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24. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): What assessment he has made of the merits of enabling more Select Committee reports to be debated on the Floor of the House; and if he will make a statement. [83321]

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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): There are merits in enabling as many reports as possible to be discussed here in the House of Commons, but the time pressures on parliamentary business do limit that. Fortunately, our increasing use of Westminster Hall during recent Sessions has enabled hon. Members to debate many Select Committee reports and to call Ministers to account.

Mark Pritchard: I am grateful for that response, but time pressures will always be with us. Some very important Select Committee reports are discussed in the House all the time, not least the Defence Committee’s fifth report following its Afghanistan inquiry. The Committee said, for example,

Given that that three-year commitment has been repeated time and again, does not the Deputy Leader of the House agree that the whole House needs an opportunity to discuss that report, Afghanistan and the UK commitment over a three-year period, or even beyond that?

Nigel Griffiths: I understand that there are up to five days when defence issues are due to be debated in this
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House and that would clearly be a suitable topic during those debates. Also, many statements are made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and other Ministers on defence issues, and I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is here today to listen to the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Seeing as some of the most glaring examples of administrative incompetence by the Government, including the Home Office’s escapades and tax credits, have been drawn attention to by Select Committee reports, is not there a need to give those reports the best possible exposure and debate in the House, and to do so with a sense of urgency, which unfortunately the present Westminster Hall arrangements do not provide?

Nigel Griffiths: Fortunately, this House does provide them. It has provided an Opposition day next week for the hon. Member and his hon. Friends. I understand that the two topics for debate have not yet been chosen. Perhaps, since he feels strongly about it, he will prevail on his Whip and his party leader to include those reports, so that they can be discussed with the passion that he clearly feels about them.

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Counter-terrorism Strategy

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Government's strategy on counter-terrorism—but first, if you will allow me, I would like to express again my personal condolences, and, I am sure, those of the whole House, to all those who suffered as a result of the London bombings on 7 July last year. The first anniversary of those tragic events has just passed, and we witnessed on Friday the very moving and solemn expressions of the whole nation's remembrance.

It is right that last week focused on commemoration, but it is also right that people, including the survivors and families of victims of the 7 July attacks, want to know more about the current and future terrorist threat and what we are doing to combat it.

Following 7 July, the Government said that we would provide three things: an outline explanation of our strategy to combat terrorism, an explanation of the system of national threat levels, and a statement on the lessons learned from the 7 July attacks for the emergency responders. Today I am fulfilling the first and second of those promises. I will be providing a statement on lessons learned later.

The Government are necessarily limited in what they can say about our counter-terrorism measures, because some elements must obviously remain secret, but I will say as much as is prudent, as we have tried to do in the publications that we have issued today.

The counter-terrorism strategy—known in Government as Contest—was first developed in 2003 and is continuously reviewed in the light of developments. It has been referred to publicly on Government websites. It is wide-ranging, involving the whole of Government, international partners, agencies, including the police and intelligence services and, most importantly, all our citizens in the United Kingdom from all our communities.

Sadly, terrorism is not a new phenomenon, for the United Kingdom or for the world. Even in our time, terrorism has disguised itself as many things in different places—falsely claiming, for example, the mantle of socialism, nationalism and even in some places Christianity. Therefore, terrorism is not the monopoly of any religion or ideology. None the less, the new manifestation of international terrorism that we now face is different from previous threats to the UK in some crucial ways.

The first is the global nature of the threat. It is no longer possible to separate the domestic and international dimensions of the threats that we are facing. The realities of modern life, including mass migration, ease of travel and information flows, mean that the terrorists’ arena covers a very wide range of targets in a very wide range of countries. Secondly, whereas in the past it was possible to link terrorist attacks to particular groups, networks or individuals, that is no longer the case. The new threat comes from a range of individuals operating in global networks.

A third characteristic of the new threats is the sheer scale of human destruction that the attackers want to cause. They intend to cause mass casualties. They
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murder indiscriminately men, women and children. They make no distinction between combatants and civilians. They lay waste to people irrespective of their background or religion, and they are prepared to use themselves as the suicidal means of attack—witness the events of 7 July in London. All those features have a major impact on how we might prepare for and deal with terror. In particular, the advent of the suicide bomber introduces the presumption that we must intervene at an early stage.

A fourth characteristic is that the people involved in those terrorist attacks are driven by a very particular violent and extremist ideology. A common thread running through terrorist attacks over the past decade has been a claim by those involved that they have been acting in defence of Islam. It is crucial that we understand that the extreme interpretation espoused by Islamist terrorists to support their actions is not an interpretation of Islam that is shared by the vast majority of Muslims in the UK and abroad. That majority rejects both extremism and violence. The dividing line in the fight against terrorism is not between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is between evil and those opposing evil. It is not a clash of civilisations, but a struggle for civilisation against indiscriminate, evil terrorists and terrorism.

