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Bali Bombings

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.

[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

I am glad to follow the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), the Chairman of the Committee, and to have had the privilege of working closely with her and the rest of my colleagues on the Committee on this matter. I do so by way of a surprising guest reappearance on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. I am deputising for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). However, I will be reflecting on my experience as a member of the Committee. My right hon. and hon. Friends have welcomed the report and some of the things that have followed from it.

It was a terrible incident when nearly 200 holidaymakers were killed. Most of them were young people, 24 of them were British and many more were Australian. A couple of weeks later, the members of the Committee were in Australia. We saw there what a dramatic effect the tragedy had had on the entire Australian community, and on Australians of every racial and ethnic background. There was an outpouring of grief and a sense of shock. Perhaps that came almost as a surprise to us because we have become casehardened in Britain by our experience of IRA terrorism. However, the incident had a profound impact in Australia. A recent service in Southwark cathedral commemorated the British victims of the tragedy. The Foreign Secretary, who attended, has referred to it.

We saw the fundamental evil of terrorism. It is not the loss of innocent life as an unintended consequence of the pursuit of a military target. It is, as we saw with IRA terrorism, the deliberate slaughter of people who are not involved in the military or political actions and decisions that terrorists are seeking to challenge. It is the most cowardly form of warfare.

There are many arguments about when there can be a just war. Indeed, many of us are engaged presently in those very arguments about when there can be a just use of military or violent means. Terrorism is the antithesis of a just war. It has no possible moral basis.

My right hon. and hon. Friends welcome the report. We welcome also the fact that the Foreign Secretary so readily ensured that all the intelligence evidence was available to the Committee. That is essential for a judgment to be made on behalf of colleagues in the House who cannot see the evidence. The fact that it is in part a critical judgment may be discomforting to the Government and the agencies, but it serves as a vindication of the process of democratic scrutiny of intelligence and security services. That is an essential process and one that needs to be exercised in this way.

It is important to recognise that the Committee concluded that there was no intelligence of a specific threat to nightclubs in Bali, and therefore no basis on which action could have been taken to prevent the attack or even to mount an emergency evacuation of western tourists from the island. Although Bali was covered, like many other places, by a significant threat level, it was generally regarded as a relatively safe location for tourism because its population is predominantly Hindu. Therefore, it was felt that it was unlikely to be involved in Islamic anti-western demonstrations or activities. By contrast, some Indonesian islands were regarded as very unsafe places, and more recent events have demonstrated that that was correct.

There was, however, increasing intelligence of Jemaah Islamiyah links to al-Qaeda and the potential development by that and other groups of local terrorism. There were threats to US and UK interests, including tourists in nightclubs, which were reported. The right hon. Member for Dewsbury referred to them. There was an attack on a US diplomatic residence on 23 September. Indonesia was known to have less than effective anti-terrorist policing, to put it mildly. There was no reliable basis for supposing that the risks were confined to Jakarta and would never extend to Bali.

That brings me to the crucial failure that led to what the Committee called a "serious misjudgement". It was the failure to ask the question that I put to the Foreign Secretary earlier. Where in Indonesia is there a concentration of tourists vulnerable to attack where many people can be killed in one operation? There is only one answer to that question, and it is Bali.

The threat that we are talking about was not primarily one to tourists who are not concentrated. It is not primarily a threat to hill walkers, scuba divers, surfers or independent travellers. It was the threat represented by the vulnerability of a large number of tourists—almost entirely western tourists—packed in one vulnerable Location or a few vulnerable locations.

Mass tourism to Bali has nightclubs or discos as one of its principal attractions. That is what most tourists go to Bali to enjoy for at least part of the time that they spend there. Advice to
"be circumspect … especially in the evenings"
is meaningless in that context. It is relevant advice to a business man who lives in the country and can alter his pattern of movements and look out for potential threats and dangers. It is not meaningful advice to people who are going to a place on the assumption that it is relatively safe for them to go there.

We know that nightclubs are vulnerable places, even without terrorism. If we add up the number killed in fires or other emergencies in nightclubs in the past few years in Chicago, Caracas, Vollendam, Durban, Gothenburg, Manila and two cases in China, it comes to almost 900 lives lost. Like crowded shopping centres, nightclubs are an attractive target for terrorists, particularly when they are known to attract only or primarily foreign visitors.

Perhaps it is the Foreign Office that should have been alert to the precise nature of Bali tourism, rather than the Security Service, whose focus was on the terrorists themselves. That brings me to the system failure. If the Security Service assessment had been raised to the next level, that would have triggered a review of the Foreign Office advice, as the Foreign Secretary agreed in an earlier exchange. But it was not raised, so the process was not initiated. That is one reason why we recommended a level of advice between "significant" and "high".

In any case, the Foreign Office should be conscious of the nature of the travel and tourism to which its advice relates. There is a world of difference between advising UK residents working in a dangerous country on how to minimise risks to their safety, and advising people whether they should go to a dangerous place if they intend to spend much of their time there in a crowded disco, which is a location vulnerable to terrorism.

Mention has been made of the difference between the advice on the website and the general travel advice. The Government's response relates to this and states:
"The FCO has also issued strict instruction to Posts to ensure that any wording issued locally, whether by e-mail or otherwise, is entirely consistent with the FCO Travel Advice."
When I read that, I thought that it was the wrong way round. If the advice is not consistent, the message ought to be that the people locally, at the post, seem to know something that has not got through into the general travel advice being issued in London. I am glad the Foreign Secretary amplified that slightly puzzling statement to indicate that it means that if there is a difference, the local post should not take out the advice that there is a new danger; it should get on to London and report what it is advising, so that that can be reflected in the general travel advice. I am grateful for the Foreign Secretary's clarification.

We believe that an error was made, but it must be set in context. First, the agencies had obtained valuable intelligence in a difficult situation, in a part of the world in which they did not have substantial resources because it had not been of the highest priority in earlier years. As we said, it takes time for new resources to work through. The agencies did their job, and in all other respects, they did it remarkably well in difficult circumstances. We have seen the raw evidence of that. The "serious misjudgement" to which we referred was, I think, a gap in lateral thinking—a gap in making good and imaginative use of the information that they had striven to obtain and draw to the attention of those who needed to know about it.

