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Security and Counter-terrorism

Volume 504: debated on Wednesday 20 January 2010

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to update the House on the measures that we are taking to enhance our security and our protection against terrorism. Yesterday, at a regular meeting of our National Security Committee, Ministers and I received the latest intelligence and information from the chiefs of our security and intelligence agencies, the head of the UK Border Agency, the country’s senior counter-terrorism officials and police officers, and the Chief of the Defence Staff. Yesterday I also spoke to President Obama about our security measures.

The failed attack over Detroit on Christmas day signalled the first operation mounted outside Arabia by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based organisation with close links to the al-Qaeda core in Pakistan. We know that a number of terrorist cells are actively trying to attack Britain and other countries. Earlier this month, the Home Secretary and the Transport Secretary made statements to Parliament setting out the urgent steps that we are taking to enhance aviation security, including new regulations for transit passengers. Today, following the advice that the Government have received, I want to announce further measures to strengthen the protection of our borders, maximise aviation security, and enhance intelligence co-ordination at home and abroad.

Earlier today I paid tribute to those members of our armed forces who most recently gave their lives in the service of the security of our country in Afghanistan. The action that we are taking to counter terrorism at its source in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and elsewhere is a central part of our wider counter-terrorist strategy. All our actions, which we will update regularly, are founded on what is and must be the first and most important duty of Government: the protection and security of the British people.

Although the UK’s borders are already among the strongest in the world, I now want to set out how we will further strengthen our protection against would-be terrorists: first, by extending our Home Office watch list; and secondly, in partnership with security agencies abroad, by improving the sharing of information on individuals of concern. I can announce that, as well as extending our watch list, we intend for the first time to use it as the basis for two new lists: first, a no-fly list; and secondly, a larger list of those who should be subject to special measures, including enhanced screening prior to boarding flights bound for the UK. We will use the new technology that we have introduced and our partnerships with police and agencies in other countries to stop those who pose the greatest risk from travelling to our country. But over the coming months we will go further in taking action against people before they even board a plane to the UK.

Our e-Borders scheme is a vital component of our strategy to strengthen and modernise the UK’s border controls. It has already achieved significant success, enabling nearly 5,000 arrests for crimes that include murder, rape and assault. As a result of the £1.2 billion investment that we are making, by the end of this year we will be able to check all passengers travelling from other countries to all major airports and ports in the UK, whether they are in transit or the UK is their final destination, by checking against the watch list 24 hours prior to travel and then taking appropriate action. The e-Borders system will give us a better picture than ever of people coming in and out of our country. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is meeting today with European counterparts to push for swift agreement at the European Union level on the ability to collect and process data on passenger records, including on travel within the EU, and to enforce the European Commission’s recent approval of the transmission of advanced passenger information to our e-Borders system by carriers based in other member states.

As the Detroit bomber highlighted, we also need—and we are sponsoring—research on the most sophisticated devices capable of identifying potential explosives anywhere on the body. As President Obama and I discussed yesterday, greater security in our airports, with the new body scanners introduced from next week, an increase in explosive trace testing and the use of dogs, must be matched by demanding greater guarantees about security in those international airports from which there are flights into our country. I can today inform the House that we have agreed with Yemenia Airways, pending enhanced security, that it suspends its direct flights to the UK from Yemen with immediate effect. We are working closely with the Yemeni Government to agree what security measures need to be put in place before flights are resumed. Aviation security officials are currently in Yemen looking at this. I hope that flights can be resumed soon, but the security of our citizens must be our priority.

We will also work with our partners in the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the EU and the G8 to promote enhancements to the international aviation security regime, including stronger security arrangements in airports and greater sharing of information. The Home Secretary will be discussing initial proposals with European and American counterparts this week. We want to offer increased assistance to countries whose weaknesses in aviation security may present a wider threat to the international community, including to the UK.

It is because we fully recognise the global nature of the terrorist threat we face today that our response must also be truly global. Plots against the UK and our interests originate in various parts of the globe. Some of the intelligence that we need in order to protect our people against attacks will be here in Britain; some will be held by our international partners and passed to us, just as we help them with our information about the threats they face; and some information will come from the most unstable parts of the world. So, in tackling these threats to life and to our way of life, our security services—and I pay tribute to all of them—need to be able seamlessly to track and disrupt terrorist activity and movements, whether within the UK or beyond. This requires ever-closer working between our agencies themselves, and with our international partners.

