, clearly, with the security requirements of the situation. I emphasise to the House that no decision has been taken about the use of military force, and I repeat that there is no substantial change in the operation of the northern or southern no-fly zones.

Since the hon. Gentleman has mentioned this—I intended to deal with it later in questions—may I tell the House that I have agreed to a United States request to deploy 14 US Air Force B-52 bomber aircraft to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, together with their extra support personnel? Those aircraft began to arrive at the base today. That is part of our continuing contingency preparations—no decision to commence military action has been made.

We cannot keep 30,000 troops in the desert indefinitely, so will the Secretary of State tell the House what arrangements are being made to rotate the troops?

My hon. Friend is right to the extent that, obviously, the same forces cannot be kept indefinitely in the desert or, indeed, in any other theatre. That is certainly not part of our intention and, as is happening already with some United States forces, arrangements will be made to rotate them when and if that is necessary.

Ministerial Meetings

What recent meetings he has had with central and eastern European Defence Ministers to discuss developments in the middle east.[99848]

Since 24 September last year, I have had meetings with my counterparts from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Estonia, Albania, Macedonia and Ukraine. Those meetings addressed a range of topics of mutual interest, including, where appropriate, developments in the middle east.

In the light of President Chirac's deeply unpleasant threat to those central and eastern European Governments who signed the Iraq letter that he would try to ensure that they did not become members of the European Union, was the Secretary of State satisfied or happy with the comments of his French opposite number when she visited Warsaw last week and told the Poles it was better

"to keep silent when you do not know what is going on"?
Is it not time that we told our French allies that they are behaving disgracefully, particularly towards our new friends in NATO, whom the right hon. Gentleman has been visiting in the past year?

We have made it absolutely clear to candidate countries that there will be no change whatever in British Government policy; we welcome the enlargement of NATO, as we welcome the enlargement of the European Union. That will continue to be absolutely central to the Government's policy.

In any of the discussions that my right hon. Friend has had in the past couple of months, have the Poles or the Czech Republic had a good word to say for the French position; or have they been pointing out that it was France that not only systematically and deliberately supported and strengthened Saddam Hussein, but armed him?

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, may I assure him that we do not spend our time in such bilateral discussions considering the respective position of any other country, other than the relations that exist between this country and the country in question? So I am sorry to disappoint him: we have not had that kind of conversation.

Armed Forces Deployment (Gull)

What percentage of the Army is deployed to the Gulf region.[99849]

As of 25 February 2003, 11.5 per cent, of the trained strength of the Army was deployed to the Gulf region. That number is increasing on a weekly basis, as we continue to deploy those forces previously announced to Parliament. When all the previously announced forces are deployed, approximately 25 per cent, of the trained strength of the Army will be deployed to the Gulf region.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I am also grateful to the ministerial team for assuring the House that the Army is properly equipped. What percentage of the Army so far deployed has been issued with nuclear, biological and chemical kits? Will he confirm that the required respirators and canisters have not passed their life expectancy? Will he also confirm that the MOD has not extended the relevant warranties on that kit?

We have a wide-ranging support mechanism for all our troops who are deployed on the basis of the perceived and possible real threat that may arise from NBC attack. As for the respirators and the other equipment that the hon. Gentleman mentions, on the basis of the advice that we, as Ministers, have been given, we are wholly satisfied that the equipment being deployed is satisfactory, and the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), who recently visited the troops, will be able to give an equal assurance if he spoke to our people in theatre about it.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of issues that we are told may be debated by this House on many occasions, the fact is that the Prime Minister has so squandered his inheritance of trust that large numbers of people in the United Kingdom still do not believe that our troops should be in the Gulf. Many men and women with family members in the armed services are very concerned about the provision for their clothing, accommodation, and, most importantly, equipment. What practical steps is the Minister taking to reassure the families of those who may be required to sacrifice everything on our behalf?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. It is not just the welfare of the deployed forces and the dangers that they may face that we must consider but the families back home, who, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, have to listen to some of the silly comments made in the press. Clearly, certain shortfalls exist, but there is a very big logistics chain in which thousands of people are employed in moving a wide range of equipment into theatre. It is a huge logistical exercise. In practical terms, much of the communication is done by people in bases, at barracks and at stations, where our service personnel are clustered, as well as by Ministers. We must address any concerns as best we can. We should not minimise the scale of this logistical exercise. We must, however, give the assurance that the equipment and supplies being put into theatre meet the needs of the many thousands of troops who will be deployed, and that we respect the concerns of families in all those regards.

Does the Minister agree that the deployment of tens of thousands of our troops, particularly soldiers, to the Gulf—and the fact that they may be committed to combat shortly—means that their morale and that of their families is crucial? Both my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and the Secretary of State have emphasised what an important job they are doing, with little practical acknowledgement of that from the media so far. In the last Gulf war, I remember how important it was for the MOD to have a coherent media strategy. One veteran reptile cynically said to me the other day that he believes that the MOD's media strategy is not to have one. Will the Minister tell the House how many journalists are now accredited to UK forces in theatre, and what arrangements have been made for them to accompany UK forces into combat?

I will not descend to the type of language that the hon. Gentleman used to describe the press. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] No, I won't. I am always conscious of how the press report some of my comments, so I shall try to be nice, although I must be truthful, too. There are silly stories out there, but some of them are coming back from theatre, because open and transparent lines of communication exist between the front line and families back home. We must examine each and every comment that has substance to see whether we can address it meaningfully, arid, I hope, correct the problem. Alternatively, we must see whether such comments are based on misunderstandings and, subsequently, misreporting and falsehoods by the media.

We are dealing with a difficult media climate. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a figure on the precise number of journalists, because, if I gave him a figure today, it would probably increase by tomorrow, and it would probably increase in future. That is not the issue we must deal with. Perhaps the particular journalist whom he says is criticising our media strategy should write to tell me where his criticism lies and where the shortfalls are. If we can correct them, we will. We put a lot of effort into handling the media because of the point that he and the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) mentioned about the importance of making sure that the families back home are not being fed lies and distortions.

Iraqi Armed Forces

What assessment he has made of the morale of the Iraqi armed forces. [99850]

Given the nature of the Iraqi regime and the lack of information available, it is not easy to make these assessments. However, from what information we have, we judge that the morale of the regular Iraqi armed forces is low.

In 1991, Iraqi conscripts surrendered in their thousands. They were badly led, cold, wet, demoralised and terrified. When they discovered that we were not going to murder them, they actually rather enjoyed being in prison camps, because we fed, watered and sheltered them, and gave them clothing. We saved many lives among those who were threatened by dehydration.

Those conscripts believed that we were bringing them freedom; but it is rumoured that, after the Gulf war, when many of them were returned to Iraq, a great many were butchered by the regime. This time round, they will be worse equipped and they will be similarly demoralised. What plans do the Government have to use any prisoners that may be taken—in conjunction with Iraqi opposition groups, or, perhaps, in information programmes, during the occupation of Baghdad or the reconstruction of Iraq—should there be conflict?

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's expertise in this area. I know that he served in the Gulf war and was responsible for dealing with prisoners of war.

The judgment that I make on the morale of Iraq's armed forces depends on the extent to which they have a stake in the survival of the regime. For example, organisations that are more closely associated with the regime—such as the special republican guard and Saddam Hussein's personal security apparatus—are much more under the regime's control and therefore much more likely to continue the fight. However, I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the position of conscripts. I understand that the majority of the members of the regular forces are Shi'as and that they have no particular enthusiasm for the regime in Iraq—although they undoubtedly feel fear because of the kind of action that Saddam Hussein has taken against their people over many years.

In the planning that is under way for any post-conflict situation in Iraq, it is important to take account of a range of factors—including how to deal with potentially a large number of prisoners, and how to ensure that basic steps are taken to provide initial security leading to the reconstruction of the country. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that a great deal of thinking is under way along those lines.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a big mistake to talk down the war-fighting capability of the Iraqi army even if it does lack morale and is motivated by the fear of retribution from its leadership? Our soldiers will face a grave challenge going into battle.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Because I was asked a specific question about morale, I gave the best assessment that is currently available to the Ministry of Defence. However, that does not mean that we in any way underestimate the threat that our forces face. All our planning is based on the highest level of resistance that we might anticipate, in order that our forces may be properly protected in the job that they may have to do.

It is to be hoped that the increasing and continued deployment of United States and British armed forces in the Gulf will have an adverse effect on the morale of Iraq's armed forces. Can the Secretary of State persuade me that having about 64 per cent, of the British Army deployed on active service throughout the world is not having an adverse effect on the sustainability of the effectiveness of our armed forces in the Gulf and elsewhere? Can he assure me that the effectiveness of our armed forces—in the Army, the Air Force or the Navy—is not affected by the huge number of tasks that he rightly imposes on them?

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to raise that issue. Previously, I have responded to questions about stretch and about the impact that our various commitments have on our armed forces. There is no doubt that our armed forces are busy right around the world. The commitment in the Gulf is part of the challenge that they face. However, I rely on the military advice and judgment of the chiefs of staff and they assure me that they are perfectly capable of undertaking this particular deployment at this time.

The answer that my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) indicated to me at least that, in practice, the state of the Iraqi military poses no threat. If it is so weak, why do we have to have a proposed military invasion of Iraq?

I did not say that at all. Indeed, I want to make it clear to my hon. Friend and to the House that no one should assume that there is not a direct threat from Saddam Hussein's forces. I have already dealt today with the risk that will undoubtedly be faced if Saddam Hussein authorises the use of chemical or biological weapons against our forces. That is a significant threat that we might have to deal with in the event of military action being necessary. There is a range of threats and no one should underestimate the ruthlessness that Saddam Hussein has shown over the years in the use of his armed forces and in putting down a series of insurrections inside Iraq and in attacking two of his neighbouring countries.

During its recent visit to Washington, the Defence Committee was briefed by senior US officials about the extensive contingency arrangements currently under consideration for any post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Are the British Government being consulted on that, as we were led to believe? If so, why will Ministers not share with the House these plans which involve extensive assistance to the Iraqi people to ensure that they have supplies of food and water and medical facilities?

I am afraid to say that the Secretary of State's reaction to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) illustrates my point. My hon. Friend made a very serious point about the possible use of Iraqi soldiers in any post-conflict reconstruction of Iraq. Can the Secretary of State not be more forthcoming or will we have to go back to Washington to get the answers?

I am slightly surprised by the hon. Gentleman's question, because the Defence Committee has been briefed on these matters. That information is not such that I am not willing to share it with the House. I, too, have recently visited Washington where we had detailed discussions about the arrangements in hand for preparing Iraq for a return to the international community and for the reconstruction of that country. A senior British military officer is engaged day to day in this work in Washington and, during my recent visit to the Gulf, I saw that a great effort is also being made in British headquarters to prepare for what might happen to Iraq thereafter in the event of there being a conflict. A great deal of work is being done and I would be delighted to continue the briefing of right hon. and hon. Members that is already under way.

Armed Forces Deployment (Gulf)


If he will make a statement on the role of the Territorial Army in the deployment of forces to Iraq. [99852]

The Territorial Army provides individuals for specific roles in our armed forces and also some specialist units in areas such as logistics, signals, medicine and engineering. My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot discuss the specific details of our military planning and of the possible roles that might be undertaken by individuals or units in the event of military action against Iraq.

I pay tribute to the vital role that the men and women of all the reserve forces play in the defence of this country and in serving our interests with such dedication and skill.

Many of my constituents believe that the case for war against Iraq is yet unproven, and that is why I voted accordingly last week. Can he assure me that, if members of the Territorial Army are deployed in Iraq, that will be done with the further endorsement of the United Nations?

If my hon. Friend had listened carefully to the debate last week, he would have found that that was the position of the British Government. I certainly have nothing to add to that.

The Government have already acknowledged that the review that they carried out of the Territorial Army was not necessarily entirely wise. Will Ministers now consider the fact that, by stripping the Territorial Army of most of its combat areas, they have lost most of the surge capability that enables a small professional army to expand? Are the Government willing to consider the lessons after this conflict—we hope that it will be over quickly and soon—as to whether we need a larger reserve capability so that we can expand our very fine but very small professional Army if we face a major threat again?

The hon. Gentleman's interest in this issue is well known. Defence planning assumptions are merely that—assumptions. Clearly, if the facts change, the assumptions will change with them. However, he is wrong. Surge capability has increased, and not decreased, as a result of our refocusing defence forces. Having large numbers of ill-trained and ill-equipped units was not the way in which to operate our reserve forces. They now operate much more closely to our front-line troops, as is seen by the number of people who we are calling up and who are ready to serve in Iraq.

What contribution has been made by the new Territorial Army medical training establishment at Strensall near York? In particular, what contribution will be made by medical members of the reserve forces, and will they be equipped to deal with casualties, both military and civilian, of chemical and biological weapons, should the need arise?

The new set-up is proving very successful. Reserves have to be well prepared for the roles that they may have to play, and that preparation is much more effective than it was at the time of the last Gulf conflict. Units will play a major part, and I can tell my hon. Friend that they have received the training and equipment that they need to discharge their duties effectively.

Armed Forces Deployment (Gulf)


How many reservists have been called up to participate in Operation Telic. [99853]

As the Secretary of State for Defence announced in a written ministerial statement on 30 January, it is our intention to serve enough call-out notices to secure a total of around 6,000 reservists to support Operation Telic. As at 25 February, 7,804 call-out notices had been issued and 3,316 reservists had been accepted into service.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a great deal of planning is going on in Washington, if not in London, for changing the regime in Baghdad and running Iraq after a successful war. The commitment on behalf of our Army and our reservists may be very long term. What discussions have military authorities had with Territorial and reserve forces about the time commitment that they may have to make to this operation? How many reservists have applied for exemption from service?

Up to now, roughly 15 per cent, of those called up have applied for deferment of one sort or another. Clearly, the numbers that we call out reflect the need to secure the numbers that we require in service, so we call out many more than will be ultimately needed. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the procedure is going well.

As my hon. Friend will know, one of the changes made in recent years was to establish a national reserve mobilisation centre at Chetwynd barracks in my constituency. Will he pay tribute to the staff working on that complex operation, and is he satisfied with their work so far?

Yes, I certainly pay tribute to the dedication of the staff. The mustering centre at Chilwell is operating very well; staff are putting in long hours to carry out an enormous amount of work to ensure that reservists are properly equipped, briefed and prepared for any role that they may have.

Armed Forces Recruitment


If he will make a statement on recruitment to the armed forces since January. [99854]

Audited recruitment figures since 1 January 2003 are not yet available. However, armed forces recruitment is progressing well, and the early indications are that the level of interest being shown by young people in pursuing an armed forces career reflects no discernible difference when compared to the same period last year.

