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Counterterrorism

Volume 693: debated on Monday 2 July 2007

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary regarding the weekend’s events. The Statement is as follows.

“First and foremost, I am sure that all Members will agree that our top priority is the success of the investigation and any subsequent prosecution. For this reason, I will not be drawn on speculation concerning details of what is still a fast-moving investigation.

“The facts as they have been reported to me by the police and other agencies are as follows. At 1 am on 29 June an ambulance crew reported a suspicious Mercedes vehicle outside a nightclub in the Haymarket in central London.  The vehicle contained significant amounts of petrol, gas cylinders and nails.  Explosives officers from the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command were called and manually disabled the means of detonation.

“During the course of their investigation on Friday, the police learned of a second Mercedes vehicle that was issued with a parking ticket about 2.30 am on 29 June.  The car was parked in Cockspur Street, London, close to the location of the first vehicle.  The second vehicle was taken to a pound in Hyde Park at about 3.30 am that morning.  The vehicle contained similar materials to those found in the first, including a significant amount of fuel, gas canisters and a quantity of nails.  As with the first device, the vehicle was quickly made safe by explosives officers.  The police quickly confirmed that the vehicles were linked. Further examination will reveal additional detail about the impact that these devices may have had if detonated, but at this stage the police believe that these were potentially viable devices that could have caused significant injury or loss of life. 

“At 15:15 on 30 June, a Jeep Cherokee drove into a front door at the check-in area of the terminal building at Glasgow Airport and caught fire on impact.  One member of the public sustained minor injuries in the immediate aftermath of this incident.  The police have confirmed that the incident at the airport was linked to the vehicles discovered in London. 

“The investigations into these incidents have involved police forces across the United Kingdom.  To date, six individuals have been arrested in connection with the events: one at Glasgow Airport, a further two in Glasgow, two in Staffordshire—north of junction 16 on the M6—and one in Liverpool. One further individual of interest remains in a critical condition in hospital. Searches have already been carried out in at least 19 locations but, as I have already said, this is a fast-moving investigation.

“I am sure that the House will join me in thanking all those involved in the response to these incidents: the ambulance crew whose vigilance potentially averted an attack; the police, particularly the explosives officers who manually disabled the device in the Haymarket; and the Security Service. In addition, the response from the public and business community—including staff at airports—has been excellent in support of the police and other emergency services.

“I would also like to thank colleagues in Scotland and internationally in the United States and in Europe for their support. Since Friday morning, the Government have held four meetings of COBRA, chaired by the Prime Minister and myself and attended by ministerial colleagues from key government departments and the police and intelligence agencies. Our priority has been to co-ordinate the necessary responses to protect the public.

“I turn now to the response that is under way across the country. The police have substantially stepped up protective security measures including: high-visibility patrols, including armed response vehicles; increased use of stop-and-search powers for vehicles and pedestrians; and increased physical protection around airport terminal buildings, including tighter controls on access roads and installation of new barriers, in conjunction with airport operators and the Department for Transport.

“As ever, these measures are designed to maximise public safety while minimising disruption to normal life. This supplements the substantial programme of work that is already under way to protect high-risk locations. Police counterterrorism security advisers have already advised a range of crowded places in recent months, including over 450 major sporting venues and around 400 shopping centres.

“As the House will be aware, the UK national threat level was raised from ‘severe’ to ‘critical’ on Saturday 30 June by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre. JTAC sets threat levels based on a comprehensive analysis of all intelligence relating to international terrorism.

“Terrorism is a serious threat to us all. We must ensure that our resources, capability and legislation support our common endeavour to defend the shared values of this country from terror. To that end we have doubled expenditure on counterterrorism since September 2001. Work as part of the current Comprehensive Spending Review will further assess the expenditure necessary. We have started a full consultative review of counterterrorism legislation with a view to a Bill later this year. This process will continue. We have refocused the Home Office, developed the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism and have established a weekly security board, chaired by the Home Secretary, to co-ordinate the efforts of key departments and agencies. Across government, Ministers will work together to oversee the delivery of this complex package of measures.