I can announce that, as part of the work that I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to lead on intelligence co-ordination, our three intelligence agencies have already begun to set up joint investigating and targeting teams to address potential threats upstream, long before the individuals concerned might reach our shores, ensuring that at all times we continue to deliver improvements in the way we collect, share and use intelligence, and building on previous reforms including the joint terrorism analysis centre that we set up in 2003, the office for security and counter-terrorism and the national security secretariat in 2007.

In addition to all those measures to protect British lives at home and in the air, we are tackling the problem of global international terrorism at its source. I have said before that Yemen is both an incubator and a potential safe haven for terrorism, and that, along with Somalia, it is the most significant after the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas. We and our allies are still clear that the crucible of terrorism on the Afghan-Pakistan border remains the No. 1 security threat to the west. At the same time, however, we must recognise that al-Qaeda’s affiliates and allies, pushed out of Afghanistan and increasingly under pressure in Pakistan, are seeking to exploit other areas with weak governance, such as parts of Yemen and Somalia.

In Yemen, we have been at the forefront of the international effort against terrorism for some time. We have been assisting the Government of Yemen through intelligence support and through support for its coastguard and for the training of counter-terror personnel. We are also helping to tackle some of the root causes of terrorism by supporting political, economic and social reform. By next year, our commitments to Yemen will total some £100 million, making the UK one of its leading donors. We are also increasing our capacity-building in Somalia, working with the transitional Government and the African Union.

As with all aspects of the fight against terrorism, this new threat can be met only through enhanced co-operation, so we will now work more closely with allies in the region to pool efforts, resources and expertise. Next week, here in London, alongside our conference on Afghanistan, we will be hosting a special meeting to strengthen international support for Yemen in its efforts against al-Qaeda. We will help the Government of Yemen to advance their internal reforms, and we will increase capacity-building and development assistance in a way that directly addresses poverty and grievances that could fuel insecurity and extremism.

Since 2001, we have reformed domestic defences against the terrorist threat, trebled our domestic security budget, doubled the staff in our security services and reformed our security structures to bring greater co-ordination across government. We have responded to the changing nature of the threat by bringing in new powers and new terrorism-related offences. Nearly 230 people have been convicted of terrorist or terrorist-related offences since 2001. Today’s announcements demonstrate that we will continue to be vigilant, adapting our response to changing terrorist techniques. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. There is much in it that we welcome. We particularly welcome the emphasis on the national security approach—something that we have consistently called for over the past four years. I want to ask the Prime Minister about four areas in particular: the radicalisation of young British Muslims; how to increase security at our borders; international co-operation; and co-ordination within our own Government.

First, on radicalisation, is not the key point about the Detroit bomber that he did not go to Yemen by accident and happen to get radicalised there? He was actually radicalised first in the United Kingdom and went to Yemen as a result. Does not that show that more needs to be done to tackle radicalisation right here in the UK? We welcome the belated decision to ban Islam4UK, having repeatedly called for it. Will the Prime Minister now go ahead and ban Hizb ut-Tahrir? The fact is that too many of our university campuses have tolerated organisations that have acted as incubators of terrorism. Is not one of the lessons of the last few years that we should act not only against the organisations that threaten violence, but against those that threaten our way of life as well? Is it not time for a proper review of the preventing violent extremism strategy?

Secondly, there is the question of the security of our borders. We welcome many of the things that the Prime Minister said, particularly on the issue of a no-fly list. The subject of the list was raised by our security Minister, Baroness Neville-Jones, and we very much welcome its introduction. The introduction of body scanners is also welcome, but will the Prime Minister say whether he believes that they would have prevented this particular individual from boarding the aircraft in Amsterdam?

As for the question of how we decide to search people at airports, obviously crude ethnic profiling is neither right nor effective, but that surely does not mean that we should not be thinking about how best to target our approach. I understand that the Detroit bomber appears to have displayed a number of high-risk factors: paying for the tickets in cash, carrying only hand luggage, and having previously been denied a United Kingdom visa. Does the Prime Minister agree that those factors should have set the alarm bells ringing? Can he tell us what is being done, in the light of this episode, to enhance the training of security staff at airports to identify those clear risk factors? Above all, when it comes to our borders, is it not time for a proper border police force rather than the pale imitation that we have had so far?

