Previous Section Index Home Page

The Prime Minister: I attended the European Council last Friday and we are holding fast to the general environmental targets, which include a 60 per cent. or
19 Mar 2008 : Column 923
more reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. My hon. Friend will have noted the Chancellor’s proposals on biofuels in the Budget. Of course, we wish other countries to do as we are doing in making it clear that we will make the necessary changes, based on the scientific evidence.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): What assessment has the Prime Minister made of the independence and effectiveness of Postwatch in representing the best interests of post office users?

The Prime Minister: The consultation process leads to three different stages, in which Postwatch is involved. As a result, 10 per cent. of the proposals have been changed. There is an additional stage that has been agreed whereby the chairman of the Post Office, Mr. Leighton, will examine any individual representations that are made to him after those stages. I believe that there is, therefore, a set of opportunities for people to put their case. The fact that 10 per cent. of changes have been reversed shows that the Postwatch system is working.

Q13. [195072] Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): Gift aid makes a genuine difference to many charities, which will welcome the transitional measures that were announced last week in the Budget to help soften the blow caused by the reduction of the basic rate of income tax. Will the Prime Minister reassure charities in my constituency that there is a long-term plan, past the three years referred to, to ensure that there is no reduction in income and that we can drive up levels of giving through gift aid?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We provided £100 million a year as transitional support for those who receive gift aid relief as charities to enable them to deal with the consequences of reducing the basic rate from 22p to 20p. We have also introduced several other measures, such as a comprehensive programme for bringing additional smaller charities into gift aid and outreach to many new charities to help them use gift aid to advantage. Of course, in the past few years, the amount of tax relief available to charities has risen from £1.9 billion to £2.9 billion. That is £1 billion extra through tax relief going to the charities of
19 Mar 2008 : Column 924
this country. That would not have been possible without proper economic policies that were working for the people of Britain.

Q14. [195073] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that the global economic downturn is sending jitters through the whole economy. He will also be aware that there is a delay in the European Union on a decision regarding state aid for Northern Rock. That will obviously be causing great concern to those whose jobs are at risk and to small investors in Northern Rock, such as me. When does he expect the Commission to give a ruling on state aid provisions for Northern Rock?

The Prime Minister: I hope, therefore, that the hon. Lady would support the policy that we have proposed on Northern Rock, as someone who has followed what has happened, and that she might disagree with what those on the Opposition Front Bench have done. As far as the European Union is concerned, we are in discussions with the Union, and I believe that it will approve our proposals. I believe that our proposals are right for the company, right for the work force and right for the stability of the economy, and I believe that we will make progress very soon.

Q15. [195074] Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that regenerating small towns and cities is as key as regenerating large ones, and that universities can be part of that process? With that in mind, will he welcome and encourage the ambitious plans of Blackpool and the Fylde college to give a new cutting edge to the leisure and creative industries and to business, in our university plans in Blackpool?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is a persistent campaigner on behalf of Blackpool and its regeneration. It is important to recognise that colleges of education, colleges of higher education and universities are some of the biggest employers in our towns and cities. It is only because of the Government’s policies to expand higher education, to have more students and apprenticeships, and therefore to have more people staying on at school in education afterwards, that it is possible to contemplate new universities in this country, and that is exactly what we are going to do.

19 Mar 2008 : Column 925

National Security Strategy

12.31 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): The primary duty of Government, and our abiding obligation, is and will always be the safety of all British people and the protection of the British national interest, so, following approval by the National Security Committee and the Cabinet, the Government are today publishing the first national security strategy. It states that although our obligation to protect the British people and the British national interest is fixed and unwavering, the nature of the threats and the risks that we face has in recent decades changed beyond all recognition and confounds all the old assumptions about national defence and international security. As the strategy makes clear, new threats demand new approaches. A radically updated and much more co-ordinated approach is now required.

For most of the last century, the main threat was unmistakable: a cold war adversary. Today, the potential threats that we face come from far less predictable sources, both state and non-state. Twenty years ago, the terrorist threat to Britain was principally that from the IRA; now it comes from loosely affiliated global networks that threaten us and other nations across continents. Once, when there was instability in faraway regions or countries, we had a choice: to become involved or not. Today no country is, in the old sense, far away, when the consequences of regional instability and terrorism, as well as risks such as climate change, poverty, mass population movements and even organised crime, reverberate quickly round the globe.

To address these great insecurities—war and terrorism, and now climate change, disease and poverty; threats that redefine national security not just as the protection of the state, but as the protection of all people—we need to mobilise all the resources available to us. They include: the hard power of our military, police, security and intelligence services; the persuasive force and reach of diplomacy and cultural connections; the authority of strengthened global institutions, which can deploy both hard and soft power; and, not least because arms and authority will never be enough, the power of ideas and of shared values and hopes that can win over hearts and minds and forge new partnerships for progress and tolerance, involving Government, the private and voluntary sectors, community and faith organisations, and individuals.

The foundation of our approach is to maintain strong, balanced, flexible and deployable armed forces. I want to pay tribute to Britain’s servicemen and women, and those civilians deployed on operations, who every day face danger doing vital work in the service of our country, and in particular to remember today the sacrifices made for our country by all who have been injured or who have lost their lives in recent years in Iraq, Afghanistan and other theatres of war.