“Let us be clear: terrorists are criminals, whose victims come from all walks of life, communities and religions. Terrorists attack the values that are shared by all law-abiding citizens. As a Government, as communities and as individuals we need to ensure that the message of the terrorists is rejected.

“I very much welcome the strong messages of condemnation that we have heard throughout the weekend from community leaders across the country. It is through our unity that the terrorists will eventually be defeated.

“Mr Speaker, in closing my Statement I would also like to express my admiration and thanks to all members of the public in this country, in all our communities, for their patience and measured response to these events. My aim as Home Secretary is to allow the British public to live their lives as they would wish, within the law. The fact that people have been prepared to go about their lives as normally as possible this weekend sends the strongest message to those who wish to destroy our way of life and our freedoms that we will not be intimidated by terror”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I welcome the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General to her new post. Even in these uniquely difficult circumstances I know that the whole House will join me in recognising her abilities.

I thank the noble and learned Baroness for repeating the Statement, which was made a short while ago in another place. I join her in expressing gratitude to the members of the emergency services and the police for their prompt and, as she set out, courageous actions. I also thank the public for their calm, positive response to the events of the weekend in what were very difficult circumstances for all of them. They have done exactly what terrorists hate most—they have got on with their lives. We have seen a series of murderous attempts to disrupt our sense of community, our values and our British way of life. That must not be allowed to succeed.

The response to a government Statement is usually seen as the time to challenge and expose the inadequacy of government policy by asking a series of hostile questions. That is not the right way ahead today. In another place my right honourable friend David Davis posed two questions, of which he had given prior notice to the Home Secretary in that spirit of co-operation. For completeness—for courtesy to this House—I will repeat those questions. On 22 April, a newspaper carried a report produced by the Government’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre that predicted a high risk of an attack at the handover from the last Prime Minister to the current one. Despite that, the threat level was not raised above “severe”, which is the level it stands at most of the time. We simply ask: why was that? Also, what were the implications for the police forces and security agencies of this lower level? Once alerted to the threat it is clear that the agencies responded remarkably quickly.

We appreciate that the Home Secretary will have a very difficult task ahead because, although numerous threats have been foiled, we now have to face the fact that three attempted atrocities have occurred without warning.

We recognise that the Government may well have to consider a significant increase in the size of the single intelligence budget and associated police budgets in the current Comprehensive Spending Review. Whatever their decision, it will have the Official Opposition’s clear support.

I welcome the statement made by the Prime Minister earlier today that he will not rush into creating new legislation, and the commitment by the Home Secretary, which I heard clearly on the radio, to consult other political parties and wider community representatives to decide on new laws and on other ways of countering the terrorist threat.

It is important that we all maintain an open mind during the search for a constructive way forward, one not only that will appear to bring a solution, but that is evidence-based, not flawed and will deliver a secure future for all the people of our country. British people of all religions and none will stand together in the face of this evil. Ultimately, tackling terrorism in Britain must be a combined effort with politicians, the police, the security services and the whole community working together. If, in the days ahead, we are able to carry that forward, our society and our country really will have come out of this ordeal a stronger place in which to live.

My Lords, I also thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, for repeating the Statement in your Lordships’ House. Let me from these Benches offer our congratulations on her appointment as the Attorney-General in the new Administration. She is a loyal member of her Government and has been a formidable Home Office Minister, defending at times what is difficult to defend. But, in her new role, I am sure that she will offer independent advice. That is a sure sign that her best is still to come.

It is right that we should congratulate the police, the security services, our emergency services and members of the public who averted carnage both in London and in Glasgow. I also thank Black Rod and staff at the House of Lords for ensuring that Parliament is adequately secured.

The Home Secretary’s response has been measured. There were no hard-line pronouncements, but a determination to ensure that terrorists will not be allowed to succeed in undermining our democratic values. There is, however, a serious issue of concern. Religious fundamentalism of any kind is incompatible with our democratic values. That said, let us not forget that a substantial number of our ethnic population are law-abiding and loyal. They have condemned the action of the terror gangs. Let there be no backlash, because we need their support if we are to defeat terrorists from within or without. For that reason stop-and-search powers based on intelligence are certainly welcome, but their indiscriminate use on a particular section of the community could be very counterproductive.

