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24 Mar 2009 : Column 168

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is right to point to the 65 per cent. reduction in MRSA against the baseline of 2003-04, and there has been a 47 per cent. reduction in cases of clostridium difficile compared with the same quarter last year. He raises an important point, and one case of MRSA, clostridium difficile or any hospital-acquired infection is one case too many. We must consider sensible points such as his to see whether we can eradicate another source of health care-acquired infection.

T8. [265644] Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Two constituents came to my surgery a few weeks ago to talk to me about a hospital in the west midlands— not Mid-Staffordshire hospital. They showed me photographs of mouse holes, mouse droppings in the operating theatre and blood smeared in wards. One is a consultant surgeon and both were frightened of being whistleblowers and feared for their jobs. What sort of ethos exists in the health service if people like that can be afraid of revealing the truth?

Alan Johnson: I know about that case, because the hon. Gentleman dropped me a note about it after the debate last week, and I am looking into it. As he did not mention the hospital, neither will I, but the fact that he has now placed the matter on record allows me to respond to him more formally than I would otherwise have done.

I do not understand why clinicians whose primary role is the safety of their patients are somehow concerned about whistleblowing. Indeed, knowing the number of people in various occupations who are not slow to make people aware of such difficulties, it amazes me that that did not happen at Stafford. The hon. Gentleman has taken a great interest in the matter, and I shall make absolutely sure that the issue that he has raised with me is thoroughly examined. Incidentally, I would also like to talk to the consultant concerned to find out why they were so frightened to raise the matter.

T9. [265645] Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): The Minister will know that I have already raised the issue of the mental health of adolescents in the north-west. Can he tell me why the north-west has the greatest number of adolescents in adult wards in the country, contrary to the spirit of mental health legislation?

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope): We are waiting for the latest statistics, but we want no children under the age of 16 with mental health problems to be treated on adult wards. There is a discussion about what is in the best clinical interests of adolescents aged 17 and 18 to meet their needs, but until those statistics are published I am unable to comment on the specifics. I am happy to examine the details that the hon. Gentleman mentions.

24 Mar 2009 : Column 169

International Terrorism

3.37 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): I have today published the revised version of the Government’s strategy for countering international terrorism. Protecting the safety of everybody in Britain is the primary duty, and the abiding obligation, of Government. Recent events in Northern Ireland were a chilling reminder that the threat of terrorism has not left our shores, and they demonstrated the need to continue to adapt our approach so that we can deal with that threat wherever it emerges.

As we set out in our Contest strategy today, the greatest security threat that we face comes from al-Qaeda and related groups and individuals. Our aim is to reduce the risk to the UK and our interests overseas from international terrorism, so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence. We know that the threat is severe and that an attack is highly likely and could happen without warning at any time. We know that this new form of terrorism is different in scale and nature from the terrorist threats that we have had to deal with in recent decades. This new form of terrorism is rooted in conflicts overseas and the fragility of some states and grounded in an extremist ideology that uses violence to further its ends. It exploits the opportunities created by modern technologies and seeks to radicalise young people into violent extremism.

The threat now comes from the al-Qaeda leadership and its immediate associates, located mainly on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, as well as from its affiliates and from others, including rogue individuals, who espouse similar views. As hon. Members throughout the House will know, not least my predecessors as Home Secretary, on whose important work this strategy builds, those groups have planned a succession of attacks against the UK with the aim of causing mass casualties.

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of thousands of people, to whom I pay tribute, we have had considerable success in stopping terrorists in their tracks and bringing those responsible to justice. We have disrupted more than a dozen attempted terrorist plots in the UK and, since 2001, almost 200 people have been convicted of terrorist-related offences.

However, the threat remains and is always evolving. The strategy takes that into account, draws on what we have learned about how to counter it, and reflects the increased resources that we have rightly made available to keep Britain safe. In recent years, the number of police dedicated to counter-terrorism work has grown from 1,700 to 3,000. The Security Service has doubled in size.

