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15 Jan 2003 : Column 686—continued

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): First, I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and all my colleagues around the country, especially those in Greater Manchester and Cheshire, in associating ourselves with expressions by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary of love, sympathy and gratitude to Stephen Oake's family, and of support and solidarity to chief constable Mike Todd and all those who work with him in Greater Manchester police. Many of us have personal experience of their calibre and quality and want to put on record the debt we all owe them.

I endorse entirely the tone of the Home Secretary's response to the previous intervention. The raids in Wood Green, in Edinburgh, in Bournemouth and in Crumpsall yesterday show that the intelligence services and the police are very much in command of the situation. They are a tribute to the work done behind the scenes and in difficult circumstances, and the public need to know that the Home Secretary has every confidence that we are managing the terrorist threat and the threats from individuals to our liberties in a very professional, effective and advanced way. I share the right hon. Gentleman's views in that respect.

Will the Home Secretary deal with three matters that I hope are appropriate to raise now? Will he confirm that the police's view remains that the presumption should be that they are not routinely armed, but that any police force that feels that, to do their job, its officers need to be armed or to have special protective clothing or other protective equipment can use such equipment when the judgment on the ground is that it is appropriate? Will he also confirm that there are no restrictions on that?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the reality today, even if it was not 50 years ago, is that the special branch of the Met, the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service show that we have a level of national policing because there is national activity that has to cross the boundaries of police forces? Does not the reality of policing today mean that we must recognise, formally and openly, that, built on the foundations of local policing, we now need regional, national and international policing; and that unless that level of policing is fully supported, we will not be able to counter those who work internationally and are no respecters of police authority or police force boundaries?

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Finally, while I share the Home Secretary's view that terrorism in this country is no more the province of asylum seekers than of other foreign nationals who come here or British-born persons who are persuaded of that awful route, is it not worth re-examining the recommendation of the Select Committee on Home Affairs that we could do well by toughening our border controls and replacing the three different agencies that share responsibility at our airports and seaports with one common border force? If the Home Secretary reconsidered that course of action, he would have considerable support. It would allow our liberties, including liberty of movement, to remain, but be the most effective way of ensuring that those who seek to undermine liberty are caught, dealt with and prosecuted according to law.

Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks.

It is not our intention that the police should be routinely armed, but our clear objective, and that of chief constables across the country, is that they should be able to make a local decision in the light of circumstances. I understand that the chief constable of Greater Manchester, Mike Todd, had made that decision in respect of the original incursion into the buildings last night.

Secondly, I share the view that we need the best possible co-ordination between existing crime and intelligence agencies. We are considering how to make sure that, as we do at European level and internationally, we do that more effectively nationally and regionally. SO13, led by David Veness from the Met, performs that role in anti-terrorist and special branch functions very well indeed.

On the third question, if memory serves, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) raised that issue with me at the time of the proscription of the four organisations that we dealt with in the autumn. I said at the time that I did not rule out a change in the organisation of border and port controls. It is worth examining that, as we have in respect of security at airports, within the context of having a clearly focused, prioritised and objective way of using the services available to us to target those whom we know form a genuine risk.

Those people, whether in the press or in this House, who believe that we could surveil, secure details of and verify 100 per cent. the security ratings of the 90 million people who pass through our ports and airports each year are living in a totally different world. From talking to the Attorney General of the United States, it appears that the US takes the same view. Through intelligence work and security, we must take a prioritised and focused approach; it is the only way in which we can proceed, and it is all that we can do. Despite our best efforts and the efforts of those who work for us, in the end, in a global economy with global movements, we cannot create a fortress Britain.

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley): I pay tribute to Stephen Oake and the other officers who were injured in my constituency last night. I wish particularly to pass on my condolences to the family. I have just realised, having read the front page of The Daily

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Telegraph, that I know Stephen's father quite well from the world of international sport. He chaired the Isle of Man commonwealth games committee and we worked together on the Manchester games and in the run-up to them. I therefore feel particularly emotional and upset. My thoughts are with Robin and the family.

I pay tribute to the refreshingly open way in which the new chief constable of Greater Manchester has provided a great deal more information than we have come to expect. I suspect that he has provided as much information as he can to reassure the local community and the country as a whole.

I live within a couple of hundred yards of where last night's incident took place. I know that the relationships in what is a very mixed cultural and ethnic community are extremely good. I ask my right hon. Friend to agree with me that there is a national problem of international terrorism, and that it is not a Manchester or north London problem.

Mr. Blunkett: Once again, we reiterate our condolences and understand my hon. Friend's words. I can confirm entirely what he said. The actions taken arising from the decision to certify one individual were taken on the basis that we want action wherever and whenever it is necessary.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Detective Constable Stephen Robin Oake was one of my constituents. He lived with his wife of 20 years, Lesley, and his son and two daughters in the village of Poynton in my constituency. He was a thoroughly committed, dedicated and brave career professional policeman. His father, as we heard from the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer), was an assistant chief constable in Greater Manchester, following which he was chief constable of the Isle of Man constabulary.

I make a plea that the media and others respect the grief and the privacy of the Oake family. I ask for a total commitment from the Home Secretary and express the hope—I am grateful, on behalf of the family, for the sympathy that has been expressed by the Home Secretary, by the Prime Minister, by the Leader of the Opposition and by the spokesman for the Liberal party—that the Government, the House and all political parties will do all within their power to ensure that Stephen's life was not lost in vain and to ensure that terrorism does not succeed.

Mr. Blunkett: We all join the hon. Gentleman in requesting that the privacy and integrity of the family be respected and agree that we have an obligation, whatever debates take place across the Dispatch Boxes, to ensure that Stephen Oake did not die in vain. We must learn lessons from what is happening and what happened last night, and apply them in protecting ourselves.

Mr. Kaufman: Following the dignified and moving intervention of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer), may I say that the people of Manchester and the family of the murdered police officer, who are mourning that death and lamenting the injuries to the

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other police officers, will not take kindly to politicians seeking to score cheap political points over a deeply sad, tragic and alarming event? Hon. Members who seek to do so will win scorn rather than support.

I agree with what the hon. Member for Macclesfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley said, but this terrible event demonstrates that terrorism knows no frontiers inside the country or outside it, and that the measures that we are taking against terrorism are justified.

Mr. Blunkett: I share entirely the points made by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): I, too, extend my condolences to the family of DC Oake. It may be too soon for the Home Secretary to comment, but I ask him to assure the House, if he is able to do so, that last night's tragic events were not in any way caused by a co-ordination failure between the security services, the local special branch and Greater Manchester police. Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that any lessons can be learned in improving that co-ordinaton, which might save other tragedies in future?

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