I commend the Government for moderation in their response, their change in tone and the decision not to use these events as a political point-scoring exercise in search of political draconian measures.

I have said before that there is no such thing as total security. Some attackers will make a break through the network of intelligence and policing. We may not have done enough to secure our critical national infrastructures. Will the Minister give us assurances on that?

The Statement comes when arrests have been made and police investigations are continuing. It would be counterproductive to further speculate on the matter. It is now more than important that the new Home Secretary convenes the cross-party talks which were promised a few weeks ago. It is vital that we make up our mind on intercept evidence and, above all, look for measures that will send a message that a determined Parliament and people of all races, religions and colours in the United Kingdom will not allow terrorism to succeed, nor allow our hard-fought civil liberties to be sacrificed.

My Lords, first, perhaps I may say a very humble thank you for the compliments that have been showered on me. I just hope that I will be able to merit them in due course.

I rejoice most of all in the total unity expressed in this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It does them both honour but it also reflects the unity of our Parliament. The people of this country have stood bravely together and will continue to do so. It gives me considerable pleasure to see that we in this House seek to emulate the unity that has been shown outside it.

On the first point raised by the noble Baroness, of course we note what was said in the document referred to in the Sunday Times on 22 April. The noble Baroness will know that it is not our practice to comment on leaked information. What I can say is that the Government continually receive intelligence from a variety of sources. This intelligence is evaluated and of course judgments have to be made on what actions should properly be taken in response to it.

The United Kingdom threat level was previously set at “severe”, which the House will know is used when the assessment is that an attack is highly likely. All efforts were made to make sure that we were properly ready for any eventuality. Noble Lords will know that that level was recommended to go to “critical” because of the events of the past few days. The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre is responsible for making that assessment.

On new legislation, noble Lords will remember that my right honourable friend the then Home Secretary made a commitment about how it would be dealt with, which my right honourable friend in another place reiterated today. We will continue to look for consensus. It is clear that that is the aspiration and desire of all Members of this House and, indeed, of the other place. There will be no precipitous rush regarding those issues. I can give that reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.

I agree very much with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the law-abiding and loyal members of our community. All law-abiding citizens abhor acts of terror. I am delighted that we as a people stand united against the viciousness of the terror which is inflicted against all of us, irrespective of, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia said, race, colour, religion or ethnicity.

My Lords, from her party’s Back Benches, I welcome my noble and learned friend to her new position as Attorney-General, a job to which she brings considerable experience. I am sure she has realised that the events of the past few days show that there are no easy issues in the new position which she occupies. However, I know that she has the good will of the whole House in the task in front of her.

In the Statement my noble and learned friend referred to the undoubted bravery of the ambulance and explosives officers in Haymarket. It is right that we all acknowledge what they did and our debt to them. Will she join me in extending that appreciation to the fire officers, the police and the civilians who dealt with the terrifying incident at Glasgow Airport where people were put at risk? It is a mark of Glasgow’s resilience that civilians were prepared to give the police a hand in those circumstances.

This is not the first time that Scotland has been affected by terrorism. However, it is the first time that we have had a co-ordinated attack throughout the United Kingdom. My noble and learned friend will know that the Lord Advocate in Scotland has responsibility for the prosecution of offences and directing the police in the conduct of their investigations. Can she say something about the contacts that have been made with the Scottish Administration? Will she confirm that their existing political differences will not inhibit their proper co-operation and that full co-operation will take place between respective police forces and security agencies?

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for his compliments. I join him in commending the bravery of those who participated in those events—both in London and Glasgow. It is important that we look at the way in which people came together in Glasgow. I endorse the bravery demonstrated by the civilian who ran towards danger as opposed to away from it in order to give assistance to those who needed it. I do not hesitate to commend, without reservation, those acts of extreme bravery.

