Previous SectionIndexHome Page

11 Dec 2002 : Column 259—continued

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance notice of both his statement and the report. I join him in sending our best wishes to the Home Secretary for a speedy recovery.

We on the Conservative Benches welcome the report and its contents. It is a very serious report with very serious implications for the security of British citizens abroad. We owe great gratitude to the members and the chairman of the committee for producing it so quickly. I take this opportunity to join the Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to the dedication of our security services, which work largely unthanked and unsung on behalf of the citizens of this country. I renew our condolences to the victims and the bereaved from the murderous Bali bomb.

At the time of the bombing, I called for the Committee to investigate what information had been available prior to the Bali bomb. I also asked that there

11 Dec 2002 : Column 260

be a full debate on the report. I hope that, notwithstanding the statement today, the Government will make time available for such a debate, particularly after they have completed their own consideration of the recommendations in the report.

I referred at the time to Australian Prime Minister John Howard's belief that we have an obligation to have procedure Xthoroughly examined". Today's report supports that view, and its recommendations largely endorse the actions that I called for at the time of the Bali bombing.

As the report indicates, there are serious lessons to be learned from Bali. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary must share my concern at the Committee's findings that the pre-11 September Foreign Office travel advice was clearer on the threat to British interests in Indonesia than the advice that was available in August this year.

There are a number of urgent recommendations relating to the security services and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Those must be responded to swiftly, comprehensively and sufficiently openly to restore public confidence in the advice that flows from their activities. One of the major deficiencies highlighted in today's report concerns the levels of threat grading. The Committee calls for the gap between the level Xsignificant" and the level Xhigh" to be addressed. I am sure that the Government will wish to consider that. Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether the Australians and/or the Americans grade their threat assessments in the same way, and whether we can learn from them?

Even before this report, were early lessons learned from Bali? The Foreign Secretary said that improvements had been made, but the Australian Government, in particular, do seem to have learned lessons from Bali. Ahead of the attack in Mombasa on 28 November, they warned their citizens

All that the Foreign Office warned was that there might be an increased terrorist threat. There is a substantial difference between those two warnings.

The Australian Government warned in mid-November:

What was the Foreign Office warning, and why was Mombasa not mentioned? Why was travel advice not changed until I wrote to the Foreign Secretary on 29 November raising the disturbing similarities with the action taken by the Foreign Office in the run-up to the Bali bombing?

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is essential that the public can have confidence in the travel advice issued by his Department, and that the report must be acted upon swiftly to restore lost confidence? The inconsistency between the United Kingdom and Australia may have dented that confidence yet further. The right hon. Gentleman must tell the House today what steps have been taken to improve consistency.

Was our intelligence in relation to both Bali and Mombasa the same as that available to the Australian Government? Were the threat assessments that were made the same, and if so, why did we give the same travel advice on the first occasion, but different travel

11 Dec 2002 : Column 261

advice on the second occasion? Were the threat assessments to the embassy in Jakarta and to the high commission in Mombasa the same or different? What were the levels for Nairobi when we know that in Jakarta the level was Xhigh"? Were the equivalent threats to general British interests in Kenya the same as those being issued in Indonesia, where the level was said to be Xsignificant"?

Has the Foreign Secretary seriously considered a more joined-up approach to the issuing of travel advice? Should not countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom consider a more co-operative approach? Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the effect of Foreign Office travel advice on the validity of travel insurance claims for holidays cancelled as a result of the advice given?

The report refers to there being insufficiency of information to prevent specific terrorist attacks, and the Foreign Secretary has written to me in similar terms—but does he not agree that although there may frequently be insufficient information to prevent an attack, that same information may be sufficient to establish a threat to British interests, which should be reflected in the travel advice? Was that not the case with Bali, and even more with Mombasa?

I urge the right hon. Gentleman to heed the words of the committee in its conclusion:

Can he assure the House that he will waste no time in implementing all the recommendations of the report?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's comments about my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and about the relatives of the victims of this atrocity, and the staff of the Security Service—and, I might add, all the other intelligence agencies as well. He asked whether there would be a full debate on the subject, and I note his request. When I made my original statement six weeks ago I promised that I would do my best to ensure that the report was brought to the House as quickly as possible, and that is exactly what has happened; we received the report only yesterday. The request for a full debate will, of course, be dealt with in the usual way by the usual channels.

The right hon. Gentleman made a number of points as a sort of reprise of the report—and yes, since he asks, we are, as I have already made clear, moving swiftly to consider the recommendations in full. We will report both to the ISC and to the House. For reasons that the House fully understands, we can report rather more thoroughly to the ISC than to the House, because the ISC meets in confidence—but we shall report to the House as thoroughly as we can.

The categorisation of threat levels is published in today's ISC report—probably the first time that it has been published in this way. The right hon. Gentleman asked about such categorisation in respect of Australia and the United States. I will write to him with more information—if I have it—but my understanding is that neither the United States nor Australia makes public even the categorisation. While we were content for the basic categorisation to be published—we will of course take full account of the Committee's recommendation

11 Dec 2002 : Column 262

for an intermediate threat level between Xsignificant" and Xhigh"—it is firmly not our intention to make public the judgments made about threat assessments for individual countries, because in many cases to do so could inform terrorists that we have information about them. The Security Service makes its assessments as objectively as possible. They are then taken into account—not in an automatic way, but as a matter of judgment—alongside other factors, and that is reflected in the travel advice. Whenever a threat level changes, we reconsider the travel advice; it does not follow that, whenever a threat level changes, the travel advice is automatically altered.

The right hon. Gentleman asked several questions about the terrorist outrage in Mombasa. First, I am glad to say that there were no British casualties in Mombasa. In a letter to him, I said:

As Alexander Downer, the Australian Foreign Minister, said:

[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman seems to be muttering about the difference in advice, and I am about to come to that. It is always going to be the case that different countries, even if they are using the same intelligence, may come to different judgments. In some recent cases—they do not relate to the matter under consideration—the intelligence shared between key countries may be specific to the nationals of one country, rather than another; in others, we might come to slightly different judgments. So there may be good explanations as to why there are differences.

However, the right hon. Gentleman makes a good point when he suggests that, although there are high levels of co-operation at the moment between key countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand—and, to a different degree, with our European partners—we can always do more to upgrade co-operation. That is something to which I shall apply myself personally in the coming days.

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): We also welcome the statement, and I am grateful for the advance copy that the Foreign Secretary provided. May I associate Liberal Democrat Members with the good wishes offered to the Home Secretary, and with the condolences expressed by the Foreign Secretary to the families of those killed in Bali? The tragedy there, and the subsequent one in Mombasa, has highlighted the real dangers of terrorism across the globe and the importance of high-quality intelligence to assess the threats that British citizens face.

We would welcome the Foreign Secretary's recognition that, despite best efforts and the high quality of our security services, mistakes were made in the assessment of intelligence and in the advice given before the Bali bomb. Will he be seeking changes in the ways in which intelligence is assessed and acted on once received? In the light of the Australian experience, does he accept that the public will now expect a qualitative improvement in the nature and timing of the advice that

11 Dec 2002 : Column 263

the Foreign Office gives? Finally, does he agree that the Committee's inquiry process was a worthwhile exercise and a useful precedent, and that it should be given the remit and resources to extend this type of work in future?

Next Section

IndexHome Page