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Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): I wish to devote my remarks largely to the intelligence dimension prior to 11 September and, even more importantly, subsequent to that date. First, I wish to make a point about the status of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), made a helpful and informative speech, in which she said that her views on the evolution of the Committee were not static. I would like to offer her a proposal relating to evolution.
When the Committee was established under the previous Conservative Government, it was established not as a Committee of the House but under statute, reporting not to the House but to the Prime Minister. Those special arrangements were made as a reflection of the sensitive work of the Committee and were, by implication, coupled with a degree of anxiety at that time about the security reliability of a Committee of Members of Parliament. I am not a member of the Committee, but on the basis of many years' experience of its work I can say that, as far as I am aware, there has not been a single leak from it.
Sir John Stanley: I am a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which does indeed deal with classified material from time to time. I know of no occasion on which a Select Committee has not reached an agreement with the Government of the day on what material should be excised from its report on security grounds.
Against that background, I think it right in constitutional terms for the Intelligence and Security Committee to become a Select Committee of the House. That does not imply that there should be any change in its membership, or that it should cease to meet in private and at its chosen location. The intelligence services, however, are an extremely important element of the Executive of the day, and I believe that, like all parts of the Executive, they should be accountable to this sovereign legislature, the House of Commons.
Let me now return to 11 September, which was by definition an intelligence failure. Whether that failure was entirely forgivable and understandable in the circumstances or whether it was preventable remains to be seen. As the right hon. Member for Dewsbury said, the relevant congressional committees are subjecting the matter to detailed investigation; we await their reports and such evidence as they can place in the public domain. What is undeniable, however, is that the appalling and tragic events of 11 September were the logical continuation of a clearly established pattern of terrorism in which United States personnel were the principal targets and in which modes of transport were steered, directed or driven by those who were prepared to take their own lives in a suicide attack.
The use of suicide attacks by truck drivers began most intensively in Beirut in 1983. Members will recall that more than 200 US marines were murdered in that way. The mid-1990s saw the uncovering of a plot for the multiple takeover of US civil airliners, and the crashing
As the right hon. Member for Dewsbury observed, these issues are principally for the American intelligence agencies. The Committee rightly pointed out, however, that 11 September saw a greater loss of life among United Kingdom citizens than any other single terrorist attack. I feel that there are key questions for the British intelligence agencies, and therefore for the Committee.
First, is the Committee satisfied that our own intelligence agencies did all they could before 11 September to identify al-Qaeda operatives who were either living in or passing through this country? Details of a number of them have at least appeared in the press and in court proceedings since 11 September. Secondly, is the Committee satisfied that our agencies did all that they reasonably could in the circumstances to try to identify the target of the next al-Qaeda attack, of which there were clearly considerable, at least generalised, warnings?
Dr. Julian Lewis: May I ask a question in that context, relating particularly to the first point? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the assassination of General Masoud appears to have been orchestrated by a man called Yassir el-Sirriwho provided the assassins with press credentials which they used to get into Masoud's presencethat this man had been sheltered in London for a long time, and that we had refused Egypt's request for his extradition for past terrorist offences?
Sir John Stanley: I depend on open sources, as does my hon. Friend, but I am well aware of the extensive press comment about various individuals alleged to be associated or connected with al-Qaeda who have been resident in and have passed through this country.
I welcomed what the right hon. Member for Dewsbury said about the way in which 11 September issues had dominated the Committee's work. I was not sure whether that was so on the basis of the report, but the right hon. Lady made it very clear today. Looking at the paragraph about the future programme of work, I was somewhat surprised that it did not includeexplicitly and clearlyscrutiny of the agencies' work to counter terrorist threats to the UK. Perhaps that is implicit, but the House and indeed the wider public might have been reassured had it been stated more explicitly.
I cannot believe that someone who is prepared to commit suicide as part of a terrorist attack will be influenced in the least by the prospect of retaliation. Nor can I believe that someone with nothing to losewho is not head of a state organisation, and has no massive personal power as suchwill be deterred by any prospect of retaliatory action.
Therefore, although for the whole period since the second world war we have relied on deterrence to protect the security of this country, and indeed it has done so, we are now confronted by a terrorist enemy for whom deterrence is no deterrent at all in terms of this country's military capability. In my view, that means that the intelligence agencies are now our first and possibly our last line of defence for the civilian population. Coupled with that is the clear evidence that this terrorist enemy is bent on moving from conventional attack to attack using weapons of mass destruction. That was made clear as early as 14 September last year by the Prime Minister. Three days after the terrorist attack on New York, he said to the House:
The implications for the civil population of this country are potentially horrendous. Conventional attack can lead to the death of thousands as happened in New York. Attack using weapons of mass destruction could lead to the possible loss of lives in the hundreds of thousands or conceivably a million or more.
The Brooking Institution, in a detailed paper published in April, put the possible fatalities from a terrorist attack using a nuclear bomb detonated in a major US city at 100,000 and the possible fatalities of an
David Veness, the head of Britain's anti-terrorist police, said that a nuclear or biological attack was 'sadly, the next logical step' while the director of the European Union's police agency, Europol, said that it was a question of 'when and where,' not 'if' an attack would occur in Europe."