There has been the closest contact between the Government and fellow law officers and police officers dealing with events in Scotland. I had the advantage of speaking at length with the Lord Advocate yesterday and we have spoken twice today. All officials, officers and the Lord Advocate’s team in Scotland are working as closely with us as is possible. We are totally at one in our response.

My Lords, does the noble and learned Baroness accept that while the elements found in these cars were wicked and lethal, they could have been more sinister? If they had been the constituents of a dirty bomb or a chemical or biological attack, it would have been crucial to discover the nature of that attack at the earliest possible moment. In spite of the most commendable reaction of all the emergency services, will the Government carry out a review of whether it was discovered at the earliest possible moment that the nature of these potential attacks did not constitute something much more sinister?

My Lords, we will do everything in our power to make sure that we find that out. It is important that we make properly informed decisions as early as possible.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble and learned Baroness on achieving an office that she will fill with great distinction. I also commend the measured reaction of the Government and official sources to what has happened in recent days. They have correctly avoided rushing to judgment—let alone to legislation.

In her new role I invite the noble and learned Baroness to apply her legal skills, together with those available at the Home Office, to review the efficacy of control orders. In the absence of any alternative system—no better has been suggested so far as I am aware—does she consider it appropriate to examine whether control orders might be made more efficacious by reviewing all existing ones so that absconding would be more difficult and courts would be presented with evidence to show that, in some cases at least, more effective restrictions on controlees are required? As the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, I believe that to be is a reasonably urgent and necessary piece of work.

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his comments about me, but more importantly, for his views on the measured response, with which I concur. It is certainly something that has inured to the benefit of our country. His comments will be taken very seriously. There is now an opportunity for us to review the provisions that might be necessary and to consider carefully how those issues are taken forward.

My Lords, in being informed of the many investigations and inquiries into these bombers’ purposes, would the noble and learned Baroness hazard a statement on what could have been the purpose of these destructive and murderous plans?

My Lords, it is clear to us that they wished to strike terror into the heart of the people of this country. I am sure that they wished to divide this community so that we would turn one against the other. If that was their intent, they have palpably failed.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in praising the ambulance service and the police and congratulating them on their quite extraordinary degree of alertness and courage. Although the noble and learned Baroness may not be able to answer my question today, will she make a point of looking closely at those who have been apprehended and finding out how long they have been in this country, how they came into this country, what took place at their point of entry—in so far as that can be ascertained—and whether any special directions now need to be given to all those at our airports and ports to ensure that they too are on maximum alert?

My Lords, I join the noble Lord in commending the ambulance service. It was its acuity and bravery which led to the first vehicle’s discovery. Without that, we might have been facing a very different scenario today. We will have the fullest possible investigation about the provenance of these acts and from whence these individuals came.

My Lords, may I also be a showerer of compliments on the noble and learned Baroness? As it appears that one of the people was a suicide bomber, perhaps I may say that this building is immensely vulnerable to someone driving past it in a van loaded with some explosive device and that it would be a catastrophe of appalling magnitude if it were damaged in any way. Therefore, could we consider—and this may seem anodyne—making the precincts of Parliament a traffic-free zone?

My Lords, your Lordships will know that great care is taken in relation to the security of this building. Recently, we have had the new barriers at the front. Black Rod is responsible for considering very carefully what further or other protection we will need and I can assure the noble Lord that every consideration will be given to making sure that this building and all sensitive buildings in our country have the appropriate level of security provision made for them.

My Lords, does my noble and learned and most worthily promoted friend agree that there is an ongoing tension between the quite proper requirements to inform the public about what is going on as much as possible, and the equal necessity to ensure that terrorists have the minimum information available to them? In that context, I draw her attention to two things. I have noticed in the past few days that a lot of information comes out on CNN and Fox News which does not come out on the British channels, that can have come to them only through leaks from authorities over there who have been told things—I hope in confidence—over here. Can my noble and learned friend arrange for some monitoring process to see that that does not happen again?