Thirdly, international co-operation is obviously exceptionally important. Clearly we need to work with the authorities in Yemen to address the growing threat emanating from that country. We welcome such co-operation, but is it not important that these matters are handled properly? We were initially given the high-profile announcement of a big conference on Yemen next week, which now turns out to be a two-hour meeting in the margins of the summit on Afghanistan. Can the Prime Minister explain how that came about?

Can the Prime Minister clear up another matter? On 4 January, his official spokesman said—I quote from Downing street’s published record of the briefing—that

“there was security information about this individual’s activities, and that was the information that was shared with the US authorities.”

As we know, there followed a dispute about whether information was passed or not. Can the Prime Minister now promise that he will stick to the fundamental principle that we do not comment on intelligence matters?

Fourthly, there is the question of co-ordination within the Government. I know the Prime Minister agrees that we need a properly established national security approach, and we welcome the progress towards that, but does he agree that rather than a Cabinet Committee, what we need is a proper national security council with a national security adviser, at the heart of Government, which can address these issues in the round? The Prime Minister will say that we already have one, but let me put this point to him. If we really have a national security approach—if we really think these things through—we should bear in mind that we will still be spending more on aid to China than we are spending on aid to Yemen. We should take that into account if we are really thinking about national security.

Finally, the Prime Minister spoke about anti-terror legislation. We will always support measures that provide the hard-nosed defence of liberty, and oppose measures that amount to ineffective authoritarianism. With that in mind, will the Prime Minister now admit that the attempt to introduce 42-day detention without trial was a politically motivated mistake?

I hoped that we would find in the right hon. Gentleman’s response more consensus than we appear to have discovered. First, let me advise him not to draw conclusions too quickly about the nature of the citizen who was arrested for the Detroit incident. We do not have the full information that he suggested we had about the radicalisation in the United Kingdom; nor do we have all the information about the individual’s activities in Yemen. That is part of the continuing investigation. I think that drawing conclusions immediately is both premature and dangerous.

It is a fact that we have excluded more than 180 people from our country on grounds of national security since 2005, and that we have excluded more than 100 individuals on grounds of unacceptable behaviour. Since July 2005, eight individuals have been deported on grounds of national security, and a further eight have made voluntary departures. So we take action when it is right to do so, and on the proscription of organisations, we take action when we have evidence that will stand up in a court of law. Decisions on proscription must be based on evidence that the group concerned is involved in terrorism as defined in the Terrorism Act 2000. It is not a party political decision that is being made, but a decision on legal grounds that can be challenged in the courts. That is why the decision on Islam4UK was made in the way in which it was made, and that is why we have been careful in relation to what has happened over the organisation called HuT.

Let me say something about body scanners and what happened in Amsterdam. We are investing a huge amount of money in trying to develop the most sophisticated techniques for identifying materials that are held in people’s bodies when they go through a search. We cannot be absolutely sure that the scanners we use at the moment are foolproof; they are the best we have at the moment, but we will continue to invest further in them. The point I am making today is if the UK invests in scanners, it will be necessary for other countries also to develop these sophisticated techniques so that we have protection not only in our country’s airports, but in the airports from which people travel to our country.

Let me deal with e-Borders, which involves the holding of data about people. I am grateful if the Leader of the Opposition is saying that he now withdraws his objections to the holding of such data because it is an essential part of the national security effort that we are going to carry out in future months. Through e-Borders, we have the possibility of getting information 24 hours in advance of a passenger’s flight into the UK, of being able to check that individual against the watch list and of then deciding whether that individual should be allowed to fly or should be subject to enhanced searches. That is a major advance that is going to happen during the course of this year as a result of the huge investment we have made in e-Borders.

As far as international co-operation is concerned, the Yemen conference is a necessary means by which we can signal to the people of Yemen that the international community is prepared to support them in their efforts against al-Qaeda. I thought it right, and so did the President of the USA, to bring people together on the eve of the Afghan conference to signal the importance we attach both to Yemen taking action against al-Qaeda and to supporting those people in Yemen who are fighting these terrorist groups.