Secondly, as regards context, although for reasons that I have set out Bali had become a dangerous place to be in a nightclub, there are many dangerous places. London is a dangerous place and the House is a dangerous place, although in both cases, the terrorist faces much better anti-terrorist measures than he did in Indonesia. But it only takes one to get through. We saw the consequences of that with the IRA mainland bombs. The twin towers were a dangerous place on 11 September. The Pentagon, of all places, was a dangerous place. As the Prime Minister said, we do not intend to close down the world and its activities and thus hand victory to the terrorists.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) pointed out, we are discussing how we manage risks. We need good advice on the basis of which to make prudent judgments—often, judgments as individuals about what risks we are willing to take. The advice should be as good as it can be. I do not think, and I believe that most of my colleagues on the Committee agree with me, that we want to go down the road of the United States' style of travel advice, which indicates a wide degree of threat and to some extent reinforces American citizens in their feeling that the world is not a safe place in which to travel. That must he seen in the light of 11 September, which demonstrated that key locations in the United States were exposed to serious danger as well.

I fear that the US approach to travel advice is influenced by the litigation and compensation culture, and the feeling that public bodies must guard against being shown to have been wrong and thus exposed to compensation claims. They therefore overstate or at least maximise the case in a sort of Health and Safety Executive way, if I can put it that way. The result can often be advice that, if taken literally, would mean that one would not go anywhere or even stay where one was. We must recognise that we are dealing with how we cope with risks in the world. Good advice is the basis for individuals to make their own sensible judgments about that.

I welcome the fact that a number of new elements have been introduced, which have been mentioned in the debate. The joint terrorism analysis centre draws together expertise in a way that should prove a more effective vehicle. Better definition of threat levels, if it is achieved, will be welcome. Some restructuring of travel advice has also been referred to. All those measures are welcome.

Bali may well not be the last terrible terrorist atrocity that we have to debate in the House. We do not know where the next one will be, but I hope and believe that some lessons have been learned, not only about the handling of tragedies—the Foreign Secretary spoke about how help can be brought to those affected—but about how the best travel advice can be obtained, and how intelligence can be brought to bear most effectively for prevention, where that is possible, as it was not in the case of Bali, for guidance to tourists and travellers, and for wisdom in the management of the risks. It has been a terrible experience for the families involved, and a salutary one for the agencies that deal with such circumstances. In making a significant criticism, we also recognise the immense value of the work that they have been doing and the many lives that have been saved by it.

6.27 pm

I apologise to the House for perhaps having to leave before the anticipated end of the debate for a constituency-related matter.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) made a number of cogent points, particularly in relation to what he called the failure of lateral thinking and the misjudgments made by the services. To put that in context, one must recognise what the Foreign Secretary said—that hindsight is a wonderful device for 20:20 vision—and the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) that the task involves joining up dots in intelligence, often in a multidimensional situation where there are enormous difficulties and where one can easily get it wrong.

I will not follow the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed in another respect. Perhaps because he is a member of the Committee, he was rather coy about blowing the trumpet of his own Committee. On behalf of the House, may I say that the Intelligence and Security Committee has done a grand job? My right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury has acquitted herself and the Committee extremely well. I am mightily impressed with the speed of the Committee's response. The House will recall that the outrage in Bali occurred on 12 October. On 21 October, the matter was referred to the Committee by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The report was published on 11 December, which suggests very fast Committee work. The Government's response was made last month. All the key questions were asked by the Committee, and the criticism relates to tone and the emphasis that was made in very difficult circumstances. Clearly, the terrorism threat is real throughout the world. We aware that in Indonesia, for example, the US, which had access to the same intelligence as us, had several members of its Jakarta embassy in Bali at the time. The scale of the threat as seen through US official eyes was not all that great.

I shall not concentrate on the intelligence aspects of the situation. Even though the Foreign Affairs Committee requested the information, we were not given access to the intelligence side, but travel advice generally is four-square in our remit. Indeed, the Committee has taken that responsibility very seriously. It recognises that a core responsibility of the Government, and hence one of its own core responsibilities in scrutinising them, is the safety of British personnel overseas. As I mentioned, that includes not only tourists, but personnel in our embassies. I also said earlier that, as a result of excellent co-operation between our intelligence services and the Greek intelligence services, we hope that all key members of the 11 November terrorist group in Greece who were responsible for the murder of our defence attaché, Brigadier Saunders, have now been apprehended. That trial starts today. It is to British tourists, a vast number of whom can now travel overseas, that the ISC report is especially pertinent.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has learned a number of lessons from Bali. In the judgment of the Foreign Affairs Committee, it is taking its work extremely seriously. We referred to the problems that have arisen in our report on the annual report of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and on 4 February we had a serious discussion in public session with Sir Michael Jay, the permanent secretary of the Foreign Office. I hope that we are not a mutual admiration society. The Foreign Office has certainly faced the sting of the Committee's criticism in a number of inquiries, not least in respect of Sierra Leone in the previous Parliament and of Gibraltar in the current one.

I believe that we have worked together particularly closely in respect of Bali. We received today a letter of commendation from the permanent secretary on our work. I reciprocate to this extent: we are pleased that, partly in response to our recommendations and those of the ISC, the Foreign Office has recognised that travel advice needs a higher profile. It has revised all the 209 travel advisory notices on its website and responded to the comments made by both Committees about the fact that travel advice should be more user-friendly and understandable. It has worked with the Plain English Campaign and is open to constructive comments from us and the general public on how travel advice can be improved.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, among others, has referred to the need to ensure that advice given on the spot is consistent with advice given in London. Hence, a new mechanism has been agreed whereby if a post wants to change advice, the information can come straight back through the geographical department in London. That means that any relevant changes should pass very quickly through the travel advisory unit and on to the website. The FCO website also has a new icon on the risk of terrorism when travelling abroad and lists the countries where terrorist attacks have occurred.

When the Foreign Affairs Committee prepared for its meeting with Sir Michael Jay, we carried out a comparative survey of the advice given by several countries to their nationals. We looked at the website of the US State Department, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in respect of one country—Saudi Arabia. We concluded that the FCO website compared very well indeed with those of other countries. Of course, it is important that, as the result of advice that came in part from the Opposition Front Bench, the FCO has created a link between its website and those of other countries.

