Previous Section Index Home Page

19 Mar 2008 : Column 930

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Let me first put on record the huge debt of gratitude that we owe the police, the security services and our armed forces for the work that they do to keep our country safe.

The Prime Minister made a very wide-ranging statement, and there was much in it that we support. We welcome the idea, which we have long supported, of a stand-by civilian capacity so that we can act quickly in fragile or failing states. We also support the idea of a cross-cutting manifesto for forces’ families. I set it out in my party conference speech two years ago, and I am glad that it is bearing fruit. We strongly back what the Prime Minister said about greater co-ordination of our effort in Helmand province. Anyone who has been there knows that that really is needed.

However, I want to focus my questions on the theory and practice of a national security approach. The statement has been a long time coming, and at first sight it looks—and sounded from the Prime Minister—rather more like a list than a strategy. It would help if instead of announcing a series of things that the Secretary of State for Defence or the Home Secretary is to announce, the Prime Minister simply told us more clearly what will change and why the position will be different. Owing to the tenor of his approach, that did not come across at all clearly. That may be because the strategy has had a very difficult birth. According to sources inside Downing street,

[Interruption.] I am reading because it is a very long quotation. The hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin) has been warned before. He is slowly getting closer to the door—he used to sit behind the Prime Minister—and, as I said yesterday, apparently the door is what he will be going through. The quotation continues

We will study the strategy in detail, but the idea of a national security strategy—

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Shocking!

Mr. Cameron: Shocking? It is shocking when people interrupt all the time when I am trying to reply to the statement.

The idea of a national security strategy is one that we welcome. The need for a national security approach is clear: the threats to our national security, from terrorism to climate change and energy security, have proliferated, and the Government must adapt to deal with them. That is why, in 2006, my party said that it was time not just for a national security strategy but for a national security council. Does the Prime Minister agree that a national security strategy will work only if it is put in place and carried out properly? To achieve that, three things must happen. First, institutions in the UK need to be properly organised to deliver a national security approach. Secondly, we need to understand fully the connections between foreign and domestic policy, and how they impact on our security. Thirdly, and vitally, any strategy will make sense only if the Government follow through and take all the necessary practical steps.

19 Mar 2008 : Column 931

Let me take each of those in turn. Can the Prime Minister explain why the Government have decided to set up a national security forum—another talking shop—instead of a proper national security council? Surely, a proper national security council would have dedicated staff— [ Interruption. ] Perhaps the Prime Minister will sit and wait, then he can answer the questions at the end. A proper national security council would have dedicated staff and decision-making powers. It would be at the heart of Government, with all the relevant Ministers, and it would be chaired by the Prime Minister. We do not have that; we should have it. Can he explain how a forum and an existing Cabinet committee can drive the implementation of a national security strategy across all Departments? Are we not in danger of having a talking shop and confusion?

On the connection between foreign and domestic policy, is there going to be a properly joined-up approach? The Prime Minister talked about a single security budget, but will it genuinely cover all the areas? For instance—and I have asked him about this before—will the single security budget include special branch, which is currently funded by separate forces? The United Kingdom must retain the power, properly funded, to intervene abroad militarily when necessary, as the strategy says, but we must understand that military operations abroad have consequences for security at home. As the Joint Intelligence Committee warned, our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, which we supported, increase in the short term the threat of terrorism domestically in the UK, yet we have to ask whether all the necessary action was taken domestically at the time. It is clear that the answer is no.

That leads to the third issue—the importance of following through on the national security strategy. The Prime Minister has a number of questions to answer. First, why, despite Government statements to the contrary, has he still not banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is clearly a gateway group that seeks to poison young minds against our country and way of life? [ Interruption. ] He says, “My goodness”, but the previous Prime Minister said that he would ban it, so why has it not happened? Why, despite rightly preventing the preacher of hate, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, from entering Britain following our recommendation to do so, has he not followed the lead of the Irish Government and excluded Ibrahim Moussawi, a spokesman for the terrorist organisation, Hezbollah, who recently conducted a speaking tour of the UK? Why has his Government allowed public money to end up in the hands of extremist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood? Does he understand the damage done to our reputation by the perception that the UK has allowed itself to become a terrorist breeding ground and a threat to others? Why, despite the urgent need to secure our borders, does he still refuse to create a proper border police force with enforcement powers? What is holding him back from those obvious and necessary measures?

