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11 Dec 2002 : Column 263—continued

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. We accept that the report highlights a need for changes in the way that intelligence is assessed and threat assessments are made, and in subsequent processing to a public result in terms of travel advice. Changes were put in hand after Bali, and some changes preceded that incident. However, the nature of the ISC's report means that the changes are likely to be accelerated and made more thorough.

Travel advice given by the UK is well regarded. Huge efforts are made to ensure its comprehensiveness and integrity, but it can always be improved. I have been looking at the nature of the advice and how it is presented on the website. There are ways in which we could change and better standardise the format of the advice, to ensure that it is more easily readable and that it refers to the websites of comparable countries such as the US, as has been suggested.

The ISC inquiry to which the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) referred is the second that has been conducted. The first was established in September 1999 in respect of the Mitrokhin disclosures, when I was Home Secretary. The second inquiry, in respect of Bali, was established just six weeks ago. The ISC's specific inquiries and its general work show the value of such scrutiny by senior parliamentarians.

Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): On behalf of members of the ISC, may I join my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in extending our sympathy to the families of those involved in the tragic bombing in Bali? I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and for making all the relevant intelligence available to the Committee. We could not have done our work without that, or without the full co-operation of the agencies and Ministers who gave advice. We are also very grateful for the high degree of co-operation in terms of what has been published in the report, which for the first time includes the system of threat-assessment levels. It is important that people can see that, so that better judgments can be made in the future.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was right to draw the House's attention to the Committee's conclusion that, according to the available intelligence, there was no action that the UK and its allies could have taken to prevent the attack. It is important that we bear that in mind, as the report contains other important criticisms.

The ISC shares my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's view that the staff of the Security Service, some of whom we met again this morning, are dedicated people who work in a professional way. For that reason, the Committee did not reach lightly its conclusion that there was serious misjudgment in the threat assessment made for Bali. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will work with my right hon. Friend the

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Home Secretary to ensure that the review of the system of threat levels is completed as quickly as possible? That is not necessarily so that we can monitor what happens in Australia, America or elsewhere, but so that we get the assessment right for threats to British interests such as embassies and people. Occasionally, different judgments will be made.

Will the Foreign Office ensure that the totality of the ISC's recommendations for changes to travel advice is taken forward urgently and put in the context of the remarks that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made in his Mansion house speech about public awareness and education, given the new threats that everyone faces from international terrorism?

Finally, I thank my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in particular, and the Government in general, for turning the report around so quickly. The Committee finished its work only on Monday evening, and we are impressed that the report has been published so quickly. I urge my right hon. Friend to use his best endeavours, as some Committee members will, to persuade my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to have a debate on these matters early in the new year.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for everything that she has said, and for the manner in which she said it. I am also grateful to all the members of the Committee, who have dealt with the inquiry very assiduously.

My right hon. Friend underlined the Committee's first conclusion that the United Kingdom could have taken no action on the available intelligence that could have prevented the atrocity. It is very hard—indeed, it is awful—for those who were bereaved, and, as I said in my statement six weeks ago, they are bound to have the idea that some intelligence was overlooked that could have prevented the atrocity. That is not the case. Given the criticism that my right hon. Friend's Committee makes, I am glad that she has placed it on record—I know that she feels this very strongly—that the staff of the Security Service are dedicated professionals.

My right hon. Friend asks whether I will work with the Home Secretary to complete the review of threat assessments as soon as possible. Yes, although, as I explained to the House, it is primarily the responsibility of the Home Secretary, as he is responsible for the Security Service. We must get it right for the United Kingdom and I shall certainly act on the totality of the Committee's recommendations on travel advice.

As for having a debate, my right hon. Friend, as a former Leader of the House, will know that all Members who speak from the Front Bench are under a strict injunction never to offer a debate but only to say that we will raise it with the Leader of the House.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I allowed some latitude to the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), as Chairman of the Committee, but I appeal to other hon. Members to be brief because we have another statement and important business thereafter.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the son of a constituent of

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mine was one of the British citizens who was murdered at Bali, that he had been married five months previously and that he relied on a life assurance policy taken out by his employer to offer financial protection to his wife—now his widow? Is he further aware that my constituent told me this morning, in advance of the Foreign Secretary's statement, that the employer has now expressed doubts as to whether the life policy will be valid because his late son lost his life in an act of terrorism? The Foreign Secretary has rightly made it clear that there is a continuing grave threat to British citizens abroad and possibly in this country as well. Can he assure the House that the Government will have immediate discussions with the insurance industry to ensure that life policy protection against acts of terrorism remains in place for the people of this country?

Mr. Straw: The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's last question is yes. I should be grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I could, through you, pass on to the family concerned my sincere condolences. I would be happy to see the right hon. Gentleman and, if he feels it appropriate, his constituent to discuss the details of the points that he has raised.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Thanks to the new system of distributing ministerial statements, it is possible to quote the Foreign Secretary accurately. He said:


Could it be that British nationals are targets because of the bombing of the already traumatised children of Iraq, and that although we must fight terrorism, if we go ahead with bombing and war against Iraq, might not the eventual winners be Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and the dreadful people who perpetrated Bali?

Mr. Straw: The answer to my hon. Friend is no and no again. Children in Iraq are traumatised by the atrocities perpetrated by Saddam Hussein.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The Foreign Secretary is surely right when he says that both Australia and Britain suffered grievous casualties at Bali and both avoided casualties subsequently in Mombasa. However, is it not the case that the one was the result of good luck while the other was the result of good judgment? Is it not a fact that, based on the same intelligence, Australia gave a much more specific warning to its travelling population than our Government gave to ours? Is it not a fact that this was a serious misjudgment and failure by our Government?

Mr. Straw: I do not accept that. It is a matter that I have discussed separately with the Intelligence and Security Committee. I realise that the hon. Gentleman follows these things with some care, but it is very easy to have wisdom after the event. The Australians based what they said on similar intelligence to that provided to the United Kingdom, and United States intelligence was similar to that of the UK rather than to that of the Australians. Notwithstanding the criticism made by the ISC that I have published today, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom all gave similar travel advice in respect of Bali and none of our travel advisories warned directly against travel to Bali.

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May I remind the hon. Gentleman of a point made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay)? In our exchanges on 21 October, the right hon. Gentleman warned of the genuine problem of Xwarning fatigue". We must be careful to ensure that the credibility of our travel advisories is properly preserved. The primary concern has to be that of the safety and security of British travellers, but how we achieve that is a matter of difficult judgments.


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