I now turn to the strategy itself. It is structured around four principal strands, sometimes known as the four Ps: prevent, pursue, protect and prepare. The four pillars of the strategy are not mutually exclusive. They are closely linked and together form a balanced and integrated approach.

The first pillar is prevent. It is obviously essential to tackle terrorism with all the levers at our disposal. Internationally, for instance, the use of our brave armed forces may be a necessary part of fighting terrorism, but it will never be sufficient on its own. We also need to work to eliminate social and economic inequalities, through aid, through trade, and through our efforts to help resolve political problems, whether in the middle east or elsewhere. So too, domestically, we recognise the complexity of the phenomenon. Effective security measures, intelligence and policing are essential. But ultimately, modern terrorism will be defeated only by addressing the political and social issues by a debate about values, by democracy and by public solidarity. That is why we are working with all communities to tackle the social factors underlying radicalisation, to block the ways radicalisation takes place, and to counter the radicals’ arguments. But it is not just the Government that have a role in preventing radicalisation. Muslims and the wider community in the UK must also play their part if we are to be successful.

Last summer’s “Preventing Extremism Together” campaign showed what can be done when Government and communities work together. There were often differences in opinion, arguments and discussion, but dialogue continued and difficult problems were faced head on, not ignored or avoided. As a result we all learned from each other and our relationship was strengthened. We need to build on those initiatives and to focus our attention more closely on places such as prisons and universities where we know that radicalisation is more likely to take place.

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We must also ensure that the social and economic inequalities that give rise to a sense of alienation because people feel deprived of life chances are reduced and ultimately overcome. That work has been prioritised across Government and is overseen by a Cabinet-level Committee that will drive it forward.

The second strand—the pursue strand—is, as the name suggests, concerned with pursuing terrorists and those who support them. This section of the document that we published today sets out how intelligence is used by the police and security agencies to piece together the best understanding of the threats we face. A word about intelligence: I believe that as long as the threat against the UK remains, intelligence will play a crucial role in protecting us against future terrorist attacks, but the plain fact is that intelligence by its very nature is often imperfect. It is very important that we all—inside and outside the House—understand that there can never be 100 per cent. guarantees, and that the risk of future terrorist attack remains.

The Government’s top priority—and that of the police and the intelligence agencies—is, obviously, public safety. Four attacks have been disrupted since July 2005. That is why the Government fully support the police and the Security Service when they are required to make very difficult decisions on the basis of intelligence. Intelligence is rarely complete, is never perfect and is often fragmentary and partial. There may be situations in which the police simply do not have the luxury of delaying action to firm up on the intelligence. That is the reality of the approach, and I believe that everyone in all our communities ought to recognise the circumstances in which our intelligence agencies and police operate.

Prosecution is, and will remain, our preferred way of dealing with terrorists and disrupting their activity. Prosecution, however, is not always possible. Information and knowledge are not necessarily evidence. When, as is sometimes the case, the available intelligence shows that an individual is involved in terrorism, but does not provide enough evidence to secure a prosecution, we must have other options available to us to protect public safety. Those options include deportation, where the person concerned is a foreign national and a threat to the UK, excluding foreign nationals who threaten our national security from entering the UK, asset freezing and control orders.

The use of control orders has been much in the news recently following the High Court judgment on 28 June that the specific obligations in six control orders were incompatible with the individuals’ right to liberty under article 5 of the European convention on human rights. We are appealing that judgment in the Court of Appeal. All existing control orders remain in force, and I will continue to make new control orders where I consider it necessary to do so to protect the people of this country.

The protect strand is concerned with reducing the vulnerability of the UK and UK interests overseas to a terrorist attack. We have a history of protecting our critical national infrastructure from attacks, and over the years we have built up a strong partnership with both public and private industry in the UK, as well as with our international partners.

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Among the strands of work that are being taken forward in that area are programmes of work to strengthen the UK’s border security and tracking systems and to harden our transport systems and key transport hubs against terrorist attack, and the well-established programmes of work with those who own and operate our key utilities and services.

The prepare strand is all about ensuring that if a terrorist attack occurs we are as ready as we can be to deal with the consequences. This strand involves a huge number of stakeholders who deliver resilience across public, private and voluntary sectors. The work is underpinned by the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which establishes an effective civil protection framework for the 21st century. In the Contest document we have focused on those work streams that enhance our resilience against terrorist attack.