May I end by asking the Prime Minister to begin his response by answering the following question? A national security approach will not succeed unless we learn from the mistakes that have been made in the past. In the statement, he talked about learning the lessons from conflicts such as Rwanda and Iraq. With
19 Mar 2008 : Column 932
that in mind, does he not think it is time to establish the promised inquiry into the conduct of the Iraq war? To say that that cannot be done while our forces are still in Basra is effectively to kick this into the very long grass, and it flies in the face of the fact that the United States, for instance, has held such inquiries. When he stands at the Dispatch Box, will he answer that question and tell us when we will have that inquiry, which, if we are to make a national security strategy work, is clearly needed.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the standby facility and for the co-ordination of our efforts in Helmand. I am grateful, too, for his support for our armed forces and security services generally. I am afraid, however, that only he can trivialise a national security statement. If he had done his research, he would know that there is a National Security Committee, which includes the Chief of the Defence Staff, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the heads of all the intelligence agencies—MI5, MI6 and GCHQ—the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who attend the meetings. The terms of reference are to consider issues relating to national security and the Government’s international and European policies, as well as their international development policies. What the right hon. Gentleman is asking for we have already. It is chaired by the Prime Minister, and it met only last week. It meets regularly to look at the relationship between domestic and international issues, and it has been in existence for several months, apparently without his knowing about it.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of an inquiry on Iraq and asked what lessons we have learned. I made it very clear in my statement that we are expanding our policing, security and intelligence capability. We want to do more on the early prevention of conflicts by more effective international control of arms. We want to strengthen the international institutions to promote stability and reconstruction, and, of course, our forces, including the security forces, are always vigilant. As for an inquiry, four inquiries have reported to the House on conditions related to the action in Iraq. It would not be a good use of Ministry of Defence resources to have to reply to an inquiry, when we have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would not be right, when we have troops in danger and at risk, particularly in Iraq, for the country to turn its attention to an inquiry instead of doing everything we can to protect them. We will therefore be consistent in our judgment, even if his party is not consistent on this matter, that the right time to look at these issues and review the lessons learned is when our troops have finished the work in Iraq, which they are conducting with great efficiency. They deserve our full support, the wholehearted attention of the Ministry of Defence and the support of all the institutions of government.

I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman about the thesis behind the work that we are doing. As I said at the beginning of the statement, there is growing recognition that we cannot distinguish between issues that are somehow “over there”, as if they have no effect on our country, whether they concern the environment, terrorism or national disasters, and what happens in our own country. It is a fact, as we found with 11 September, that the richest citizen in the richest city in the richest country
19 Mar 2008 : Column 933
can be directly affected by what is happening to the poorest citizens in the poorest countries in other parts of the world. Our security strategy must reflect that, which is why we are looking at what we can do internationally on the control of weapons and to rebuild international institutions. That is why, too, we are looking at what we can do domestically do improve our resilience.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of people who have come into the country. Three hundred potential terrorists or people suspected of extremism have been refused admission into the UK in recent years, so we are alert in taking action against those who pose a danger. As he knows, the decision was made to refuse Mr. al-Qaradawi a visa—he has not applied for entry into the UK—for this country. Mr. Moussawi came to the UK in December and again on 28 February. On both occasions, his visit passed without incident. In all those cases, however, we keep matters under review. In relation to Hizb ut-Tahrir, I have said that we will be vigilant in examining its activities. Our consistent advice is not to give that organisation the oxygen of publicity by banning it. We wish, however, to keep it under review. We will always take the action that is necessary, but we will look at it case by case, and everyone with a sensible voice on these matters in the House would propose that we do so.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement. Before dealing it, may I say that we have witnessed some breathtaking political opportunism, because the leader of the Conservative party pressed for an inquiry into a war that he and all his colleagues signed up to support lock, stock and barrel, with no questions asked? Perhaps we need an inquiry into how his party has flip-flopped on Iraq.

