Two of the bombers went to terrorist training camps in Pakistan and undertook weapons training, as the Home Secretary mentioned in his statement. Paragraph 75(e) of the official account is very vague on that matter. It is said that the British intelligence agencies did not obtain any usable information on these peoples activities from the Pakistani intelligence services. Why did that happen?
We are also toldthe Home Secretary alluded to itthat Khan and Tanweer met al-Qaeda leaders and discussed jihad with them. How, then, can the Government represent these people as members of an independent freelance group? If they are, how did al-Qaeda get a copy of Khans suicide video in order to splice on to it its own propaganda, which involved its second most important member, before it was broadcast in September?
I take the opportunity of paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who has done a remarkable job with his Committee, which produced an extremely insightful report, as the Home Secretary recognised. Having said that, although the Intelligence and Security Committee is impartial, wise and of the highest integrity, it is constitutionally limited in what it can achieve. That is partly because of the limitation on its investigative resources, partly because of its remit and partly because it is constituted in such a way as to be entirely dependent on the intelligence agencies for its information and on their willingness to disclose such information.
The process has, frankly, raised more questions than answers. After the 9/11 tragedy, the United States Senate had a very well resourced and independent report with very hard-hitting conclusions. After Madrid, the Spanish Government had an independent report and learned serious lessons from it. In this country, after the Falklands war, even though secret intelligence issues were at stake, we had the independent Franks report. Almost every previous major intelligence failure was dealt with by an independent inquiry, but I am afraid that that is not what we have today in the official account, which expresses the Governments view rather than an independent view. As a result, the process has left too many questions unresolved.
In the interests of people who have lost their lives and of protecting those who have not, can we now have what we should have had from the starta fully resourced independent inquiry into what was clearly a major failure of our intelligence systems?
John Reid: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generous welcome. I, too, regret the fact that we are dealing with such a sombre subject on my first outing as Home Secretary. May I assure him of our willingness to learn? I do not regard this as a party political issue: it is one that unites the nation in the desire to protect ourselves and our citizens and to learn. If necessary, we shall learn from each other, and I stand ready to do that.
I merely point out, in the same spirit of generosity with which he welcomed me, that the scope, remit and statute under which the ISC was established was defined not by this Government, but by the Conservative Government in which the right hon. Gentleman served. Secondly, the reason for public inquiries, including the Franks inquiry, prior to the establishment of the ISC, was precisely because of the absence of such a scrutiny Committee. It was appropriate for the ISC to be given the task. It is independent of the Government and values its independence. To the best of my knowledge, it has been given as much assistance, aid and leeway as possible, and I believe that it has produced a very useful report.
Let me turn to some of the hon. Gentlemans specific points. It was legitimate for him to raise them, and I will answer insofar as I can, without intruding into areas that affect operational matters. His first point was about several newspaper stories on the four bombers. As to the Tanweer story, relating to what happened a month before 7/7, I am told by the Security Service that it has no record of that allegation, so I do not think that there is a factual basis to it.
What is known is that there was some peripheral intelligence on two of the bombers in connection with another investigation. So far as I can understand from paragraph 45, on page 14, from all the relevant intelligence material and from the independent scrutiny of the Intelligence and Security Committee, a judgment was made on whether the actions and assessments of the Security Service were understandable and correct at the time. The report confirms that the Security Service came across two individuals, who were subsequently identified as Khan and Tanweer, on the peripheries of another investigation. However, I should mention three heavy caveats.
First, it was only after 7 July that the Security Service was able fully to identify the two men, given the massive concentration of resources then transferred. Secondly, there was no intelligence at the time that these men were interested in planning an attack on the UK in the UK. That is specifically alluded to on page 13, in paragraph 43 of the ISC report. Thirdly, the intelligence at the time did indeed suggest a focus, but either on training and insurgency operations outside the country in Pakistan, in which the men might be interested, or on fraud. In relation to the investigation at the time, it was peripheral to what was regarded as a bigger and more important operation. It is in that light, on that important subjectI accept that it is an important and legitimate one for the right hon. Gentleman to raisethat the ISC says
we conclude that, in the light of the other priority investigations being conducted and the limitations on Security Service resources, the decisions not to give greater investigative priority to these two individuals were understandable.
Incidentally, officers followed up a report on the third bomber, Jermaine Lindsay, because again there was a peripheral connection to another caseof aggravated
burglarybut it was only established later that the contact telephone number was on file.