Is it not odd that at this of all times, and when recruitment shows encouraging signs of increasing,Soldier magazine has confirmed the fears of many of us that some recruits

"are to have their initial training courses deferred because recruiting has exceeded current funding levels"?
Are the Department's finances so dire that such deferment has to take place, and do not the Minister and his colleagues appreciate that invaluable training momentum is being thrown away?

No, it is not. As a former Minister, the hon. Gentleman will know that Departments always make certain planning assumptions for the year. To ensure that the training pipeline is able to cope with the number of recruits, some training periods are being deferred from March to April or May, which hardly amounts to much in the great scheme of things. I should have thought that it would be a matter of joy, rather than condemnation, in the House that recruitment levels are exceeding expectations.

Is the Minister aware that since 1997 recruitment to the armed forces in south Tyneside has more than halved? Does he have any observations on that dramatic decline? More importantly, what measures does he intend to introduce to make recruitment to the armed forces more attractive to young people?

I should like to say that it is a tribute to the Government's economic policies that job opportunities in the north-east of England are looking up. Without appearing facetious, however, I am concerned when areas show a diminution in recruitment. I will consider that with those responsible to see what can be done to improve the situation.

I am sure that the Minister would agree that an important part of the appeal of the recruitment package is the armed forces pension scheme. Will he take the opportunity to quash rumours expressed to the Commander-in-Chief of Strike Command at RAF Lossiemouth last week that under Government plans, any length of service that terminates before an individual reaches 55 would result in a deferred pension to a new public sector retirement age of 65?

Until the report is received and published, I cannot give that confirmation. However, those who complete their service, according to the rules, will suffer no deferment of their pension.

:Is the Minister on target for the recruitment of more black and Asian people into the armed forces? Is he as concerned as I am about the number of claims of racial discrimination that have been made against the armed forces? If he is, what practical steps are he and his colleagues taking to ensure that racism is eradicated from our armed services?

We show zero tolerance to racism in the armed forces. The figures have increased dramatically over the past year, which shows that our policies on the recruitment of ethnic minorities are paying off and that those within our ethnic minorities are beginning to realise that they have nothing to fear from racism in the armed forces.

Given the evident problems with recruitment and manpower generally, why does the Ministry of Defence believe that our armed forces should be 4,000 fewer in personnel now than just two years ago?

As I think I explained in an earlier answer, defence planning assumptions are not set in stone and vary according to the requirements that the armed forces tell us about. We are not the experts in that; they are. If the experts whom we employ, and our service personnel in particular, tell us what the requirements are, naturally we pay heed to them. What on earth would the hon. Gentleman do in the same circumstances?



If he will make a statement on the time taken for UK aerospace companies to be paid for the work they carry out on the Eurofighter project. [99855]

All contracts for work on the Eurofighter Typhoon project placed by the Ministry of Defence or the NATO Eurofighter management agency are subject to national legislation regarding payment times. This legislation will apply equally to subcontracts placed on United Kingdom aerospace companies.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but he knows that that system often does not work. One company in my constituency, which does not want to be named, has waited a long time for a tremendous amount of money for working on Eurofighter and has been rebuked by Eurofighter when it has tried to chase the money. On speaking to the company, it stressed that it does not blame the Government, but it does want them to introduce a new system that enables it to get paid at least in the same year as it carries out such a large amount of work.

The hon. Gentleman has been very active on behalf of that company and he is right not to name it. Indeed, it would be wrong to name any company that might be experiencing similar difficulties. We are concerned about that company and try to help British companies as much as we can. However, most of the Ministry of Defence's UK requirements for Typhoon are contracted by the NATO European Typhoon management agency on Eurofighter GmbH. We have no direct contractual relationship with either ACMA, GmbH or the company to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, the Ministry has written to the agency, requesting that Eurofighter GmbH reminds its partner companies and suppliers of the importance that we attach to prompt payment when contractual obligations have been met. Lord Bach, who has ministerial responsibility for defence procurement, is actively dealing with the representation made by the company to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and other concerns have also been raised.

Will the Minister confirm that over the past six years the project has cost the British taxpayer £4 billion? Does that sum include the moneys outstanding mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson)? What are the implications of the recent unfortunate aeroplane crash in Spain for the cost of the project and the delay to it?

There has to be a full assessment following any incident of that nature such as a crash or equipment malfunction. If modifications are required, that has to be costed into the programme. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a figure at this stage. The project is a sizeable one, and the British defence sector, which is contributing expertise and technological input, is without doubt also gaining considerably from it. It is good for the 0British economy, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports that.

Ministerial Meetings


When he last held discussions with the US Defence Secretary on Iraq. [99856]

I have regular discussions with the US Defence Secretary. I last met him on 12 February in Washington.

Does the Defence Secretary agree that behind some of the opposition to the Government's policy on Iraq is a caricature of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which is a gross distortion of the truth? Will he take the opportunity to set the record straight, as the Prime Minister helpfully did when I asked him to set the record straight about George W. Bush last week?

I certainly find working with the US Defence Secretary straightforward. He deals with issues in a clear and concise way, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that our discussions, although sometimes terse, are very effective.

If military action is taken, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had about the future, first and foremost the territorial integrity of Iraq, but also protecting the Kurds after Saddam; the start of democratic rule; and of course the necessity for an international presence apart from the United States and the United Kingdom? Is it not essential to make it clear to the people of Iraq that democracy is our first priority?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend who is absolutely right. Central to the Government's policy on Iraq is preserving that country's territorial integrity, which includes ensuring the safety and security of its population, not only the Kurds, but also the Shi'as and minority groups in the country. Clearly, there will be a need for a continuing international presence in the event of military conflict in and around Iraq. It is important that the international community uses its influence, ability and resources to start Iraq back on the process of becoming a fully integrated member of the international community. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has set out our policy objectives, including the idea of representative Government in Iraq, which seems to me a thoroughly worthwhile objective for the international community.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that one purpose of any military action would be to prevent Saddam Hussein giving chemical or biological weapons to terrorists. Has the Defence Secretary discussed that with the Americans, and how could anyone ever have any assurance that no matter how much CBW material Saddam Hussein gave up he had not retained other material that could be given to terrorists? Is not the logic of the Government's position that that could be prevented only by removing Saddam Hussein from power once and for all?

That is why it is important that the regime in Iraq complies fully with the terms of Security Council resolution 1441, and does not simply play the games that it appears to be playing at present. I have told the House many times since 11 September 2001 that those appalling events threw into sharp focus our need to ensure that we are protected against threats wherever they may arise in the world. We should therefore concentrate, as we are doing, on not only the continuing terrorist threat, but the threat posed by Saddam Hussein both in his capacity as a leader of a state and his willingness to support terrorism. We are therefore right to have regard not only for the safety and security of the region, but of the wider world.

Has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seen the authoritative report in yesterday'sIndependent on Sunday, which says that the United States is prepared to use toxic gases in Iraq that would be illegal within the terms of the chemical weapons convention, and that Britain would not use them and would not transport them on behalf of the United States? Given this report, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the US Secretary of State? Will he impress upon him that illegal action by anybody is illegal and should not even be contemplated?

I am confident that the United States, like the United Kingdom, will fully respect its obligations in international law.

As British troops mass alongside American troops in the Gulf, so both forces become vulnerable to chemical and biological attacks, which I believe that Saddam Hussein is capable of launching. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government have ruled out retaliating to such attacks with nuclear weapons?

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that Governments do not comment on the use of nuclear deterrent. We foresee no circumstances at present where nuclear weapons would be required. They are a deterrent but they are not necessarily war-fighting weapons. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, we see no circumstances in which they are likely to be used in the operation that we are discussing.

Will my right hon. Friend tell me what protection is being offered to the Kurds of northern Iraq in the event of Saddam Hussein using chemical weapons against them again? Does he know whether the UN inspectors have visited the border between Saddam Hussein's part of Iraq and the Kurdish part of northern Iraq, especially round Chamchamal, where the Kurds have seen rockets on the hillsides? They believe that there is the capability of firing chemical weapons at them all over again.

Given Saddam Hussein's track record, my hon. Friend is right to raise concern about the plight of the Kurdish people in northern Iraq. That is why over so many years Britain's forces, together with those from the United States, have been patrolling the no-fly zones. In a situation of military conflict, we will be concerned about the position of the Kurds and other groups inside Iraq. It is part of our thinking in relation to what we might find in the event of military conflict and thereafter that efforts will be made to protect the Kurds and others against the threat posed directly by Saddam Hussein's regime.

Troop Inoculation (Gulf)


If he will make a statement on the progress being made towards inoculating British forces in the Gulf against diseases which could be spread by weapons of mass destruction. [99857]

Immunisation is an important component of our armed forces' defences against biological weapons, alongside their detectors, training, warning and reporting systems, decontamination procedures, and other medical countermeasures such as antibiotics.

Anthrax used as a biological weapon represents a real threat to our armed forces, and independent expert advice confirms that immunisation offers safe and effective protection against it. We are expanding our programme of immunisation against anthrax for the armed forces in phases, and beginning with units held at the highest readiness, with the aim of making immunisation against anthrax routine for all service personnel. All United Kingdom units deployed or nominated to deploy in the Gulf have been included in the programme.

We have announced plans to vaccinate a cohort of nuclear, biological and chemical specialists and frontline medical personnel against smallpox. This is not in response to any specific or immediate threat but a sensible precaution, against a potential global threat, which will enable our armed forces to mount an effective response in the event that smallpox is used as a biological weapon. A number of those personnel included in the cohort have deployed, are deploying, or will deploy on operations in the Gulf.

Can the Minister confirm that, because of fears of a repetition of Gulf war syndrome, more than half of all armed forces personnel have refused to have inoculations, and only one in five is inoculated? If, as the Minister says, the inoculations are harmless, how can he justify sending troops into action who are unprotected against the most lethal weapon in Saddam Hussein's germ armoury?

I assume the hon. Gentleman is talking about anthrax, rather than about routine public health inoculations. A pedant would tell him that he is wrong, and that about 51 per cent, of those who were offered the vaccination have taken it. The percentage rises in the forces that foresee themselves being most directly affected, with the result that the percentage among those likely to be deployed on land is between 65 and 70 per cent.

This morning in a written statement the Home Secretary made an important announcement regarding civil contingency planning to deal with a potential terrorist dirty bomb or biological attack on London. Can the Minister tell the House how many members of the armed forces are expected to take part in such a home exercise, and whether all those individuals. professionals and reservists, have been issued with NBC protective equipment and clothing and vaccinated against smallpox and anthrax?

I have made it clear with regard to smallpox that we are vaccinating the cohort of people who would then have to vaccinate others in the event the very unlikely event—of an attack taking place. I cannot comment in detail on planning provision for potential terrorist attacks, other than to say that our plans are robust and that they will, of course, include appropriate protection for those involved.

Armed Forces Deployment (Gulf)

If he will make a statement on the size of United Kingdom armed forces on duty in the Gulf.[99858]

How many British troops are stationed in the Gulf. [99863]

I refer the hon. Members to the answer that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave a few moments ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) and the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), and the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham).

With a quarter of the Army deployed to the Gulf, is the Minister confident that there would be enough troops to cover firefighting duties, should negotiations with the Fire Brigades Union break down and another strike be called?

What proportion of the troops deployed to the Gulf are earmarked for post-war reconstruction and peacekeeping roles? How long can we afford to keep them there, and what will be the impact on our other commitments? Does Telic really stand for "Tell everyone leave is cancelled"?

It is easy to be cynical about the deep and complex series of issues that we have to address. As regards aftermath planning—what is to happen in the event of hostilities—a considerable amount of work is going on, so that there is a flexible range of options, because the nature of the environment could range from benign to extremely hostile. We have to plan across a range of possibilities. It would be wrong to give a precise answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, and I am surprised that he asked it in the way that he did.

With the Turkish Parliament's decision not to allow American troops into Turkey, what assessment has the Department made of any increased risk to British ground forces who might have to fight the Iraqis on one front only?

We have to plan across a range of eventualities for the future deployment of forces. Again, it would be wrong to set out the detailed assessment of possible outcomes from the scenarios painted. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would understand that that is important for our own troops and because others could exploit any information that we give.

Suez Medal


When he will make an announcement on the award of a service medal for veterans of the Suez canal campaign in 1951–54. [99864]

A sub-committee of the HD Committee—the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals—chaired by Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, took evidence from canal zone veterans and the Ministry of Defence on 22 November last year. The recommendation regarding the possible case for a medal in respect of service in the canal zone between 1951 and 1954 was passed to the HD Committee for its consideration. Until the members have concluded their deliberations, the matter must remain under review, but I will make an announcement when their findings have been published.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and hope that the announcement can be made soon. Does he agree that there are very special circumstances relating to the case for awarding a medal for the Suez veterans? In particular, the commander in chief at the time applied for a medal, but the claim was never properly considered by the HD Committee. Are these not unique circumstances that justify the award of a medal retrospectively?

I think that my hon. Friend is well aware of my views on this subject, but we must be very careful in this matter to ensure that, if retrospection is to be breached, there are very clear and watertight reasons for doing so. The confusion about what happened when the action took place is well documented. Clearly, that was behind the decision to refer the matter back through the HD Committee to a sub-Committee for its consideration. In the very near future, I hope to be able to tell him and others the results of the deliberations.

Points Of Order

3.31 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A very significant vote took place in the Turkish Parliament on Saturday that has an impact on British foreign and defence policy and obviously that of the United States as well. Have you received a request from a Minister seeking to make a statement on the issue or will there be an opportunity some time this week for Members to express their interest in this matter and their admiration for the Turkish Parliament on its preparedness to say no to George Bush's war drive?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Thank you for granting me the opportunity to raise this point of order. I understand from Sky news that B-52 bombers have been deploying to RAF Fairford in my constituency all morning. Have you received any information from the Secretary of State for Defence saying that he intends to make a special statement on this matter so that we can question him specifically about it?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek to raise the propriety of the correction by way of a letter of a major financial mistake made on the Floor of the House. On 9 December, I asked the Secretary of State to confirm that defence expenditure would be significantly lower as a proportion of GDP in the following year than in any year under the previous Government. In reply, he told me that that was completely incorrect and said that the level was sometimes higher and sometimes lower under the previous Government. The truth is that the proportion of GDP being spent is the lowest since the 1930s. Since then, I have received a courteous letter from the Minister of State in which he admitted that the Secretary of State had made a mistake and said that the letter had been copied to the Library. Have you had any application from the Secretary of State for an opportunity to correct the matter on the Floor of the House?

