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Counter-terrorism Strategy

Volume 448: debated on Monday 10 July 2006

3.31 pm

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Government's strategy on counter-terrorism—but first, if you will allow me, I would like to express again my personal condolences, and, I am sure, those of the whole House, to all those who suffered as a result of the London bombings on 7 July last year. The first anniversary of those tragic events has just passed, and we witnessed on Friday the very moving and solemn expressions of the whole nation's remembrance.

It is right that last week focused on commemoration, but it is also right that people, including the survivors and families of victims of the 7 July attacks, want to know more about the current and future terrorist threat and what we are doing to combat it.

Following 7 July, the Government said that we would provide three things: an outline explanation of our strategy to combat terrorism, an explanation of the system of national threat levels, and a statement on the lessons learned from the 7 July attacks for the emergency responders. Today I am fulfilling the first and second of those promises. I will be providing a statement on lessons learned later.

The Government are necessarily limited in what they can say about our counter-terrorism measures, because some elements must obviously remain secret, but I will say as much as is prudent, as we have tried to do in the publications that we have issued today.

The counter-terrorism strategy—known in Government as Contest—was first developed in 2003 and is continuously reviewed in the light of developments. It has been referred to publicly on Government websites. It is wide-ranging, involving the whole of Government, international partners, agencies, including the police and intelligence services and, most importantly, all our citizens in the United Kingdom from all our communities.

Sadly, terrorism is not a new phenomenon, for the United Kingdom or for the world. Even in our time, terrorism has disguised itself as many things in different places—falsely claiming, for example, the mantle of socialism, nationalism and even in some places Christianity. Therefore, terrorism is not the monopoly of any religion or ideology. None the less, the new manifestation of international terrorism that we now face is different from previous threats to the UK in some crucial ways.

The first is the global nature of the threat. It is no longer possible to separate the domestic and international dimensions of the threats that we are facing. The realities of modern life, including mass migration, ease of travel and information flows, mean that the terrorists’ arena covers a very wide range of targets in a very wide range of countries. Secondly, whereas in the past it was possible to link terrorist attacks to particular groups, networks or individuals, that is no longer the case. The new threat comes from a range of individuals operating in global networks.

A third characteristic of the new threats is the sheer scale of human destruction that the attackers want to cause. They intend to cause mass casualties. They murder indiscriminately men, women and children. They make no distinction between combatants and civilians. They lay waste to people irrespective of their background or religion, and they are prepared to use themselves as the suicidal means of attack—witness the events of 7 July in London. All those features have a major impact on how we might prepare for and deal with terror. In particular, the advent of the suicide bomber introduces the presumption that we must intervene at an early stage.

A fourth characteristic is that the people involved in those terrorist attacks are driven by a very particular violent and extremist ideology. A common thread running through terrorist attacks over the past decade has been a claim by those involved that they have been acting in defence of Islam. It is crucial that we understand that the extreme interpretation espoused by Islamist terrorists to support their actions is not an interpretation of Islam that is shared by the vast majority of Muslims in the UK and abroad. That majority rejects both extremism and violence. The dividing line in the fight against terrorism is not between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is between evil and those opposing evil. It is not a clash of civilisations, but a struggle for civilisation against indiscriminate, evil terrorists and terrorism.

I now turn to the strategy itself. It is structured around four principal strands, sometimes known as the four Ps: prevent, pursue, protect and prepare. The four pillars of the strategy are not mutually exclusive. They are closely linked and together form a balanced and integrated approach.

The first pillar is prevent. It is obviously essential to tackle terrorism with all the levers at our disposal. Internationally, for instance, the use of our brave armed forces may be a necessary part of fighting terrorism, but it will never be sufficient on its own. We also need to work to eliminate social and economic inequalities, through aid, through trade, and through our efforts to help resolve political problems, whether in the middle east or elsewhere. So too, domestically, we recognise the complexity of the phenomenon. Effective security measures, intelligence and policing are essential. But ultimately, modern terrorism will be defeated only by addressing the political and social issues by a debate about values, by democracy and by public solidarity. That is why we are working with all communities to tackle the social factors underlying radicalisation, to block the ways radicalisation takes place, and to counter the radicals’ arguments. But it is not just the Government that have a role in preventing radicalisation. Muslims and the wider community in the UK must also play their part if we are to be successful.