To raise recruitment and to improve retention in our armed forces, we will match our new public information recruitment campaign, launched this week, with the Government’s first ever cross-departmental strategy for supporting our service personnel, their families and veterans. This will be published shortly.

In the past two years we have raised general pay levels and introduced the first tax-free bonus of nearly £400 a month for those on operations, as well as a
19 Mar 2008 : Column 926
council tax refund, and today the Secretary of State for Defence is announcing new retention incentives for our armed forces. There will be increased commitment bonuses of up to £15,000 for longer-serving personnel, and, starting with a new £20 million home purchase fund, we will respond to the demand for more affordable home ownership for servicemen and women.

I can also inform the House that, to meet the threats ahead, after a trebling of its budget since 2001, the Security Service will rise in number to 4,000, which is twice the level of 2001. I can also inform the House that we will be increasing yet again, this time by 10 per cent., the resources for the joint terrorism analysis centre, which brings together 16 departments including the police and intelligence agencies, and giving it a new focus on the longer-term challenge of investigating the path to violent extremism.

I can also confirm that, to meet future security needs, we have set aside funds to modernise our interception capability; that at GCHQ and in the Secret Intelligence Service, we are developing new technical capabilities to root out terrorism; and that the new Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, which we set up last year, will provide a higher level of protection against internet-based threats.

The strategy published today will be backed up by a new approach to engage and inform the public. Two years ago, we removed from being classified as secret the information on threat levels for the UK. We will now go much further. Starting later this year, we will openly publish for the first time a national register of risks—information that was previously held confidentially within Government—so that the British public can see at first hand the challenges that we face and the levels of threat that we have assessed.

To harness a much wider range of expertise and experience from outside Government, and to help us plan for the future, we are inviting business, academics, community organisations and military and security experts from outside Government to join a new national security forum that will advise the recently constituted National Security Committee. Having accepted the recommendation of the Intelligence and Security Committee—I thank it for its work—to separate the position of Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee from policy adviser to the Government, and having appointed Mr. Alex Allan as Chair of the JIC, I can confirm that, as proposed by the Butler review, his responsibility will be solely to provide Ministers with security assessments formulated independently of the political process.

We will also immediately go ahead to introduce a resolution of both Houses—in advance of any future legislation—that will enshrine an enhanced scrutiny and public role for the Intelligence and Security Committee. This will lead to more parliamentary debate on security matters, to public hearings on the national security strategy, and—as promised—to greater transparency over appointments to the Committee, so that the Committee can not only review intelligence and security but perform a public role more akin to the practice of Select Committees generally in reporting to and informing the country on security matters.

Emerging from all the experience and lessons learned of the last decade is the clear conclusion that we are strongest when we combine the resources of our military, police and security and intelligence services with effective
19 Mar 2008 : Column 927
diplomacy, and when we work closely with international partners to confront the new global challenges and bring about change. This approach emphasises the importance of strengthening our key diplomatic and military alliances: with the United States, our strongest bilateral partner; with NATO as the cornerstone of our security; with our central role at the heart of an outward-facing European Union; and with our long-lasting and deep commitment to the Commonwealth and to working through international institutions.

I can tell the House that Britain will be at the forefront of diplomatic action on nuclear weapons control and reduction, offering a new bargain to non-nuclear powers. On the one hand, we will help them, and we have proposed the creation of a new international system to help non-nuclear states to acquire the new sources of energy that they need, including through our proposed global enrichment bond, and we are today inviting interested countries to an international conference on these important themes later this year.

In return, we will seek agreement on tougher controls aimed at reducing weapons and preventing proliferation—first, by ending the stalemates on the fissile material cut-off treaty and the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and, secondly, by achieving, after 2010, a more robust implementation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty with the aim of accelerating disarmament among possessor states, preventing proliferation and, ultimately, freeing the world from nuclear weapons. And, as a new priority to meet the dangers both of proliferation to new states and of material falling into the hands of terrorists, we propose not only tougher action against potential proliferators such as Iran but new action against suppliers. We are seeking to strengthen export control regimes and build a more effective forensic nuclear capability in order to determine and expose the true source of material employed in any nuclear device. Having already reduced the number of our operationally available warheads by 20 per cent. and made our expertise available for the verifiable elimination of warheads, I can confirm that we, Britain, are ready to play our part in further disarmament.

As great a potential threat and as demanding of a co-ordinated international response is, of course, the risk from failing and unstable states. Again, the national security strategy published today proposes a new departure—and, again, it is a lesson learned from recent conflicts ranging from Rwanda and Bosnia to Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. It proposes to create a stand-by international civilian capability so that for fragile and failing states, we can act quickly and comprehensively by combining the humanitarian, peacekeeping, stabilisation and reconstruction support that those countries need. In the same way as we have military forces ready to respond to conflict, we must have civilian experts and professionals ready to deploy quickly to assist failing states and to help rebuild countries emerging from conflict, putting them on the road to economic and political recovery.

