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I am one who genuinely believes that we do this in the interests of the United Kingdom, our citizens and our friends, and of course, as a London MP, I include those who were devastated by the bombings. I urge the
Home Secretary to think again about the inquiry, not because we want to point fingers, but because we desperately need to show the public that we have learned the lessons and that their security is paramount.
John Reid: Of course, over the years, I have grown to respect the right hon. Gentlemans views on these matters. There are two different aspects. One of them is the natural, legitimate questions of the families themselves, and I am trying in consultation and co-operation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to address some of them in meetings or through the account that we are giving today. The other onethe right hon. Gentleman points it out, and I accept itis that we can always learn to improve the efficacy of our security services. I am not instantly persuaded that the best way to do that is with a public inquiry, but I will obviously want to talk, having read and reread the report, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who is Chairman of the ISC, in the first instance. It is important to stress that the ISC is independent of the Government. There are people on it who would not sympathise with the Government on a range of issues but, on this one, share the same patriotic commitmentwe would all do soto protect our country. So I will undertake to hold discussions with my right hon. Friend to find out whether there are areas where we ought to ask his Committee perhaps to protrude a little further in intrusiveness to advise us.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Obviously, these are very important and complicated matters, and a number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. We have not got an unlimited amount of time. If we can now, please, have brief questions and perhaps reasonably brief answers from the Home Secretary, although it is a complicated matter, we can get as many Members in as possible.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position. I also welcome his report and the meeting that he is suggesting we have to deal with the difficult issues about these tragic events. The thrust of his report is very similar to the Committees report in that it talks about the new and considerable challenge that our country faces. The Committee recognised the substantial increase in resources that came to the intelligence service over the past number of years, but it also recognised that translating money into people and human resources was quite another matter. Finally, may I ask him to reflect on the points in the ISCs report that refer to the lessons that we can learn from the events of the past months and, indeed, the conclusions of his Committees report, so that we can ensure that, in years to come, we can at least help to prevent such terrible attacks on our people?
John Reid: Yes indeed, and I thank my right hon. Friend for his work and that of his Committee. I assure him that I have already considered, and will continue to dwell on, some of the critical points that he has offered to us for consideration. There are points about the system of threat levels and alert states being confusing, the underplaying in the assessment of home-grown
terrorism, the degree of failure to understand and apply strategic thinking to that, the limitations of intelligence not included in a sufficiently systematic way in intelligence assessments, and so on. I am well aware that we are talking about something that neither in its intention, nor in its outcome, reflects carte blanche agreement with everything that was done or with a whitewash. There are critical elements. That makes the general conclusions and the general commendations of what was done by the security services all the more pertinent and substantial.
Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): May I particularly welcome the Governments response to the specific recommendations of the Committee that the threat level and alert state system arrangements need clarity, transparency and simplicity? When will the review that the Government say has been completed be published, and, more importantly, when will the recommendations be implemented? Does the Home Secretary agree that part of the confusion that arose between threat levels and alert states was due to the fact that, although the threat level was reduced, the alert states were not? The alert states are the ones that matter to the people on the ground. In particular, as far as London Transport was concerned, that alert state remained very high and was not reduced. Finally, there have been reports in the press over the past few days that, had different decisions been made about the priorities, this atrocity might have been avoided. Is not the other side of that coin that, had the resources been put into trying to prevent this atrocity, one of the other atrocities that was prevented could equally well have happened?
John Reid: That is precisely the point. The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. That is also my worry about allocating and diverting resources towards a public inquiry. On his question about the threat level, I accept the recommendations of the Committee. As he will know, the difference between the two threat levels reflected whether there was knowledge of a specific threat at that time. Substantial is still a very high level of threat, but it meant that there was not specific knowledge at that time. As he said, that can be confusing. The response or readiness level was not automatically reduced, although the threat level came down. The reduced threat level indicated to experts that there was not a specific threat. However, to the man in the street, it could be taken to mean a reduction in operational capability. It did not mean thatthank goodnesson this occasion. I will undertake to review that and implement things as soon as possible, and to publish what I can, although I do not pretend that I can give a carte blanche that we will publish everything to do with threat levels.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend may know, I have been raising in this House for many yearslong before 9/11the activities of fundamentalist extremists. Although it is true that we should lay the blame for what happened fair and square on the four bombers, the extremists who indoctrinated four young, apparently decent men bear heavy responsibility for the hatred that they brought to them, which ultimately led to these terrible tragedies.
We have to learn from experience. That is true not just of the security services, but in terms of how we approach the victims and the families of those who died and how we provide support after the event. When my right hon. Friend meets the victims and the bereaved families, will he make sure that hon. Members in whose constituencies those people live are invited to attend? Will he also ensure that the discussions consider not just whether there should be a public inquiry, but the reservations and concerns of those victims about the immediate support that they received after the event and the compensation arrangements?