Last summer’s “Preventing Extremism Together” campaign showed what can be done when Government and communities work together. There were often differences in opinion, arguments and discussion, but dialogue continued and difficult problems were faced head on, not ignored or avoided. As a result we all learned from each other and our relationship was strengthened. We need to build on those initiatives and to focus our attention more closely on places such as prisons and universities where we know that radicalisation is more likely to take place.

We must also ensure that the social and economic inequalities that give rise to a sense of alienation because people feel deprived of life chances are reduced and ultimately overcome. That work has been prioritised across Government and is overseen by a Cabinet-level Committee that will drive it forward.

The second strand—the pursue strand—is, as the name suggests, concerned with pursuing terrorists and those who support them. This section of the document that we published today sets out how intelligence is used by the police and security agencies to piece together the best understanding of the threats we face. A word about intelligence: I believe that as long as the threat against the UK remains, intelligence will play a crucial role in protecting us against future terrorist attacks, but the plain fact is that intelligence by its very nature is often imperfect. It is very important that we all—inside and outside the House—understand that there can never be 100 per cent. guarantees, and that the risk of future terrorist attack remains.

The Government’s top priority—and that of the police and the intelligence agencies—is, obviously, public safety. Four attacks have been disrupted since July 2005. That is why the Government fully support the police and the Security Service when they are required to make very difficult decisions on the basis of intelligence. Intelligence is rarely complete, is never perfect and is often fragmentary and partial. There may be situations in which the police simply do not have the luxury of delaying action to firm up on the intelligence. That is the reality of the approach, and I believe that everyone in all our communities ought to recognise the circumstances in which our intelligence agencies and police operate.

Prosecution is, and will remain, our preferred way of dealing with terrorists and disrupting their activity. Prosecution, however, is not always possible. Information and knowledge are not necessarily evidence. When, as is sometimes the case, the available intelligence shows that an individual is involved in terrorism, but does not provide enough evidence to secure a prosecution, we must have other options available to us to protect public safety. Those options include deportation, where the person concerned is a foreign national and a threat to the UK, excluding foreign nationals who threaten our national security from entering the UK, asset freezing and control orders.

The use of control orders has been much in the news recently following the High Court judgment on 28 June that the specific obligations in six control orders were incompatible with the individuals’ right to liberty under article 5 of the European convention on human rights. We are appealing that judgment in the Court of Appeal. All existing control orders remain in force, and I will continue to make new control orders where I consider it necessary to do so to protect the people of this country.

The protect strand is concerned with reducing the vulnerability of the UK and UK interests overseas to a terrorist attack. We have a history of protecting our critical national infrastructure from attacks, and over the years we have built up a strong partnership with both public and private industry in the UK, as well as with our international partners.

Among the strands of work that are being taken forward in that area are programmes of work to strengthen the UK’s border security and tracking systems and to harden our transport systems and key transport hubs against terrorist attack, and the well-established programmes of work with those who own and operate our key utilities and services.

The prepare strand is all about ensuring that if a terrorist attack occurs we are as ready as we can be to deal with the consequences. This strand involves a huge number of stakeholders who deliver resilience across public, private and voluntary sectors. The work is underpinned by the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which establishes an effective civil protection framework for the 21st century. In the Contest document we have focused on those work streams that enhance our resilience against terrorist attack.

We have outlined the main elements of our strategy in the first of the documents that we have published today. We have also referred to the threat and response levels in the United Kingdom. The second document published today explains the threat and response levels, what they are and how they are used in the United Kingdom. This is the first time that any Government have made public in this way the system deciding threat levels. We considered this carefully. We have decided to inform the general public about the process so that it can be better understood and more transparent. We also hope that it instils confidence and trust.

At the same time, the existing seven-point threat level system will, with effect from 1 August, be simplified to a five-point system. Though it clearly remains of most direct use to those directly involved in protecting national security, it is of obvious interest to members of the general public. From 1 August, the five threat levels will be: low, which means that an attack is unlikely; moderate, which means that an attack is possible, but not likely; substantial, which means that an attack is a strong possibility; severe, which means that an attack is highly likely; and critical, which means that an attack is expected imminently.