We have trained tens of thousands of people throughout the country to prepare for and protect against a terrorist attack, and we are working with communities to prevent the spread of violent extremism. We currently spend £2.5 billion on countering terrorism. By 2011, that will rise to £3.5 billion—the majority will be spent on the main focus of work: pursuing terrorists wherever they are and stopping their attacks.

The Contest strategy remains centred on four key areas—Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare. We have updated each of them. Pursue will make use of the new resources and new legislation available to the intelligence
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agencies and police to investigate and disrupt terrorist networks here and overseas, and to prosecute those responsible.

Prevent will reach more people than ever, as we step up our efforts to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism. That reflects our better understanding of the causes of radicalisation and includes new programmes and new partnerships with communities here and overseas.

Protect aims to strengthen our defences against an attack through a strong border, improved resilience in our critical national infrastructure and greater protection for the crowded places where we all live, work, shop and play.

Prepare will limit the impact of any attacks that occur, with tens of thousands of emergency services workers, security guards, store managers and others trained and equipped to deal with an incident. Every region of the country now has plans to deal with an attack, improve our ability to recover and ensure a return to normal as soon as possible.

There is also dedicated cross-Government work on the specific threat posed by terrorist use of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons and explosives.

The vital work to counter terrorism cannot be done by central Government, the police and agencies working alone. That is why the revised strategy is based on work right across central and devolved Government and local government, and with our international partners and local communities.

In addressing both the immediate threats and their longer-term causes—and how we will deliver action locally, nationally and internationally—our aim has been to publish as full and open an account of our work as possible. The strategy also draws close links with other Government policies that are essential to its delivery, including conflict reduction, our international aid programme, counter-proliferation, our work in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and our support to communities here, building cohesion, empowerment and equality in this country. The strategy is also closely co-ordinated with the national security strategy, which was published for the first time last year.

The challenge that all of us in the House face is striking the right balance between measures to protect security and the right to life, and the impact on the other rights that we hold dear.

Contest is based on clear and unambiguous principles. My approach to protecting Britain’s security in the face of the terrorist threat will always be underpinned by our core shared values, including the protection of human rights, the rule of law, and democratic and accountable government.

The Government have sought that balance at all times, but we remain uncompromising on several issues. We oppose the use of torture in all its forms. We have always condemned the practice of extraordinary rendition, and will continue to do so.

The strategy is comprehensive and wide ranging. In publishing it, our primary aim is to reassure the British public that we are doing all in our power to protect this country through our relentless pursuit of terrorists and our determination to prevent violent extremism.

I commend the statement to the House.

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Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): May I thank the Home Secretary for providing an advance copy of her statement? Once again, however, may I express my annoyance on behalf of the House at the fact that the documents, which are published today, were released and distributed through the media long before they were released to MPs? That is completely unacceptable and goes against numerous rulings by you, Mr. Speaker. The Home Secretary should be ashamed of herself.

I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the police and all the security services, both overseas and at home, for their work in protecting us against the terrorist threat, but we should do more than recognise that hard work—we should also recognise their personal courage in looking after us. We all share the same goal in respect of the issues we are discussing today. We want to do everything we can to combat terror, and we will be constructive critics of what the Government do as a result.

Furthermore, we face new kinds of threat. The events in Mumbai in November were truly shocking. Innocent people were gunned down in their hotel rooms or shot at random on a busy railway station. Armed men roaming the streets of cities looking for people to shoot indiscriminately is a new experience in the battle against terror. That is why we back the Government’s aim of broadening knowledge of the terrorist threat to thousands of people who work in public places.

However, the Government have to do the job properly. It is depressing to discover that the programme described in last weekend’s newspapers by the Prime Minister does not appear to be what we were promised. He described the programme as follows:

Will the Home Secretary confirm that the training programme described by the Prime Minister amounts to no more than a voluntary three-hour seminar, and that includes the coffee break? I do not see how we can train people properly to deal with terrorism in less than half the time allocated to a cycling proficiency course.

Will the Home Secretary tell us how widely the training has been spread? When we contacted the management of two major shopping centres this morning, we were told that all that they knew about the plans was from newspaper reports this week. Why?