I agree that an overarching view of the different threats to our nation’s security is necessary. However, I hope that the Prime Minister agrees that the document that he has put before the House is the beginning, rather than the end, of the process. What we have heard today is an assessment of what the threats are, but not quite yet a strategic overview of how all those threats will be tackled. I hope that more time will be made available to the House to examine the document in greater detail.

Does the Prime Minister agree that many of the threats he has enumerated—terrorism, climate change, cross-border crime—cannot be dealt with by the United Kingdom on its own, and, indispensably, we can deal with them only as full and committed members of the European Union? I noted that in his statement he referred to the EU only third after the United States and NATO as a crucial forum in which many of the collective security threats will be tackled. Does that attach enough significance to the extent to which our membership of the EU affords us a certain safety in numbers?

The Prime Minister has in the past talked about drawing red lines in Brussels. I wonder whether the time has now come for him also to draw red lines in our relationship with Washington. Why, for instance, has he entered into a secret deal with the United States Administration to base George Bush’s “son of star wars” missile defence system on British soil? Does he seriously think that that enhances our national security?

19 Mar 2008 : Column 934

The Prime Minister spoke about the need to have strengthened global institutions. I agree with that. We all agree that we need a rules-based multilateral system to safeguard all our security. Does he, however, think it is compatible with that view of the value of a strong, multilateral, rules-based system that he has been completely silent—so far at least—on President Bush’s veto of the proposed ban on the use of torture by American military personnel around the world?

I hope the Prime Minister will also agree that security and liberty are two sides of the same coin. We should never be forced to accept that there should be a trade-off of one in favour of another—that our security can be promoted only by a sacrifice of our liberty. For that to be the case, does he also agree that any measures that infringe on our liberty in the name of security must be based on overwhelming, compelling evidence that they are necessary, and does he truly think that the Government have yet marshalled that overwhelming, compelling evidence in favour of their proposal to extend further the period of detention without charge?

The Prime Minister spoke of a wider review being undertaken by the Secretary of State for Defence. We all know that our armed forces are overstretched, overcommitted and under-resourced. Does the Prime Minister agree that as it has been 10 years since there was a full strategic defence review, it is high time that he announced a new full strategic review of our defence capabilities for today and the years ahead?

The Prime Minister: I hope the right hon. Gentleman will also acknowledge that we are spending more on defence every year, and we are making equipment available to our armed forces that was not available in the past. The Chief of the Defence Staff said only a few days ago that the forces were now better equipped than at any time for 40 years. That is because we have not only increased the budget for defence, but we have made available what are called urgent operational requirements to the Ministry of Defence, as a result of which £3.3 billion has been spent in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past two years—exactly the money the right hon. Gentleman was opposing only a few minutes ago when he raised another question in this House.

I have to correct the right hon. Gentleman on one or two issues. The ballistic missile defence system is for the Czech Republic and Poland, not the United Kingdom. The European Union does not have an official role in foreign and security policy; it is an intergovernmental organisation, in part for dealing with defence and security policy. He should understand that that is how the European countries interact for the preservation of security, and that that is why NATO is so important—and also why the Bucharest summit in the next few days is so important.

I also hope that the right hon. Gentleman supports what we have done for the armed forces, with up to £15,000 for retention so we can retain more of our highly qualified people in our armed forces for longer. That announcement of today will raise the number of people in the establishment—in the Army, Navy and Air Force—to a higher level than before.