No, but I get the feeling that the hon. Gentleman wanted to put the matter on the record.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State for Defence was repeatedly asked about the B-52s and the change in bombing over Iraq in the past few days, which is a radical departure from only protecting the no-fly zones. Some of us think that war has already started through the back door and that last week's debate was an absolute mockery, while we were given an assurance that we would be consulted further. Given the lack of any answers to genuine questions, may I ask you to request that the Secretary of State comes back to the House and gives a full and proper statement in which he answers the questions asked today?

The hon. Lady can apply—I am not inviting her to do so—for an urgent question. That is the procedure that she should follow.

Prevention And Suppression Of Terrorism

[Relevant document: Fifth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights of Session 2002–03, on the Continuance in force of sections 21–23 of the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, (HC 462).]

3.33 pm

I beg to move,

That the draft Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (Continuance in force of sections 21 to 23) Order 2003, which was laid before this House on 23rd January, be approved.
As on previous occasions, I want to express on behalf of the House our thanks to all those who have worked so diligently over the past 20 months to secure our wellbeing, ranging from those in the intelligence and security services, the anti-terrorism branch and the enforcement agencies to those working in our Department who have given time, energy and commitment. I am very pleased that Sir David Omand is co-ordinating and working so well in ensuring that the Government, our agencies and those working with us are prepared for what the Prime Minister in his Mansion House speech and I in my publication of 7 November described as an issue for the years ahead, rather than the weeks and months.

Following the events since the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was passed, all of us have become aware that we are in for a very long haul indeed. It is on that basis that we need incrementally to learn from experience and what has happened around us and build on that for the future.

As I said on 13 February, we must recognise that levels of security will rise and fall, and that on occasions information provided both internally and across the world indicates a heightened threat level. Let me also again make it clear that exercises will be necessary to make us better prepared to test existing arrangements, and to be honest about whether they are adequate. Over coming weeks we will organise such an exercise here in London to ensure that we are satisfied—and can satisfy the House and the public—that we are as prepared as it is possible to be, in the real world, for any internal attack, including chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attacks. We ask for the patience of the House and the public, and for calmness, during the undertaking of such exercises.

The efforts that have been expended since part 4 of the Act was passed are well known to those who have taken an interest. I pay tribute to the Intelligence and Security Committee, which, in continuing its work, has been able to scrutinise Ministers and hold them to account, and also to report to the House as it did last July and will again this year.

In renewing the power contained in the Act, I feel sure that if anyone had doubts originally, what has happened since will have swept away concern about whether our action was proportionate. Later this afternoon my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will deal with issues connected to the threat level relating to the attack in Bali, but the lesson of Bali is clear: completely innocent people were the target of that attack. Endeavours to attack innocent people across the world have been foiled by appropriate action on the part of the security and intelligence services, and by policing in a range of countries including ours.

I do not doubt the importance of this legislation, particularly when we are dealing with the likes of Abu Qatada, but have there been any requests for extradition by other countries of those currently being detained?

I am not aware of a request for the extradition of any of the 13 individuals whom we are currently holding in detention under part 4, including sections 21 and 22. I am of course mindful of the need to respond to requests of that sort. That is why, both through the extradition legislation we are updating and through general procedures, we are trying to improve the processes involved.

I do not think it would be appropriate for me, as a member of the review committee, to take part in the debate, but I would like to ask the Home Secretary a question, as a Member of Parliament rather than a member of the committee. Does he intend to publish a summary of actions taken under various parts of the legislation for the information of the House, as part of the renewal procedure?

The right hon. Gentleman and I had constructive exchanges when the Bill was going through Parliament. In a later part of my speech—I shall try to be brief—I will spell out all the new arrangements both for informing the public more widely of what we have agreed here, and for reassuring the House that the information will be readily available to Members.

The Home Secretary will remember that the precedent for this legislation going through was the Government's request for Parliament to agree to a derogation from article 5 of the European convention on human rights. Although opposed from the Liberal Democrat Benches, that was agreed to by Parliament. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has made it clear in its report that in order to comply with our international obligations we have to declare a public emergency and that that was not done explicitly before. Can the Home Secretary make it clear whether he intends from now on that, if there is what he or the Government regard as a public emergency, it will be formally declared in a way that does not allow any doubt?

We had not only excellent advice but the decisions of the Appeal Court in relation to whether we were justified in taking the steps that we took. I will repeat this later but the Appeal Court verified our actions following the appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. I have been very pleased to receive advice from the Joint Committee on Human Rights. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston), the Chairman of that Committee, gives me regular advice extraneous to the Committee's.

Yes, even when I do not ask for it. I am very pleased to receive it.

I think that the Appeal Court was an appropriate venue—

The Home Secretary will be aware that many people in this country are very worried about the great powers that he is given under this legislation and feel that it undermines any respect for normal law and judicial processes. Can he give some indication how much longer he expects the legislation to last? And would it not be better to rely on the criminal law and the open courts system, rather than the great power that has been given to him as an elected politician to detain people indefinitely?

This House determined that we would have an annual renewal of the order and the derogation. This House determined that we would have the review by Lord Carlile, to which I shall come shortly. This House determined that there should be the review committee to which the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) referred—of which he is a distinguished member—under the chairmanship of Lord Newton, and that there would be a sunset clause after five years. I do not think that there has ever been an Act or part of an Act that has been subject to as much review, scrutiny, renewal and cancellation as this—and rightly so because of the salience of the power being used not simply through me but in terms of the procedure that has to be adhered to and the determination of this House as to whether renewal and derogation from article 5 are justified.

The events around the issue of ricin; the alert three weeks ago at Heathrow; our action to proscribe additional organisations; the evidence that has existed across Europe on arrests; and the discovery of plots and plans for terrorist actions against civilians throughout the world lead to a justification for asking the House to renew both the order and the derogation this afternoon. It is in the context of recognising the importance of exercising the power with great discretion but also of recognising that we need to protect ourselves from those who recognise no legal procedures, no boundaries and no parameters in terms of the action they are prepared to take, that I am satisfied that there remains a public emergency, that it is as spelled out 15 months ago, to refer to the point that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made, and that therefore we need to ask the House to renew the power.

I recognise some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) —the rule of law is absolutely essential, although I do not believe that this contradicts the rule of law—but is it not a fact that if a terrorist could commit an atrocity such as 11 September in Britain, they would not hesitate for one moment because they believe that we are non-believers, infidels? They believe that we have no right to live, just as the Nazis considered that the Jews, Slays and gypsies had no right to live. We must recognise that we are faced with a deadly enemy that will strike whenever it can.

I am afraid that my hon. Friend is right. I say "afraid" because, if we were dealing with people who we could talk to, negotiate with and understand so far as the parameters that they are following are concerned, we would be in an entirely different situation in terms of the nature of the international terrorism that we are debating today, and which we have debated on a number of occasions since the Act was approved in December 2001. The many measures undertaken under the Terrorism Act 2000, and under the 2001 Act in general and part 4 in particular, have been undertaken only where no alternatives were available. In holding in detention the 13 people to whom I referred earlier, we are also mindful of trying to speed up the process. They decided, presumably on the advice of their solicitors, to challenge the whole validity of part 4 of the Act. That was dealt with in the first instance by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, and then by the Court of Appeal. It was agreed that we had both the right and the power, that we were exercising it properly, and that it was proportionate. It is in that vein that we are having today's debate.

Given that one reason why it was necessary to take these powers is that the Home Secretary is no longer able to deport everyone whom he thinks is a potential threat to the life of the nation, what will he do when he can no longer place his hand on his heart and say that we face a threat to the life of the nation because of international events, and yet these people are still here?

If they themselves posed a threat according to the way we laid out that threat in the Act—in terms of their behaviour and contacts, and of the way in which their links affect the likelihood of terrorist action—we would not recommend that the House cancel the powers under part 4. That is the purpose of seeking annual renewal: to make the assessment, and to seek guidance from those who are independently advising us on the operation of that part of the Act. I want to pay tribute to Lord Carlile for his work in providing us with the first annual review. His timely comments are helpful. He supports the need for these powers, and he has confirmed that they have been exercised correctly, as laid down in the Act.

Did my right hon. Friend note the suggestion by Lord Carlile that if the law were amended to make actions preparatory to committing an act of terrorism a criminal offence, it might be possible to subject some, most or all of these people to due process?

I hesitate to take on Lord Carlile in an area in which he has enormous experience and expertise; however, were it possible through normal legal procedures to identify actions that would lead to terrorist acts—and were we able to provide, in court, evidence of the level required to stand up to the normal processes we would of course do so.

That brings us to the point about telephone intercepts. The Home Secretary will recall that a debate has been going on for some time as to whether telephone intercepts should be made admissible in court. Were that to happen, it might be possible to provide a standard of evidence that would enable these people to be convicted by due process.

I see no reason at all why I should not tell the House that a consultation is currently taking place on whether there should be a change. There have been considerable differences of opinion among security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies in this country for many years as to whether that would be appropriate. Let me say this as carefully as I can. Anything that prevents the security services from being able to undertake the kind of work that leads them to pre-emptive action, and not just prosecution—or undermines that work—is deeply unfortunate. If people were to withdraw from their normal practice, or if they thought that by engaging in normal communications they would be subject to court action and therefore ceased—and that put us at greater risk—we would have gained nothing and lost much. We seek to achieve a balance.

Given that it would be difficult ever to declare that we had won the war against terrorism, that relentless surveillance is required, and that it would be difficult to say with alacrity that this country no longer faced a particular threat, does the Home Secretary agree—further to the inquiry from my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) —that in practice, the sunset clause notwithstanding, the power seems destined to remain in place for much longer than five years? By the way, I mean no indictment of the right hon. Gentleman.

The power is destined to remain as long as it enables us to protect ourselves against the international terrorist threat. That is what it was put in place to do. Should the threat recede to the point at which we believe that the powers are no longer appropriate or applicable, I would be the first—as I said when we passed the legislation—to tell the House to say that we no longer needed to renew them.

The Home Secretary was earlier explicit that this country faces a condition of emergency and that that is the justification for these powers. Is it his assessment that the qualitative threat to the United Kingdom is greater than that to other western European countries? Is he satisfied that the areas of co-operation within Europe, for the exchange of information between security and police services, are adequate to the task of dealing with the terrorist threat?

On the second issue, I am absolutely clear that the level of co-operation that now takes place is materially improved from when we first met, at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 20 September 2001, to address those issues, both in terms of collaboration between European states and between Europe, the United States and other international partners. We are continually trying to improve matters.

The hon. Gentleman's first point was addressed when we debated the Bill. We considered what would be appropriate in the new circumstances. For the avoidance of doubt, I should repeat that we believe that the order complies and is compatible with the European convention. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me to say that.

For today. Following the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), can the Home Secretary confirm that apart from the general reservation that France has had since the beginning about being a signatory to the European convention, no other country has sought derogation to allow the same powers and, therefore, that must mean that it is believed that Britain is subject to a different and greater threat than all other European Union countries? Does he think that it would be better if SIAC dealt speedily with the appeals so that a judicial hearing could be held in this country on the validity of detention, instead of people having to wait for a final decision?

On the hon. Gentleman's first question, we took the view, which we repeatedly spelled out in the debate on the comprehensive measures in the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, that we faced a specific threat level to this country and that that required us to take the actions under part 4. The certification that I have engaged in reflects that. I indicated to the House when we took these powers that they would be used sparingly, and they have been. I said that they would be proportionate, and the Court of Appeal agrees that they have been. The decision, on the advice of the lawyers, of those who are held under sections 21 to 23 to challenge the validity of the measures as a whole is precisely why there has been such a delay in dealing with individual cases. I hope that they can now be processed within a matter of weeks so that those individuals have the right to be heard judicially and to challenge whether what we have certificated was proportionate and acceptable. I should like us to be able to get on with that.

I want to make one further comment about Lord Carlile's report. He recommended that there might be a discrete and specific change to the way in which those held under part 4 were held. I have authorised that we should make such a provision available should the individuals choose to take it up. It would not be appropriate compulsorily to move all 13 into one area against their will and I do not intend to get into a secondary dispute about that. Lord Carlile put perfectly valid arguments concerning the length of time for which they had been held and might be held, suggesting that we should consider that urgently, and I have agreed that we should.

The Home Secretary will be aware that earlier today his Department issued a written ministerial statement entitled "Civil contingency planning to deal with terrorist attack", which is obviously related to this matter. The penultimate paragraph states:

"We will issue proposals for a new Civil Contingencies Bill in the summer."
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Conservative Members have been pressing for such legislation for some time, so will he inform the House of his prospective timetable for that legislation and, specifically, when he anticipates that it will be enacted?

First, I want to make it clear that there has been no delay in the original timetable that was envisaged and spoken to by the Cabinet Office in relation to that Bill. It was always envisaged that we would update the historic legislation in terms of emergency powers and address the structural changes at regional and local level that such a Bill would allow us to undertake. The draft Bill will be published in the summer and put before the House in the autumn. It is important to recognise that in doing so we will be able to assure people that we are talking about updating and learning from experience in terms of the structural framework, as opposed to taking measures that need to be passed immediately, which we would do if it was necessary in order to safeguard our basic interests. Most people who have been involved in these changes are aware that they should perhaps have been made in the normal way a long time ago, and it is opportune that we are now able to bring them forward as quickly as we can and to reassure hon. Members that having the legislation in draft will allow their views to be taken into account.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) for mentioning the statement that I put out today on investment in civil resilience and on key areas for future work and the way in which we need to proceed.

The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire asked me about the material that should be made available. I have been looking with colleagues at what we should do to provide greatly improved access to the public, as well as to the House, in relation to what is already on the public record and is not held in terms of security-vetted material. That will ensure that people are much more aware, first, of what is being done, secondly, of the exercises that take place and why they take place and, thirdly, the kind of advice and information that the public would seek for themselves.

I therefore intend to establish in the next few weeks a dedicated website that will draw on all the readily available advice of the security and intelligence services, on civil resilience information and material that Departments publish on their task of protecting the public in this country. It will include readily available information not only on general civil contingency, resilience and protection but on specific events such as the emergency in and around Heathrow. We shall do that not least to ensure that people understand the difference between operational responsibility and accountability and politicians' responsibility and accountability.

We will be able to reassure people when they listen to the radio or watch television that, for example, action has been taken to provide adequate measures for smallpox vaccination. More than £30 million has been spent so far on acquiring the necessary vaccines, and more than 20 million doses exist in reserve. According to historical information, more than 50 per cent, of the population are already vaccinated against the disease. As the Minister of State for Health announced on 2 December, we will be able to advise people about vaccinating volunteers in the health service and in the armed forces as a preventive measure to ensure that they can do their job.

Given that politicians are not held in high esteem and trust is not readily given, politicians, including me, will not seek vaccination against smallpox unless the vaccine is made generally available to the population. We want it to be readily available to those who are closest to action such as ring-fencing areas to provide buffer zones.