I again stress two things. First, this is not an exact science. It involves human judgment. No one can predict the future; we can only make reasoned judgments. Secondly, threat levels are applied to the United Kingdom as a whole—the national threat level—in order to summarise the overall threat of a terrorist attack to the United Kingdom. There may be variations within the general threat level in respect of important sectors of the economy, and sometimes individuals, events or places.

Since August 2005, the national threat level has been—and remains today—“severe (general)”. Under the new system to be introduced from 1 August, that will equate to severe. From 1 August, information about the national threat level will be available to the general public on the Security Service and Home Office websites. But the importance of the public remaining vigilant at all times and reporting any suspicious activities is still the key message.

Finally, the way in which the Government and sectors of our infrastructure respond to such threat levels needs to take into account both the national and the more specific threat picture, and, in addition, the importance and vulnerability of particular sites. The response structure has three broad bands related to different levels of threat. These are set out in the document that I referred to.

I should stress that there is no national response level. Response levels are set by security practitioners in each sector, are determined by specific assessments of risk, and may vary from site to site. We will not therefore be announcing them. To do so would only assist any would-be attackers. However, we will keep the response level system under review, with the Security Service and our security practitioners, to ensure the maximum practical congruity between threat levels and response levels.

Through the publication of both documents, my aims are simple: to bring further transparency and understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat; to raise awareness of the various strands of work that make up our counter-terrorist strategy; to explain publicly the United Kingdom’s system of threat and response and levels; and to undertake to make the United Kingdom national threat level public from 1 August. I believe that the publication of these documents will be a significant further step in the existing dialogue between all of us on some of the very complex and difficult issues that the threat from international terrorism represents. That threat is to all of us and will be met, and eventually overcome, only by united action by all of us. I commend the documents to the House.

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, may I start by joining the Home Secretary in his condolences to those who suffered in the 7 July bombings and his support for all those who bravely defended us all before, during and after those terrible events? I also thank him for his courtesy in giving the Opposition advance sight of his statement.

I welcome the intention, which I think is the main thrust of his statement, to institute a public threat level warning system. We and others have been calling for that for some years, and the proposal was supported by the Intelligence and Security Committee two months ago. The idea is eminently sensible and the system will increase both public confidence and public vigilance. However, it will require the public to know what to do in each alert state, so what do the Government intend to do to educate the public about their response to the published alert states? Will the Home Secretary give the House some indication of how the practicalities will work? Will the public be asked to be alert for specific matters, as was common in Northern Ireland, or does he envisage that there will simply be an exhortation to heightened awareness?

The system will, of course, only be as good as the intelligence that underpins it. The embarrassment of last year when the Government’s alert status was reduced shortly before the 7 July attack demonstrated that very clearly. This is not an argument against having a transparent system, but an argument for reinforcing our counter-terrorist intelligence operations.

That brings us to the general counter-terrorism strategy: the so-called Project Contest. I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary is publishing the details of Project Contest, to which we will give careful consideration and respond in due course. However, this is not just about strategies on a piece of paper. It is first and foremost about delivery on the streets of our cities, whether that is preventing the alienation and radicalisation of young men, as the Home Secretary has said, or interdicting, catching and convicting terrorists before they act.

In autumn last year, the Prime Minister’s delivery unit reviewed Project Contest: remember, this was after 7 July, and the Prime Minister’s own delivery unit was reviewing the Prime Minister’s own policies. The unit’s comments were scathing. It said that key policies designed to prevent attacks were “immature and disjointed”, and that other policies were unrelated to the

“real world and show no signs of making progress”.

It said that the policy was mired in confusion, with

“little effective coordination and no clear leadership”,

and that there was

“little confidence in the ability of the security apparatus to tackle the problem and it is very difficult to demonstrate that progress has been made”.

The unit quoted from a series of interviews with a number of Whitehall officials, who said:

“Activity is not connected or coherent.”

They asked, “Who’s in charge?”. The reply was:

“We measure meetings and reports, not real world impact.”

The conclusion of the 11-page delivery unit review states:

“The strategy is immature. Forward planning is disjointed or has yet to occur. Accountability for delivery is weak. Real world impact is seldom measured.”