I can tell the House that Britain will start by making available a 1,000-strong UK civilian stand-by capacity that will include police, emergency service professionals, judges and trainers. I am calling on EU and NATO partners to set high and ambitious targets for their contributions to such a force.

19 Mar 2008 : Column 928

Between now and 2011, Britain is offering £600 million for conflict prevention, conflict resolution and stabilisation work around the world, including work in Israel and Palestine, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan, Kenya and the Balkans. As we assume our presidency of the UN Security Council in May, we are proposing an appeal by the UN Secretary-General for a co-ordinated crisis recovery fund to provide immediate support where reconstruction is needed, to which Britain will be prepared to contribute.

Specifically, because we know the importance of peace in Darfur, I am announcing today more help from Britain to train, equip and employ African troops for the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping operation. Given the importance of safeguarding peace in Somalia, I can announce that Britain will help to pay for 850 Burundian troops as part of the African Union peacekeeping force there. Given the critical importance of economic and political reconstruction complementing military action as the elected Afghan Government face down the Taliban, we are proposing an integrated civilian-military headquarters—headed by a civilian—that will now be constituted in Helmand. And in Iraq, where we have already brought electricity and water supplies to more than 1 million citizens, we are stepping up our contribution to the work of long-term economic reconstruction by supporting the Basra development commission, led for the British by the businessman Michael Wareing who is doing an excellent job.

In order to maximise our contribution to all the new challenges of peacekeeping, humanitarian work and stabilisation and reconstruction, the Secretary of State for Defence is also announcing this afternoon that, as part of a wider review, the Government will now examine how our reserve forces can more effectively help with stabilisation and reconstruction in post-conflict zones around the world. With this year being the 100th anniversary of the Territorial Army, I want to pay tribute to the servicemen and women in our reserves, who provide such an essential element of our nation’s defence.

Mr. Speaker, the security strategy published today also makes it clear that, as well as being able to respond to crises as they develop, we need to be able to tackle the underlying drivers of conflict and instability. Those include poverty, inequality and poor governance, where by focusing on areas where poverty breeds conflict, we have quadrupled Britain’s aid budget and we are pushing for bold international action to meet the millennium development goals.

The second set of underlying drivers is climate change and competition for natural resources, where we are leading the way in arguing for a post-2012 international agreement and for a new global fund to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, including in the areas most under stress and therefore most likely to suffer instability as well as humanitarian disasters.

The third drivers are disease and global pandemics, where, with the World Health Organisation, the priority is to improve early warning systems, to increase global vaccine supplies and to help put in place a more co-ordinated global response. Given the importance of building stability and countering violent extremism in the middle east and south Asia, we are also increasing the number of Foreign Office staff there by 30 per cent.

19 Mar 2008 : Column 929

Among all the security challenges to citizens of this country covered by the new strategy, the most serious and urgent remains the threat from international terrorism. As the head of MI5 has said, Britain is facing 30 known plots and is monitoring 200 networks and about 2,000 individuals. There have been 58 convictions for terrorism in just over a year and the Home Secretary is announcing today that we will have four regional counter-terrorism units and four regional intelligence units, significantly increasing anti-terrorism police capability in the regions. Since the events of 11 September, on suspicion of being a threat to national security or fostering extremism, 300 individuals have been prevented from entering the country. Now—backing up the unified border agency, compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals and our proposals in the Counter-Terrorism Bill that would allow us in unique circumstances to extend detention to ensure full investigation of terror threats—the Government will match stronger action against those whom we suspect of stirring up tensions with collaborative work with our European partners to strengthen the EU rules on deporting criminals—a matter that I shall discuss with President Sarkozy when he visits Britain next week.

For action against terrorism and against organised crime, it is important to strengthen Europol and Eurojust, to ensure the rapid and secure exchange of information across borders, and to speed up the extradition of criminals and the confiscation of their assets. Starting with the United Arab Emirates, we are signing more agreements so that once the assets of a convicted criminal are seized in one country, with the assistance of the other, both countries will get a share of the proceeds.

Our new approach to security also means local resilience against emergencies: building and strengthening local capacity to respond effectively to a range of circumstances from floods to potential terrorism incidents. That means not the old cold-war idea of civil defence, but a new form of civil protection that combines expert preparedness at local level for potential emergencies with a greater local engagement of individuals and families themselves. Next month the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will report on additional measures that we propose for young people in colleges and universities, in prisons and working in faith communities to disrupt the promoters of violent extremism, all building on the support of the vast majority of people of all faiths and all backgrounds who condemn terrorism, terrorists and their actions.

The national security strategy shows a Britain resolute in the face of an unstable and increasingly uncertain international security landscape. It demonstrates the lessons that we and other countries have learnt in recent years: that we must expand our policing, security and intelligence capacity—and we are doing so; that we must do more to prevent conflict by, for instance, more effective international control of arms—and we are doing so; and that we must strengthen the effectiveness of international institutions to promote stability and reconstruction, for which we have presented proposals today.

We will always be vigilant, will never leave ourselves vulnerable, and will support and at all times and wherever necessary strengthen—as we do today—our defence and civilian support for national security.

I commend my statement to the House.

Next Section Index Home Page