The problem is how to respond constructively and realistically when intelligence is received about an impending terrorist attack, because of the volume and varied nature of the pieces of information that are received daily. If there is a serious threat, the FCO has to make the best judgment on the basis of the available information. The Committee was interested to learn in its evidence session with Sir Michael Jay that Ministers are consulted daily on changes to travel advice.

We also recognised the sensitivities regarding friendly countries when advice is received that can impact adversely on their economies. Two recent examples have arisen in that regard. First, the Government changed their advice in respect of Mauritius in November last year because the US embassy had received specific warnings about possible attacks on churches or other public places there and had posted a local warning to its nationals. Our high commission in Port Louis took the warning seriously. On 19 November, the Mauritius Foreign Minister wrote to the Foreign Secretary expressing concern that Mauritius had been placed among risky tourist destinations.

Secondly, a similar complaint was received from Trinidad and Tobago about what had happened as a result of intelligence information received in relation to a terrorist threat. In January or early February, the Trinidad Foreign Secretary was sent to London for urgent consultations with our Foreign Office because various tourist liners had been diverted as a result of the warning that we had issued. Quite properly, the permanent secretary told the Committee that the paramount duty of the Foreign Office is to our citizens. Although there may be occasions when quiet discussions should take place with friendly countries, that must be subordinate in any situation to the interests of British nationals.

The events in Bali also led to wider and more welcome changes in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Foreign Affairs Committee raised in our comments on the FCO annual report the question of the rapid response unit, which is potentially a very important development. We recommended
"that the Government, in its response to this Report, should set out what progress has been made in expediting the FCO's response time to the need to establish new diplomatic premises overseas, with particular reference to the use of containers".
That recommendation related to transportable diplomatic premises. We also recommended that there should be
"a register of former diplomatic staff … to respond to crises".
The Foreign Office responded to that recommendation on 29 January. In respect of rapid deployment teams, in our report on the 2002 FCO annual report the Committee recommended that
"the next Annual report should report progress on the development of systems for responding to international crises and for the rapid deployment of serving or retired diplomatic, consular or other personnel in response to changing circumstances worldwide."
In its 29 January response, the Foreign Office informed us that it had
"set up three Rapid Deployment Teams that can be despatched to support Posts when a major consular crisis occurs. These teams are on 24 hours stand-by in rotation. Each Rapid Deployment Team is led by a senior Diplomatic Service officer".
As a result of Bali, welcome changes have been made. The 24-hour "situation centre" will become effective in the summer, and the Foreign Office is looking at the outsourcing of caller answering services. Only today, on behalf of the Committee, I received a letter from the permanent under-secretary saying that the Foreign Office was considering establishing web-based databases
"to allow the call-centre staff to input simple details".
That will enable a more speedy and effective response to be made.

There is a continuing dialogue between the Foreign Office and the Foreign Affairs Committee on this important issue. We asked, for instance, why there were no medical advisers on the rapid deployment teams, and the Foreign Office gave us an interim reply. I assure the House that we take our responsibility for scrutinising the Foreign Office's oversight of the concerns of British nationals overseas very seriously. We are united in trying to counter, as best we can, the scourge of terrorism, and seeking to improve the position of those British nationals.

6.42 pm

I welcome this excellent report, and it is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson). I appreciate that I am in august company tonight, and I hope that my comments will not be considered out of order in any way; but I hope to cite the events in Bali as part of a series of events from which we can learn. Perhaps they can point to how we can cope in future with a threat that I believe will become much more dangerous as we approach what I feel must be an inevitable war with Iraq.

I shall return to the subject of Bali from time to time, but let me say first that the security services are doing a first-class job. Only their efficacy, I think, has prevented worse atrocities abroad, involving British possessions abroad, or indeed in this country. The news that a joint terrorist assessment centre is to be established is very good. That can only lead to further excellent handling and dissemination of intelligence.

Let me get two old aphorisms out of the way immediately. The first is that the terrorist needs to get lucky only once; the second is that the terrorist's aim is to terrify—not necessarily to destroy, not necessarily to kill and not necessarily to defeat, but simply to terrify. It is Government's job to keep that in proportion, and to learn how to control the perception of terrorism among the victim population.

I want to compare the ways in which four societies handle terrorism. Two of them are similar, two dissimilar. First and foremost, there is Israel. Whether we approve of what is going on there is a separate matter, but the fact remains that every single Israeli has, directly or indirectly, been touched by what is regrettably an extremely effective terrorist regime. Yet Israel is not on her knees: life in Israel goes on relatively normally, as normally as it can under a threat of this kind.

As my hon. Friend no doubt knows, Israel does not issue threat assessments to the general public. Interestingly, it leaves its citizens to make their own assessment of how dangerous it is to go to another country.

I thank my hon. Friend for enlightening us on that point.

My second example is Ulster, where I have carried out nine operational tours working in both the intelligence and the uniformed staff. That too is a society that was and remains very effectively terrorised, but in which life goes on normally. Indeed, it is a society in which life and prosperity are booming.

Then there is America, which has also been very effectively terrorised—by the events of a single terrorist attack. I will say more shortly about a sense of proportion, but there is no doubt that—while many people were killed in that one incident—America is unused to terrorism. Its reactions are an interesting lesson for mature and developed societies elsewhere.

Two weeks ago, when I visited Washington and New York with the Defence Committee, I had the edifying experience of watching surface-to-air missiles being deployed in the centre of towns, and policemen and members of the National Guard carrying their respirators—gas masks—in the "alert" position. Nuclear, biological and chemical warfare decontamination sites had already been established. There was advice on television every night on how to establish safe rooms—the modern-day equivalent of the Anderson shelter, perhaps—and on how society was coming to terms with the threat that was seen to be overweening. But the fact remains that on mainland America there has been only one substantial attack, and I therefore submit that in this instance terrorism is operating very effectively.

As for Bali, I think it fair to say—although others may well correct me—that Australia did not expect an attack of that kind. It was terribly badly hurt by the Bali bomb, and it has skewed its society's perception of terror. It is also interesting to note that the attack took place not in Australia itself, but abroad.