The Home Secretary has controversially described his own Department as “unfit for purpose”. Is he confident that that Department is capable of correcting the serious problems highlighted by the Prime Minister’s own delivery unit? Is it not the case that the necessary grip on the overall counter-terrorist effort will be taken only if there is a single Minister of Cabinet rank dedicated solely to dealing with the threat? Would we not be much more certain that our counter-terrorist strategy was both well designed and properly implemented if we had the benefit of an independent inquiry into the failure of that strategy that permitted the terrible events of July last year?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he started by referring to the consensus around the publication of the report—but I regret the way in which he ended. I think that he referred to the “failure” of our systems with reference to 7/7. We should not underestimate just what protection this country has gained from our security services. Four times in the past year alone we have prevented a terrorist threat through the acumen, bravery and commitment of our services in this country. The old adage that we, and they, have to win every time, but the terrorists have to win and get through only once, is true. We should be a little quicker to understand and support our security services and a little slower to condemn them, implicitly or otherwise.

May I refer to some of the other matters that the right hon. Gentleman raised? He asked whether we were urging the public to take specific or general action. We have given some broad headlines on page 33, under the heading, “What can the public do to help?”, which explain what people can do both in their own communities and in response to threat levels. That includes:

“identifying and reporting unusual or suspicious”

circumstances. An anti-terrorist hotline, on 0800 789321, has been available for some time to anyone who wishes to draw to our attention anything that they think is noteworthy. Obviously, when people are travelling abroad, they could keep in touch with the Foreign Office. People can also help by

“working in their own community”,

and so on. So, in a general sense, there are things that the public can do, but as I said earlier, whatever the threat level, I hope that people will be vigilant at all times. It is only by the united action of the united peoples of the United Kingdom that we will eventually counter this threat.

As for specific threats, the position has been made clear by successive Home Secretaries, and by the Prime Minister. If there is a specific threat against a specific target, we will of course warn people, but as everyone in the House will know, we have to be wary about acting on general information and issuing warnings when they are not justified by the evidence. I merely point out that before 7/7, when the Government, under previous Home Secretaries, pointed out that there was a threat—on the advice of our intelligence services, and having taken into account all the considerations—Opposition Members accused us of crying wolf. It is difficult to judge between being over-cautious and being over-dramatic in alerting the public. We always face that problem.

As for the self-critical analysis of our strategy, it is true that last October, barely two years after we set up the strategy, the Prime Minister commissioned—as he ought to have done—an analysis and a self-critical examination of the operations of our intelligence services, particularly the Contest strategy, as one would expect. We take the lessons of that analysis very seriously, and we are doing everything possible to make sure that we improve our performance at every opportunity.

We have put in many more resources, and about £2 billion is going into general counter-terrorism and resilience work. We are spending four times as much on special branch and policing counter-terrorism activities as we did a few years ago. The resources are going in and lessons are being learned, and tomorrow there will be a debate in which such points can be discussed in far greater detail.

I join other hon. Members in passing on condolences on behalf of my party to everyone who suffered or was bereaved by the attacks on 7 July last year. I, too, thank the Home Secretary for the advance notice of his statement.

I welcome what the Home Secretary said about the new system of threat and response levels, and I look forward to examining the document in more detail. Will he provide me with one small point of clarification? Does the new system of response levels replace the old system of alert state levels, which was used in key public buildings such as the Palace of Westminster? He will remember that the Intelligence and Security Committee called for greater simplicity in the terminology that is used, and it is important to include greater clarity in the new system that the Home Secretary announced today.

The Home Secretary spoke eloquently of the need to work “with all communities to tackle the social factors underlying radicalisation, to block the ways radicalisation takes place, and to counter the radicals’ arguments.” Does he agree with the comments made last week by his hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) that the Government’s follow-up to the excellent work by the seven working groups under the aegis of the “Preventing Extremism Together” initiative has been somewhat weak? Of the 64 recommendations, I think that only a handful have been implemented.

I noted the right hon. Gentleman’s comments on the High Court judgment on 28 June on a number of control orders and the Government’s intention to appeal. Notwithstanding that appeal, could he comment on the public remarks made by the independent reviewer of the anti-terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile of Berriew, that the control orders could easily be amended in detail and in substance to bring them into line with the High Court judgment without abrogating any of our obligations under the European convention on human rights?

