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Counter-terrorism Strategy

Volume 495: debated on Monday 6 July 2009

5. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s counter-terrorism strategy. (283788)

The Government’s strategy for countering international terrorism is assessed formally on a regular basis. Our revised strategy, which was presented to Parliament earlier this year, is one of most comprehensive and wide-ranging approaches to tackling terrorism in the world. It sets out how we are, first, tackling the immediate threat through the relentless pursuit of terrorists and disruption of terrorist plots; secondly, building up our defences against attacks and our resilience to deal with them; and, thirdly, addressing the longer-term causes, so that we can stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism or violent extremism in the first place.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that answer. However, in the past, Britain has allowed extremists to come to this country. In the case of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, there was an enormous amount of dithering on the part of the Government. What does the new Home Secretary propose to do to ensure both toughness and consistency when it comes to dealing with extremists who wish to come here?

I do not think that our record on that is as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I think that we have been very firm. Certainly, a points-based immigration system and the new visa system—incidentally, we have already found 4,000 people trying to come into the country using false identities—will help us. All of that, together with one of the best, if not the best, counter-terrorism resource in the world, which has many thousands of dedicated people working day in and day out, will protect us and ensure that our intelligence and security systems work properly for the people of this country.

One very important component of counter-terrorism strategy is protecting critical energy infrastructure. How does the Secretary of State propose to assist police forces such as Dyfed-Powys, which covers my constituency, where there is now a major concentration of oil, gas and power station facilities? A significant additional burden has been created for the local force. What is the Secretary of State’s view on how the costs should fall?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman: that issue is one of the most important parts of our anti-terrorism strategy. It is, of course, the subject of a separate and dedicated police presence, both in the regions and nationally. On how the costs fall, we are putting £2.5 billion into counter-terrorism in 2008-09. That will go up to £3.5 billion by 2010-11. I am sure that the issue of the right proportion to spend nationally and locally can be decided in a rational discussion with the regional security forces.

I was very sorry to hear, in response to the previous question, that the Home Secretary believes that the identity card system will be a significant plank in counter-terrorism. How can that be when a good proportion of terrorists in this country are home grown? Those people will not be subject to the constraints of a voluntary ID card system in any case.

I hope that my hon. Friend heard correctly. I am saying that the identity card can be a tool; it is not the whole toolbox. Anybody who is dealing with counter-terrorism—I have talked to some of them already—will say, “Well, it certainly won’t do any harm, and it can be of some help,” but if anyone believed that it was the fundamental approach to tackling terrorism, that would be wrong.

My hon. Friend asks how the system could work. We know that the al-Qaeda training manual suggests that every agent should have a number of different identities. The fact is that locking in a person’s identity through their fingerprints and their biometrics ensures that no one else can pick up that identity. That will be an extremely useful tool in the fight against terrorism.

Why has the Home Office made no attempt to co-ordinate the security response across the country when a tanker containing inflammable fuels is stolen?

I am not exactly au fait with what the hon. Gentleman is talking about; I do not know whether anyone else in the House is, but it certainly sounds a very important issue, and I will look into whatever point he wants to raise. I imagine that the security forces would ensure that there was a co-operative approach on that, but if he knows different, perhaps he could let me know.

Indeed, I do know different. Of course, last week, 12 people died when a rail tanker containing liquefied petroleum gas exploded in Italy. Last year in the UK, nearly 2,000 lorries were stolen. That includes examples of theft of similarly flammable materials. The US Department of Homeland Security has warned about the use of such trucks in terror attacks, so will the Home Secretary please go back to his office, put in place an urgent review of the situation, and make a written statement to the House later this week about what he can do to address the situation.

I can do all of that, but let us not play games at the Dispatch Box. If the hon. Gentleman, who is in an important position, had a concern about security in this country, he should have been on the phone to me last week, not saving it up for a clever, smart question at Home Office questions.