All that, I think, contains important lessons for us as the threat of terrorism grows—for, in my opinion, it is growing. For one thing, I think it important to retain a sense of proportion. On a number of occasions I have been extremely tedious on the subject of the House being "hung up" on the organisation al-Qaeda. The fact remains that al-Qaeda has been operating for more than 10 years, but has pulled off only one deeply successful incident. There is no doubt that 11 September was hugely significant, but it was only one attack. It killed thousands of people—the number was probably out of all proportion to that which the perpetrators expected—but it should be borne in mind that al-Qaeda's normal style is much less adventurous. Operations such as the bombing of USS Cole and the attack on the Limberg were very successful from its point of view, but individual assassinations such as those we have seen in the past few weeks are much more likely. We should also bear in mind that this country, so far, has been attacked with relatively little success—owing, I have no doubt, to the excellence of our security services.

I am convinced that terrorists are trying hard to attack this country, but so far, mercifully, casualties here have been relatively light. Yes, Britain suffered on 11 September; yes, Britain suffered in Bali; but it seems that our society has learnt to live with that. How will we cope when attacks of similar proportions are made on this country, or indeed when the tempo of terrorists operations is increased?

May I take my hon. Friend back to what he said about America and the broadcasts advising ordinary people how they could prepare? I was not entirely sure whether he was suggesting that that was an over- reaction or an appropriate reaction. If it were an appropriate reaction, is he about to recommend that similar messages should be sent here? If so, does he feel that perhaps a limiting factor was the experience of 1980, when "Protect and Survive" was published, which was widely mocked? Does he agree that there is a difference between the circumstances of nuclear war preparations and terrorist preparations?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recalling me to my duty in this regard. It was a point that I was going to develop but I will it develop now. It is difficult for the public and the likes of me, who do not have access to the sort of intelligence that the Intelligence and Security Committee get, to assess exactly what the threat is. Therefore, it is the Government's duty to make that threat both palatable, if a threat can be palatable, and realistic.

I do not know, to answer my hon. Friend's question, whether that was an over-reaction or not. The fact remains that, simultaneously, two distinct pieces of news were being given in Britain and America of severe threats to the infrastructure of both countries. America chose to go down the route of national broadcasts. This country chose to go down an all together less extreme route, albeit deploying armoured forces and infantry battalions at Heathrow airport for the first time, I think, in eight or nine years.

We must understand that victims from this country will not necessarily be in holiday resorts such as Bali; they are more likely to be in British possessions overseas such as Gibraltar and Cyprus. How are the Government fixed? How do the Government stand to handle mass casualties in garrisons or British possessions overseas? A lot of what we have heard tonight is reassuring but I should like to know more from the Minister on that point.

We must realise that, while we hear about things such as ricin plots being developed and more exotic forms of terrorism, the fact remains that the sort of terrorism that is likely to kill is exactly the same as the sort of terrorism that we saw in Bali: operations that copy those carried out by the Provisional IRA over the past 30 years or so. This society must get used to the fact that improvised explosive devices cleverly targeted and placed will be the way ahead for the terrorist. We must learn as a society to live with that. Government advice, news and intelligence management must be sensitive to that.

For example, we constantly live with the threat of fire. Outside this Chamber, there are fire appliances. In our offices, we know what to do in the event of a fire; we are drilled. Until a few years ago, if one wanted to go shopping in the centre of Belfast, one understood that it would take at least 10 or 15 extra minutes to get into the city centre; one's car had to be searched and parking was difficult. Similarly, getting out again was a problem, but people learnt to live with that. During the blitz, this country learnt to live with a severe and clear threat.

If we are going to take the Prime Minister's words that we must take preventative measures without destroying our ordinary way of life to heart, we must become alert to the fact that there are terrorists abroad, inside our society, who wish to inflict the sort of casualties on us that we have seen both on 11 September and in Bali, but balance that with carrying out, as a Prime Minister would call it, ordinary life.

I believe, to use a naval expression, that we are standing into danger at the moment. We have seen Muslim extremists carrying out attacks in this country, or trying to carry out attacks in this country, and I have no doubt that as war with Iraq approaches, sadly, other forms of terrorism will become more and more prevalent. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) about warning fatigue, but I beg the Minister to understand that news and intelligence must be handled sensitively and consistently. We had contradictory information last November from the Home Secretary and in statements that were issued during the Heathrow alert a couple of weeks ago by the Labour party chairman. Issuing a warning or a warning of a threat and rescinding it is deeply counter-productive. There needs to be a code of practice that makes the approach much more cohesive and that the British public, be they at home or abroad, can understand more clearly.

The American system of a series of coloured warning levels is deeply helpful. Perhaps we have not approached that yet but I would like an assurance from the Minister that we are thinking of a public information campaign, again without alarming and panicking, but introducing the public to the fact that the threat will become more and more serious.

I welcome the written statement today on civil contingency planning to deal with a terrorist attack but I ask the Minister, although it is a matter not for his Department but for the Ministry of Defence, what plans there are to use the many tens of thousands of regular troops, by which I mean soldiers, sailors and airmen, all of whom are nuclear, biological and chemical warfare trained, to help with this matter. Currently I see no plans at all. There are plans with regard to territorials and reserves but what about those men and women who are not deployed overseas? Where do they fit into the plan?

At Mombasa, Israel had a very close shave from a hugely damaging and fatal series of terrorist attacks. What plans do we have to ensure that our airliners are protected more effectively from surface-to-air missiles? Again, we had an alarm two weeks ago at Heathrow airport. I do not know the intelligence background to it but it seems clear that we lay under the same sort of threat that we had seen at Mombasa a few months ago. I would be interested to know how we might avoid such an attack in future.

I am grateful for the report. I hope that it will avoid attacks similar to the one in Bali being perpetrated against British citizens but I doubt it. I ask the Government to be more consistent in the way they handle information, to be more realistic in the way they deal with a potentially frightened population and to be fully aware of a threat that is prevalent at the moment and which I believe will increase in the near future.

6.58 pm

I will not delay the House too long. It seems that most of the issues in relation to the report have been covered by previous speeches. As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, there is perhaps one area that I would like to introduce but, first, I have been a member of the Committee for nearly six years. After the tragedy, loss and injury that was sustained in Bali, the Committee was asked to look in great detail into what went off at Bali and to report back to the House. As was said earlier, that was done very quickly and in full co-operation with the different services: the Foreign Office and the Security Service.