Finally, I note that the Home Secretary refers, rightly, to the need to strengthen the UK’s border security and tracking systems. How far advanced are the plans to implement an e-border—electronic border—system, and is he warming at all to the argument made by a number of us for some time that there is an overwhelming need for a single integrated border police, if we are to take all the measures necessary to tackle the ongoing terrorist threat?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. I shall answer them all as quickly as possible.

Yes, the response levels that I announced today are a replacement for the alert levels to which he referred. On the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) about the progress of “Preventing Extremism Together”, I listened carefully to what was said, and I think it is important that we undertake some self-criticism. We always want to push to do more. I do not agree with many of the comments that my hon. Friend made on this occasion, although I agree on the necessity to do a lot more.

Nine towns and cities with large Muslim populations were visited, for instance, by Home Office Ministers. Seven community-led working groups were set up under the banner of “Preventing Extremism Together”. Out of the 64 recommendations, 27 were for the Government to lead on. We have agreed action on all 27. Three have already been completed. I can give the hon. Gentleman details on those, if he wishes. One of them is youth matters, with the Department for Education and Skills and the Green Paper. One is extending opportunities legislation to cover discrimination on the grounds of faith, and expansion of the Muslim ethnic achievement project.

Work on 17 of the recommendations is in progress. Three are still under consideration; two have not been taken forward. From memory, one of those is powers to close places of worship. I cannot offhand remember the other one, but I can write to the hon. Gentleman about it. The three principal recommendations in which the Government were involved—the scholars roadshow, the Muslim forums against extremism, and the mosque and imams national advisory board—have been completed. So a great deal of work has already been done, but I am the first to admit that we have a lot more to do.

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall not go any further on the question of control orders because there is an appeal outstanding. It would be wrong at this time to comment on the learned Lord Carlile’s views.

On immigration and nationality, the hon. Gentleman may know that I promised when I took over as Secretary of State at the Home Office that those areas where I perceived inadequacies—that was not the whole of the Home Office; I was misrepresented earlier, but I did discern and identify publicly areas where there were serious inadequacies in my view—I would come back within 100 days and put forward a programme for overhauling the Home Office, reforming the immigration and nationality directorate and rebalancing the criminal justice system. There are a few days left, but I promise the hon. Gentleman that before he goes off, I will bring make proposals on all three.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best memorial to those who died or who were injured last year is the effectiveness of our efforts to tackle future terrorism?

In regard to the work that is going on to prevent the growth of violent extremism, does my right hon. Friend accept that although many things have been done during the past year, this vital work needs a level of clear-sighted and consistent ministerial leadership, which has been lacking during the past 12 months? It is quite true to say that the voices that are most likely to persuade young Muslims away from violence are the voices of other Muslims, but what Government do, and the way in which Government work with those people, can be crucial in helping them to be as effective as possible. On that issue, is my right hon. Friend aware that I share the view that has been expressed that a Minister with responsibility for counter-terrorism would be desirable, but in the absence of that, can my right hon. Friend say which Minister will personally lead on, and take responsibility for, the delivery of the prevention strand of the counter-terrorist strategy?

As ever, my right hon. Friend makes very good points. He will understand if I try to avoid any imputation that I am criticising anyone who has previously held a post involved in this matter. However, I agree that we can always improve, and the fact that this matter is under the direct lead of my right hon. Friend at the Department with responsibility for communities and work in the communities, as well as local government, means that a major element of this will now be given an impetus. She leads on that—

It is obvious that those on the Opposition Front Bench have a problem keeping up with our reshuffles. I am glad that I have been able to enlighten the right hon. Gentleman.

On the serious matter, my right hon. Friend’s point is that a focus and concentration on community engagement in the radicalisation programme, and understanding it better in ideological terms and confronting it in debate and discussion, would make a major addition—[Interruption.] I am presenting this statement today on the full counter-terrorist strategy. My right hon. Friend asked not merely about counter-terrorism, but about engagement in the Muslim community at the grassroots level, which is a good thing to do on its own, not just to prevent terrorism. I am agreeing with him and I am saying that that will now be given a new impetus because my right hon. Friend is leading it up.

