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3 Mar 2003 : Column 606—continued

4.58 pm

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): I thank Members for the quality and tone of this debate, which were similar to those of the original debate on the legislation. They underlined the fundamental importance of the powers in the orders and the seriousness with which all Members take them.

We consider the detention powers in part 4 to be a fairly carefully crafted response to the threat, closing unacceptable loopholes that would allow foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism and threatening our national security to be at large on the streets. A difficult decision and difficult issues are involved, but we think this is the best option. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary regularly reviews the need for the powers, and we are very pleased that the Court of Appeal upheld them in its judgment earlier this year.

I am very short of time, as hon. Members will realise. I shall try to deal with as many of the points raised as I can, and I will respond later to hon. Members on the points raised that I am unable to deal with.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) asked about appeals proceeding without waiting for the outcome on derogation. He will probably know that SIAC is proceeding on that basis and we agree that it is right that it should do so.

The issue about links that the right hon. Gentleman raised from Lord Carlile's report is less straightforward. Certainly, we are prepared to look at that, but he will remember that there was considerable debate at the time the Bill went through. A Government amendment, to which he referred, tabled by Lord Rooker attempted to deal with those issues. We think that section 21(4) of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act as it is now worded should provide for the concerns that he

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expressed, but if the matter is continuing to cause concern certainly we will look at it again in the context of considering in more detail Lord Carlile's report.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) also raised a number of points from Lord Carlile's report. Again, the issue about acts "preparatory to" terrorism is less straightforward. We think that the recommendations relating to that point are encompassed by procedures already available to us, but again we will look at it. In relation to allowing for appeals from abroad where someone has been certificated but has gone voluntarily, SIAC has already determined that appeals may be continued from abroad. In fact, the two people who have already left are continuing their appeals against the certificates from the places to which they have gone.

Certainly, we will consider the JCHR report in some detail. In response to a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who have raised the issue of appeals to SIAC, and the point that the possibility of appeal is undermined by the delay in SIAC hearing those appeals, that delay is not caused by SIAC or, indeed, by those acting on behalf of the Government. The delay arises from the decision of the counsel for some of the appellants to deal first with the derogation issue rather than the appeal against the certificates. We had no involvement in that decision.

I have every sympathy with the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who I am sure would have put a much fuller case for his point, which I understand fully. However, I think that it is another Trojan horse for the Conservative position that we should come out of the ECHR and seek to re-enter with a reservation on article 3, which we have already heard several times. He must accept that these are difficult issues. He argues for the ability to deport people knowing that they may be killed if they are sent to places to which they could go back—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16.

Question agreed to.


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Bali Bombings

[Relevant documents: The Intelligence and Security Committee Report, Inquiry into Intelligence, Assessment and Advice prior to the Terrorist Bombings on Bali, 12th October 2002 (CM5724) and the Government response thereto (CM 5765).]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Heppell.]

5 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw) : I welcome this opportunity to debate the report on the Bali bombings produced by the Intelligence and Security Committee on 11 December last year, and the Government's written response published on 26 February.

The atrocity in Bali was an appalling act of terrorism. The slaughter was indiscriminate. People from many faiths and nations lost their lives. Many countries suffered terribly, not least Indonesia and Australia. For the United Kingdom, it was one of the worst terrorist attacks in our history—26 British and dual nationals died. I was reminded of the impact of the tragedy on communities across the UK only last month, when I attended the very moving memorial service for the victims, which was held in Southwark cathedral.

In the days and weeks following the attacks, the agony of those who had lost loved ones was compounded by speculation that the Government could have done more. In particular, there were allegations that we did not act on specific intelligence pointing towards an attack in Bali, and failed to inform the public of the dangers in advance.

It was for this reason that in my statement to the House on 21 October, I commissioned a review by the Intelligence and Security Committee to examine the Government's intelligence, assessments and advice prior to the bombings on 12 October. As I said in my statement to the House on 21 October, I did

could "have been made."

The House had an early opportunity to discuss the report on the day of its publication, 11 December, when I made a statement. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in extending thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), the Chair of the Committee, and to her colleagues in this House and in the other place, for their diligent work in putting together their response. The ISC produced a comprehensive report based on evidence from Ministers, from officials in the intelligence agencies and in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and from travel industry representatives.

I welcome the fact that the Committee's report found that it had

and that on the basis of the available intelligence

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I hope that this finding provides a measure of relief for the relatives of the victims. I also welcome the Committee's conclusion that in the months leading up to the attacks, sufficient priority was given to intelligence collection in respect of Indonesia.

The report did, however, contain two broad criticisms of the threat assessment process, and of the system that we have in place to provide accurate and timely travel advice to the British public, so let me deal with these in turn. First, the Committee said that the Security Service failed to make the correct assessment of the level of threat to British interests on the basis of the available intelligence. So it did not challenge the available intelligence, but it did say that incorrect assessments were made on the basis of it. In particular, the Committee's report said that the Security Service's current six levels of threat assessment did

The Committee said that although the Security Service had briefed the FCO orally, it took too long—more than two weeks—to issue a report on Indonesia in the aftermath of a failed attack on a United States diplomatic property in Jakarta on 23 September. The Committee also found that, given the intelligence on a terrorist attack in Indonesia and the

to deal with the threat, the Security Service made a "serious misjudgment" in failing to upgrade its assessment of the threat to general British interests from "significant" to "high".

The Security Service acts under the authority of the Home Secretary, so I will keep my remarks on these matters brief and to the point. Having been Home Secretary, I realise that my right hon. Friend the current Home Secretary is responsible for the running of the Security Service as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) will respond to points of detail relating to the Security Service, but I should say that, having worked very closely with it and its officials in my four years as Home Secretary—as well as continuing to witness their work in the 21 months since I became Foreign Secretary—I have the very highest regard for their professionalism and integrity, and for the trouble that they take to make the best assessments that they can, always on the basis of inadequate information, for that is the nature of intelligence.

During the period preceding the Bali bombings, Security Service experts, in assessing the threat to British interests in Indonesia, took account of all the available information as being significant. This means that the security climate was such that our general interests were likely to be a priority target for terrorists. However, the Security Service judged at the time, and continues to judge, that the intelligence referred to in the ISC report was not specific enough to cause it to raise the existing threat level to "high" from "significant".

I realise that that is a point of difference with the ISC. The Security Service takes the ISC's recommendations seriously and, in many other respects, they have been accepted, but it is right for me to place on record that if

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the Security Service had judged that it had made an error, I would have brought that to the attention of the House. The Security Service has reviewed the evidence and believes that its original judgment was correct.

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