As far as announcements made over Christmas are concerned, it is the practice for us not to comment on security information and that will continue to be the practice that is always followed in future. The Government’s policy is absolutely clear about that. I do think, however, that we should look at the wider picture here today and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not drawn himself into this debate. The counter-terrorism strategy we need starts from what we do in the UK by securing our borders. It means having enhanced co-operation with the security agencies of other countries at all times, and it means that the de-radicalisation work we are carrying out goes on not simply in Britain but in other countries throughout the world to expose the extremists and to support the moderates and reformers. It leads us to take action in the Afghan border area to make sure that al-Qaeda cannot again gain a foothold in Afghanistan that would allow the Taliban to get back into power. I would have thought—I hope and I continue to hope—that there would be complete consensus in all parts of the House on these issues.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. The changing and evolving threat to Britain’s security not only calls for constant vigilance, but demands regular review and debate in the House. The Prime Minister can always count on the support of those on the Liberal Democrat Benches in introducing proportionate and well thought through measures to reduce that threat, while of course protecting the traditional liberties of the British people.

I particularly welcome the part of the statement about increased joint working with our European and other allies; in a globalised world, such European co-operation is vital to tackle any threat. That is why I have always advocated more, not less European co-operation in this area; our basic safety depends on it. I also welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the upcoming UN conference to discuss approaches to the situation in the Yemen and the horn of Africa; the joint working of our intelligence agencies to identify and combat threats at the earliest point at which they emerge; and the extension of the e-Borders programme, which is vital if we are to gain the information we need about people coming into and leaving the UK.

If I understand it correctly, the Yemeni authorities claim that there are only a small number of hard-line al-Qaeda supporters in the country. Will the Prime Minister tell us how that small number of people will be targeted in order to ensure that we do not inflame moderate opinion in Yemen? Does he agree that the greatest challenge is to isolate and marginalise al-Qaeda supporters in the horn of Africa rather than take steps that will have the unintended consequence of boosting their support in this fragile region?

The Prime Minister will know that Liberal Democrat Members believe it is vital to get right the difficult balance between security and liberty and that Government efforts in the past often got that balance wrong. This week, the court ruling on compensation for those given control orders has surely put another nail in the coffin of this failed system. As the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), said in respect of these orders, they have got holes all through them. Will the Prime Minister now accept that control orders do not work and will he agree not to renew them when they expire in March? Will he focus his intentions instead on ways of making it easier to prosecute terror suspects in our courts?

It is important to get the balance right between the need to protect the liberties of every individual citizen and the security that every citizen in this country has the right to expect. We will look at the judgment on control orders, but I have to say that in ensuring the protection of our country’s security, it has been necessary for us to track a number of people who might be dangerous and could otherwise threaten the security and law and order of our communities.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s points about Yemen and Somalia. Our job is to make sure that we can help the legitimate Government in Yemen to deal with extremism within its borders, to expose extremist and radical preachers who have a perverted view of Islam, to encourage the moderates and reformers, and to ensure that we bring into alliance with us the people of Yemen who have other interests that need to be met, but who cannot and should not look to al-Qaeda for the solution to their grievances. The same issues apply in Somalia as well. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that our policy in Somalia and in Yemen, as in Pakistan, is to back those elements who are standing firm against al-Qaeda and against a perverted view of Islam on the basis of which jihad is preached against the rest of the world.

As far as measures taken here are concerned, I emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman that maximum care is taken to deal with the civil liberties issues that arise in every case. For example, in installing the security machines at airports to ensure that security checks are properly done, we have designed a code of conduct to protect the liberties of the individual.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the control orders to which the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) has referred were introduced by my successor as Home Secretary, following the House of Lords judgment in December 2004, which overturned section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Given the key issues of admissibility and disclosure and the failure of the judiciary to respond to the consultation in early 2004 on alternatives that would have allowed the court system to deal with admissibility and disclosure—but with sufficient privacy to protect sources—will my right hon. Friend consider consulting the President of the Supreme Court, the Lord Chief Justice and colleagues, along with the Home and Justice Secretaries, to ask the judiciary if it has proposals to help us develop an alternative rather than simply to strike down the alternatives that we put together in this House?

No one knows more about this issue than my right hon. Friend, who is well versed in the debates that took place at the time. When he was Home Secretary, he had to take very difficult decisions to deal with the terrorist threat in our country, and I applaud him for the work he has done. He is absolutely right that any further decisions have to be based on maximum consultation and discussion with the people whose advice we ought to seek. The Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary will, of course, be in contact with the judiciary on these matters.