The Home Secretary will understand that those with London constituencies with thousands of constituents travelling into the centre every day share a particular concern about what he tells the House today. But on the specific points that he made about his five-point threat level, he explained that news of it would be available on the Security Service and Home Office websites. However, realistically, after a while, how many people will check that before they set off for work in the morning? Is the right hon. Gentleman having discussions with some of the public transport operators about other ways in which the threat levels can be advertised, particularly to commuters into central London, so that people do not have to search for specialist sites to find out how at risk they might be just going to work?

Yes, I am willing to do that. If the hon. Gentleman has ideas, I will be happy to receive them and I will consider them carefully. We have made an assumption that when the threat level, if it is made public, moves in any significant direction, it is likely to be followed by the media, but, of course, there are many other ways in which it could be made available, and we will always look to them.

Let me take the opportunity to correct one point. I said in response to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) that one of the matters that we had not proceeded with was the proposal to close places of worship, but was one of the considerations in the Prime Minister’s 12-point plan, rather than one in the “Preventing Extremism Together” programme.

Given that the public did not understand the difference between the threat level and the alert state in the past, given that different threat levels—now, apparently, response levels—could apply to different parts of the critical national infrastructure, and given that one could reduce the threat level but not the alert state, as happened before 7 July, and that that was understood by practitioners but not the public, do we not, without wishing to be alarmist, need to say rather more to the public than appears on websites and in the papers published today, so that they can better understand what is being proposed?

The complexity that my hon. Friend outlines with regard to the response level, as opposed to the threat level, is one of the reasons why it is not to be published. Threat levels will be published. However, there is a degree of complexity about response levels which, in addition to the utility that any would-be terrorist would find in a declaration of the response level, means that we should treat them differently from threat levels. Nevertheless, I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend in saying that we should maintain, as I said, a

“review, with the Security Service and security practitioners, to ensure the maximum practical congruity between threat levels and response levels.”

The simpler we can make this in operational terms, the better.

Interdiction and, in particular, the prevention of errors in interdiction, are dependent on the rapid and accurate transmission of information. Sadly, the emergency services still cannot fully and properly communicate with each other, particularly on the highly vulnerable London underground system. On a wholly practical level, when will the Home Secretary secure the investment that will make the Airwave system work underground?

The point about communications and co-ordination and threat levels was a lesson learned from the terrible events of 7/7. That is one of the areas that we will have to consider, and there will of course be a response later on. I said that today I would address two of the three things that we will do.

Without prejudicing prosecutions or security and intelligence, can the Secretary of State amplify on the gravity of the four terrorist attempts that have occurred over the past year? I think that he should beef up his information to the House and should be able to do so without prejudicing those things. We need to know how grave they were.

On gravity, the Secretary of State said that he did not want to criticise his predecessors. I do, in one respect, and I include in that the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). All Home Secretaries have failed to address the question of our seaports. I have been amazed by that time after time, long before it was fashionable to argue that we should have a dedicated, highly mobile police force. It is now rather late in the day. I urge the Home Secretary to take it from somebody who represents the riparian authorities of ports along the Thames that all over the United Kingdom, our vulnerable ports—well, my right hon. Friend gets the drift—

I thank my hon. Friend for his brief summary of a position that he made plain to me at considerably greater length in a private meeting. I got the point then, and I have got it now. I have passed his comments on to those who deal with such matters.

I will consider my hon. Friend’s first point, although I am not sure that the expression “beef up” is one that I would want to agree with. I will see whether there are any more details that we can put out, but I think that it is preferable if we keep this to the minimum. One of the problems that we have experienced in putting intelligence into the public domain is that going into great detail can expose or endanger the sources of that intelligence. However, if we then modified that detail to ensure that we do not expose ourselves to any risk as regards the sources, we could be accused of putting out something dodgy. I therefore prefer to keep it to the minimum at the moment.

I agree with the Home Secretary that intelligence will play a crucial role in protecting us from a future terrorist attack. May I remind him of the specific counter-terror role undertaken by an individual from Strathclyde in ACPO Scotland? When the Home Secretary is considering the allocation of resources for counter-terrorism and intelligence, will he ensure that all parts of the UK are considered and that all the necessary resources are given to them?