John Reid: On the compensation arrangements, I am aware of a potential contradiction. The events acted as a catalyst to a reconsideration of how to improve the compensation scheme, but, by precedent, compensation schemes are not retrospective. I know that that represents an incongruity and an apparent unfairness and so I am looking at the case of the July victims. It is an exceptional case, in my view, and I am considering whether something can be done exceptionally and what that might be. As I said, five days into the job I have not been able to fix every little issue that is in front of us, but I intend to do that.
On the meetings with the victims families, I want to be as open as possible with them. I am open to all suggestions, but I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate that the ultimate decision will rest with the families themselves. Some of them may or may not want to have others present. Some may want to ask some pretty pertinent questions. I have to take into account the wishes of the families, as does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): In his statement, the Home Secretary said that, prior to the bombings, capacity was being expanded as fast as the top management believed was organisationally possible. However, with hindsight the Committee was able to discoverfrom what had been done after the bombingsthat there had been room to do more and to do it more quickly. Perhaps the caution was understandable, but more could have been done. Will he indicate that he and his colleagues will continue to support the current expansion and will he reflect on the very odd judgement of the Joint Intelligence Committee that suicide bombing would not become the norm in European attacks?
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend accept that no restrictions were placed on the access of the Intelligence and Security Committee to information, whether in the form of reports from the joint terrorism analysis centre or the Joint Intelligence Committee? That was also true of access to the heads of the agencies. It is a little unfortunate that, although the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) did not cast any doubt on the integrity of the members of the Committee, he sought to undermine the credibility of the conclusions that we arrived at and the material that we used. We had no
restrictions placed on us. There were no no-go areas. I think that my right hon. Friend would acknowledge that that is why we were able to produce the conclusions that we did. They were closely related to the evidence that we examined.
John Reid: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reassurance and I am sure that the House will be reassured, as well, because we are talking about something that complements and fortifies the independent status of the ISC.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): The British security services do a difficult and dangerous job and, for obvious reasons, their courage and occasional sacrifices are not always publicly recognised. Will the Home Secretary join me in saying that, despite the fact that some modest details about the bombers were known to the Security Service, no blame whatsoever for what happened on the streets of London last year should be attached to that magnificent service?
John Reid: I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. I suppose that, for the country, what is more important is that the independent scrutiny of the Intelligence and Security Committee has led to the same conclusions. I remind the House, as I did earlier, that, in extremely difficult circumstances, working against hugely difficult technological networks and a high level of threat, the security agencies and the police have not just protected us in general, but have specifically prevented quite a number of potential terrorist attacks. As I said earlier, I know of three since July last year. For that, we should be eternally grateful.
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the tremendous police work that was undertaken in west Yorkshire following the atrocities. The Home Office has already made available an extra £1.6 million to cover some of the costs incurred. Will he view with equal favour the bid that has been submitted by west Yorkshire to establish a dedicated anti-terrorist unit and also the case for designating Leeds Bradford airport for security purposes?
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): The Home Secretary has spoken of the challenge of understanding radicalisation. May I draw his attention to the ISC report and the admission by the Metropolitan police that it was working on an out-of-date script when it came to understanding radicalisation? Does he agree that that is now a top priority? It is the most complex subject and there is no easy answer.
John Reid: Yes, I will agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is important that we understand and empathise with
the culture, background, feelings and emotions of many in the Muslim community. We thus rely on British citizens who are Muslims to assist us in that aim, as well as making it plain to all of them, in common with everyone else in this country, that the only way to make progress in a civilised, democratic society is through democracy.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): In what I hope will be a completely non-polemical way, may I say to my right hon. Friend that in recognising that there will undoubtedly be further attempts at carrying out such mass murder and atrocities in our country, would it not be better to concentrate all our resources on security and policingI know what he said in answer to several hon. Membersrather than going ahead at the moment with identity cards? The Government have said repeatedly that identity cards would not have prevented the atrocities of 7 July.
John Reid: I know that my hon. Friend has taken a huge and detailed interest in the matter over a long period. There is nothingno degree of intelligence, or infinity of resourcesthat will allow human beings, however intelligent, with absolute certainty to predict or prevent attempts to commit atrocities of this nature. The question is whether some resources and instruments will help us better to prevent such atrocities. I must say to him that in the five days in which I have been in the Home Office, it has occurred to me, when going through the several big issues that I have looked at, that ID cards would indeed have prevented some of the problems that we face over deportations, in this case and in other areas. However, nothing will give an absolute guarantee that we can prevent such atrocities.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): I welcome the Home Secretarys statement and, especially, the increase in the budgets, with a doubling for resilience and a specific increase in the police counter-intelligence budget, both inside and outside London. I note that the right hon. Gentleman says that the intelligence community is growing as fast as the senior management believes is organisationally possible, and we have heard several comments about resources. Will he continue to urge the senior management in the intelligence community to identify new and innovative ways to use the additional resources that I know will be made available, which we on these Benches would very much welcome?