If hon. Members look at the statute that brought the Committee into being, it restricts us in certain areas from looking into things. However, the Government asked us to look at such matters, and we were able to examine in close detail every intelligence report relating to this incident. I therefore hope that we can reassure the public that our reports are made after considering all the relevant issues. Indeed, the report in question noted that one of the agencies concerned was not in complete agreement with our analysis of events in Bali. Even though it creates a number of problems for our diaries and time scales, our ability to look at such issues in depth is very helpful, and I hope that the House agrees.

The Foreign Secretary rightly pointed out that the Committee had two broad criticisms of various aspects of the work relating to Bali. One of them I shall lightly skip over, but I should acknowledge that the Security Service does not agree with our analysis of the situation. That view is based on the wonderful principle of hindsight, but the threat assessment that was effectively the area of dispute between the Security Service and the Committee remains a very relevant issue. The report highlighted four factors that should have led to a higher level of threat assessment, including the grenade attack on an American diplomatic residence last September. A further point is that such developments needed to be considered in the light of the Indonesian authorities' public reluctance to deal with terrorism, and of the fact that terrorists may be more likely to attack a less well protected target. Again, such a view is based on the benefit of hindsight, but I should emphasise that at no time did the Committee find any evidence that the Bali tragedy could have been avoided.

A number of Members have touched on the travel advice issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and I should like to pick up on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) in an intervention on the Foreign Secretary. The question of how to obtain travel advice was raised, along with the impact on the commercial aspect of travel—an issue that the Minister will doubtless have considered. The Committee considered the ways in which people obtain travel advice, including from the internet, from Ceefax and from the FCO's website, which has had many thousands of hits over the months, but also from travel agents.

On first considering this issue, I wanted to reassure myself that travel agents—who clearly have a commercial interest in making a profit—in no way attempt to filter advice that might otherwise prove commercially negative from their point of view. The Committee's conclusions and recommendations contain nothing negative in this regard, because we found no evidence of anything questionable in the way in which travel agents disseminate information on FCO travel advice. The Committee's report states:
"The Association of British Travel Agents … and the Federation of Travel Operators … told the Committee that it is their policy that if the FCO Travel Advice requests tourists and residents to 'take care' then that is drawn specifically to the travellers' attention whilst booking or before travel. ABTA and FTO also told the Committee that, when the FCO Travel Advice changes to recommend that 'all non-essential travel is avoided', arrangements are made to evacuate all their customers from the area affected. ABTA and FTO communicate with their members to make sure they are aware of important changes in the FCO Travel Advice."
I point that out simply to reassure people that they are in no way being disadvantaged in terms of travel advice, and that commercial decisions are not preventing the giving of good advice before they travel or during their journeys, should the situation change.

It was said earlier that we could follow the example of some other countries and issue travel warnings, but that others such as Israel have none whatsoever. However, in some cases such warnings are more to do with ensuring that litigation does not follow anything that might happen while abroad, rather than with giving advice so that, on the basis of it, people can make up their own minds as to whether to travel or to leave a particular place. Although the Committee did not study what happens in other parts of the world in any great depth, it became clear during our conversations that this country's system is in many senses much better than some others'. I have confidence in our existing system, so the broad criticisms that were made are in no way criticisms of the bulk of the work done in interpreting information gathered by the intelligence agencies, or of how travel advice and more specific advice is given to the FCO.

As I said earlier to the Minister, although such an investigation is not welcome in the aftermath of the Bali tragedy, I hope that it has given this House and the public confidence in respect of matters that only we are allowed to look into, given that we work inside the ring of secrecy, under the terms of official secrets legislation. I hope that the investigation has given them confidence that the brave men and women who work in our intelligence agencies are acting in the interests of the greater public good. We shall continue to support them, but it is clear that, from time to time, our reports will highlight areas of criticism. However, I hope that, in general, those agencies have the support not just of our Committee, which worked closely with them, but of this House and of the general public.

7.07 pm

As so often, this House takes great care when subjects as serious as terrorist atrocities are being debated, and this debate has been no exception. The Foreign Secretary—who, for reasons that I understand entirely, is away on other duties—set out the Government's position at the beginning of the debate. It is fair to say that things are not easy for any Cabinet Minister when a Committee of this House produces a somewhat critical report, and I shall turn a little later to the comments of a number of distinguished members of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

I thought that the Foreign Secretary was very balanced in his approach to the fairly serious criticisms from members of the ISC. However, as many of them subsequently confirmed, they were making specific criticisms, rather than wholesale criticisms of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the intelligence services or the bulk of the work that they do. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) rightly said, we want to add to the praise offered for the work done by the FCO throughout the world—and by those based in the FCO in London—and to the incredibly important work done by our intelligence services. That point was highlighted in the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer)—a contribution based on his considerable military experience before entering this House.

In response to the Foreign Secretary's balanced approach, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk reinforced the condolences offered to the families of all who were affected by this terrible terrorist atrocity, but he also asked a number of specific questions. Such concerns are shared by our shadow Foreign Office team and by our Home Office team, for which I have the honour of being shadow spokesman on national security issues. My hon. Friend said that he hoped that in the wind-up, the Home Office Minister, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), could confirm his assessment of the importance of human intelligence. Indeed, that point was stressed by several other Members on both sides of the House, but in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark.

We want to hear from the Minister that both the Home Office and the Foreign Office are aware of the need to give human intelligence the proper emphasis in Government assessments of security matters in the future. In addition, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk pointed out that several of our colleagues have asked for the whole matter of intelligence assessment of levels of threat to be more graded and more sensitive. As my hon. Friend rightly said, the Government's response to the ISC's report refers to the security services review, which will consider how to achieve greater definition, and that is welcome. We have heard subsequently from the Chairman of the ISC and other members of it that some further changes have been made, and we would be grateful if the Minister clarified the matter when he winds up.