Of course we shall try to do that. Normally, when we make such allocations in our budget at UK level, Scotland receives a proportionate amount—indeed, more than proportionate, depending on how it is calculated—to meet the needs of a third of the UK’s landmass, though only 8 per cent. of the population. I would not want anybody to underestimate the amount of extra money that has gone into policing. As I said, approximately four times as much money is going into policing, through special branch and so on, and about £2 billion is going towards counter-terrorism and resilience.

The resources for MI5 are commensurate with the extent to which we can expand. There are limitations because we have to train people, who must be skilled in, for example, different languages and backgrounds now that we face a different threat.

The Home Secretary rightly made several points in his statement. One was that, although the security services have to work efficiently, they may make mistakes, and that it is incumbent on the Government of the day to support them even when that happens. However, he also rightly pointed out that, for there to be community cohesion, there has to be trust in the security services. That is a difficult balance to strike. I do not want to go into detail, but there have been recent cases in which we have not got the public relations right. Can he begin to change the culture so that we have a much more rapid series of conclusions when things go right and when they go wrong, and accept the fact that, when things go wrong, early admission should be made rather than denial, which leads to distrust, especially among minority communities?

Yes. My hon. Friend and many other hon. Members could help by explaining the nature of intelligence to people. When a piece of intelligence comes before an intelligence officer, it is not often “right” or “wrong”. It is always fragmentary and partial. Even if it is right in its isolated area, it may be right or wrong in the general context. Putting together a series of such fragmentary pieces of information requires a great deal of judgment, so there is a gradation rather than a simple “right” or “wrong”. Some understanding of that helps people to realise the difficult position in which those in the police and the intelligence services are placed if, on the basis of information received, it appears possible or probable that an event may occur, the consequences of which would be disastrous for many human beings. In those circumstances, it is incumbent on us to support the actions that are necessary for our police and security services to protect life. As I said, all hon. Members could help to promote a better understanding of that. We must balance the sensitivities of all communities with a recognition that the police sometimes have to act to protect all communities.

The Home Secretary has told the House and the wider world that the Home Office is “not fit for purpose”. How have the Government’s legislative proposals failed the test of our civil liberties and their Human Rights Act 1998? The right hon. Gentleman did not wish to refer to control orders but central problems call into question the Government’s interpretation of those basic rights. Does he propose to alter the Human Rights Act?

I know that the hon. Gentleman prides himself on the accuracy of his words. Let me therefore correct a factual inaccuracy. I said not that the Home Office was “not fit for purpose”, but that elements—areas—inside it were not. I said that after commending the Home Office for transforming the speed of treatment of asylum cases and—previously and subsequently—for transforming the UK Passport Service, which was the most disastrous aspect of Government in 1999. It has been transformed, with a consumer satisfaction rating that is higher than that for Tesco. I know that the hon. Gentleman would want to begin his question on a correct factual basis.

The hon. Gentleman’s second point was about tackling misrepresentations, misinterpretations or any administrative or other implications of the Human Rights Act to try to rebalance matters. Yes, that will be part of the third review, which I mentioned. Proposals on all aspects of rebalancing the criminal justice system will be introduced before the end of the parliamentary term.

Will my right hon. Friend give the strongest possible support and encouragement to those law enforcement agencies engaged in intercepting the financing of terrorist acts? Does he believe that criminal activity is a source of funding for such activity? If that is the case, will he encourage the law enforcement agencies to expose such links, so that those young people to whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) referred earlier, who might otherwise be attracted to join in such activities for misguided religious or other reasons, can see the true nature of the organisations to which they are attracted?

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. Given her experience as a Security Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, she will probably know as well as anyone in the House how what is sometimes portrayed—and sometimes, in the eyes of its adherents, even begun—as a noble cause can degenerate into money-manufacturing criminality for gangster organisations. That is the true nature of all extremist terrorism, when it goes unimpaired and unaddressed. Part of our dialogue with young people therefore involves discussing why they believe that they ought to become sympathetic towards such processes, and to engage with them by explaining not only the underlying political reasons that they believe drive them in that direction but the terrible consequences involved, including the corrupt criminal activities that are often related to such terrorist practices.

