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15 Jan 2003 : Column 689—continued

Mr. Blunkett: On the latter point, I think that there will be lessons to be learned; the review arising from the major incident report will highlight the lessons. I can give an assurance that co-ordination between the security services, SO13—the anti-terrorism branch—and the local police was very good, and that the initial incursion was a success. As I said earlier, arms and body armour were available and were used. It was a subsequent part of the process of dealing with the three people in the dwelling and with what was discovered that led, tragically, to Stephen Oake's death.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): I join my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the whole House in offering my commiserations to the family of Stephen Oake. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is at times such as this that we are forced to focus on the great bravery that we ask of servicing officers in Greater Manchester police and in police forces generally? It is a dangerous job. Fortunately, this sort of tragedy does not happen too often, but it is something that is in the very nature of the role that the police perform.

My right hon. Friend had to act against those suspected of involvement in terrorism. Will he make it clear from the Dispatch Box that asylum seekers in Manchester or elsewhere in Britain are not collectively accused of involvement in terrorism? We must recognise that the vast majority of those who seek refuge in this country want to contribute to the British way of life and do not, sadly, as in this case, want to take from it.

Mr. Blunkett: I reiterate my hon. Friend's point. We must make it clear that we deal with individuals who threaten our lives, not with groups of individuals whom we can dub in a particular way at a particular time for a particular purpose.

We have all commented on police bravery. High-profile events such as yesterday's capture the headlines, but it is worth remembering those who lost their lives in

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less high-profile events because of the bravery that they showed. I think that our families would want us to do that as well.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), I represent members of Greater Manchester police who live in east Cheshire. I know that Stephen's death will be felt deeply in the police community and throughout the Manchester area and the Cheshire area.

May I ask the Home Secretary about the nature and scale of the terrorist threat? I have heard informed Government sources say that there are about 1,000 people in this country who are potential international terrorist operatives. Is that figure really correct—are we talking about a threat of that magnitude?

Mr. Blunkett: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman seriously expects me to speculate on the number of people who may or may not pose a terrorist threat. What I can say clearly to the House is that anyone who is suspected of posing a terrorist threat, or who is suspected of dealing with or succouring terrorists, will of course be under surveillance and will be dealt with appropriately. There are no meaningful and verifiable figures of the sort used in the media, and I do hope that the considered and sensible way in which we have normally dealt with these matters in the House not only prevails here, but is reflected in the media. One of the great strengths of our country is that we are not just stoical; we deal with things with a clear and hard head, and we know what does and does not make sense.

Angela Eagle (Wallasey): May I also associate myself with condolences offered to the family of Stephen Oake, and to those officers who were injured? I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), in that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman's response to today's statement constituted a misjudgment. Will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary comment on the progress that is being made in international co-operation among law enforcement agencies, particularly within the European Union, to try to anticipate such threats, and to prevent the threats to our country and our way of life that the arrests of Algerian terrorist gangs in the past week have demonstrated?

Mr. Blunkett: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work in helping to secure precisely that co-operation across Europe, both in terms of immigration and of the policing and security services, and I thank her for it. We have been building on that through genuine co-operation between the services, and by enabling people to share data. Eurodac—the fingerprinting database that was announced only a day or two ago by the relevant Minister—assists us by enabling the sharing of that information and the tracking of those who pose a threat to us all.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport): May I add my condolences to those eloquently expressed by other Members; and can the Home Secretary say how long the suspected terrorists involved in this case have been in this country, and in the north-west in particular?

Mr. Blunkett: I can deal with the individual who was certified yesterday, and who was arrested in

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Manchester. He has been in this country, off and on, for about four years. He sought asylum and was refused, took his case to appeal, absconded and disappeared, and was then tracked. This is the real issue for the House: he was not let go and forgotten about; he was tracked by the security services, to the point where we were about to arrest and deal with him under legislation passed in autumn 2001.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): In passing on my condolences to the Oake family, may I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to look again at taking action against those who incite such violence? I am referring to Abu Hamza, for example, who, incidentally, was given permission to remain in the United Kingdom by the previous Government. May I remind my right hon. Friend that when Abu Hamza spoke in Burnley four years ago—Burnley is not that far from Manchester—he used language to incite precisely such violent knife attacks on what he called Xnon-believers"? What happened last night was exactly the sort of incident that Abu Hamza has been inciting for many years. Is it not time to take such threats and statements seriously, and to take action against Abu Hamza and others of his ilk?

Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend has been assiduous in rightly pursuing these incidents and issues—as have I—to ensure that the Metropolitan police and, where necessary, the security services evaluate the words and the actions of individuals such as the one mentioned this afternoon. We all know how difficult this matter is, given that there are those who are very careful not to overstep the mark. Baroness Thatcher had exactly the same problems with this individual—this is not a party political point—way back in 1990–91. Real attempts were made to deal with him, but his care in not crossing the line caused the then Government and the police to back off. However, make no mistake about it: every word and every action is being monitored, and we need to do so in a way that secures the confidence of people who are sick and tired of individuals like him abusing our hospitality.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): May I briefly touch on one point that has been raised on several occasions? The fact that my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary asks questions that occasionally discomfit the Government does not mean that they are illegitimate, and it is a pity that the manner in which his questions have been considered has created that reaction.

Yesterday's events in Manchester, about which people have spoken movingly, demonstrate—if ever it needed to be demonstrated—that the distinction between our domestic security and our foreign security is not a real one. I therefore suggest to the Home Secretary that he and his right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary discuss a means whereby we can have a debate in this House during which the security of this country at home and abroad is considered in a calm, rational and mature atmosphere, so that the Government can explain their overall policy

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on international terrorism overseas, and its effects on our national security in this country. That would help us to avoid being reactive, and therefore ill tempered.

Mr. Blunkett: On the first point, I do not want to get sidetracked into considering the actions or words of the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). I have reflected, however, on whether my first reaction if I were in opposition would have been to appear on XNewsnight" and to make the remarks about asylum that he made. I can only presume that the dramatic change of character and approach of the past few weeks has been engendered from elsewhere. I have a great deal of time for the right hon. Gentleman, and it is very sad indeed to see this transformation taking place.

On the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) about having a debate, we had a measured, sane and rational debate on 11 July, but as I have said before, I think that it was reported in only one column of one newspaper. I commend that newspaper—I think that it was The Independent—because it usually has a real go at me; in fact, I have never known it not to do so.

Secondly, we will shortly be debating the renewal of some of the powers in part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. I hope that that will also provide an opportunity to reflect on these matters, and that we are able, as we so often are, to transcend party politics in not only addressing the issues, but making sensible suggestions that a wise Government are clever enough to take on board.

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