My hon. Friend also pointed out that the Foreign Office website should carry links to the travel advice pages of other key western countries, such as the United States and Australia. We are grateful that the Foreign Secretary has responded to my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary that he has accepted and implemented the suggestion. However, I have one warning to give. We have accepted in this important debate that website and e-mail information is crucial—many British expatriates use the internet extensively—but I hope that travel advice will not be given only on the internet. Not all of those who wish to travel abroad use computers. Not all people, especially young students, have access to the internet—some of them cannot afford it. Also, because people travel from country to country, it might be important that a young British traveller could call in to any Foreign Office post anywhere in the world and get a hard copy of the travel advice. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk pointed out, the gap-year phenomenon has grown—certainly since my time at university, 25 years ago—and so many young Britons now travel abroad and need access to updated advice as they travel. I hope that the Minister will confirm that hard copy will be made available.

My hon. Friend also said that he hoped that the Minister would be able to give us a specific assessment of the impact of FCO travel advice on the validity of travel insurance claims for holidays cancelled in response to a heightened threat level. I hope that the Minister will specifically address that point, but I will understand if he has to write to my hon. Friend. If the Minister puts his response in writing, I hope that he will place a copy in the Library. British citizens may change their holiday plans if FCO advice describes a heightened threat assessment. If they do so, it would be a shame if their travel insurance were invalidated.

My hon. Friend also raised the issue of whether rapid response teams will all be London based or whether in future some of them might be based in large regional posts. The Foreign Secretary helpfully intervened to explain that the rapid response teams created in the aftermath of Bali will be based in London, but they will be supplemented with people from regional posts. I hope that the Government will keep the matter under review, because some countries with very large diplomatic posts could benefit from a rapid response team. For example, a team based in Australia, which is a long way from London, would have been much closer to Bali.

Many of us have had some contact with families who lost loved ones in Bali. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), for example, told me that a friend of a friend was a victim of the Bali bombing. Those of us who are interested in sport were particularly affected by the fact that so many of the young adult victims were members of sports clubs in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Only a month before the Bali bomb I stood outside the Singapore cricket club, and the victims included some members of the rugby section of that club. Those of us who have been on overseas sports tours know the devastating effect that the loss of several members of a small sports club can have on a local community. I had a friend at university who was murdered by the IRA in the Harrods bombing, and I know that anyone who knows a victim of terrorism is affected by it and remembers it for the rest of their life.

The right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), the distinguished Chairman of the ISC, led the House through the Committee's report and its experience of considering all the issues. She rightly paid tribute to the Foreign Secretary and his advisers for giving the Committee full access to all the relevant papers. She confirmed that they contained nothing about a specific attack on Bali. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) made the point in an intervention—he later expanded on it in his speech—about the most likely location in Indonesia for an attack on western interests. There was a difference of view between members of the Committee about how significant that point was, but it deserves consideration when we learn the lessons from that terrible experience.

The right hon. Lady, in an effective analysis, made the point that the Committee saw sequentially on one day all the intelligence related to the region. She rightly made the point that that is not how it happens in reality for those in the FCO or the intelligence community who have the difficult task of analysing that intelligence. As so many hon. Members have pointed out, there is a danger in using 20:20 hindsight. The right hon. Lady, having made that allowance, went on to emphasise the Committee's conclusion that the threat level was not sufficiently differentiated between significant and high. She acknowledged that the definitions had been reworked and was pleased that matters were improving. She paid tribute to the creation of the joint terrorism advice centre, which she felt would improve matters, but she drew attention to paragraph 7 of the Government's response to the Committee's report which said that the information given to expatriate Britons in Indonesia was not as clear as the Foreign Office travel advice given to those about to travel to Bali.

The right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth), who is also a member of the Committee, intervened to make the important point about the dangers of using word processors to lift complete paragraphs from previous texts. To someone taking a quick look at the information, it might look as if it had not changed. That is a valid point because it happens all the time, in this sensitive area and in so many others. The Chairman rightly agreed with her hon. Friend. She made the point that sometimes it is better if someone outside the direct operation of the daily revision of the advice is asked to take a fresh look at it. Someone from outside can see whether a wrong impression is given, as perhaps happened with the Foreign Office advice on that occasion.

Several other hon. Members spoke powerfully, including as so often, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who spoke from his extensive experience on the Committee and in the House. He talked about his observations, shortly after the tragedy, of the grief felt in Australia. It is important for all of us to recognise that however terrible we felt the attack to be—there were victims from the UK—it was Australia that suffered the most, and the right hon. Gentleman stressed that point. He rightly said that terrorism is the most cowardly form of attack and that there had been a failure of judgment in that the threat advice—the warning—should have concentrated on Bali, given its nature in terms of the concentration of young foreign holidaymakers.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, talked about his Committee's responsibility to scrutinise Foreign Office travel advice. He mentioned the need to use plain English in that advice and spoke about the work of his Committee on matters such as rapid response teams. I am sure that hon. Members are, as always, grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for sharing his expertise as Chairman of the Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newark, who speaks from his extensive military experience prior to his election here, said that he has done nine tours in Ulster—experience that is unparalleled among Members of this House—including time spent on intelligence matters. He stressed that the terrorists' aim is to terrify but that, happily, the mature western democracies that are trying to match the threat are not terrified. He also emphasised that terrorists are still trying to attack the UK, and rightly paid tribute to the work that our security services are doing to detect and deter the threat and to protect all law-abiding citizens of this country. In a telling naval phrase, he said that we are standing into danger at present. He asked the Minister to confirm that news and intelligence must be handled sensitively and consistently, drawing attention to problems such as the mixed messages that were given out about Heathrow about two weeks ago, which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the shadow Home Secretary, and I were concerned about. I know that lessons will have been learned from that, even if the Minister is not prepared to concede that anything went wrong. A great deal of confusion was created by statements about threat levels being made, then withdrawn. I hope that that will not happen again.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), another distinguished member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Newark to make an important point based on his experience of considering such issues as a member of the Committee.

The right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), who has been a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee for six years, said that he could see that our system was better than the system in some other countries, and although he entirely supported what his Committee said in its conclusions, he did not want to make any criticism of the way in which much of the work is done. I hope that I have made it clear that Conservative Members share his view that we ought to praise all the work that is done by diplomatic posts around the world and by our intelligence services, while hoping that lessons will be learned from one or two aspects that did not go quite right on this occasion.