As for the issue of torture, the right hon. Gentleman will know of our record of opposing torture in every part of the world. As for what he says about the powers
19 Mar 2008 : Column 935
of detention, he—and even the Conservative party—has supported the Liberty proposals that say there may be circumstances in which more than 28 days is necessary for arresting and interviewing someone before charge. I believe he should look seriously at the similarities between the original Liberty proposals and those we are putting forward. We are not saying that in every circumstance someone who is detained must be detained for up to 42 days; we are saying that there should be a reserve power and that if the Home Secretary, with others, decides it should be used, she would come to the House of Commons and ask for that power to be activated. That is very similar to the power proposed by Liberty that the right hon. Gentleman supported because he recognised that there may be circumstances in which it might be necessary to go beyond 28 days. That is not what is at dispute, even though he wants to think that is the issue. The issue is the mechanism that we use. I hope the Liberal party will rethink what I believe is an incredible position on this issue.

Margaret Beckett (Derby, South) (Lab): I warmly welcome the publication of this first national security strategy and its rich content, not least its drawing together of issues such as climate change and nuclear non-proliferation, which tend to be dealt with separately in public debate, but which are obviously part of a continuum in public policy making. I also very much welcome what the Prime Minister said about both the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee and greater resources for the agencies it monitors. Will he confirm that he recognises—as, I believe, does the Committee—the importance of maintaining the delicate balance between a welcome greater openness to Parliament and the public, and maintaining the operational effectiveness of those agencies on which our security so much depends?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her comments. She pushed for non-proliferation when she was Foreign Secretary and made very important disarmament proposals, and we have drawn on the work she has done in today’s national security strategy document. I also appreciate the work she is now doing as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. We will go ahead with our proposals, with a resolution to the House, for more parliamentary debate on security matters, and I believe all Members will welcome the fact that there will be wider debate on these issues. The national security strategy can be subject to hearings in public before the Intelligence and Security Committee, and I believe that there is agreement among Committee members that that would be a good thing to do. There will also be greater transparency over appointments to the Committee. I believe that these three measures will give the Committee an enhanced role in explaining to the public some of the difficult and complex issues of national security, but we will do nothing to put at risk what my right hon. Friend rightly says is the delicate and balanced relationship between the need to inform the public and the need to retain the support and confidence of security agencies, which do so much for the good of the country but which have to be protected in the work they do for reasons all Members regard as obvious. I believe that our proposals get the balance right.

19 Mar 2008 : Column 936

David Maclean (Penrith and The Border) (Con): The Prime Minister rightly paid tribute to the magnificent work that the Territorial Army is undertaking in overseas war zones. Will he and the Defence Secretary look to give an enhanced domestic role to the TA in dealing with security incidents at home, should they happen? If there is a major terrorism incident in this country, the regular Army and our security services will be hard-pressed. There could be an ideal role for the Territorial Army both in contributing to the security containment zone that will have to be set up, and in terms of the specialist units and dealing with the clean-up and the aftermath. The Territorial Army used to have a domestic role when some of our battalions were committed to NATO. This could be an ideal future role for it.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, and I am grateful that there is a bipartisan approach. The review of the Territorials—it is 100 years since they were created, and it is appropriate that we have this review now—will look at exactly the issue he raises: their domestic as well as their international role. He rightly says that volunteers and the Territorial Army have played a great role in civil emergencies in recent years; we want to look at that as part of the review, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will feel able to contribute to it.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I, too, warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, with its emphasis on co-ordination and benchmarking. On parliamentary accountability, the last time the Select Committee on Home Affairs took evidence from the head of MI5 we travelled in a car that had darkened windows, we entered the building through the garage and we had a private session. Even though the information he gave us was excellent, we could not quote from it in our report. Will other Committees be able to take evidence from the head of MI5 in public, where it better informs us of decisions, so that we can report back to Parliament?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend rightly points to the co-operation and briefings that he has received as part of the Home Affairs Committee’s work from the head of MI5. We should return to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett). It is important to get the balance right between the desire to show to the public as much as possible of the work that we are doing in the most open and transparent way and the need to protect our security services in the work that we do. We will continue to get that balance right.

Next Section Index Home Page