May I again put it to the Prime Minister that nothing more certainly fuels international terrorism than the stationing of foreign troops in Islamic countries?

I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Afghanistan was rid of the Taliban and al-Qaeda only through the action taken by the US, the UK and other allied forces. But for that, the Taliban would still be in power and al-Qaeda would still have the licence to roam within Afghanistan and to plan its attacks on Britain and other countries from there. We took the action we did as part of a 43-nation coalition, which was supported by the UN and is still supported by the UN. This is one of the widest alliances ever formed; the reason for it is that we must prevent al-Qaeda from getting space in countries like Afghanistan in order to threaten the rest of the world.

I very much welcome the lead that the Prime Minister has shown today; his statement is concise, comprehensive and resolute. May I also encourage him to stick to an evidence-based approach, because nothing would be worse than taking action that is not justified by our existing law, and which would ultimately give a propaganda coup to those whom we seek to curb in their aims of terrorism? In that context, will he continue to seek consensus, not only throughout this House but throughout the country, and ensure that there is a communication and explanation strategy for the public, who will be inconvenienced by these measures, but will ultimately be protected by them?

My right hon. Friend is right—and again, he has done so much to alert us to the problems that terrorism can bring, and to the security measures necessary to deal with them. He, like me, is aware that we need to build public confidence in what is being done, that the introduction of checking at airports has to be explained to the public and that the civil liberties issues need to be dealt with, so that people feel satisfied that this is being done in their interests and in the security interests of the country.

As for proscription, it is easy to call for the proscription of one organisation or another, but it is the most difficult thing to ensure that we have a case that can stand up in court. That is why we have been careful about the organisations that we proscribe. If we were to proscribe an organisation and it were to win a case in court against us, that would, of course, be a propaganda victory for that organisation against a decision that we had made. So we must be sure about the evidence that we have before we make these decisions, and it was by an intricate examination of the work of Islam4UK that we came to the conclusion that it should be proscribed.

Does the Prime Minister accept that the more complex the threat, the more sophisticated the means necessary to deal with it, and in turn, the greater the resources required to do so? Given that we are about to embark on a period of severe restriction of public expenditure, what assurances can he give that the three intelligence agencies in this country will have the resources to enable them to fulfil their primary responsibility: the protection of British citizens?

Because we have trebled the resources available to the security agencies since 2001 and because we have doubled the number of staff available to them, they face the future from a platform where the investment has already been made, and is being made, in the development of their service—both in their technology and, of course, in the expertise in their staffing. I believe that the decisions we made from 2001 to now to increase investment in the security services have been some of the most important—and, of course, expensive—decisions that have been made. But they have been the right decisions, and they mean that the security services are building on a very strong foundation.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to continue the development of and the investment in the e-Borders system, which is so important, not only in enabling us to count people in and out of the country, but in tracking those who may pose a risk. I fear that he may be premature in believing that the Leader of the Opposition has withdrawn his concerns or opposition to the e-Borders scheme. Regardless of the fluctuating position of Conservative Members on this system, can my right hon. Friend reassure us that he will maintain a commitment to collecting the information and investing in the technology necessary to protect us from the international threat from terrorism?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing out that this is an important part of the protection of British citizens. Having a check that can be done prior to travel, as a result of an e-Borders system in which we have invested more than £1 billion, is a very important element of the security of our country, and I praise her work in developing that system, and the action she took to counter terrorism when she was Home Secretary.

I must also say that sometimes the Conservative party does not want to understand the measures that we are already taking. We have a National Security Committee in place. The Leader of the Opposition sometimes gives the impression that that does not include the chiefs of our security agencies, the Chief of the Defence Staff or all those people who are charged with addressing the security issues of our country, and he wants to create some new committee that does include them. Those people are already on the National Security Committee. We regularly publish a national security strategy and we have set up a national security secretariat in the Cabinet Office. We have a national security forum, which I met only last week and which gives us advice from experts around the world about our security. We also have a cadre of experienced conflict and stabilisation experts. All the things that the document he produced last week suggested should be done are already being done.