Finally, will the Minister say a word or two about what is happening in Bali now? The various reports about the aftermath say that a huge amount of funding has been provided, particularly by the United States, to help the Indonesian Government with counter-terrorism measures and security, and I have no doubt that the UK is playing its part. Some hon. Members tend to speak in this Chamber from a viscerally anti- American viewpoint. If they looked at the reports on the amount of American funding in the aftermath of the Bali bomb, they might have a more positive view of the way in which America is shouldering its responsibilities to ensure worldwide peace and security. I hope that the Minister is able to say that this country will provide a lot more funding for that purpose. British taxpayers might be happier for their money to be spent on that than on, to cite a bizarre example, funding for gender equality programmes. That is not quite the sort of thing that we should be spending money on when there are British citizens to be protected across the world.

7.24 pm

First, I put on record the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I am grateful to Opposition Members for accepting that he has pressing business that meant that he was been unable to stay for the entire debate.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) and other members of the Committee for their work on the report, which has led to a positive and constructive debate. As Ministers, we are in debt to the Committee for the way in which it did its work. As has been said, at least tangentially, one of the problems faced by a Government who are dealing with matters that are necessarily confidential is that one is always prone to the allegation that things are being kept under wraps, and the smallest difference in nuance between one statement and another is taken as evidence that something is being covered up. In this case, it was enormously to the advantage of the Government, the public and the media that the Committee was able to do its work as it did, irrespective of whether we have to live with the occasional judicious criticism or balanced disagreement on interpretation. It should be a huge reassurance to everybody concerned that the Committee was able to go about its work so responsibly. I am grateful to members of the Committee for thanking my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for the cooperation that was extended to it.

I extend my sympathies and those of the Home Secretary and other ministerial colleagues to the victims, their families and friends and everyone else who suffered from the despicable acts in Bali. As all hon. Members have said, there can be no possible justification for the indiscriminate carnage that was caused. Inevitably, although not overwhelmingly, the debate has focused on the safety of the British public. That in no way diminishes the tragedy of the loss of life of 24 British citizens or the loss of life of the Australian citizens who formed the majority of those who were murdered in Bali. As the Committee reminds us in its report, nationals of some 20 countries were murdered. Many Indonesians lost their lives or were injured and have subsequently suffered severe damage to their livelihoods.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) asked me about current actions in Bali. He will understand that that is more the province of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, so I will write to him about it. I nevertheless thank him for having raised the matter.

Whatever might have been claimed, the murders were indiscriminate as to nationality and religion. Those who did it cared not a jot for those whom they killed or maimed; the story was tragically the same as that of 11 September. I make that point not only in remembrance of all the victims, but as an illustration of the dangers and difficulties involved in combating the enemy that we face, owing to its callousness and unpredictability. Hon. Members will need no assistance in making the link to the need for the precautionary powers that were debated and renewed in this Chamber earlier today. The debate demonstrates that information is an essential weapon in fighting terrorism—information for the authorities on terrorists and their plans, so that action can be taken, and information for the public, so that they can remain safe, assist in combating terrorism and, as far as is possible, go about their normal business while being aware but alert.

I shall try to weave my responses to most of the points that were raised into my general remarks, but it might be easier if I dealt with some specific points now. The hon. Members for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) and for Newark (Patrick Mercer) referred to human intelligence. We recognise that whatever the developments in technological methods of gathering information, human intelligence is of great importance. I hope that something that will be achieved through the expanded resources that several hon. Members mentioned is the development of our capacity to gain human intelligence and to use it effectively. I would not of course want to link that comment to any particular events, but I hope that I have given the hon. Gentlemen the reassurance that they sought.

The issue of travel insurance was raised, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) talked about it in the wider context. I was grateful to him for reassuring the House, on the basis of his experience as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, that the travel industry was cooperating well and using information responsibly. I am pleased that he did not find evidence that information was being concealed from the travelling public.

Let us consider travel advice, cancellation costs and insurance. It is important to remember that the aim of travel advice is to provide an objective picture of the risks to travellers. It is therefore important that it is given objectively, and not swayed by different parties' commercial interests. Sometimes individuals or companies press the Government to be firmer or less firm in their advice, according to the clarity that they seek. Although we are aware of those considerations, we are not influenced by them. It is the Government's clear responsibility to make an objective judgment on travel advice, and to get it right.

Before the Minister leaves the subject of insurance, is he aware that the son of constituents of mine was among the British citizens who were murdered in Bali? It was five weeks after his marriage; his young widow narrowly survived, thanks to the Australians. I have raised the matter on the Floor of the House previously, and I recently discussed it personally with the Foreign Secretary. My murdered constituent's life assurance policy is the subject of challenge because the loss of life occurred through an act of terrorism. The issue has been referred to the Financial Secretary. Will the Minister assure hon. Members that the Financial Secretary will make a full report on that important issue to the House when she has completed her discussions with the insurance industry? Does he agree that it would be deplorable if, as a matter of general practice, the insurance industry began to cover life assurance policies with terrorist exclusions, thereby rendering people unable to provide financially through insurance for their next of kin in the case of a terrorist attack?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. I understand that ministerial colleagues are raising those issues with the insurance industry. I cannot say when it might be possible to provide a report, or specify its form, but I shall draw his remarks, which he has made previously, to my hon. Friends' attention. I shall try to ensure that he is updated on progress when it is possible to do that.

The hon. Member for Newark made several interesting points, which went wider than I wish to go in my reply, about the challenge of living with a level of international terrorism that we have not previously experienced. He asked a specific question about airline security. Some measures were publicised before Christmas, but I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to bring the hon. Gentleman up to date with the latest developments.

I have had the opportunity to thank the Committee for its work; let me now deal with specific items that it covered and that have been mentioned in the debate. The Committee made several observations about intelligence, threat assessment and the intelligence and security agencies. I hope that the Committee's finding that no intelligence that could have prevented the tragic events of 12 October in Bali had been missed or mishandled will provide some reassurance and comfort to the victims' families.

The Committee also found that sufficient priority was given to collecting intelligence. It believed that the Security Service should have raised the threat assessment for Indonesia from significant to high before the Bali bombings. As the Committee acknowledges, the judgments are difficult and I was grateful that my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury drew attention to the difference between the intelligence that was available to the Committee and that available to the Security Service.

