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11 Dec 2002 : Column 254—continued


Q12. [84677] Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): When he next expects to meet his Commonwealth counterparts to discuss proposals for dealing with conflict resolution and human rights abuses in Africa.

The Prime Minister: The next major Commonwealth meeting is the Heads of Government meeting in Abuja from 5 to 8 December 2003. It is very likely that conflict resolution and human rights in Africa will be discussed.

Mr. Griffiths: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but will he continue the excellent work that is already being done by his Government in Africa and make special representations to President Mbeki, who is the only person who might be capable of bringing common sense, peace and prosperity back to Zimbabwe?

The Prime Minister: It is a desperately serious situation as 7 million people in Zimbabwe are facing food shortages. I know that President Obasanjo and President Mbeki are due to visit Zimbabwe shortly, and

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I hope that they have some impact in bringing home to the Zimbabwean regime the consequences of their actions.

As for Africa, I can assure my hon. Friend that we are very proud of the enormous commitment spearheaded by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and we are proud of the fact that, over the next few years, we will raise our contribution to Africa to #1 billion. We are also proud of the fact that we have been leading the way on international debt, which is one very good reason for having a Labour Government.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Is the Prime Minister aware that the people of Zimbabwe face far worse than food shortages, as he has just put it? Is he aware that recently a delegation of very brave men from Matabeleland met members of the Foreign Affairs

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Committee and told us stories of persecution bordering on genocide, the sterilisation of women and the forcible withholding of food from those who do not support the tyrant? Can he be a little more urgent in what he does to try to solve this despicable and dreadful problem?

The Prime Minister: First, I wholly agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about the situation in Zimbabwe. In addition to the points that he makes, one person in three in Zimbabwe now suffers from HIV/AIDS. I have to tell him that the only thing that we can do, and we are doing it with urgency, is to try to isolate the Zimbabwean leadership at every level and work with the Governments in the region to ensure that the situation in Zimbabwe changes. For that very reason, we led the calls to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. It has indeed been suspended, but, in the end, the countries in the region can exert most pressure, and we will help them do so.

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Bali: ISC Report

3.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the report published today by the Intelligence and Security Committee in respect of the terrorist bombings in Bali on 12 October.

This inquiry was established at my request, as I announced to the House on 21 October in a statement. I said then that I would be making available all relevant intelligence to the Committee so that it could make its own independent assessments of the facts. The Committee has since reviewed all intelligence relevant to Bali and taken evidence from the heads of the agencies, other officials, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and me.

The House will be aware that the Home Secretary is indisposed, recovering from a minor operation. For that reason, he cannot be here, but I hope that I speak for the whole House when I send him best wishes for a full recovery.

The Government welcome the report, and I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), the Chairman of the Committee, and her colleagues in the House and the other place for all their work. We will consider the recommendations carefully and let the Committee and the House know of our final conclusions as soon as possible.

I also know that the entire House will join me again in extending our deepest condolences to the relatives and friends of the victims of that terrible act. Special arrangements have been made today to contact the next of kin of the victims to tell them of this report.

As the report has only just been published, it may be helpful if I briefly summarise it and then tell the House of the Government's initial response. The Committee's report broadly covers four questions, which I shall deal with in turn. First, was intelligence collection in Indonesia a sufficiently high priority? The report says that sufficient priority was given to the collection of intelligence in respect of Indonesia, although since 11 September last year the volume of intelligence available to our intelligence agencies had increased

and that during the period in question the agencies received at least 150 separate reports covering at least 20 different countries.

Secondly, was any intelligence overlooked? That question, as the House will recall, was understandably raised by the relatives and friends who lost a loved one in the atrocity on 12 October. Having examined all the intelligence, the Committee concluded that it had

and that on the basis of the available intelligence

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Thirdly, did the Security Service make the correct assessment of the threat levels on the available intelligence? The Committee's report covers three areas. It says that the Security Service's current six levels of threat assessment do

and makes recommendations for change. It questions why, in the wake of a failed grenade attack on a United States diplomatic property in Jakarta on 23 September, it took the Security Service over two weeks to issue an internal report on Indonesia. Lastly, it says that because there was intelligence of a terrorist threat in Indonesia, because there was the possibility of displacement of targets, and taking into account

the Security Service made what the Committee says was a Xserious misjudgement" in failing to upgrade its assessment of the threat to British interests from Xsignificant" to Xhigh".

The staff of the Security Service must make fine judgments based on fragmentary intelligence and other information. In the absence of any specific material in the period preceding the Bali bombing, the service had assessed the threat to general British interests in Indonesia as being Xsignificant". As a result, the security climate was judged to be such that United Kingdom general interests were likely to be a priority target for terrorists.

As I know the Intelligence and Security Committee itself fully recognises, the staff of the Security Service are dedicated people who work to the highest professional standards. They can never publicly justify or defend themselves. But they, and we, must also be properly accountable for what we do, and we will of course take the Committee's recommendations on board.

Against the background of the increased global threat of terrorism, the Security Service began to review the system of threat assessment earlier this year. That work will now be informed by the Committee's findings, and will be brought to an early conclusion. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary leads on this, and I know he will ensure that the Committee and the House are kept fully informed.

The Committee's fourth set of conclusions concern travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Committee says that the travel advice at the time of the Bali bombing did not accurately reflect either the threat or recent developments in Indonesia, although it also says that the advice issued was Xproportional" to the Security Service's assessment of the threat, to which I just referred. It says that FCO travel advice is generally not communicated effectively to the public and the travel industry, and that the whole purpose of such advice should be reviewed.

Our travel advice is widely used by individual travellers and by the travel industry. There are some 670,000 visitors to our website each month. In the wake of the Bali bombing, I have put in hand a comprehensive review of the way in which our travel advice is both prepared and presented. We have already made some improvements, but we will be making further changes, drawing on the Committee's helpful recommendations.

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The purpose of travel advice is to provide reliable information to British travellers and residents overseas. It is vital that our advice is based on the assessments made by the Security Service. The intelligence agencies are best placed to evaluate the terrorist threat to British nationals both at home and overseas. That often involves difficult judgments where we have to ensure that travellers are warned of threats that we assess to be credible, while not causing panic by over-reacting to unsubstantiated pieces of information.

It is worth underlining that that often requires very difficult judgments. The safety and well-being of our nationals abroad is our prime concern, but as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last month, we must aim

If rather than properly seeking to separate truth from fiction the Government treated every terrorist threat as accurate, on many occasions in recent months we would have had to shut roads, shopping centres, airports, factories and military installations. That would serve only to cause panic—precisely the circumstances that the terrorists are striving to create.

We are always looking for ways to do this job better, to work more closely with our allies to ensure that collectively we do all we can to protect our citizens from the threat of terrorism, while allowing people to live, as far as possible, normal and free lives uninhibited by unnecessary or exaggerated fears, but I remind the House of a sobering point about intelligence: by its nature, when it works, which is usually the case, the public rarely get to hear about it, but there will always be exceptions, instances where despite our best efforts the terrorists slip through the intelligence net.

The tragic lesson from Bali is that British nationals are targets of terrorism in many parts of the world. The message for the Government is that we must all exercise constant vigilance if we are to avert future such tragedies. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say that we will never bow to the evils of terrorism. Its purpose is to undermine the very foundations of our free and democratic life, and our campaign against it will continue to be unrelenting both at home and overseas.

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