The Prime Minister will know that the most successful attack by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took place using a cavity bomb—a bomb inserted inside a human body. No technology is currently available to detect that threat, and traditionally we used to use the defence research budget to fund new technologies in order to keep one step ahead of terrorism. Under the Prime Minister’s watch that budget has been cut by 23 per cent. in the past three years. I recognise that the Government have spent money on personnel and structures, but will he review that cut again, because without such a review we will not get the technology to solve the problem?

But science expenditure has doubled over the past 10 years, and the security Minister, Lord West, has asked companies around the country to work with him on developing new measures and new technologies that can deal with the detection of exactly what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Therefore investment has been made, and we are prepared to make the investments that are necessary. I ask him to look at the overall picture of science investment in this country, and at Lord West’s invitation to companies in this country to be involved in developing the new technology. In fact, it is Smiths Industries, one of the British companies, that is developing the border scanner, and it is doing so with great distinction.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and thank him for agreeing to meet the all-party group on Yemen in advance of the conference next week. Following the Detroit incident, President Obama said that there had been a “systemic failure” in the security apparatus in the United States. In the evidence that has been given to the Select Committee’s counter-terrorism inquiry, a number of witnesses have talked about information being retained in home Departments—for example, the Department for Transport and others—rather than being sent to the Home Office. Does he agree that co-ordination is vital? That means strengthening the office for security and counter-terrorism, which was created by the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid). Will the Prime Minister also look again at the idea of a national security council, because there is a need to co-ordinate on a political level, as well as co-ordinating on the practical operational level through the OSCT?

The National Security Committee involves all the major Ministers in government, as well as the Chief of the Defence Staff, heads of the security agencies and all those who are charged with the security and protection of the country. On co-ordination between the different agencies, my right hon. Friend is right about the innovations that were introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts. Equally, we are moving forward, because the Cabinet Secretary is reporting on intelligence co-ordination and our three intelligence agencies are setting up joint teams to address potential threats upstream. That is where we can make major advances to prevent individuals about whom we are worried from ever reaching our shores. We continue to look at better ways of delivering improvements in the way we collect, share and use intelligence.

Iran is a major promoter of global terrorism, yet rumours of a prisoner swap to free Peter Moore continue. The timing of his release coincided with that of Qais al-Khazali, a senior figure in the group that kidnapped Mr. Moore, which is backed by Iran. Will the Prime Minister confirm that Mr. Moore was not part of a prisoner swap, and that Government services were not involved?

I can confirm what the Foreign Secretary said about the release of Mr. Peter Moore: that it was done in the way that he described, without any arrangement with the Iranian Government.

Aviation security requires combining specific measures at airports with international intelligence. Can the Prime Minister tell us what specific steps he will be taking to strengthen the weak spots globally in security and in intelligence? Could he also say what action he is taking on internet hate, such as Hamas’s al-Fatah website, which is preaching hatred to children at this moment?

Order. It is a little cheeky, if by no means unprecedented, for the hon. Lady to ask two questions, but I know that one answer from the Prime Minister will suffice.

On the second part of my hon. Friend’s question, I can say that the Home Office is looking closely at that issue. On the question of airport security—I know that she is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport and does a great job in that regard—it is important to recognise that the measures we take at British airports will work best if they are accompanied by measures in other countries. That is why we are offering other countries that need help to develop greater security at their airports our help, training for their staff and advice on technology.

It is now three years since the Government signed the e-Borders contract, but as the Prime Minister admitted, the programme still does not allow us automatically to deny boarding to passengers who are deemed a security risk. Will the Prime Minister explain why we are still waiting for an authority-to-carry function in the e-Borders programme, when the Government originally promised that it would be in place by October 2008?

I read out the number of people who had been caught coming through our borders as a result of the success of the e-Borders system. The hon. Gentleman cannot claim that the system is a failure when large numbers of people have been prevented from entering this country, and when crimes have been detected as a result of what it is doing. I said that the targets we set for the e-Borders system would be completed by the end of 2010, and that is exactly where we are.

What my right hon. Friend said about helping to achieve stability in Yemen will be welcomed by Yemenis in my constituency, who have long been concerned about the situation in their country. On Somalia, we all want to see the interim transitional Government succeed in bringing stability to the south, but they do not yet even control Mogadishu. Will he also continue the Government’s engagement with the Government of Somaliland in the north, which for nearly 20 years has been a beacon of stability and democracy in the horn of Africa, and continue to reward that success?

