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I have in mind the broader question of when lethal force should be used by agents of the state. I am no lily-livered liberal on this matterI recognise that lethal force was used to great effect in Northern Ireland, not least in Loughgallbut we need sophisticated rules and good intelligence when it comes to the use of lethal force. Rules of engagement need to be debated in public. We had clear rules of engagementa red card and a yellow card system operated in Northern Irelandand when we were operating in very difficult conditions in Bosnia, we also had clearly laid-out rules of engagement that were influenced by moral and operational factors. We need to have that debate in public; we do not want such decisions to be left either to the Metropolitan police or to Ministers alone.
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Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely astonishing that such a fundamental shift in Metropolitan police policya lethal policywas not agreed by the Prime Minister but was left to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner himself?
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We naturally recognise that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has heavy responsibilities on his shoulders, but we need to recognise that lethal force may well be used in dealing with the terrorist threat and that its use must be subject to open debate in the House. The taking of life, even in the defence of innocents, is a momentous task to devolve on to any public servant, and we must ensure that we have proper debate about how such force is used.
We need not only proper debate about the rules of engagement, but a proper recognition of the role that intelligence can play. It would be otiose for me to mention some of the issues on which intelligence services and their decisions have been questioned in the House over the past few years. Suffice it for me to say that both MI5 and MI6the intelligence and counter-intelligence servicesare underfunded by the Government. Ever since the 1990s, not only has counter-subversion activity been wound down, but the co-ordination of the work of MI5 and MI6 has been less than effectively prosecuted.
We need to ensure not only that there is proper funding and staffing for counter-subversion, but that MI5 and MI6 talk to each other effectively. We must recognise that many subversive elements in this country will have received training and funding from abroad, often from regimes that the Government have unfortunately coddled or been insufficiently robust towards. We must be aware of those links when we debate not only funding, but the operational guidance that we give to our intelligence and security services.
Ultimately, the best preparation for any emergency is action to avert it from taking place. The most effective action that we can take is to assure those who act in our name that they have the resources that they need, clear rules by which they operate and a guarantee that when their actions are scrutinised in the House and elsewhere, there will be no shuffling off of responsibility and no spin, but honesty, authority and grip.
Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), on her clear exposition of the issues surrounding the avian flu pandemic that faces us. However, it is peculiar that although the debate is entitled "Emergency Preparedness", the Opposition have focused almost exclusively on health matters. It was quite heartening to hear the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) at least touch on other matters. It was a peculiar choice of title for the debate given that the Opposition really wanted to discuss health.
The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) made an interesting speech and his academic thoughtfulness was welcome. I only wish that he would listen to his own arguments, vote with the Government and have the courage of his convictions to persuade his colleagues to follow suit.
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I examined London's emergency preparedness when I was a member of another placethe London assembly. The assembly conducted full scrutiny of the various organisations involved in dealing with London's security. I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) that the 25 elected members of the assembly had robust discussions about the matter, albeit inevitably in private, and that all the recommendations that we made were taken on board and came into full effect on 7 July.
Among the recommendations was the suggestion that the London Mayor should have a clear role in communicating with Londoners. He was heavily involved in the discussions and emergency preparedness for London. We recommended that communication with Londoners should be betterseveral hon. Members have mentioned that pointand that links with local government should be made clearer. We suggested that the gold command should include someone from local government because we realised that many needs in any emergency would be provided for by London's local government.
I hope that I can be forgiven for talking about my constituency for a moment. The Mayor recently launched the "Spirit of London" bus. It is a special bus in Hackney because it is usually used on the No. 30 bus route. Of course many of us remember that it was the No. 30 bus that was blown up on 7 July. The No. 30 bus goes to Hackney Wick. Two weeks later, the No. 26 bus, which was on its way to Hackney Wick, had a bomb on it, too. One of the dead on the day was a student at Hackney community college, so Hackney sorely appreciates the importance of emergency preparedness in London. We all recognise that the emergency services did an excellent job that day and should be congratulated by us all. I am pleased that hon. Members have said that today, as do the motion and the amendment.
I put on record my personal congratulations to the local borough police command in Hackney and especially the borough commander, Simon Pountain. He and his team have done an excellent job developing community relations in Hackney and have been praised by the excellent inter-faith forum in Hackney. The forum brings together rabbis, imams and priests to work together on community relations and they universally respect Simon Pountain. His officers were busy building community relations after the bombs of 7 July. They conducted bus searches on that day and have since been engaged continually in a highly visible policing strategy to reassure the citizens of Hackney, South and Shoreditch. I commend Hackney as a model for such work on community relations to my hon. Friend the Minister of State and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety.
Despite today's erudite debate, I am not exactly sure how a homeland security Minister would have helped Hackney or London on 7 July. The hon. Member for Northavon mentioned an article in one of today's papers that cited an expert who talked about how we deal with the weak, not the strong. I will not go into it, because time is short, but I think that how we deal with the elderly and with vulnerable disabled people is a clear issue in relation to a flu pandemic. The comments of my hon. Friend the Minister of State about a combination of the two viruses show how critical it is that flu jabs take
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place. As a former carer, I am aware of many of the issues that prevent older people from accessing flu jabsmy hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) went into the details, so I do not need to do so. Again, however, I do not understand how a homeland security Minister would tackle such issues.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): The hon. Lady should compare how the London Mayor dealt with the events of 7 July with what might happen if an event occurred that affected Britain as a whole. There is a direct comparison between what happened on 9/11, when one mayor took ownership of co-ordination, and the events after hurricane Katrina struck, when there was complete confusion because there was no focus for activities[Interruption.] There was a breakdown in communication, which would not happen on such a scale in the United Kingdom. I agree that America has a different system for emergencies, but does the hon. Lady agree that a homeland security Minister here could avoid such problems because our nation is far smaller?
Meg Hillier: No, I do not agreein fact, the hon. Gentleman has caught himself out. We have an excellent Labour Mayor of London and an excellent Labour Prime Minister, and the latter would be the person responsible for taking a lead in any national event, as he did on 7 July, together with other Ministers. The model that we have recently seen in action in America is not one that we should emulate.
I have no particular local perspective on avian flu. Not many people keep chickens in Hackney, South and Shoreditchalthough I recommend to the House Hoxton Manor honey, which is delicious and is made by bees who live in Hoxtonbut the debate has encouraged me to visit the local city farm.
To end on a serious note, we should not be making party political jibes about emergency preparedness, which is a serious issue facing the country. I am heartened to know that the work of Ministers is thorough and good. We cannot say that a single overarching Ministercertainly not one junior to the Cabinetwould be the right person to co-ordinate the response to a range of events. We have the Secretary of State for Health taking the lead on avian flu, and the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister took the lead on 7 July. We have horses for courses, and Labour has some excellent horses on those courses.
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