I hope that the BBC as well as the general public can draw on the new website. However, I ask the BBC not to make weekly endeavours to worry people without cause. If information that should be available is not, and if so-called advisers believe that their advice has not been taken, we should act accordingly. I advise anyone who wants to say, in private or publicly, that there is a problem to come forward. I am thinking in terms not of a whistleblower's line but of an independent method other than approaching the "Today" programme whereby those who would like to throw suspicion on our preparedness or willingness to listen and act can express their views. We could thus sort matters out in a civilised and intelligent fashion without creating scare stories.

I shall also ensure that the hard copy of the material on the website is readily available in libraries throughout the country, although most are online and can assist people to gain access to it. I hope that that will establish a more open and transparent method of reassuring as well as informing, and that the necessary advice will be provided. We do not intend to replicate events in the United States and, to some extent in Australia, where there is the equivalent of "Protect and Survive". Older hon. Members will remember from the 1960s that that was mocked as being ridiculous.

We will not provide a ready market for those who would mislead people into believing that they have to buy this, that or the other for protection, thereby creating an industry rather than providing for reasonable and sensible protection. However, we shall ensure that we tell the public about any definable, specifiable risk. We will also tell them what is necessary to enhance their protection. We do that because we are in the same position as them. That is why I made the earlier comments on vaccines.

I am interested in my right hon. Friend's comments. Does he realise that a sort of hysteria is currently sweeping the United States, where everyone is buying ducting tape in the belief that it will protect against all ills? Will he try to persuade the British public that such actions smack of panic rather than sense?

Similar tape is produced in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Mr. Gardiner), so I shall be extremely careful about what I say because, I think, President Ford finished off the broccoli industry in the United States. [Horn. MEMBERS: "It was Bush senior."] Was it? Goodness gracious! Right. President Bush senior.

The danger of the kind of advice that would lead people to go out and buy particular materials is self-evident. In the US, a new danger has arisen from people doing that—they have sealed off the normal sources of ventilation in their homes—so we all have to be extremely careful that the advice that we give is both sensible and proportionate and that it helps people to protect themselves, but I repeat that if there were a specific measure that would protect people in a set of circumstances where we believed that a particular threat was imminent or that that threat could be dealt with in that way, of course, we would have to say so.

I repeat that we believe that the renewal of the order and the derogation are justified and that the House should scrutinise this issue. It is correct that we should continue to issue updates and to ask for the public's patience not only where emergency measures triggered by intelligence and security advice have to be put in place, but where we undertake exercises precisely to identify where we need to take further action. It is in that spirit that I ask the House to renew the order this afternoon.

4.6 pm

I should start by saying that we have no intention whatever of seeking to divide the House on this measure. We agree with the Government that it will be necessary to continue the order in force—not that the Government are quaking in their boots about any effort on our part to stop it, but it is important to state our view at the outset.

The Home Secretary rightly and generously says that this part of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 is more surrounded, as he put it, than any other by reviews and sunset clauses. I use the word "generously" because there was an acknowledgement of the fact that Conservative Members and our colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches fought him into surrounding it with those devices. I hope that the next time the Home Secretary, in one of his less irenic moods, accuses us of having forced him to battle such things through, he will admit that it was rather a good thing that he did have to battle it through.

Having said that, it is important to pay attention to the character of the review that has taken place. As one would expect, Lord Carlile has produced a very serious report. The Home Secretary has announced today, if I understood him correctly, the acceptance of a slightly modified version of eight of Lord Carlile's recommendations, and we strongly welcome that. I agree with the Home Secretary that such things should be voluntary; we should not seek to force the 13 individuals, or subsequent individuals, into one place against their will.

It was interesting, en passant, that the report makes it clear that Lord Carlile discerned a difference between the conditions at Belmarsh and those at Woodhill, and I hope that the Home Secretary will pay attention to that. I am delighted to see that he is nodding.

Two other elements of Lord Carlile's report deserve pretty immediate attention, and I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to take them fully into account. The first is Lord Carlile's first recommendation that the pending hearings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission should proceed without awaiting the final determination of the challenge to the derogation. We all know how long it may take a case to go not just to the House of Lords, which will happen relatively soon in all likelihood, but—Lord Carlile makes this point —to Strasbourg, and it would be a great pity if we had to wait two years. Again, I am delighted to see Ministers nodding.

Perhaps more controversially, Lord Carlile referred to links to terrorism under section 21 of the 2001 Act—an issue that the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), and I raised on numerous occasions during proceedings on that Act.

Lord Carlile provides a splendid example of why we all pay lawyers so much in his examination of how we might tackle the problem of links. His exposition is lucid and, I find, compelling. In conclusion, he says that the
"use of the word 'links' gives rise to understandable concern."
He continues:
"It is unclear to me that there would be any detriment in terms of public safety if that word and indeed section 23(4) were removed from the Act and section 23(2) (c) amended to read—
(c) otherwise supports or assists an international terrorist group'".
I find that a compelling suggestion. I cannot understand why I did not think of it when the Act was a Bill now that I see it so well laid out; perhaps I did not hire legal advice as expensive as Lord Carlile's. As we now have the invaluable recommendation of an expensive and brilliant lawyer—at the Home Secretary's expense, not mine—I hope that he will take account of that suggestion.

I am not sure in what context that change can most expeditiously be made, and nor am I suggesting that we have another anti-terrorism Bill on the stocks before one can say, "Jack Robinson", "David Blunkett" or some such phrase. I hope that the Home Secretary will find a suitable moment, without adding to our legislative burdens, to introduce that change, and we would certainly co-operate with that.

With those adjustments, we are entirely convinced that the continuation is sober, proportional and right. The Home Secretary has evidently conducted his part of the bargain with exactly the seriousness that one would have expected. Lord Carlile makes it perfectly clear that he had access to all the information, and that he is content that all the decisions that have been made were made on the basis of the kind of consideration that was required.

Having occupied a few minutes saying with what we agree, I wish to occupy only a few minutes saying with what we do not agree. Strictly speaking, it is not the subject of the review, but I hope that the Home Secretary has given me licence to deal with it by mentioning the subject himself: the related question of the degree of preparedness to deal with a terrorist attack were it to occur.

Before my right hon. Friend moves off detention without trial and the linked issue of deportation, will he reflect on the answer that the Home Secretary gave me? Given that we opted out of the European convention on human rights with reference to

"In time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation",
what will this Government or any other Government be able to do to protect this country once that no longer exists? People who use the asylum system and who may threaten the life of the nation are still here, yet we cannot deport them.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that rhetorical question. He knows—as I, and, as it recently transpired, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, who is present, also know—the answer to that question is that the right and sensible procedure is that which we recommended repeatedly when the Bill was going through the House. That procedure is that we should engage in the elaborate dance of denunciation, legislation and reservation to move to the position at which we have so reserved against article 3 that the Home Secretary can do what I am sure that he would have done and what his predecessor, the current Foreign Secretary, sought to do when he was Home Secretary: to deport those people rather than having to retain them indefinitely in detention.

My hon. Friend was right to unearth the point that, at any stage at which it becomes difficult to claim that a generalised state of emergency exists, it will be difficult to maintain the derogation that provides the basis for the legality of the current proceedings. Individuals may remain who are a great danger to the state, however, and it would be appropriate to be able to deport them, as the current Foreign Secretary, who was then the Home Secretary, sought to do in the case of Singh and Singh. As I have said, that will require the reservation for which we have argued.

I hope that, in due time—as we discovered just a few days ago that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration is clear about it—the Home Office will also move to adopt that procedure. Of course, the Home Office will have to overcome the difficulty of persuading the Foreign Office, which shows remarkably little inclination towards anything that might protect British interests in its negotiations with foreign powers, but we will leave that be.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept in his heart of hearts that, rather than the highly risky suggestion of leading the way out of the European convention and risking not being allowed back in, it would be far better to use the provisions of the Geneva convention that allow people to be turned or sent away if they have committed a serious crime, and the derogations procedure—even if some of us do not care for it—that allows a temporary exclusion from rights in cases of national emergency?

Mr. Speaker, I am astonished at the latitude that you are allowing me in discussing this issue, and I shall not impose too far on your good will. We have investigated the possibility that the hon. Gentleman raised. It is attractive in principle but falls jurisprudentially. I fear that the judiciary will interpret article 3 as overriding that procedural device. The hon. Gentleman and I could spend a happy half-hour after this debate, during which I could take him through the legal advice that we have received. I suspect that the advice is parallel to that received by the Home Office, because the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration gave us such a pellucid explanation of the very suggestion that I had made a year previously, which she described as impossible just a few days ago in the House.

I want to do what the Home Secretary asked me to do by implication. He said that anyone who wished to raise a problem, in private or in public—although I am not sure which of those the Chamber of the House of Commons is these days—should do so here and not on the "Today" programme. I cannot fulfil all parts of that request as I have already been on the "Today" programme today—although I am aware that the Home Secretary was thinking of others. However, I wish to raise a problem now.

The problem is difficult to describe. It is not a problem of a lack of will. I hope that it has been clear to the Home Secretary that I accept entirely that he and his officials—and, indeed, Ministers and officials in other Departments—are keen that we should be properly prepared against terrorism. After all, this is not a matter of party political debate: it is not as if any of us is going into the next election on the question of, "Should we, or should we not, be prepared to deal with terrorism?" We all agree that we should be prepared and that Ministers and their officials wish us to be prepared.

It is also not exactly a problem of things being so maladministered as to be heading in the wrong direction. There is no doubt that Ministers and their Departments have gradually been moving towards greater rather than lesser preparedness.

So far, so good, but the problem is that I am not sure whether so far is far enough or fast enough. In fact, I am pretty sure that it is not. Partly because we are dealing with things that may necessarily be secret—which therefore I do not know or wish to know—and partly because we are dealing with things that are, almost inevitably, intangible and unable to be documented, it is difficult to get at the sense of what is going wrong. At any rate, it was difficult before today. It has become easier today. The Home Secretary has vouchsafed to the House a statement on civil contingency planning to deal with terrorist attacks.

Order. The hon. Gentleman said earlier that I was allowing him some latitude, but he is now stretching the point just a little too far. We must keep to the order that is before us.

Mr. Speaker, if you will allow me to respond to the precise points that the Home Secretary made, without straying any further, that would be enormously kind.

The Home Secretary said that he would set up a website a little while from now. However, that is not what the written statement says. It says:
"Information for agencies and the public is available through".
and goes on to name the websites. We went to one of those websites this morning. What does it do? It gives one a link to what is done in Australia. It is otherwise empty.

The Home Secretary referred to smallpox and smallpox vaccination. For the life of me, I cannot understand why that is not available on demand to all those who wish it. I will never understand that until it ceases to be the case.

I do not want to take the time of the House, but I shall make two brief points. First, the new website will be designed specifically to put together all the information available, including that from the security services when it is not secret. Secondly, I do not believe that there is a problem with people approaching their general practitioner for the smallpox vaccination. If there is any difficulty with that, I will happily talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

That is very constructive. There is a difficulty at present, because people cannot obtain the vaccination, but it is good news that the Home Secretary will speak to the Department of Health. In fact, it would be good for him to think of signing a memorandum of understanding with the Department. We found that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister recently felt that it had to do that with the Department of the Health. Have things not come to a strange condition when two Departments of State have to sign memorandums of understanding between them?

The Home Secretary's written statement refers to a range of Ministers and units. As well as referring to the Minister responsible for London resilience—we already knew that the Minister responsible for the fire service and for destroying local government in the south of England had that role—it refers to a new figure appearing on the scene. Although the post may not be new, its holder is new to the British public. I very much doubt that anyone was aware that the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety also doubles as the Minister responsible for co-ordinating the response to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear—CBRN—threats. As the written statement says, the role has existed since the end of 2001, but no one in Britain knew that. This Minister has been active in dealing with the police; everyone in England knows that he has responsibility for them. However, I do not think that anyone has ever heard him speak about CBRN co-ordination.

I am speaking about the Home Secretary's colleague who has just left the Government Front Bench—the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety. He has reappeared in the written statement as the Minister responsible for co-ordinating the response to CBRN threats. That was a genuine shock to me. I thought that I was an observer of this scene and would have noticed who was responsible. I thought that the Minister of State, Cabinet Office was responsible for this issue, and then I thought that the Minister responsible for London and who is also responsible for the fire service had responsibility for it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. What are we debating? Are we debating the renewal of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 or the written statement put out by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on an entirely different matter?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) is miles away from the issue that we should be discussing.

With his usual acuity, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee is on to something. I could not resist the opportunity of pointing out a real problem. Now that I have done that, I shall not intrude on your goodwill, Mr. Speaker, or that of the House any further. I have made my point. There is a problem that desperately needs to be resolved because it deals with the life and death of our citizens. In the meantime, let us, by all means, continue with the operation of the Act.

4.23 pm

We all agree—at least, those of us who have studied the matter in any depth—about the need for these measures even though we might do so reluctantly. We recognise how draconian they are. We also recognise that it is not inconceivable that they will remain in force for many years. Therefore, the people who have been detained will remain detained without trial for many years. It behoves us to get this right.

I propose to make a few remarks about a couple of issues that have already been touched upon: the conditions in which such people are held and the consideration that has been given to the alternatives. Reference has been made to the safeguards that exist, and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) put them down to the assiduous opposition of himself and the Liberal Democrats. In fact, several proposals, including the sunset clause, appeared in the report of the Home Affairs Committee.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Other proposals came from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

As the House might imagine, I agree with several points that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made. In particular, I agree with his point that the measures have been used sparingly. There was some fear when they were first mooted that they would be applied to a far larger number of people, and we must be grateful that that is not the case.

I have already made a couple of points that were taken up by Lord Carlile, and I hope that they will be considered seriously. Lord Carlile suggested amending the law to refer to "acts preparatory to terrorism". He said:
"if the criminal law was amended to include a broadly drawn defence of acts preparatory to terrorism, all could be prosecuted for criminal offences and none would suffer executive detention".
That went slightly beyond the scope of his review, but given the source of the suggestion, it ought to be taken seriously. I have already made the point about intercept evidence. I understand that, among the security services and others with an interest in this area, there is a strong difference of opinion about whether it is desirable to make intercept evidence available in court. I shall watch with interest the outcome of any review.

Turning to conditions of detention, certainly it was the case early on that people were held in pretty harsh conditions in Belmarsh. At one stage, they were allowed only 30 minutes out of cell during the day. When the measure was being introduced, Lord Rooker said that they would be held in remand conditions, and not alongside convicted prisoners. I know that some improvements have been made since the low point that was touched early on. I think that I saw Martin Narey quoted as saying that people are now allowed out of cell for seven hours and various other measures have been taken.