I appreciate what my right hon. Friend is saying, and he speaks with a great deal of knowledge about what has happened in Africa over the years. We will work with all Governments against the terrorist threat. The real danger is that al-Qaeda can find areas where there is temporary or permanent instability, exploit that to make them their training ground, and cause chaos in the region around them. We are determined to work with like-minded Governments to prevent the terrorist threat from developing. I keep saying that we must expose extremism and back the reformers and moderates who want to show that the view of Islam as perverted by al-Qaeda is completely false.

As someone with an airport in the heart of my constituency, I welcome the announcements that the Prime Minister has made today. However, does he share my concern—and is he shocked to hear—that Edinburgh airport, which is very close to his constituency, announced this week that it plans to abolish the post of head of security? Will he contact BAA and the Civil Aviation Authority to find out what is going on?

The important thing is that BAA and Edinburgh airport take their responsibilities for security seriously. I think that the hon. Gentleman and I are both agreed on that. Every airport in the country will be responding to the demand for tighter security measures, and I believe that if they are implemented properly the inconvenience to passengers can be minimised. The new measures and the new technology that are being introduced could, over time, make the transit of passengers not less fast, but in fact speed it up. That is a matter to be worked out over the next few months, but I shall obviously look into the case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Is the Prime Minister aware that Mr. Azzam Tamimi, a preacher of hate who has boasted on the BBC about his support for suicide terrorist bombing and hatred of Jews, has been invited to speak on the university of Birmingham campus? Professor Eastwood, the university’s vice-chancellor, defends that by saying that it is a matter of freedom of expression. Does the Prime Minister agree that freedom of expression, which is vital, is not the same as providing a platform for hate? We have to shut down those incubators of hate against our values and against the Jewish people.

My right hon. Friend raises an important point about how our universities will respond, over time, to an attempt by some people to use them as a breeding ground for extremist activity. We must always get right the balance between the academic freedom that is at the heart of what universities are about and the maintenance of security in our country. I know that most vice-chancellors want to play their part in helping us to do that.

On e-Borders, the Home Affairs Committee heard some impressive evidence quite recently that showed that introducing e-Borders in ferry ports attracted a number of fairly insurmountable practical and logistical problems. The Prime Minister now anticipates that the scheme will be in place by the end of the year. Has he overcome these practical problems—and if not, is there any point in closing the front door and leaving the back door open?

My hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration, who deals with these issues, says that coach operators are met regularly. We have dealt with the problems that they have raised as a result of the operation of the system, and these problems are perfectly capable of being worked out.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend had to say, particularly about the importance of sharing intelligence with our close allies. Does he have any concern that the unwillingness of our courts to protect the secrets of our close allies might have an effect on their willingness to continue to co-operate at the very high level at which they have co-operated in the past?

My right hon. Friend speaks with some knowledge on these issues, and his membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which deals with these matters, is valued in the House. Of course these are issues about which we must be concerned.

I acknowledge the serious threat against the United Kingdom from international terrorists, and any resolute action that is to be taken against them is welcome. However, the Prime Minister is also aware of the serious threat that continues in the United Kingdom from republican groups. I speak with reference to a young police officer who was the victim of attempted murder in my constituency, Peadar Heffron. He is a very courageous young police officer, who was standing in between us and terrorism. Will the Prime Minister assure this House that the Government will do everything within the United Kingdom to hunt down those responsible for that attack as well as taking action on international terrorists?

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that terrorism and violence cannot be justified in any circumstances. I followed the tragic case of this shooting and I hope that the officer can now recover. I know that he has had huge difficulties as a result of the injuries that he sustained. In no place and in no circumstances can extremist action and violence ever be justified.

Recognising that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Britain are opposed to terrorism, is it not important to engage Muslim organisations and individuals in combating extremism, particularly, as has been said already, in universities and prisons where the hate merchants are doing their best to spread their notorious poison—anti-Semitism and racism in general?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the heart of everything we do is the need to prevent the radicalisation of young people by organisations that wish to provide a perverted view of the Islamic religion and wish to exploit that to encourage people to commit violent and terrorist acts. I keep saying that we will do that by exposing the extremists. It is important, therefore, that people stand up against extremism in university campuses and wherever else it is practised. We must also back these reforming and moderate voices and give them the support they need to show young people that the ways of al-Qaeda and other organisations are the ways of violence, and are completely unacceptable.