The judgment of the Security Service remains that, on the intelligence available, "significant" was the correct assessment. The Committee published its definition of significant in the report, which states:
"Recent … intelligence of terrorist activity, the overall security and political climate, or the target's individual circumstances, indicate that it is likely to be a priority target".
The assessment therefore clearly suggested that Indonesia was a priority target for terrorists.

The report and the Government's response deal with the threat assessment process, which was also mentioned today. Such assessments by the Security Service are a key component in countering intended terrorist actions and informing the public. Such information includes advice to travellers. Those who make such assessments are skilled, dedicated and experienced individuals, to whom several hon. Members paid tribute. They have to make difficult judgments.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk asked for further details of the review of the threat assessment process. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury described the importance that the Committee attributed to greater gradation in the available assessments. The review to develop the process further has been completed and it will be implemented in the next few weeks. The Committee published the existing definitions of the threat levels. I do not believe that it would be appropriate to publish the new definitions, which are more detailed, and allow greater discrimination in order to be more valuable to customers who use the information, because it is important not to provide information that may be useful to terrorists by suggesting what is available to those who make threat assessments. It is important to stress that the threat assessment is not intended to be a public information guide but a tool, information and advice that is used by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which offers advice through, for example, travel advice to the general public.

I understand why the Minister does not believe that it is appropriate to publish. The appropriateness of publishing the definitions of the level of threat assessment is debatable, but, when he quotes the Committee's definition of significant, he must remember that that information was not available to anyone at the time. The link between threat assessment and travel advice is therefore crucial, because even the improved definitions will not work unless they are translated into good travel advice.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary outlined the review and the changes to the travel advice. Of course, it is important—indeed, essential—to the process that threat assessment can be translated into useful and useable advice for members of the travelling public. A better designed threat assessment would help to address some of the anxieties that the Committee expressed in its report. Needless to say, details of the new threat assessment have been shared with Committee members in private. Doubtless the Committee will continue to keep the process under review.

The Minister may be right that the threat assessments should not be made public. However, is not the logic of that position that the Government should have asked the Intelligence and Security Committee not to make public the levels of previous threat assessments? What if the Government had undertaken a review and decided not to change them? Would not the same arguments have applied?

In my opening remarks, I praised the role of the Committee and said that such Committees are valuable to the Government—I say that as a parliamentarian as well as a Minister. The Committee, in publishing the information, may well have done something that previous Governments had not done. However, given the changed threat assessment, I believe that we should not publish it. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary also hold that view. However, we are taking a step forward by sharing the information with the Committee.

The danger is that the more refined a system of threat assessment, the more information it effectively conveys about what information is available to the Security Service and those who make the assessment. That is the judgment that has to be made. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) suggested, the critical point is that we have to ensure that the process for translating the Security Service threat assessment into useful public advice is good, robust and clear. Of course, that is why we entirely accept that the two processes that have been discussed in the debate have to fit together well; they cannot be separated.

In passing, I agree with the hon. Member for West Suffolk in warning about the danger of an upward drift in threat assessments because there is a heightened threat generally, as it is important that we do not fall into the trap of fuelling warning fatigue by doing so.

Other developments that were mentioned in the debate include the continued enhancement of the arrangements for handling and disseminating terrorist intelligence. Experts from the intelligence and security agencies and relevant Departments will be sited in an enlarged single joint terrorist analysis centre, acting under the director general of the Security Service. That will further help to weave together existing threads of intelligence to give customer departments an even better, timely, yet coherent picture of the risks to be managed.

I finish by addressing the issue of informing the public. The Government remain committed to informing the public on all safety matters, including the risk of terrorism, but, as the Prime Minister said in his Mansion house speech last November, one of the aims of terrorists is to scare people, disrupt their normal lives, produce chaos and disorder and distort proper and sensible decision making. We must not do their job for them. However, the public have the right to have their concerns addressed and to know, as far as possible, what is being done for their protection.

The Government and the police will always try to make advice on the dangers of terrorism as clear as possible. Public safety continues to be our first priority in all decisions about public information or warnings. If a warning is necessary to protect public safety in the face of a specific and credible threat, we will issue one without hesitation, as well as giving out any further information that will help the public to respond effectively. But those are the only good reasons for issuing information associated with intelligence, since we are not in the business of educating terrorists, jeopardising intelligence operations or sources, or disrupting normal life without very good reason.

We would, for example, have to be careful about concluding—to follow the logic of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed a step further—that all bars, centres of social life and shopping centres anywhere in the world were to be avoided because they could possibly make very unpleasant targets for terrorists. So we have to treat such matters very carefully indeed.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury welcomed the information given by the Foreign Secretary this afternoon on the improvements to the advice system to ensure that the public can place their trust in Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice to travellers. Such advice is intended to give reassurance, promote normality and provide information so that sensible decisions can be made. A copy of the review of travel advice to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred has been placed in the Library.

Although I suspect that those in the gap-year generation are probably more familiar with using the internet than anyone else, I am assured that, on calling into an embassy or consulate, it would be possible to obtain a hard copy of the advice as people travel around the world.

We hope that the aims that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has set out for travel advice will also apply to the new dedicated internet site, announced by the Home Secretary today, to provide straightforward UK-focused advice to the public on the terrorist threat and personal protection. Of course, appropriate advice on safety will continue to be provided to the public in advance of the launch of the new website.

I said earlier that information is an essential weapon in fighting terrorism in all its forms; it is, but it is not the only one. I cannot let this debate pass without adding my tribute and that of the Home Secretary and other ministerial colleagues to the work of the intelligence and security agencies and the many contributions that the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ make individually and collectively to the safety of our citizens both at home and abroad. Of course, that work is not limited to their intelligence contribution, but involves a range of other protective measures.

Hon. Members present today will be well aware of why the successes of the intelligence and security agencies cannot be trumpeted, but let no one doubt the real difference that they make. I am sure that the whole House joins me in thanking the individuals who make up those organisations. It would also be appropriate to acknowledge the role played by our consular staff around the world and those who have volunteered for the new rapid response teams that were announced earlier today.

I finish as I began by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury, who chairs the Committee, and her colleagues for their hard work. I also thank those hon. Members who have spoken in this mature, constructive and thoughtful debate. If, on reflection, I have missed any specific issue that hon. Members have raised, I promise to write to them about it.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.