If we are to hold on these terms people who are unconvicted, I hope that we will, as we were assured at the time of the measure's introduction, detain them in conditions that reflect the fact that they are unconvicted and that their detention is indefinite. At one stage, there were signs that detention was beginning to damage the mental health of some of those held, as it might do to any of us in those circumstances.

I do not want unduly to embarrass the hon. Gentleman, but I agree with his remarks about the treatment of people who are unconvicted. Surely we need an assurance of national security and not of personal privation. If we can be reassured that proper procedures are in place to guarantee the former, there need be no requirement for the latter.

I completely agree, and I am glad to see that the point unites hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I turn now to a compelling point made by Lord Carlile about allowing appeals from abroad to be made by those who have been detained under this measure, who have agreed to go abroad and who have found a haven to accept them. At the moment, people in that position who take the view that they are not terrorists have no means of removing the stain, and it is quite a large stain, from their character. I imagine that only a handful of people would want to take advantage of the opportunity to appeal, but the possibility ought to be left open. As we know—we saw it with the pilot whom the Americans were trying to extradite some time ago—the security services can be wrong in the information that they lay before Ministers, or further information may come to light which casts doubt on the original. As Lord Carlile says, there ought to be some mechanism by which people can remove that stain from their character.

Finally, at paragraph 6.13 of the report, Lord Carlile touches on alternatives to custody. I do not suppose that he means community service but, to return to the point made by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), the purpose of the exercise is to satisfy ourselves and those whom we represent that such people cannot pose a threat. Once we have done that, all other considerations melt away. Lord Carlile suggests that restrictions on movement—perhaps even tagging—could pose an alternative to what are otherwise extremely draconian measures. I shall not go into too much detail on that for fear of being denounced as a namby-pamby liberal, which I am not. Although it is not my suggestion, it is in the report, so I hope that the Home Secretary will address it.

4.31 pm

The motion deals with important and controversial matters, as hon. Members know from our debates on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 15 months ago. The discussion has been even tempered and balanced. A coalition of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benches in both Houses ensured that we could discuss the issues again, and I am glad to have the opportunity to do that.

I think that the Home Secretary remembers, however, that the votes cast at the other end of the building, principally by Liberal Democrat and Conservative colleagues, along with a few Labour and Cross-Bench independent Members, made it clear to the Government that they could not get away with an indefinite provision along the lines that they wanted. We have no regrets about that. Through intelligent conversation, and frantic legislation, we came to a collective decision that it was necessary to build in safeguards for what is a derogation from an important human right. Like other hon. Members, we will not divide the House on the motion. To put it bluntly, we are in the middle of the process for which protection was given by review and checks and balances. Having persuaded the Government and Parliament to accept various checks and balances, it would be unreasonable and unfair not to allow them to be used to the full. That does not mean, however, that the issue is of any less importance.

It remains a difficult matter, not just for liberals and Liberal Democrats, that a power is in force in the UK which is outwith the European convention on human rights—it is a derogation from it—and the Human Rights Act 1998, which we passed only four and a half years ago, to allow people to be detained indefinitely without trial. That is of considerable concern. It is of most concern to the people in question, who are held without having been found guilty of anything. There may be only a handful of them and I concede to the Home Secretary, as I have set out consistently, that he has been true to his word and used the power sparingly. We should be grateful for that, but it is not a legislative requirement on him. He has chosen to use that discretion properly within the powers, which are significant. There is no limit to the number of people who could be detained under them. As it happens, only a few have been.

However, some people have been detained and it is no surprise that the fifth report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, published last Wednesday as a preparation for today's debate, begins:
"Although the Bill"
now the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001
"was improved in a number of ways during its parliamentary stages, we continue to be concerned about a number of aspects of it."
Specifically, the Committee was worried about
"a new power to detain indefinitely a class of 'suspected international terrorists' contained in Part 4 of the Bill … which was only doubtfully compatible with Convention rights."
Over the page, the Committee expresses a second concern about
"the Government purporting to derogate from the ECHR Article 5 … to make the derogation … effective in the law of the United Kingdom by amending the Human Rights Act 1998"
by way of a derogation order. The Committee continues:
"The legal validity of the derogations and of the Order is currently the subject of legal proceedings, and their impact on human rights in the United Kingdom may be significant."
We share the Committee's continuing concern, which is why we are glad that we persuaded the Government with our voices and votes to bring the measure back to Parliament after 15 months before the power could be extended. They will have to do so annually and, in addition, the measure has a limited lifespan. However much we have argued with the Home Secretary about whether there was justification in law—I have told him publicly that I have never questioned the integrity of his judgment on the necessity of the measure—it is better to have flexibility in the use of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, which was built in from the outset, than question, as some have done, the very basis of the convention.

The ECHR is not an inflexible document and it allows derogation for such a purpose. The Home Secretary argued 15 months ago that we ought to have the derogation as we needed that protection and it was likely that others would follow us. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) implied in his intervention, no other European Union country has subsequently sought to derogate from the ECHR. None the less, flexibility, together with parliamentary scrutiny, is a much better alternative to ripping up, rewriting and renegotiating the convention. We believe that the convention should stand and are glad that the Human Rights Act was passed, allowing arguments to be made in the court down the road instead of people having to wait six, five or four years to go to Strasbourg. We hope that the public accept that that is an advantage.

I intervened on the Conservative spokesman partly to remind him and the House that there are other protections to deal with an issue uppermost in the public mind and the tabloid press. There is an argument that we cannot turn away somebody who is claiming asylum even if they are a threat to our national security, and cannot revoke their right to be here even if they are such a threat. It is clear from article 1F of the Geneva convention on the status of refugees that somebody who has committed a crime against peace—a war crime or a crime against humanity—can be refused entry, whatever they are claiming. Article 33 states that the benefit of asylum provisions
"may not, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgement of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country."
The fear that asylum seekers are outwith the protection of the law on national security and are a threat is misplaced. It is wrong, unfair and often prejudicial to pretend that they are. Finally, there is the linked question of whether there is a category—this is the basis of the Home Secretary's original argument—of people whom we could send away under the ECHR but not for other reasons of international law. We accepted the Home Secretary's argument that there are people in that category when he came to the House seeking the power. We argued then, and continue to argue, that there are other ways in which to test their position, for example by trial in camera to protect security information and so on. It is always better to try alternatives to the option of detention without trial. We were not satisfied—we are still not satisfied—that all the options have been exhausted.

I add my thanks to the Home Secretary for using the power sparingly, in the sense that that was honouring his commitment. I also thank Lord Carlile of Berriew, who produced a clear report with some significant recommendations. The Home Secretary said that he would look into at least one of those recommendations. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) has argued that it would be better if we redefined the people with links with terrorism. We sign up to and share that view. If that can be agreed, I hope that an amendment can be incorporated soon. We agree with the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, to which I shall return.

The Government offered the concession—it was accepted a year and a quarter ago—that there should be a cross-party Committee of Privy Councillors to examine the working of the Act. That work is now taking place. Lord Newton of Braintree is chairing the Committee. I understand that before it is necessary to have this debate again, the Committee will have produced its report. That is one of the specific reasons why we feel that it would be wrong to say that we should not wait a little longer. The Committee is in the middle of its work. Having accepted that as a protection mechanism, it is only right that we should wait for it to report. We wish the members of the Committee well and we look forward to their report, which I am sure will be honest and helpful.

The fifth report of the Joint Committee of last Wednesday picks up some of the other specific issues to which the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee has referred. I shall mention them so that they are on the record and ask the Home Secretary, or the Minister of State when she replies, 'to undertake that the Government will consider them all. First, in paragraph 20, it is recommended that a different power should be given to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission to examine material so that it has
"both 'open' and 'closed' material",
and is able to form a view about that so that it can form a better picture.

Paragraph 21 states that the availability of appeals is a safeguard, and adds that the Home Secretary would want to urge that they must happen, and happen soon. It is no good having a safeguard that is held up while another legal process happens. It may be proper to go to the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the validity of the decision made last year by the Court of Appeal, which tested the national emergency issue. However, that is not acceptable if that is to the exclusion of the ability to have the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which has the powers of the High Court, to be able to determine whether detention is unlawful. That is why the provisions were made. The fact that appeals have not been determined is not what we expected. I hope that that situation will be remedied extremely soon.

It would be helpful in future if the Government made a clear statement setting out when they believed that a public emergency had been achieved, as it were, so that there could be, as the Select Committee recommended, an official declaration of that, rather than that being done implicitly and, as happened last time, belatedly. In addition, the Select Committee referred to the appropriateness of legal advice. A recommendation is made in paragraph 42 that there should be a better guarantee of appropriate legal advice that is speedily available to detainees, and that that should continue at all stages in the appeal process. It is said that there should be no less ability to be represented at the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords than at a lower level.

Paragraphs 47 and 48 state that any piece of evidential material should be classified as "closed"—that is, not able to be seen—
"only if there are substantial grounds for thinking that making it available to the detainee, or his or her legal advisers, would compromise the effort to protect the public against the national emergency that gave rise to the derogation under … article 15."
The problem, as the Committee points out, is that Parliament—including, possibly, the Intelligence and Security Committee—cannot form a view about the immediacy of the national threat and the national emergency if it does not have access to the maximum possible material. Therefore, we ask that the Government respond positively to those recommendations, which were made in a balanced way, as well the recommendation about the conditions of detention.

One reason why it seems to us that today there is a case, without dividing the House, to allow the power to continue is that court hearings about the validity of detention are under way. We accept the point of view expressed by the Home Secretary today—although I have heard him put things slightly differently, if I can be gentle about it—that the courts should always have the ability to review the Executive. It is a safeguard of the constitution that the courts exist to check on the Executive, just as Parliament does—Parliament first, hopefully by getting the legislation right and holding Ministers to account, and the courts later.

I realise that it is not the responsibility of the Home Office, but it is difficult and unacceptable enough that there is a period when people are detained without trial in this country, but at least there are safeguards. It is entirely unacceptable for British and other citizens to be held in a place such as Guantanamo bay when there are no powers for them to be brought before the courts. I hope that the Home Office will make representations to the Foreign Office, if it has not done so already.

It is not compatible with any sense of international human rights that there is a part of the world to which people can be taken, whatever their nationality, that appears to be outside the legislative and judicial purview of some independent tribunal. That is not acceptable. It is bad enough that people are held without trial in Belmarsh prison or elsewhere; it is doubly and triply worse that people are held without trial on the other side of the world, with no justification having been proved before any independent authority at all.

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for missing the early part of his speech. Is he aware of reports that the United States is considering taking prisoners from Afghanistan, and possibly Pakistan, to be imprisoned on Diego Garcia and interviewed there? Although the Government assure us that there are currently no prisoners on Diego Garcia, what would be the legal situation of any prisoners, given that it is a British territory?

I sincerely hope that we would not allow that to happen. One argument that I have heard in regard to Guantanamo bay is that it has American jurisdiction, so America is allowed to determine the matter. However, I was troubled by a ruling by a court in the United States that that was outside its legal jurisdiction. That seemed entirely incompatible with all traditions of human rights and international law. We must have stronger voices from the Foreign Office.

The tradition in this country has always been that people have a right to a trial before the courts can lock them up. The imprisonment of suspected terrorists, no matter how few or how many, without charge or trial is an extraordinary departure from the norm. We opposed those powers 15 months ago because we did not believe that the case for them was made out sufficiently to mean that other alternatives would not have sufficed. However, given that there is, as every one of us across the House must accept, a real and ongoing terrorist threat, we are prepared to accept the renewal of the powers for the limited further period of a year.

In the meantime, it is a consolation that the Government's activities are subject to the strongest scrutiny, both by Parliament and the courts, but it is better to have occasional exemptions and derogations from the Human Rights Act 1998 than not to have a convention on human rights or a Human Rights Act at all. We are prepared to argue for the continuing tradition of human rights in this country on the basis that we will always be vigilant and that we will always hold the Government to account.

4.49 pm

In the minute that remains to me, I should like to make a couple of very short points.

I support the measure, just as I did when the Bill was introduced. A number of Opposition Members get slightly fed up with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary telling us that we did not support the legislation. Of course we do not like it and we question it—that is what we are supposed to do—but we see that there is no full alternative at the moment. I wanted to talk about trying to work at an alternative by restoring the Home Secretary's powers to deport people.

I asked the Home Secretary earlier about the power that he is taking in using article 15 of the European convention on human rights to derogate from article 5. I pointed out that, in order to use the power, he has to claim that there is a
"time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation".
That public emergency will not last for ever. The problem that we face is that some people who have used the asylum system to come to this country threaten it, and that problem will continue unless we restore to ourselves the ability to deport such people.

That is why article 3 is so important. As I have said many times, it does not include the word "deportation". It is the interpretation of the courts that has internationalised article 3, which simply states:
"No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Under the Soering case and other cases, the article has been internationalised to apply to non-EU citizens who happen to be in this country and to every country in the world, whether or not it has signed up to the convention. Until we deal with that problem, I am worried that the law in question may have to stay in force very much longer than any of us want, as the Home Secretary will come back each year with a similar proposal. He may not be able to say clearly that a public emergency is threatening the life of the nation, but he will know that individuals are threatening this country. As he cannot deport them, however, he will have no choice but to use the power that he is taking.

In referring to the power, the Joint Committee on Human Rights cited in its excellent report a quotation from Winston Churchill:
"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."
That is the power that we have to have in part, because in court cases under article 3 we have lost the right to remove from this country people who threaten it.

4.52 pm

Although this has been a short debate, it has been a very serious one, as befits the very serious issues that we are discussing. In passing, I say to the Government business managers that an hour and a half is perhaps rather too short a time to discuss such serious matters. Perhaps there should be a Southwark, North and Bermondsey allowance, given that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who speaks for his party, took twice as long as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and effectively used all the Back-Bench time. I shall be brief.

My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) made it clear that we support continuation of the order. The legislation, which is hedged around with sunset clauses and reviews, is in the form in which we wished it to be enacted. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the Home Secretary approved that hedging around with sunset clauses and reviews, but those changes were introduced only after a pitched battle in which, as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), said, both Liberal Democrats and Conservative Members voted against the Home Secretary, and in which both the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Home Affairs Committee wanted the safeguards to be introduced. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset pointed out that Lord Carlile identified differences between Her Majesty's prisons Woodhill and Belmarsh. Opposition Members welcome the Home Secretary's acknowledgement that that is a serious issue that needs to be looked into. My right hon. Friend also pointed out that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission should continue to proceed without awaiting the final determination of the challenge to derogation, which may take two years and may go to Strasbourg. He also referred to Lord Carlile's concern about the possible need to consider rewording sections 23(4) and 22(3)(c) of the Act to make the phrases in those provisions more effective.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South rightly pointed out that the current security situation might prevail for years, and that people might therefore remain detained for years. I think it fair to say, however, that there is still serious concern among Conservative Members and outside the House about those who canvass actively for terrorist organisations, particularly some associated with the Finsbury Park mosque. It is feared that the powers taken by the Home Secretary have not been used to detain specific individuals who are often in the public eye, and who seek actively to publicise support for terrorist groups.