I dealt with that matter in some measure, because the right hon. Gentleman raised an important point. I shall turn to resources, which he also mentioned. I covered them earlier, but in the period after 9/11 until 2007-08, there has been a quadrupling of the resources available to the police and counter-terrorism. In the same period, across Government, there has been a doubling of resources for counter-terrorism and resilience, from less than £1 billion to more than £2 billion. At any given stage, there are physical limitations on what can be achieved, because of difficulties in recruitment, skills identification, training and so on. It is not merely a matter of applying resources and bringing in lots of people without relevant skills.
What we are trying to do is the maximum we think we can bear in terms of recruitment, training, vetting, expansion, scale, new officers, a big northern operations centre...it is a very challenging programme.
If you try to bring in more than a certain number of new people every year you can literally bust the system...you can only tolerate a certain number of inexperienced people dealing with very sensitive subjects.
On al-Qaeda, there are circumstantial links, some of which the right hon. Gentleman pointed out: the recording of the video, the Khan reference to al-Qaeda, al-Qaedas claim of responsibility and so on. There are assumptions and speculations about contacts. The ISC report says:
The extent to which the 7 July attacks were externally planned directed or controlled by contacts in Pakistan or elsewhere remains unclear.
That is what I said at the beginning. The matter is still under investigation. Yes, there is circumstantial evidence, but I do not think there is anything that would merit my saying at this stage that there is conclusive evidence that the attack was planned in advance rather than being claimed as a success afterwards, ex post facto, by al-Qaeda.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I, too, welcome the Home Secretary to his new position. As the gravity of the events being discussed shows, he occupies a position of enormous importance to the security and welfare of the country. I share, of course, in his and the other expressions of condolence extended to the victims and the families of victims of the horrific attack on 7 July last year. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for advance sight of his statement.
We welcome the Intelligence and Security Committee report. As has been said, it is a thorough, insightful and highly professional report and raises crucial questions about the resourcing and organisation of our security services. Its scrutiny of the system of threat level warnings must in particular be responded to swiftly in order to safeguard public confidence, as the Home Secretary acknowledged.
The report raises queries about the increase in resources demanded by and made available to the security services. It is always easy to be wise with hindsight, and I acknowledge what the Home Secretary has just said about the practical limitation of increasing resources too fast in too short a period. Notwithstanding those caveats, there seems to be some lingering reasonable doubt about whether resources were increased with sufficient speed before the events of last July, not least because we now know that the real step change in the increase of resources did not really kick in until late 2004.
Notwithstanding the quality of the ISC report, does the Home Secretary agree that it and the Home Office narrative on the events of 7 July that he set out today are by definition limited in scope and leave some of the most important questions unanswered? To deal with the new threat of home-grown terrorism, we need to do more to try to understand the nature of that threat. Surely, there is no logical reason why the right hon. Gentleman should resist calls for a public inquiry when such an inquiry could deal with issues not covered by the reports. It could help to foster public understanding about the evolution of home-grown terrorism in our cities and towns and thus help our intelligence services to target resources effectively in those cities and towns.
We strongly welcome the Governments organisation of seven working groups under the aegis of the preventing extremism together initiative, which reported last November. That was an important first step in helping to assess, analyse and tackle, in a collaborative approach with members of our Muslim communities, the complexity of home-grown fundamentalism in some of those communities. Would not a public inquiry help to pick up from where the initiative left off to promote the collective anti-terrorism effort that the Home Secretary rightly emphasised in his statement?
Finally, may I urge the Home Secretary to consider carefully the emphasis in the ISC report, at paragraph 137, on the crucial role of effective local policing in gathering intelligence to identify individuals and communities susceptible to the kind of fundamentalism that can lead to such horrific terrorist atrocities? Does not he accept that the headlong rush towards the regional merger of police authorities, more often than not against their will, risks uprooting the foundations of our local police exactly when we should be strengthening, not weakening, the value of local policing in our counter-terrorism strategy?
John Reid: I thank the hon. Gentleman. On his last point, yes, local intelligence is obviously important. That is why we have about 13,000 more police officers on the beat and the number of community support officers is increasing to 16,000. The hon. Gentleman will understand if I decline his invitation to comment on another major issue, police restructuring, which I have not had the chance to look atit has been a rather busy five daysbut I accept the need for local intelligence.
