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21 Oct 2002 : Column 27—continued

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that we must not allow our undiminished sense of horror or our natural anxiety about British citizens to stand in the way of a proper understanding of the consequence of those terrible events for the people of Bali, particularly in the long term?

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's reference of these matters to the Intelligence and Security Committee, but I am sure that he would agree that speed is of the essence and that, if there is any question of delay, will he consider again the suggestion, which I made earlier, that these matters should be remitted to a High Court judge or figure of similar calibre, with a

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request to conduct a private investigation and to report to the Prime Minister, not for the purpose of seeking scapegoats or indulging in a witch hunt, but to see what lessons need to be learned for the future?

In the matter of consular assistance, it is clear that, in spite of their valiant efforts, the United Kingdom consular staff were literally overwhelmed. Since the events in Bali may not be the last occurrence of that kind, will the right hon. Gentleman consider—to an extent, I echo the observations of the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram)—establishing in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a unit ready to move at 24 hours' notice to give consular assistance where demands exceed the capacity of the staff already in place?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks. My view is that the appropriate mechanism for an examination of the facts is the Intelligence and Security Committee. After all, it was established by the House and senior Members of the House and the other place serve on it, and they are well used to looking at intelligence. I have asked the intelligence co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office to ensure that, obviously, all the relevant intelligence is made available to that Committee, and it can then come to its own conclusions on it.

Is there a case for establishing a unit to ensure that there is a faster response where the evidence emerges over a period of hours, as it did in Bali, that the atrocity was on a very large scale? The answer is yes, and as I told the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), we are bringing forward our plans to do just that.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): We grieve with those who lost loved ones in this outrage, but is not hindsight a wonderful thing? It gives a remarkable 20:20 vision. Is not it significant that, on the basis of the same evidence, our Australian allies, with their neighbours, reached the same conclusions as my right hon. Friend, but can he say a little more about the response of the Indonesian Government? We know that they have taken measures to combat Jemaah Islamiyah and that they have now arrested Mr. Bashir, the alleged leader of that group, but is it not true that certainly more than a year ago the Indonesian Government were advised that there was a training ground for al-Qaeda on Sulawesi? They have had a great deal of information about the way in which terrorist groups operated freely in Indonesia. Therefore, in the light of that record, is my right hon. Friend fully convinced that they have now taken on board the gravity of what they have allowed to develop on their territory?

Mr. Straw: On my right hon. Friend's first point, he is right about hindsight. What the intelligence agencies have to do on the basis of imperfect and inadequate information—namely the intelligence that terrorist organisations try to keep from the intelligence agencies—is to make the best judgments that they can. At the same time, we must not shut down the world, which is exactly what the terrorists want. Such judgments are very difficult, and we always err on the side of caution because human lives are at risk. However, if we were not to make proper judgments on the basis of assessments, the world would literally be closed down and the terrorists would then have won.

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On my right hon. Friend's point about the Indonesian Government, they are now showing an increased determination to recognise the very severe threat that terrorism poses to them and to their society as well as to the wider world. We are therefore grateful to them for the collaboration and co-operation that they are showing to our law enforcement agencies, obviously to the Australians and to the agencies of other countries that had people killed or injured in this atrocity.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, at least at present, there is no obvious connection between the bombing in Bali and the Iraqi Government? Does he understand that there is a real concern among many right hon. and hon. Members to the effect that, if we are to take military action against Iraq even if supported by the authority of the United Nations and probably in any event, we will increase the support currently seen in the Islamic countries for terrorist activity? That really is a matter that we must take account of.

Mr. Straw: I find that a curious assertion. It seems to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that we should not do one thing that is right—namely deal with the threat posed by Iraq—while we are doing something else that is also right, namely fighting terrorism. I do not share his view.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): It is believed that my constituent Natalie Perkins died in the atrocity along with her cousin, Laura France, a constituent of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn). Unfortunately, the families received contradictory information at different times from the Foreign Office regarding the availability of flights to the area. Can I seek my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's assurance that there is now improved liaison with the families and a clear point of contact to ensure that they are given whatever accurate information is available at the time? May I also suggest that, in these situations, there should be one clear contact point for Members of Parliament, who are often contacted at such times, so that they too can have the up-to-date, accurate information to help and support families through a traumatic period?

Mr. Straw: I would like to express my very sincere condolences to the families concerned. I will look immediately into what my hon. Friend has today told me and the House. I am very sorry that that was the service that these families received.

As I have already said, there are a number of lessons to be learned, albeit that the staff were working in very difficult circumstances and under very great pressure. We intend to learn those lessons, and I shall ensure that the House is fully informed about them.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Will the Foreign Secretary note that family friends of mine are the father and mother of Peter Record, who was murdered in Bali? They are obviously suffering grievously in these circumstances.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also note that, as far as I can see, he has not answered the important questions put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes

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(Mr. Ancram)? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that those questions are properly answered in due course and, furthermore, that we have a further opportunity to consider the matter when the Intelligence and Security Committee has reported to the House?

Mr. Straw: I express my condolences to the hon. Gentleman's close friends on their loss.

The burden of the questions asked by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) rests on the claim that evidence was available to warn against a specific threat in Bali on which we failed to act. There was none. It was also claimed that we did not issue warnings when the United States did, on which their citizens acted. That is also not the case. As I explained, the US judged Bali sufficiently safe that members of its embassy staff in Jakarta were on holiday there when the atrocity took place.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): Although we do not know who was responsible for the barbaric act, will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that about a year ago bin Laden said on al-Jazeera television that Australia was a crusader state because of its role in the United Nations in East Timor, and that Bali is predominantly a Hindu island? In those circumstances, is he satisfied that we will do everything possible, both here and overseas, to ensure that countries such as Indonesia, which has a large Muslim population, recognise the danger of religious war, and that all of us who are involved in religion and politics do everything possible to avoid such a war?

Mr. Straw: Yes. One reason why Bali was judged relatively safe was because 95 per cent. of its population is Hindu, a fact to which my hon. Friend alluded.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I have no doubt that the House will share the Foreign Secretary's confidence that the ISC will do its job thoroughly and that the intelligence co-ordinator at the Cabinet Office will learn, as far as it is possible, whatever lessons there are to be learned from the terrible events of the past few days. Does the Foreign Secretary agree, however, that there is a fatal flaw? In the 1990s, the obsession with signals intelligence—SIGINT—over human intelligence left the west at a grave disadvantage, which needs to be made up. Even allowing for the real and welcome increases in expenditure on security services, which I wholly welcome, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the necessary steps will be taken to ensure that there is a constant build-up of our ability to decipher human intelligence in those parts of the world where the risk is greatest, so that we do not rely only on SIGINT?

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