We have outlined the main elements of our strategy in the first of the documents that we have published today. We have also referred to the threat and response levels in the United Kingdom. The second document published today explains the threat and response levels, what they are and how they are used in the United Kingdom. This is the first time that any Government have made public in this way the system deciding threat levels. We considered this carefully. We have decided to inform the general public about the process so that it can be better understood and more transparent. We also hope that it instils confidence and trust.

At the same time, the existing seven-point threat level system will, with effect from 1 August, be simplified to a five-point system. Though it clearly remains of most direct use to those directly involved in protecting national security, it is of obvious interest to members of the general public. From 1 August, the five threat levels will be: low, which means that an attack is unlikely; moderate, which means that an attack is possible, but not likely; substantial, which means that an attack is a strong possibility; severe, which means that an attack is highly likely; and critical, which means that an attack is expected imminently.

I again stress two things. First, this is not an exact science. It involves human judgment. No one can predict the future; we can only make reasoned judgments. Secondly, threat levels are applied to the United Kingdom as a whole—the national threat level—in order to summarise the overall threat of a terrorist attack to the United Kingdom. There may be variations within the general threat level in respect of important sectors of the economy, and sometimes individuals, events or places.

Since August 2005, the national threat level has been—and remains today—“severe (general)”. Under the new system to be introduced from 1 August, that will equate to severe. From 1 August, information about the national threat level will be available to the general public on the Security Service and Home Office websites. But the importance of the public remaining vigilant at all times and reporting any suspicious activities is still the key message.

Finally, the way in which the Government and sectors of our infrastructure respond to such threat levels needs to take into account both the national and the more specific threat picture, and, in addition, the importance and vulnerability of particular sites. The response structure has three broad bands related to
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different levels of threat. These are set out in the document that I referred to.

I should stress that there is no national response level. Response levels are set by security practitioners in each sector, are determined by specific assessments of risk, and may vary from site to site. We will not therefore be announcing them. To do so would only assist any would-be attackers. However, we will keep the response level system under review, with the Security Service and our security practitioners, to ensure the maximum practical congruity between threat levels and response levels.

Through the publication of both documents, my aims are simple: to bring further transparency and understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat; to raise awareness of the various strands of work that make up our counter-terrorist strategy; to explain publicly the United Kingdom’s system of threat and response and levels; and to undertake to make the United Kingdom national threat level public from 1 August. I believe that the publication of these documents will be a significant further step in the existing dialogue between all of us on some of the very complex and difficult issues that the threat from international terrorism represents. That threat is to all of us and will be met, and eventually overcome, only by united action by all of us. I commend the documents to the House.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, may I start by joining the Home Secretary in his condolences to those who suffered in the 7 July bombings and his support for all those who bravely defended us all before, during and after those terrible events? I also thank him for his courtesy in giving the Opposition advance sight of his statement.

I welcome the intention, which I think is the main thrust of his statement, to institute a public threat level warning system. We and others have been calling for that for some years, and the proposal was supported by the Intelligence and Security Committee two months ago. The idea is eminently sensible and the system will increase both public confidence and public vigilance. However, it will require the public to know what to do in each alert state, so what do the Government intend to do to educate the public about their response to the published alert states? Will the Home Secretary give the House some indication of how the practicalities will work? Will the public be asked to be alert for specific matters, as was common in Northern Ireland, or does he envisage that there will simply be an exhortation to heightened awareness?

The system will, of course, only be as good as the intelligence that underpins it. The embarrassment of last year when the Government’s alert status was reduced shortly before the 7 July attack demonstrated that very clearly. This is not an argument against having a transparent system, but an argument for reinforcing our counter-terrorist intelligence operations.

That brings us to the general counter-terrorism strategy: the so-called Project Contest. I welcome the
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fact that the Home Secretary is publishing the details of Project Contest, to which we will give careful consideration and respond in due course. However, this is not just about strategies on a piece of paper. It is first and foremost about delivery on the streets of our cities, whether that is preventing the alienation and radicalisation of young men, as the Home Secretary has said, or interdicting, catching and convicting terrorists before they act.

In autumn last year, the Prime Minister’s delivery unit reviewed Project Contest: remember, this was after 7 July, and the Prime Minister’s own delivery unit was reviewing the Prime Minister’s own policies. The unit’s comments were scathing. It said that key policies designed to prevent attacks were “immature and disjointed”, and that other policies were unrelated to the

It said that the policy was mired in confusion, with

and that there was

The unit quoted from a series of interviews with a number of Whitehall officials, who said:

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