Given that Abdulmutallab is known to have travelled through Addis Ababa on 7 December, what practical support and advice can the Government give to airports in those friendly middle eastern and African countries that act as regional airport hubs?

My understanding is that we are giving advice to those airports at the moment. We are in touch with some of them, including the one that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The Prime Minister, in his answers, has recognised the dangers of feeding the propaganda agenda of terrorists. In his statement, he also referred to the need to intensify co-operation with the police and other agencies in other countries. Given that some of those countries will themselves have dubious regimes, and those agencies will have questionable reputations, how can he ensure that the character of that co-operation will not become a propaganda feed for subversives?

We have to be very careful in what we do. It is important that we support legitimate Governments and work with those elements that wish to discourage extremism at all times. It is very important that we build a coalition of countries that are prepared to take on al-Qaeda and other terrorist activity. I think the lesson of the Afghanistan campaign is the fact that 43 countries were prepared to come together to get rid of the Taliban and al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. The lesson from that, and from the conference held by the friends of Yemen next week, is that people are willing to come together to support countries in taking action against terrorism.

As the new scanners start to be delivered, it is important that the maximum number of passengers can be processed through them. Will the Prime Minister therefore look at a system that is already in place at Manchester airport, under which if a passenger trips a scanner, they are automatically diverted into a separate channel for body search, thereby allowing other passengers to proceed without delay?

Yes, I think that is being piloted in Manchester, and we are looking at it very carefully. [Interruption.] The Minister of State for Transport is sitting next me, and he says this is one of the areas in which further research is being done.

Last week the European courts ruled against the section 44 stop-and-search powers as applied by the Metropolitan police. Does my right hon. Friend agree that most of the citizens of our country wish those powers to be used to protect them and other members of the public, but they want to be absolutely sure that they are properly circumscribed, applied and monitored—and will he ask the Home Secretary to liaise with the head of the Metropolitan police force to ensure that that is the case?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, but we are dealing here with a European judgment and the Home Secretary is currently reviewing it.

I am grateful for the excellent work the Government are doing on air travel and borders, but in our country we have the phenomenon of home-grown terrorists. Does the Prime Minister agree that we must be vigilant in protecting passengers, particularly those who travel into London on trains and the tube, as that is probably still the main threat?

We should be vigilant at all times. We know that terrorist groups would like, if they had the chance, to cause chaos in the United Kingdom. We know also that we have to improve at all times the security of our trains and our transport infrastructure, and the protection of people in public places. Lord West is co-ordinating the work that is being done to see what measures can be taken to improve security in all these areas, and we will continue to update our counter-terrorism strategy in the light of all the new information we have.

There is long-held concern about the weakness of Pakistan’s Government, intelligence services and army to co-operate fully in dealing with terrorists and extremists. Does the Prime Minister believe that there has been significant improvement and progress in this area in the last 12 months, because it is still a great concern?

I am grateful for all the work my hon. Friend has done in this area. It is important to recognise that at all times we are learning new lessons about how information can be shared, as well as about how it can be collected, and we are learning how we can deal with terrorist threats at an earlier stage by getting the information required. The greater sophistication of the exercise also requires greater co-ordination between the agencies, and the Cabinet Secretary is continuing to monitor how that co-operation can be enhanced over the next period of time.

Given the recent court decision in respect of control orders, may I endorse the call by the leader of the Liberal Democrats for the repeal of this legislation—but for completely different and opposite reasons? Does the Prime Minister not agree that, as some of his former Home Secretaries have recognised, part of this problem is the interweaving into the control order legislation of the Human Rights Act 1998, and that the best thing we could do would be to repeal that Act, in order to ensure that we deal with the control order issues through our own Westminster-based legislation, which gives fair process, due trial and habeas corpus? That would ensure that we both have fair trials and control certain people in the public interest.

I am surprised that we keep coming back to the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act that flowed from it. I think most people would agree that the ECHR, which was written by British lawyers—[Interruption.] Yes, some of them were Conservatives, actually. I think most people would agree that the ECHR has been a major advance, and I am sorry that we are returning to these old debates. The protection and safety of the individual is first and foremost in our mind.