As the hon. Gentleman may know, the Finsbury Park mosque is in my constituency. I hope he is aware that the individual to whom I assume he was referring has been removed and banned from the mosque, that the mosque itself is not open as it is awaiting repairs and refurbishment, and that the perverted form of Islam preached by that individual has zero support in the area and the local Muslim community.

That is why I used the words "previously associated", as the record will show. I see the hon. Gentleman nodding assent, indicating that he had understood me to say that. Nevertheless, concern continues, and I think that concern legitimate. We want these exceptional powers to be used sparingly—as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South said—but to be used where appropriate for the protection of the state. We should not allow our proper concern for safeguards and human rights to overtake our primary concern as parliamentarians in all parts of the House, which is to secure the safety of the British people.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey described the way in which the legislation, in its final form, came into existence, through votes in another place, and spoke of the built-in safeguards. He said, and we agreed, that it would not be appropriate to divide the House when the matter is in mid-process. He praised the Home Secretary for using the power sparingly. He expressed his view on the derogation, which was different from mine and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset. He talked about the limited use of the powers, about the Geneva convention, and about the discussion he had had with my right hon. Friend when he intervened earlier on the different legal views that we take on that issue.

The hon. Gentleman accepted that there should be continuing use of the new Committee of Privy Councillors chaired by my noble Friend Lord Newton of Braintree, which also includes my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney), who intervened earlier. He described concerns prompted by the recent report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We agree that its view should be taken seriously: there is no division between any of us on any side of the debate in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) was worried about the way in which our support for the legislation has sometimes been misrepresented—inadvertently, I am sure—by the Home Secretary and others. It has been suggested, even by as distinguished a figure as the Prime Minister, that we opposed it. We never did. We sought to amend and improve it, and following our success in improving it through the votes in another place the Home Secretary now praises the final version. I hope we shall not hear the Prime Minister misrepresent the position in future.

We support the continuance of the legislation, but we want the Government to listen carefully to the views we have expressed, and will go on expressing, about ways in which it could be improved still further and ways in which people who are a threat to this country may in future be deported rather than merely being detained.

4.58 pm

I thank Members for the quality and tone of this debate, which were similar to those of the original debate on the legislation. They underlined the fundamental importance of the powers in the orders and the seriousness with which all Members take them.

We consider the detention powers in part 4 to be a fairly carefully crafted response to the threat, closing unacceptable loopholes that would allow foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism and threatening our national security to be at large on the streets. A difficult decision and difficult issues are involved, but we think this is the best option. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary regularly reviews the need for the powers, and we are very pleased that the Court of Appeal upheld them in its judgment earlier this year.

I am very short of time, as hon. Members will realise. I shall try to deal with as many of the points raised as I can, and I will respond later to hon. Members on the points raised that I am unable to deal with.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) asked about appeals proceeding without waiting for the outcome on derogation. He will probably know that SIAC is proceeding on that basis and we agree that it is right that it should do so.

The issue about links that the right hon. Gentleman raised from Lord Carlile's report is less straightforward. Certainly, we are prepared to look at that, but he will remember that there was considerable debate at the time the Bill went through. A Government amendment, to which he referred, tabled by Lord Rooker attempted to deal with those issues. We think that section 21(4) of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act as it is now worded should provide for the concerns that he expressed, but if the matter is continuing to cause concern certainly we will look at it again in the context of considering in more detail Lord Carlile's report.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) also raised a number of points from Lord Carlile's report. Again, the issue about acts "preparatory to" terrorism is less straightforward. We think that the recommendations relating to that point are encompassed by procedures already available to us, but again we will look at it. In relation to allowing for appeals from abroad where someone has been certificated but has gone voluntarily, SIAC has already determined that appeals may be continued from abroad. In fact, the two people who have already left are continuing their appeals against the certificates from the places to which they have gone.

Certainly, we will consider the JCHR report in some detail. In response to a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who have raised the issue of appeals to SIAC, and the point that the possibility of appeal is undermined by the delay in SIAC hearing those appeals, that delay is not caused by SIAC or, indeed, by those acting on behalf of the Government. The delay arises from the decision of the counsel for some of the appellants to deal first with the derogation issue rather than the appeal against the certificates. We had no involvement in that decision.

I have every sympathy with the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who I am sure would have put a much fuller case for his point, which I understand fully. However, I think that it is another Trojan horse for the Conservative position that we should come out of the ECHR and seek to re-enter with a reservation on article 3, which we have already heard several times. He must accept that these are difficult issues. He argues for the ability to deport people knowing that they may be killed if they are sent to places to which they could go back—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16.

Question agreed to.


That the draft Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (Continuance in force of sections 21 to 23) Order 2003, which was laid before this House on 23rd January, be approved.

Bali Bombings

[Relevant documents: The Intelligence and Security Committee Report, Inquiry into Intelligence, Assessment and Advice prior to the Terrorist Bombings on Bali, 12th October 2002 (CM5724) and the Government response thereto (CM 5765).]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. — [Mr. Heppell.]

5 pm

I welcome this opportunity to debate the report on the Bali bombings produced by the Intelligence and Security Committee on 11 December last year, and the Government's written response published on 26 February.

The atrocity in Bali was an appalling act of terrorism. The slaughter was indiscriminate. People from many faiths and nations lost their lives. Many countries suffered terribly, not least Indonesia and Australia. For the United Kingdom, it was one of the worst terrorist attacks in our history—26 British and dual nationals died. I was reminded of the impact of the tragedy on communities across the UK only last month, when I attended the very moving memorial service for the victims, which was held in Southwark cathedral.

In the days and weeks following the attacks, the agony of those who had lost loved ones was compounded by speculation that the Government could have done more. In particular, there were allegations that we did not act on specific intelligence pointing towards an attack in Bali, and failed to inform the public of the dangers in advance.

It was for this reason that in my statement to the House on 21 October, I commissioned a review by the Intelligence and Security Committee to examine the Government's intelligence, assessments and advice prior to the bombings on 12 October. As I said in my statement to the House on 21 October, I did
"not want the relatives of those who died in this atrocity, nor those injured, to have nagging anxieties about whether different judgments" [Official Report, 21 October 2002; Vol. 391, c. 23.]
could "have been made."

The House had an early opportunity to discuss the report on the day of its publication, 11 December, when I made a statement. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in extending thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), the Chair of the Committee, and to her colleagues in this House and in the other place, for their diligent work in putting together their response. The ISC produced a comprehensive report based on evidence from Ministers, from officials in the intelligence agencies and in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and from travel industry representatives.

I welcome the fact that the Committee's report found that it had
"not seen any intelligence that described or directly related to any form of terrorist attack on Bali on or around 12 October 2002",
and that on the basis of the available intelligence
"there was no action that the UK or its allies could have taken to prevent the attacks."
I hope that this finding provides a measure of relief for the relatives of the victims. I also welcome the Committee's conclusion that in the months leading up to the attacks, sufficient priority was given to intelligence collection in respect of Indonesia.

The report did, however, contain two broad criticisms of the threat assessment process, and of the system that we have in place to provide accurate and timely travel advice to the British public, so let me deal with these in turn. First, the Committee said that the Security Service failed to make the correct assessment of the level of threat to British interests on the basis of the available intelligence. So it did not challenge the available intelligence, but it did say that incorrect assessments were made on the basis of it. In particular, the Committee's report said that the Security Service's current six levels of threat assessment did
"not provide sufficiently clear differentiated definitions of the threat level. They need to be of greater use to customer departments".
The Committee said that although the Security Service had briefed the FCO orally, it took too long—more than two weeks to issue a report on Indonesia in the aftermath of a failed attack on a United States diplomatic property in Jakarta on 23 September. The Committee also found that, given the intelligence on a terrorist attack in Indonesia and the
"reluctance of the Indonesian authorities"
to deal with the threat, the Security Service made a "serious misjudgment" in failing to upgrade its assessment of the threat to general British interests from
"significant" to "high".
The Security Service acts under the authority of the Home Secretary, so I will keep my remarks on these matters brief and to the point. Having been Home Secretary, I realise that my right hon. Friend the current Home Secretary is responsible for the running of the Security Service as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) will respond to points of detail relating to the Security Service, but I should say that, having worked very closely with it and its officials in my four years as Home Secretary—as well as continuing to witness their work in the 21 months since I became Foreign Secretary—I have the very highest regard for their professionalism and integrity, and for the trouble that they take to make the best assessments that they can, always on the basis of inadequate information, for that is the nature of intelligence.

During the period preceding the Bali bombings, Security Service experts, in assessing the threat to British interests in Indonesia, took account of all the available information as being significant. This means that the security climate was such that our general interests were likely to be a priority target for terrorists. However, the Security Service judged at the time, and continues to judge, that the intelligence referred to in the ISC report was not specific enough to cause it to raise the existing threat level to "high" from "significant".

I realise that that is a point of difference with the ISC. The Security Service takes the ISC's recommendations seriously and, in many other respects, they have been accepted, but it is right for me to place on record that if the Security Service had judged that it had made an error, I would have brought that to the attention of the House. The Security Service has reviewed the evidence and believes that its original judgment was correct.

The problem is the terminology. The use of the word "significant" does not make it clear enough, to those who have to decide whether they wish to take the risk of going to a place with that threat level, that it means—as the Home Secretary has just said and as the Committee's report confirms—that the place is

"a priority target of terrorist activity".
Surely the problem is not the grading that the Security Service gave to the level of threat but the fact that the word used for that level did not sufficiently convey the seriousness of the accurate threat assessment that had been made.

The hon. Gentleman is on to something, but we do not include the Security Service's raw threat assessment in the published travel advice, which reflects the intelligence assessments. Including the raw threat assessment would, on occasions, compromise the source of the intelligence—if it changed suddenly, for example, it could send a signal to the terrorists—and would be more likely to cause confusion in the minds of the public. I shall address the issue of how we aim to improve the travel advice in a moment, but at present we use the threat assessment as one input, and set it against other inputs, including the capacity of the local law enforcement and intelligence agencies to cope with a threat, to come to a description of the threat that the tourist, business person or British resident is likely to encounter in that country. In certain circumstances, we also offer advice about whether people should travel there at all, or in qualified circumstances.

Will the Foreign Secretary note that there was a direct consequence of the Security Service not raising the threat level, which was that the Foreign Office did not revise the travel advice? It would have done so if the threat level had been raised, even if it had been raised to some intermediate level that was not available to the Security Service at the time.

It does not follow that because the threat level changes, the travel advice is automatically changed. The right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that had the threat level changed, it would have triggered a review of the travel advice. However, at the moment, threat levels move up and down, and the result of the Foreign Office's review of the risk, according to the Security Service's objective threat assessment, ends up on my desk or in my box. Often, I decide not to change the travel advice because it could need to be changed back the next week and that would promote confusion, not clarity. It would not necessarily improve the safety of the British public, which is always the paramount concern.

As the Committee noted in its report, the Security Service was already reviewing its threat assessment system before the Bali bombing. The Committee's recommendations have informed that review and I am pleased to tell the House that it will result in changes to the definitions of threat level, making them more informative to customer Departments, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That picks up the point made by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis).

Counter-terrorism co-ordination is probably better in the United Kingdom than in most comparable countries. We do not have the inter-agency competition seen elsewhere on both sides of the Atlantic, but that does not mean that we should be complacent. We are continually taking steps to improve. As set out in the Government's response last month, experts from the agencies and relevant Departments will shortly be located in an expanded single joint terrorism analysis centre. Acting under the director general of the Security Service, that centre will be responsible for the long-term strategic assessment of the terrorist threat, as well as for the day-to-day response to specific intelligence. I share the Committee's concern that reports should be issued in a timely manner, and that will be a major objective of the new organisation.

I want to return to the point that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) made about the intelligence that we received that mentioned Bali along with five other very large islands in Indonesia. Even if that intelligence had led to a change in travel advice, it might have remained very unspecific. It is important to make a point that the Committee itself made—that is, that we had received no intelligence that alerted us to the specific possibility of a terrorist atrocity taking place in Bali. Had there been, we would have ensured that that was reflected in the travel advice. I was anxious to make sure that the Committee was able to do its work and that, to that end, it had full access to all the intelligence. As was initially made public by Alexander Downer, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, then confirmed here, the intelligence that mentioned Bali also mentioned five other huge islands in Indonesia, so it covered about half the population and 70 per cent. or so of the destinations travelled to by western tourists.

The Foreign Secretary did indeed give the utmost co-operation to the Committee, for which we are grateful. However, surely the question that nobody asked at the time was, "Where in the whole of Indonesia is it possible to attack the largest number of western tourists with the greatest ease?" The answer has to be Bali, because that is where tourists were gathered in concentrations in nightclubs, and we know how dangerous a situation that is. That is where the misjudgment took place.

The right hon. Gentleman says that with the benefit of 20–20 vision. When the judgment was made, the information was very unspecific, and tourists go to a large number of other destinations. The situation cuts both ways. Although western tourists congregate more in Bali than elsewhere in Indonesia, that is offset by the fact that Bali is overwhelmingly a Hindu, not a Muslim, island, so it should be a predominantly safe environment in which terrorists find it much more difficult to operate and to hide. Those are the kinds of difficult judgments that have to be made. I regret that the intelligence services did not have available specific intelligence saying that there was likely to be a serious terrorist threat in Bali because, for sure, we would then have alerted the law enforcement agencies in Bali and Indonesia, and we would also have immediately changed our travel advice. The truth about modern terrorists in the global village in which we live is that they can move anywhere in the world extremely quickly and that the equipment that they need to commit such atrocities is highly portable.

Paragraph 44 of the conclusions and recommendations says that

"on the available intelligence, we do not believe that the attack could have been prevented."
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is vital that people recognise that this is not an exercise of risk elimination, but has necessarily to be an exercise in risk management, and that the only way in which we can eliminate the risk is by eliminating the original motivation for the terrorism, which was not the remit of the report?

It is a matter of risk management. There is a wider issue about the way in which we deal with terrorism. I have always believed that we did that through a combination of the toughest security and, when possible, a political process. However, I stress to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) that it has been difficult enough to develop a political process in Northern Ireland, where at least the terrorist groups had political front organisations, which had a developed political agenda. Although they were trying to blow up democratic institutions, they also stood for them. It is much more difficult to know how to reach accommodation with some religious terrorist organisations, which carry out suicide bombings.