The hon. Gentleman raised three other matters, the first of which was resources. He appeared to indicate that there was little increase in resources in the years after 2002 and that it was slanted towards the end of the period. Actually, if we consider counter-terrorist and resilience spending since 2001 by Department, across
Government, the amounts are £923 million and £988 million, with £1,257 million immediately afterwards; the next figures are £1,479 million, £1.665 billion and £2.045 billion, so there has in fact been a steady cross-Government increase.
Although I fully accept that there will always be a demand for greater resources, Members should be cautious, as was the ISC, when talking about them. The paragraph in the report referring to resources begins with the following words:
It could be argued (but it would be largely with hindsight)
the only exact science known to men and women is hindsight. The Committee phrased that paragraph very carefully; before saying that perhaps more resources could have helped, it noted that the observation was made largely with hindsight.
I have one more point about resources. There has been a substantial increase, but even if resources were infinite, the truth of the matter in respect of intelligence is, as we must say constantlyand as the Butler inquiry pointed outthat even with unlimited resources we can never be 100 per cent. certain. We cannot predict the future. There is not 100 per cent. security, nor 100 per cent. predictability. Intelligence is, by its nature, a collection of fragmentary, partial, sometimes subjective and sometimes mistaken pieces of information, which must be put together by human judgment. So there is a matter of resources, but we should not pretend that, if then or in the future, we supplied infinite resources, we would have infinite wisdom about the future.
More briefly, on two things that the hon. Gentleman mentionedthe first was an inquiry, which is very importantI fully understand the concerns of the families of victims and those caught up in the attacks. I fully understand the questions that they have to ask about the trauma and the whos and whys of how this happened. All of us would understand thatit is a natural human reactionand this week I have therefore carefully considered the call for a public inquiry, as did my predecessor, but it would mean a pretty massive reallocation and diversion of resources over an extended period if it was done. That is not just an inconvenience and an expense; it is a serious matter.
It would mean a reallocation of resources away from those needing protection at a critical time, when our security forces and security agencies are carrying out an absolutely essential jobthe protection of people in this countryand in my judgment that diversion of resources would truly put others at risk to achieve an objective that can be achieved largely in other ways, which is why I am offering these meetings and reports. Of course, the Home Affairs Committee, the ISC, the London Assembly, the coroners and the ongoing criminal investigations, as well as our account, contribute towards that.
I agree entirely, however, with the hon. Gentlemans remarks about the need to engage the Muslim community. We need to work together in this countryevery single one of usbecause the threat is against every single one of us. In the aftermath of 7/7, we set in train both a short-term working programme of ministerial visits and then the longer-term actions in the Governments prevention delivery plan. I do not pretend that that is perfect, but it is the start of serious,
prolonged and, I believe, in-depth engagement with the Muslim community in this country, because we need that.
Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his statement and for the narrative that he has provided, and the ISC for the report that it has provided; and we all look forward to the London Assemblys report on the response to the horrors of 7 July. Speaking as someone who represents the area in which the two worst atrocities took place, I think that it is necessary for us to accept that the activities of the security services will always be imperfect. It looks as though they had been geared largely to trying to trace connections to centrally organised atrocities, and we may have been caught out a little in the response to what might be described as semi-spontaneous local groups, which may have had vague connectionsbut that is a very difficult task.
We should remember in all this that the object of the people who support terrorism is to try to divide us one from another. When we are considering all the evidence that becomes available, we should remember that, whatever shortcomings may be revealed, it was not the security services, it was not the police, it was not Ministers and it was not the Opposition who actually exploded four suicide bombs; it was four suicide bombers who did the killing and maiming. What we must do is to concentrate on trying to ensure that we do not have any more of them. We should not spend our time pointing fingers at one another, when we did not do it.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): I start by welcoming the right hon. Gentleman to his position. We are old friends and counterparts, and I genuinely wish him the best of luck in what are difficult circumstances.
I simply refer the Home Secretary back to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). I am of the opinion that, on balance, following the right hon. Gentlemans statement, we need a more independent inquiry. I recommend the report from the Committee chaired by the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), because it illustrates some of the weaknesses. Yes, the bombers are to blame absolutely, but we need to understand what has gone wrong, so that we can rectify it. In that spirit, I refer the Home Secretary to paragraphs 103 and 108, which suggest a complete misreading of some major issues internally in the UKthat of whether suicide bombings were ever likely to take place in the UK or Europe, when there was already evidence of the shoe bombers and others in Tel Aviv, and also the idea that home-grown terrorists were not a major issue for the UK. Again, the Committee quite rightly points out that there was a great deal of evidence to suggest that that was not the case and that we should have been concerned.