There is an article in today's Wall Street Journal, which is an intelligent and responsible newspaper, that gives useful advice to terrorists on how to blow up drums containing propane—as they failed to do in this case—and how to make those drums less of a giveaway as to the source of the people of criminal intent. It occurs to me that it might be an idea—of course, I am not in any way suggesting censorship—if we were to reinstate the D-Notices Committee to give advice to editors on the sort of things that it is most unhelpful to publish at this time.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Gilbert makes some valuable points. He is absolutely right: there is a difficulty in relation to controlling the sort of sensitive information that gets out in various media. Your Lordships will know that I will be properly constrained in this House in what I say. I certainly wish that others would be similarly restrained. We will look further at this matter; my noble friend makes a very important point.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General. I am sure that we shall be clashing swords on many future occasions and I look forward to that.

The Statement reads:

“As a Government ... as individuals we need to ensure that the message of the terrorists is rejected”.

Does the noble and learned Baroness not agree that there is no discernible message being put across by these terrorists? Will she ensure that in the full consultative review that we are promised, the causes of why we are targeted by terrorists will be frankly addressed, whether they be people from abroad or people who have been born and brought up in this country?

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his kind comments. I savour them because I know how unusual they are likely to be.

There are many reasons that terrorists purport to give for why they commit acts of terror against us. Our view is that there are no reasons that they can explore or expand on that could ever justify the acts of terror to which they wish to subject us.

My Lords, I congratulate the Prime Minister and the First Minister of Scotland on the expeditious way in which they worked together over the weekend. Further to the answer that the noble and learned Baroness gave some moments ago, when she assured the House that there was co-operation between the two jurisdictions, does she not think that there might be a case for having more permanent machinery in place to ensure that, at both a political and an official level, co-operation is maintained for the future?

My Lords, we have a number of mechanisms to ensure that that co-operation is as comprehensive as it needs to be. What has happened in the past few days demonstrates that there is no lack of opportunity, will or determination between any of the participants to work together. I have been deeply impressed that what we have heard is one voice on behalf of the United Kingdom saying precisely the same thing: you cannot divide us; we will stand together; and together we will defeat you.

My Lords, after the detailed Statement, can the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General say what was the nearest building to the place where the second car was parked before it was driven away from Cockspur Street to Park Lane?

My Lords, I am not able to say that with precision now. The noble Lord will know that the police are looking at CCTV cameras and other information precisely to identify where that point may have been.

My Lords, from the Cross Benches, I add my very greatest congratulations to the noble and learned Baroness on her splendid appointment—especially because she is a female.

Is what I read in the press true: is one of the suspected terrorists a medical doctor? If so, does she agree that there is something particularly abhorrent about that?

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. If I am showered with any more, I shall no longer be the same colour; I will be bright red. Noble Lords should think of that as they make their contributions.

My Lords, there may be much wisdom in that suggestion.

I am not able to give any information about the nature of the individuals or their backgrounds. A great deal of speculation has been expanded on in the press. It would be safest if I did not comment. We await the outcome of the final investigation in due course. If it proves that there were those who specialised in certain medical or other areas, of course we would take that very seriously.

My Lords, going back to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Gilbert and the issue of the transmission of intelligence material to the United States, whether in JIC reports or through other intelligence organisations, what efforts are we making to emphasise to the Americans that that material should not be leaked in America, especially where it can undermine and prejudice investigations going on within the United Kingdom?

My Lords, of course I cannot comment on whether any information has been leaked in America. I do not know whether that is the case. What I can tell the House is that we have had the strongest possible offers of support, help and assistance from the United States and a number of our EU colleagues. We have been very grateful for that support. I am sure that our colleagues in other jurisdictions understand the difficulties that we face and will do everything that they can to ensure that our difficulties are not enhanced by anything that they may do.

My Lords, does the noble and learned Baroness accept that it would be reassuring to the people of the United Kingdom if in this particular case she could at the earliest possible moment confirm that none of those involved was born in the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I understand that desire, but although of course we will do everything that we can accurately to identify those who are responsible, whether they were born here or elsewhere is in many ways of less importance than what they do as a result of their beliefs. Whoever does this, from wherever they come, it is pernicious, vicious and wrong.