Of course, I accept the hon. Gentleman's underlying point that if we can make significant progress on peace in the middle east and deal with terrorism through a combination of political process and effective security, that should help to change the overall environment. We are working on that. I also agree that we are conducting an exercise in risk management, not risk elimination. I shall comment on the nature of our travel advice in that context.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that British residents in Indonesia were given better advice through the e-mail service than travellers from this country received from the general Foreign Office advice service?

As ever, my right hon. Friend anticipates me. I shall deal with that specific point shortly, and if she is not satisfied with the reply, I shall give way again.

We are setting up a new, joint terrorism analysis centre. One of its major objectives is to produce more timely advice. The second broad criticism in the Intelligence and Security Committee's report covered the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's travel advice. The Committee found that the advice at the time of the Bali atrocity did not accurately reflect either the threat or recent developments in Indonesia. However, the report acknowledged that the advice was proportional to the assessment of the threat that the Security Service conducted.

The Committee reported that travel advice was not generally communicated to the public or the travel industry effectively, and that the purpose of the FCO travel advice should be reviewed. In my response, I welcomed the reports from the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee and their valuable and timely examination of our travel advice system. Along with consular, immigration and commercial services, providing travel advice is my Department's core, front-line service to the British public. It is increasingly important.

British nationals make 60 million trips overseas each year. In addition, 15 million British nationals live overseas. The demand for advice is growing. My Department's website has 28,000 subscribers who receive changes to travel advice as they issue. We also receive 675,000 page impressions of travel advice each month. It is therefore imperative to do everything that we can to get the service right.

We have always taken great care to ensure that intelligence assessments translate into sensible advice to British travellers and residents overseas.

My right hon. Friend mentioned 675,000 page impressions a month. I suspect that all those are the direct result of people choosing rather than being urged to seek advice when they buy a holiday. That applies especially to buying a holiday online. Millions of people do that through Opodo or directly through the airline. I understand why an airline might not want an automatic rather than a chosen link; information on Bali might read, "Please don't go there." None the less, could the Foreign Secretary push the matter a little further with the Association of British Travel Agents and others, who remain somewhat reluctant about ensuring the availability of the advice?

Although I am happy to take up that point, co-operation with ABTA has been good. I have no evidence of travel agents trying to discourage people from seeking advice on the website. It is happily in the nature of the anarchic-cum-democratic internet that people cannot be prevented from gaining access to it.

We have ensured that our website includes links with the equivalent travel advice of several countries. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) made that suggestion, which I was happy to follow up. The original suggestion was to do it with a couple of countries but we have done so with eight or nine. People who are not certain can thus look at other websites.

To return specifically to travel advice, I accept that, at times, our advice has not been as clear, simple and informative as it should be, so in the aftermath of the Bali attack, I asked officials to undertake a comprehensive review of the travel advice system, taking advice from external sources, including the Plain English Campaign and ABTA, from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The review also took account of comments made by others—Members of Parliament and the general public, including relatives of those who died in the Bali bombing. I have made myself available to see those relatives who wished to see me, and some of them have been extremely forthcoming in the detailed advice that they have given to us not only about the nature of the travel advice, but about the important improvements to consular assistance that we have put in hand.

As a result of the review, we have improved the content and layout of our travel notices. The aim is to ensure that the summaries are short and precise and that there is a specific terrorism paragraph where the situation in a country requires it.

To pick up a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), the report also drew attention to the importance of ensuring that the advice given to British travellers is no different from that we offer to British residents overseas, and I very strongly agree. It has always been our policy to ensure that the advice given to residents and travellers must be entirely consistent. In the aftermath of the Bali attack, we have issued strict instructions to posts to ensure that any information issued locally to British residents—whether by e-mail or otherwise is entirely consistent with the FCO travel advice.

Of course if those in a local post have information that they think is not reflected in the travel advice, they are under a duty not only to use that information to warn local residents through their warning system—these days, it is online using e-mail in most areas—but to get in touch immediately with the relevant department in the Foreign Office, so that that information is properly reflected in the advice that we publish worldwide.

Our provision of travel advice, however good, must be subject to continual improvement. For example, it must be sensible to include a longer section in our travel advice assessing the risks to UK interests, thereby allowing British residents and travellers to make up their own minds, rather than being over-prescriptive. That is an important issue, and it was very striking that, when I made the original statement about the Bali attack on 21 October and, again, when I came to the House to make our initial response to the ISC report on 11 December, different opinions that transcend party loyalties were expressed about how prescriptive, or otherwise, we should be in our travel advice.

Since the Bali attack I have had to pay a lot more attention to the specific nature of advice for specific countries. I shall be interested to know what the view of the House is, but the more that I have to pay attention to travel advice, the more that I have come to the view that the advice ought to tilt towards being just that—advice—and that it should be as accurate as possible and describe the risks but that it should be left to travellers or residents to make their own judgment about whether to go to the country or. if they are in the country, whether to stay there or to leave.

Obviously, there have to be limits on such a permissive arrangement and, if we receive specific intelligence advice about high-level threats, it is our plain duty to tell people to leave. Whether they accept that advice is a matter for them, but we have that duty and, when we have to be much more categorical, my own view is that gradations in the advice about whether people ought to travel may be less effective than simply providing the advice and telling them to look at and make their own decision. I have come to that judgment particularly post-Bali, but also in the light of experiences relating to other countries last year. As I say, I shall be interested to hear what colleagues in the House have to say.

We can never achieve perfection. Some will criticise us for being too alarmist; others will always demand that we issue more and more specific warnings. We look forward to advice not only from hon. Members, but members of the public. However, what certainly does not help us—happily this has not been a feature of debates or comments in the House—is for people simply to attack FCO travel advice in a way that undermines people's trust in what has been a popular and much used service, run by staff replete with skills and integrity.

Given the nature and scale of the terrorist threat that we face, we have to recognise that we cannot guarantee that there will not be another attack such as that in Bali. The Government have to prepare for the terrible eventuality that, on any given day, a terrorist attack may claim British lives in any corner of the world. We have learned important lessons from our consular response to the Bali tragedy. As I told Parliament on 21 October, in the immediate aftermath of the attack we failed to get sufficient extra staff on the ground quickly enough. I want to reiterate my apologies for that to the relatives of the victims and to those who were injured.

To ensure that we deliver the most professional response in the event of any future major incidents, I have set up rapid deployment teams, on standby in London, ready to leave for the scene of an emergency anywhere in the world at 24 hours' notice or less. Each team is led by a senior FCO official and combines a mixture of skills and experience. Those teams may find themselves working in the most trying circumstances imaginable, but I am confident that they will live up to the finest traditions of the diplomatic service in delivering the highest level of consular assistance to British nationals.

One of the many sadnesses of having to apologise to the House, to the relatives of victims and to those injured for the fact that our service had fallen below the standard that all of us wanted was that that represented no criticism of any of the staff who were involved in responding in Bali, every one of whom worked phenomenally hard and often at great risk to their own safety in Bali and elsewhere.

I welcome what the Foreign Secretary has just said about the availability of a rapid deployment team in the future. May I point out to him that a prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate in the next election, Mr. Tobias Ellwood, featured prominently in the aftermath of Bali? He and his sister went out there and had to search by themselves, without any significant support whatever, for the body of their brother. Something like that should never have to happen again.

I accept that. I have met Mr. Ellwood and his sister, who are very courageous people. I discussed what had happened to them, and this is the first time that I have had any idea of their political affiliations. It was not of remote interest to me—

Mr. Ellwood is a free citizen. I would not have minded if he had been selected before. It is entirely a matter for him. I do not think that he would mind me saying that, notwithstanding the terrible grief that he and his family have suffered, he has been extremely helpful in offering us advice on how we should improve the service in the future. Of course, what happened to him, his sister and their parents should never have happened.

These terrorist outrages are likely to increase, they may occur in remote parts of countries where we have representation, such as Indonesia, or countries where we have no representation. There is, therefore, a premium on international co-operation. On this occasion, that cooperation was with Australia, and it may occur frequently with our European partners. Will my right hon. Friend say to what extent the question of cooperation, in respect of terrorist outrages, has been addressed at an EU level, and with what result?

I agree with my right hon. Friend that these things can happen almost anywhere. The highest level of co-operation is among Commonwealth countries and the United States, and particularly the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, which, as members of the Intelligence and Security Committee are fully aware, have intelligence sharing arrangements. Co-ordination is extremely good between those countries. Work remains to be done with members of the European Union, and I am happy to write to my right hon. Friend and to his Committee to spell that out in more detail. I accept that there is an important agenda there.

To clarify, I refer not just to intelligence sharing but practical co-operation in evacuations, for instance, with Australia, and with the EU in countries where we may have no representation but where France, or another country, may have representation.

My answer was referring to both. We have to improve co-ordination. I have no doubt that, if an atrocity occurred in a country where we had no, or limited, representation, but where one of our EU partners had good representation, that partner would respond extremely effectively. However, it is better to have standing arrangements.

One reason why, immediately after the atrocity, we thought that our arrangements in Bali were likely to be adequate was that our arrangements in New York had turned out to be more than adequate. Appalling though that atrocity was, it was fortuitous that only a mile or so from the twin towers we had 200 British diplomats, whose families were available. Most of the British victims were not tourists but were resident in New York and had a support base. We have learned that every terrorist atrocity is likely to be different. We have to be ready to respond to the widest possible range of atrocity.

To pick up on my right hon. Friend's point, the Committee's report on intelligence assessments prior to the Bali bombing cut to the heart of a problem that the Government have had to confront every day since 11 September 2001. There is a huge and growing volume of intelligence on terrorist-related activity. In responding to such material, officials and Ministers alike have to strike the right balance between providing the public with adequate warning of threats and not causing undue panic. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his speech to the lord mayor's banquet last year:
"if, on the basis of a general warning, we were to shut down all the places that al-Qaeda might be considering for attack, we would be doing their job for them. The dilemma is reconciling warning people without alarming them; taking preventative measures without destroying normal life."
We will continue to do our best to strike that balance properly. We will do our utmost to ensure that the British public can go about their daily lives free from the threat of indiscriminate attack. We will work relentlessly to ensure that the prevailing climate for our citizens at home and overseas is one of freedom, not fear.

5.37 pm

Only last week, the remains of a number of the victims of the atrocity in Bali were returned to Britain. It brought home to us, once again, the full horror of the events of October last year. The victims of the bombing came from many countries all over the world. They included 24 Britons. Australians, in particular, suffered an especially grievous loss. The victims were largely young people enjoying an evening out in a nightclub.

I have been to Bali on a number of occasions. The island is known for its beauty, its unique culture, its tranquillity and its warm welcome; for those reasons, it acts as a magnet for young people who are seeking to relax and explore the world.

I warmly thank the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) and all the members of her Committee for the quality of their important report and the speed with which it was produced. I thank the Foreign Secretary for acceding to the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, that time be found for this debate. My right hon. Friend apologises to the House for his absence today. He has asked me to thank the Foreign Secretary for the positive manner with which he responded to his suggestions in the wake of the attack. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House are united in trying to deal with the implications of this terrorist act. The House meets in that spirit today.

The terrorist bombing in Bali on 12 October 2002 was a heinous crime. Once again, I extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the innocent victims of that crime; and I am especially grateful to the Foreign Secretary for referring to Tobias Ellwood and his family.

This report investigates what lessons might be learned, whether errors were made, and whether the attack and loss of life might have been prevented had errors not been made. It also investigates what might be done in future to make Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice more accurately reflect the threat. As the Foreign Secretary has said, the report grew out of the fact that it is important that relatives do not have
"nagging anxieties about whether different judgments should have been made."—[Official Report, 21 October 2002; Vol. 391, c. 23.]
It grew also from the obligations on Governments to ensure that all procedures were "thoroughly examined", as the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has commented.

The Bali attack left unanswered serious questions relating to the intelligence dissemination system and to FCO travel advice. That has important implications for us all in an age when more and more of us holiday abroad and when the gap year abroad has become part of the culture for many of our sons and daughters. The report covers a number of key questions, following through from the collection of intelligence material to the travel advice displayed on the FCO website. It asks whether intelligence collection in Indonesia was given priority, whether any specific intelligence was overlooked, whether the security services adequately assessed the levels of threat, whether the system of levels was adequate and whether the assessment was reflected in the FCO travel advice. I praise the often dangerous, and more usually unsung, work carried out by members of our security services and our diplomats overseas. I am pleased that the report agrees, noting that
"sufficient priority was given to the collection of intelligence".
The changed international scene after the attack on the twin towers and, indeed, since the end of the cold war has placed a far greater burden on the security services in many ways. Intelligence has assumed far greater importance in tackling unseen threats, and we welcome the Government's decision to increase resources for the intelligence agencies.

I was particularly interested when, last week, Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, indicated changed attitudes in police thinking and suggested that the visible presence of the police was important not simply as reassurance, but as efficacious in preventing and detecting crimes. We all recall that, in the 1990s, we were told that CCTV and electronic surveillance were perhaps an increasingly appropriate way to tackle crime. However, we now know that that is certainly not the case and that the human element remains invaluable.

At the end of the cold war, there were question marks about what the function of the security services should be. The old ideological battles were in the past and we looked to the future. However, as with the police in the 1990s, we saw an emphasis on spy satellites and other electronic surveillance to fulfil the intelligence gathering role. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) has pointed out on many occasions in the House, although such means are highly valuable, we now know from the rise of al-Qaeda and many other terrorist groups that the human element remains hugely important in intelligence gathering.

Of course, it takes time to develop human networks, but the one lesson of 11 September, Bali and other outrages is that that simply must be done. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will agree, for example, that much of the success that our security services had in dealing with the threats in Northern Ireland came about as a result of the infiltration of paramilitary groups. I hope that, in the winding-up speech, the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety will be able to confirm that he shares our assessment of the importance of human intelligence and will reassure the House that that receives due emphasis in Government priorities.

The report also notes that no specific intelligence of a specific threat in Bali was found by the security services. What is clear from the attacks in New York, Mombasa and Bali is the absolute need for co-operation worldwide. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee has just made that point. The confusion over what the United States knew or what Australia may have known demonstrates that, although we share intelligence, we must also be willing to re-examine whether it is shared in the most efficient and effective way.

Post the cold war, the threat of terrorism—the unseen enemy—poses many challenges, not least in our society, as between protecting citizens from attack and protecting their civil rights. Each and every democratic country has to face that dilemma.

The picture is not one of total gloom. There have been two extremely welcome breakthroughs in trying to reconcile terrorist groups with legitimate Governments. After many years of murder and mayhem in Sri Lanka, it is very good that productive dialogue is now taking place. Two weeks ago, I was in Nepal. The Foreign Secretary will know that, after many thousands of deaths, the Maoist guerrillas are in dialogue with the Nepalese Government. The consequences of the conflict in human terms have been tragic, but all hon. Members can take pride in the role that the different arms of the British Government have played directly and indirectly in helping to build trust and dialogue in Nepal. I hope that many lives can be saved in the future.