John Reid: Yes, I will. I know that both C and the director general are prepared to examine innovative ways of expanding quickly, and so on. They are progressive and open in their flexibility in doing so. However, just as it is impossible for me to guarantee that no other terrorist attack will ever get through, it would be wrong of me to suggest that there can be some form of infinite expansion of our security and intelligence services when I know that the skills, training, aptitude, vetting and experience required to carry out the jobs is considerable. The process thus takes time, and without having the almighty prescience of knowing what might come in the next generation, we will always be up against those physical constraints.
It is true to say that the security services and agencies have been given anything that they have asked for as a priority. However, of course, if there are other areas that they feel are absolutely essential, I will look at them.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Like most Londoners, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news of the 7/7 bombings, and how frightened I was until I knew that the people closest to me were safe. The news was especially shattering coming, as it did, the day after our triumph with the Olympics. Does the Home Secretary agree that any successful long-term counter-terrorism strategy must have a community cohesion strand? Will he give the House an assurance that the round-table meetings and work with the Muslim community that came after 7/7 will be followed through and that many of the important recommendations will be implemented?
John Reid: Yes. I not only agree with my hon. Friend, but agree strongly with her. The idea that the problems will be solved only by instruments of the state, or, internationally, by military power, is a sad delusion; worse, indeed, it is a terribly mistaken attitude. Domestically, the important thing will be to get a degree of understanding and mutual solidarity throughout the whole of our community in this country, including everyone who is British, from whatever backgroundincluding Scots, Welsh, Irish, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Muslim, Christian and non-religious peoplebecause the dividing line is not between ethnic groups or civilisations, but between terrorism as an evil and every other set of values that has developed in the civilised world. I very much agree with what my hon. Friend says.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I am sure that the Home Secretary will do well in his new position, although he probably regrets having to leave his job at Defence, which, I know, it was his lifetimes ambition to obtain. May I ask him to pay some attention to the question of the recruiters and indoctrinators in this country? They have the multiplier effect. He referred in his statement to the role of one of them, who is in jail. We know the difficulties of putting such people in jail, so when they are in jail, can they be excluded from being released halfway through their sentences?
John Reid: As a general response to what the hon. Gentleman says, I agree very much. Just as important as operational terrorists are those who train, inspire and guide operational terrorists. That is the mixed threat. I cannot, with my limited experience in the Home Office, give him any guarantees on sentencing policyI think that I will be turning my mind to that next Monday afternoonbut I take the point that he makes.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): It is quite clear that home-grown terrorists were operating in an international framework. Does the Home Secretary have any specific proposals to increase measures against terrorism internationally and to
improve the scrutiny of what is happening in this country? Does he agree that no section of the community can use its opposition to British foreign policy, whether in Iraq or elsewhere, to come anywhere near to justifying mass murder?
John Reid: I very much agree, as I am sure that the whole House does, with my hon. Friends second point. On her first point, international solidarity and action on borders, the transfer of intelligence and working together operationally are of increasing necessity not only inside the European Union, but with countries that are geographically far apart from the European Union. Those actions are especially important with countries that are largely composed of people of the Muslim religion or culture. In my previous job, in which, as the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) pointed out, I took an interest and enjoyed, I had a great deal of discussion with some of those countries and formed operational partnerships with them. I am sure that such work will benefit greatly those countries and us because the threat is common to us all. The threat starts off as justifying attacks on foreign soldiers and ends up, in attack theory, as blowing apart innocent Muslim women and children in the streets of Jordan or Iraq. The whole of civilisation is challenged by the threat and should unite against it.
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): May I thank the Secretary of State for his dignified and informative statement? He will be aware from the ISC report that the tragic events of 7/7 followed years of failure, going back to before 1997, to appreciate the scale of the Islamist threat.
In particular, this country operated a systemthe covenant of securityunder which terror propagandists were left at liberty, so that they and their potential recruits could be kept under watch. Given that one key terror propagandist under observation could abscond from his known home address, where he received housing benefit, and remain on the run for 10 months, does the Home Secretary not agree that a full public inquiry could do a great deal to address deep and systemic failings?
John Reid: I am not sure that the answer to what the hon. Gentleman calls systemic failure, which he illustrated with one case, is a public inquiry. Rather than willing the ends and not being prepared to will the means, the House needs the will to will the means. He urged us to take action against people who glorify terrorism, to undertake more competent operational investigations and to let people know about the threat, but I hope that as we do all those things, rather than accuse us of tub-thumping, over-egging the pudding or taking draconian measures against a threat, he and his colleagues will support us as we take the necessary measures to achieve the ends that he identified.
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