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Intelligence Oversight

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 22 November 2018

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) has today laid before Parliament two reports: its report into the terror attacks last year in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Parsons Green, titled “The 2017 Attacks: What Needs to Change?”; and its annual report 2017-18. I welcome both of these reports and thank the Committee for the work that has gone into them. The Government will consider both reports in full and respond formally in due course.

The 2017 post-attacks review

The five terror attacks in 2017 claimed the lives of 36 people. Many more were injured. Our thoughts remain with the victims and all those affected by the attacks.

I have spoken before of the severe threat posed by terrorism. The police and intelligence community face an unprecedented challenge and have to make difficult prioritisation decisions every day. Since the tragic attack in Westminster, 17 further plots have been disrupted including four extreme right-wing plots.

It is right that we look at what happened so that we have the best chance of preventing further attacks. In 2017, MI5 and the police led internal reviews of the handling of intelligence relating to the Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park attacks to identify enhancements to their operational practices. They also commissioned a broader operational improvements review, which is commended by the ISC in its report. Both reviews were independently overseen by Lord Anderson of Ipswich. A review of the Parsons Green attack has also led to improvements in the implementation of the Channel programme.

There has been significant effort to implement the recommendations of the operational improvement review. Lord Anderson is currently conducting an independent stocktake of the progress that has been made to deliver the recommendations, and will report his findings to the Home Secretary early next year. A public report on his findings will then be laid in the House.

This work is happening alongside Government’s wider efforts to tackle the threat from terrorism. On June 4, we published a strengthened version of the UK’s comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, Contest. This reflects the findings of a fundamental review of all aspects of counter-terrorism, and builds on the lessons learned from last year’s attacks. Through the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill 2017-19, we are ensuring that the police, prosecutors and the judiciary are better equipped with the powers they need to tackle the threat posed by terrorism.

The ISC’s annual report 2017-18

The ISC’s 2017-18 annual report considers in some detail the case for the UK and allied response following the chemical weapons strike on Douma in April. The OPCW interim report on the Douma attack clearly indicated the presence of chlorine at the site and the UN Commission of Inquiry’s most recent report supported the Government’s conclusion that a chemical weapons attack was carried out on Douma on 7 April. The response was a limited, targeted and effective strike to degrade Syrian chemical weapons capability and deter their future use. As I said at the time, it is in our national interest to prevent the further use of chemical weapons in Syria and to uphold and defend the global consensus that these weapons should not be used.