Will the hon. Gentleman also pay tribute to another example of practical co-operation, namely that between the British Government and the Greek Government following the appalling murder of Brigadier Saunders in Athens? It is significant that as a result of that excellent co-operation the trial of individuals for that murder starts today.

The House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point, and of course we all agree that such co-operation, leading to events such as today's trial, is most welcome.

There is of course the question of how raw intelligence is assessed once it has been gathered. Paragraph 43 of the report notes that in the period in question 150 reports which related to terrorist activity were received each day, and that represents a problem for analysis. The development of the counter-terrorism analysis centre is welcome, and hopefully it is providing a focal point for the co-ordination of intelligence that can be fed into the decision-making process. I am sure that in his winding-up speech my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) will want to return to that aspect of the report.

The function of such a centre must be to facilitate the rapid digestion and analysis of raw information to feed it down the chain to the point at which it is available to the travelling public. However, there is a risk of what has been termed warning fatigue, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) raised in the House in October. I think that the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) was also making that point. As the Foreign Secretary will agree, many young people seek adventure and consider themselves virtually indestructible. Hence a balance must be struck between the provision of adequate warnings and the ratcheting up of all the threat assessments to such a degree that many people will simply comprehensively ignore them.

One of the key points at the time of the bombing was the question of why the threat level was not raised from significant to high. The report suggested that the level of "significant" recognised the security services' assessment, but it seems to suggest that the threat grading system is not as sensitive as it needs to be. Given the apparent information about a number of islands in Indonesia, and the attacks on American diplomatic property shortly beforehand, a higher threat level would, with hindsight, have appeared more appropriate.

My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary has often called for the system to be looked at and a more sensitive graded system to be put in place, and the Committee says that the system needs modifications, but in the Government's response I see only a reference to the security services' review, which aims to give greater definition. That is welcome, and the Foreign Secretary referred to the matter, but further clarification could be given by the Minister who winds up the debate.

Finally, there is the question of the way the assessments become the FCO travel advice used by hundreds of thousands of people through the FCO website. The report recognises at paragraph 18 that the FCO advice did not properly recognise the threat in Bali but was proportional to the current assessments by the security services. I welcome the review of the travel advice system and its mechanisms, as noted at paragraph 13 of the Government's response.

Consistency is central. There must be confidence in FCO advice, and that comes from consistency with allies. In that respect I thank the Foreign Secretary for his response to a letter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes in December, in which my right hon. Friend suggested that the FCO website should carry links to the travel advice pages of other key allies, such as the United States and Australia. The Foreign Secretary wrote again this year saying that he had accepted and implemented the suggestion.

Such links do not detract from the need for our travel advice to reflect the information on the websites of other countries, assuming that it does not relate to specific threats to nationals from those countries. Are there FCO staff dedicated to daily monitoring and investigation of differences in advice and to pursuing the matter through diplomatic and intelligence links to see whether there is something that we should be taking greater account of?

It is also important, as the Government response notes, that advice issued to holiday makers be consistent with that given to Britons living abroad. The warden system plays a big role in that. Noting that once again a balance has to be struck between the need for intelligence information to be translated into advice as rapidly as possible and for that information adequately to be analysed and cross-referenced, what procedures are in place to ensure consistency of travel advice between us and our allies?

I have one or two remaining questions to pose in the hope that the Minister will address them. What assessments have the Government made of the impact that travel advice from the FCO has on the validity of travel insurance claims for cancelled holidays? If such an atrocity were to occur again, and heaven forbid that it should, what steps are in place for a dedicated rapid response team, perhaps based at a suitably large regional posting, to be on the scene within hours to assist relatives and local authorities? From what the Foreign Secretary said, I understand that a team is based in London. Is it exclusively in London or can it be based elsewhere?

A number of teams are based in London and they are ready to draw on people worldwide. That is what happened in Bali. When the response was ratcheted up to the right level, people were drawn from Singapore, Bangkok and Australian posts. That was coordinated from London, where the core team was based. If we had another Bali, we would not wait for the planes to leave Heathrow. We would put teams in place very quickly from the region and supplement them with people as soon as we could get them out there.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that clarification. On the basis of our experience, I know he agrees that that is an important point. The consular staff from Bali and Jakarta worked tirelessly. We have all learned lessons from the incident and I hope that we have resolved the problem.

The scars of the horrendous bombing of Bali remain. It was an horrific crime. I very much hope that our deliberations, and the contents of the excellent report, will go some way to preventing future attacks or, at the very least, future loss of life on such a scale by timely intelligence and warnings.

5.52 pm

I thank the Foreign Secretary and the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) for their comments and recognition of the Committee's work. I also thank members of the Committee, who spent many hours on the report and the large amount of other work that occupied us for many months. I cannot say that we enjoyed that aspect of our work because of the context in which we undertook the inquiry, but we all think that it was worth while, especially as many of our comments have been taken on board and have helped to move on the discussion and some of the issues. Today we are discussing what lessons can be learned to prevent such a tragedy from happening again elsewhere. However, we all have to remember the people who were killed or injured in Bali and their families. On behalf of the Committee, I reiterate our expression of sympathy to them all. I hope that the report sheds light on the processes and on what happened in Bali, and that it is helpful.

The Committee's work gave us a detailed insight into the workings of the agencies. We visit the agencies and have a great deal of contact with them, but having all the evidence before us and examining one issue in great depth was useful in giving us a general oversight of them while we considered the specific problem. It also clearly demonstrated the link between the agencies' work and the public policy decisions that have to be taken later, such as travel advice. That is not always the case with our work.

The Foreign Secretary said that he agreed at the outset that the Committee would have full access to all relevant intelligence. That approach is typical of my right hon. Friend, who tends to tackle problems head on rather than by moving them to one side. The full access to intelligence was essential for us to have confidence that we were doing our job properly. We are glad and grateful to him for that intelligence, just as we appreciate that it was necessary for us to have the full co-operation of the agencies involved and Ministers.

On the report and the Government's response, our inquiry focused on the six main questions that we outline in paragraph 6, as the hon. Member for West Suffolk said. The first question was whether terrorism in Indonesia was a sufficiently high intelligence collection priority. We concluded, partly on the basis of our previous work and annual reports, that sufficient priority had been given to that task, although we put that in a particular context:
"The Committee believes that sufficient priority was given to the collection of intelligence, although we repeat the comments in our last Annual Report that the Agencies are still growing following the increased funding they received after the 11 September attacks and it takes time for the additional resources to be deployed to maximum effect."
The implication is that the reduction in the agencies' funding in the 1990s and the lack of long-term investment curtailed their ability to respond later. That was not helpful.

Our second question was whether intelligence had been overlooked. My right hon. Friend quoted the report on that. It said:
"We conclude that on the available intelligence there was no action that the UK or its allies could have taken to prevent the attacks."
We are clear about that. As my right hon. Friend said, it is important for the families to know that it was not a simple matter of information being available that pointed directly to an attack in Bali which could have been foreseen on that day. It is important to stress that.

Our third and fourth questions related to threat assessment: was the correct assessment made and is the current threat assessment system effective and adequate? We thought that there were difficulties with that, some of which were mentioned by my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for West Suffolk. We concluded that there was a serious misjudgment. As a result, the Security Service did not assess the threat correctly and did not raise the level of threat to high. We are clear about that. Some think that that judgment is too harsh, as my right hon. Friend said, but we did not choose our words lightly. We thought long and hard before concluding that a serious misjudgment had been made. On behalf of the Committee, I can say that we stick by our conclusion. Problems did exist with the way in which the assessment was made.

The Committee looked at all this evidence from a slightly different angle from that of those who look at it on a daily basis. On one day, we had all the relevant pieces of intelligence on the matter brought together so that we could go through them sequentially. The available intelligence did not come to us in dribs and drabs over a period of weeks, as it does for people working in the agencies. There were, and indeed are, lots of reports about this matter and others coming daily to the Security Service. When we took evidence, we were told that there are about 150 such reports daily, and Indonesia is only one part of that wide reporting. There has been no diminution in the number of reports coming in, or in the amount of work, particularly in assessment, that the agencies must do.

When we looked at all the relevant reports, we could assess their nature and the way in which they varied. Some were sparse in detail; some were dull; some could be interpreted in different ways; some were repetitive; some may have given deliberate misinformation. Others, however, clearly had some relevance, and the Committee concluded that there was sufficient information to upgrade the threat assessment, thereby triggering a new assessment of what warnings were necessary. It is important that people understand the way in which the system works. We saw the individual jigsaw pieces, perhaps only fragments of those pieces, that are seen daily by people in the Security Service. No one had the full picture. Indeed, there is probably no single picture, because terrorist groups operate in a network of moving alliances. They do not present one picture which, if you get it, enables you to crack the situation so that all can be revealed. There is probably a multidimensional changing picture, and individuals come and go, and rise and fall. Different groups vie for influences, change their ideas and tactics, and so on. That has to be understood if we are to have a feel for the way in which the services work. The Committee is willing to acknowledge the difficulties and pressures on Security Service staff. Theirs is not an easy task, and they are dedicated professionals. Nevertheless, we concluded, not that the events in Bali could have been prevented, but that the threat assessment level should have been raised.

That brings me to the next point in that part of the report—was the threat assessment system effective and adequate? Perhaps the threat level was not raised because the system was not geared up to make distinctions that should have been made and which must be made in future. In our report we published for the first time the way in which the threat assessment system worked. In paragraph 9, we set out clearly the hierarchy of six gradations, ranging from negligible to imminent. We concluded that the threat assessment system
"does not provide sufficiently clear, differentiated definitions of the threat level."
We suggested that there should be at least one more level between "significant" and "high" to assist users of that information such as the Foreign Office, which uses it for travel advice, and other Departments that rely on it. In their response, the Government accepted that work needed to be done on that. It has already started, and threat assessment definitions have been reworked with the intention of avoiding the problems of the old system. The Intelligence and Security Committee has been briefed on the matter, and we welcome the fact that things are moving in that direction, because they will be of benefit to everybody involved. We hope that the formation of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, or JTAC—one of the problems in this area is all the initials—will lead to improved co-ordination and co-operation, and ensure that reports are issued in a timely way. However, I would echo the comment of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that the levels of cooperation between different agencies are extremely impressive in this country, and much better than those that I have seen elsewhere. I must tell my right hon. Friend that the changes that he and his colleagues have proposed are welcome, but the ISC will want to monitor them carefully as part of its ongoing work.

Turning briefly to the other main issue in our report—questions about Foreign Office travel advice—our inquiry asked:
"Did the FCO Travel Advice accurately reflect the Security Service assessment?",
"Is this advice effectively communicated to the public and the travel industry?"
The Government's response is interesting, because it highlights part of the problem. Paragraph 7 of the response, as was said earlier, reads:
"In the period preceding the Bali bombings the Service assessed the threat level to general UK interests in Indonesia to be SIGNIFICANT. This meant that the security climate was judged to be such that UK general interests were likely to be a priority target of terrorist activity."
However, anyone who read the Foreign Office travel advice at the time would not necessarily draw the same clear conclusions. The tone and clarity of the Government's statement are very different indeed from the tone and nature of the travel advice that was published before the Bali bombing. The travel advice put out by the Foreign Office before 12 October said:
"Most visits to Indonesia are trouble free. However, particular care is needed for visits to some regions and others should be avoided altogether as specified below."
Bali was not on that list. On Bali itself, the travel advice concentrated on crime, and said:
"Crime in Bali and Lombok remains relatively low but relatives and tourists alike should take the same precautions as they would in any major city."
The tone of the travel advice was problematic. While the general travel advice to tourists was couched in a reassuring tone, other travel advice was not. The Foreign Office travel advice was not revised after the grenade attack in Jakarta on 23 September. However, an e-mail service provided to subscribers resident in Indonesia revised its advice. New advice was sent to residents outlining what had happened in Jakarta and suggesting that UK citizens should be more circumspect. We were not quite sure what "circumspect" should mean, but there was advice to be more careful.

A further e-mail was sent out to subscribers that was not reflected in the Foreign Office travel advice or on the Foreign Office general website. However, it was sent out to subscribers in Indonesia, stating:
"In the run-up to the fasting month, which starts around 5 November, activists are more likely to show their disapproval at many of the bars and nightclubs that are popular with Indonesians and foreigners, especially on Friday nights. British citizens should avoid these establishments."
That information was provided only in the e-mail service to those British citizens who subscribed in Indonesia. It was not part of general advice. I think that we were right to say that there is a problem with travel advice and that Foreign Office travel advice—its purpose, its target audience and its presentation—needed to be examined by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a matter of urgency.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has told us that that is exactly what is happening. I am pleased that the FCO has been able to respond so quickly. I acknowledge that there are problems, including warning fatigue and giving warnings without being alarmist. However, the changes that have been made to travel advice should bring about an improvement. It is not for the ISC to follow up this issue. I am sure that members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee will want to keep an eye on what is happening.

This is not intended to be a flippant point because we are discussing desperately serious matters. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the word processor is, in a way, part of the difficulty? We found that the same phrases and the same paragraphs were repeated and recycled in successive issues of travel advice over a long period. Is it not important, especially when, rightly, the Foreign Office is seeking to keep travel advice low key and unsensational, that those who draft it regularly should revisit the prose and refresh and renew it? Otherwise, those who read it may take a glance and say, "It's the same as before and there is nothing significant for us to take note of."

I have completely to agree with my right hon. Friend that that sort of approach and attitude is part of the problem. It may also be part of the solution, in that it is easier to make changes quickly. E-mails make it easier to get out information to travel agents, for example. Occasionally we need people who have not been working with these problems and issues, day in and day out, to be involved. We need people who can step back from the generality of knowledge of the experts so that they can say what hits them from any block of information. Sometimes, when people are living too close to an issue day in and day out, they find it difficult to understand how someone outside might find information too reassuring or too alarming. That is one of the aspects that must be taken into account.

I am glad that the Government have found time for the debate. I hope that the report and the fact that we are having the debate show that the relevant agencies are accountable to Parliament through the ISC, and that the ISC performs a useful role. I am pleased that the Government have responded quickly. It is a tragic situation, but some positive things are coming out of it in terms of the changes to the threat assessment system, the improvement of co-ordination through JTAC, and the altering of the style and quality of Foreign Office travel advice. I know that that will be no real consolation to the relatives of those who died or who were injured, but I hope that these improvements will play some part in helping us all to protect people further in future. I am grateful to the Government for taking on board so many of our recommendations.

6.15 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith
(Berwick-upon Tweed)