There has, quite rightly, been a great deal of discussion on the importance of intelligence in the battle against terrorism. Will the Home Secretary confirm that, in regard to national security and intelligence matters relating to Northern Ireland, it is still his intention that the lead agency will be MI5, reporting directly to governmental authorities and Ministers?

It was when I left Northern Ireland, because that is the direction in which I pointed it, and I think that that is still the case. In fact, I will say to the hon. Gentleman that that is the direction, but I will write to him to correct myself if it is not. However, I think that it is.

Is it my right hon. Friend’s opinion, based on his knowledge, that we are safer today than we were on 7 July last year?

In terms of the general threat level, we are at the same level as we have been since after July. I would like to say that I believe that there is a period of guaranteed safety, but there is no such thing. However, I can give my hon. Friend a guarantee that those who are working to protect this country from the threat of terrorism will give 100 per cent. dedication, 100 per cent. commitment and, I hope, 100 per cent. professionalism. They cannot give us 100 per cent. certainty, but everything possible is being done to ensure that, even with a severe level of threat, the terrorists do not get through.

May I express the hope that those responsible for the planning of policy, the enactment of legislation and the deployment of operations will keep well in mind the principle of proportionality, the importance of not infringing civil and political liberties, and the need to maintain the good will of the law-abiding community? Some of us think that that has not been the mark of Government policy over a number of years.

Of course, the whole question of proportionality is something that we should always bear in mind. That is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman would want, as a lawyer as well as a parliamentarian. As an historian, he will also be aware that situations change. In regard to both the criteria of assessment—intention and capability—that are used against the new threat, we now face an enemy that is utterly unconstrained in its wanton wish to destroy humankind on the largest possible scale. That differentiates it from many enemies in the past. It is also unconstrained in its potential capability, because having the technical means to produce radiological, nuclear or chemical weaponry now means that an unconstrained intention can be conjoined with an unconstrained capability. We have to remember that when we talk about proportionality.

The Home Secretary is right to tell us that the majority of Muslims here wish only to live peacefully and do not support terrorism in any form, but is he worried about the result of a recent public opinion poll, which indicated that 13 per cent. of British Muslims view last year’s suicide bombers in London as martyrs rather than criminals? Will he work more closely with moderate Muslim leaders here explicitly to condemn such attitudes and to support and work for the concept of a separation between allegiance to a state and allegiance to a religion—a concept that is rare in the Muslim world, but not unique, as shown by the good example of Turkey?

Yes, I think everyone would be worried about the percentage that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. On the other hand, we should not assume that general sentiments expressed in an opinion poll are an indication that people wish that they were engaged in such terrorist activity. It is not unknown in respect of past terrorist acts that the allegiance of young people—whether it be here, in Northern Ireland, Spain or Italy—can sometimes be attached in theory to something that they would never support in practice. We should not underestimate the problem and we cannot be complacent, but we should not brand large sections of the Muslim community as inveterately committed in that direction. I think that that would be wrong. As I said earlier, the dividing line is not between Muslim and non-Muslim, but between evil terrorism and those of us who hold a set of values in common throughout all religions and all civilisations. I merely point out the fact that many of the victims of these terrorist acts—not only in London and New York, but in Saudi Arabia, Amman, Turkey, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, Egypt or in many other areas where terrorists are inflicting their ills on societies, including Afghanistan and Iraq—are themselves Muslims. Not only that, but many victims are often women and children as well as men, so we are all at threat. Terrorism threatens us all and only by a united response will we ultimately defeat it.

Following on from that, does the Home Secretary accept that some of the statements from Ministers, including the Prime Minister, over the last year have served only to heighten the alienation? What does he propose to do to re-engage the majority moderate members of the Muslim community who, like everyone else, want to get rid of terrorism?

No, I do not accept that in respect of the Prime Minister and I would say to the hon. Gentleman that engagement does not mean patronising. The vast majority of Muslims in this country—just the same as everyone else—want to live in a free, decent society where their children do better than they did. They value the freedoms that we protect here and they find terrorism abhorrent. When we engage with people in that community who may not be part of that mainstream, we should be not just engaging them but prepared to enter into discussion and, if necessary, debate with them over values. A values-based discussion will sometimes lead us into debate, which I believe is a good, not a bad, thing.