When it comes to new kinds of threat, the Home Secretary is right to highlight the need to be aware of the danger of an attack with chemical, biological or radiological weapons, but will she tell the House why police in London will not all have access to protective equipment ahead of the G20 summit?

The other big caveat is how we deal with the groups that foster both hatred and violence in our society and the extremism that underpins many aspects of the threat that we face. The meeting held in a school in London last week at which one of the most controversial of all the so-called preachers of hate, Omar Bakri, was able to preach over a phone line to a group of followers and call for attacks on British soldiers and civilians was a disgrace. Why was that allowed to happen?

We have to deal with extremism in all its guises. People have the right to campaign for radical change in our society. We should not seek to ban them from doing
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so, but the state has the right to protect its people and its institutions, and the principles of a democratic society. We should not be providing support to those who wish to undermine that society, so will the Home Secretary now stop funding groups that propagate extremism, and instead concentrate on funding projects that break down the community divide?

We will support the Government when they do the right thing to combat terrorism. There is much in the document that we welcome, but the Government’s strategy is not perfect and we will continue to push for change where we believe that it is flawed. We will do so out of a desire that I believe is shared right across this House: to do everything we can to keep the terrorist threat at bay.

Jacqui Smith: In relation to the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the Contest strategy has been available to hon. Members in the Vote Office since 10 o’clock this morning.

Chris Grayling: The media had it last night.

Jacqui Smith: No, the media did not have it last night. It was available to hon. Members at 10 o’clock this morning and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I personally sent him a copy today as well.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to those involved in helping to keep this country safe. I welcome that tribute. I accept his point that we need to learn from terrible events such as those in Mumbai and Lahore—and we will—and to feed that into our ongoing work to protect from and to prepare for terrorist attacks.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the work we are taking forward through Project Argus. I am sorry that he was so dismissive of a wide-ranging programme that is placed on top of the work of police officers, police community support officers, the security and intelligence agencies and others who work to keep us safe, and that aims to provide training and preparation and to protect us where we shop, where we work and where we live. About 700 programmes have been implemented under Project Argus and more than 30,000 people have received training—and plans are in place for even more people to receive it. On top of that, separate training programmes for security guards are being conducted throughout the country to help ensure that they are vigilant. I hope that hon. Members will welcome and support that work in their local communities.

The hon. Gentleman welcomes our focus on the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threat. We are ensuring, once again, that all police officers receive basic information training in CBRN threats, with 8,000 police officers receiving specific training, and they all have access to protective equipment.

The hon. Gentleman rightly emphasises, as do we, the challenge to counteract violent extremism and those who want to support terrorism. In providing funding for groups and other elements of the work, we have ensured that we can measure the outcomes of what those groups do. We commissioned a review from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission, which has already been published. I agree that our work to counter violent extremism and to support shared values needs to go even further, which is why we are clear in this document about the values that we share—the same values, incidentally, that are under
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attack by terrorists— and we will as a Government and more widely across the community challenge those who do not share those values. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that our emphasis on working—not just in communities, but more widely in prisons, schools, universities and internationally—to prevent people from turning to violent extremism is an important part of, and the correct long-term approach to, what I hope is our joint work to help keep this country safer.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and her commitment to continue to engage with communities. As events in Luton showed, it is extremely important to continue that process of engagement. She mentioned Mumbai, but security in major hotels and tourist places in such cities does not bear comparison with what is happening in London. Although I of course welcome everything the Government have done in training staff, it is vital that we continue to work with the private sector to ensure that it puts in place the necessary security arrangements in our major hotels and major tourist destinations, which will be targeted by terrorists, and we must prepare for that.

Jacqui Smith: I think my right hon. Friend is right to draw attention, as I did, to the need to learn from events such as those in Mumbai. I am glad that he welcomes the fact that, through the security advisers we fund, we have ensured that hotel operators are trained. In addition, of course, we provide advice, and we are developing the way in which we provide it—for example, ensuring that buildings are designed and built to be as safe as possible from potential terrorist attack. We will continue to do that and build on that work. I am sure my right hon. Friend shares my view that terrorists want us to garner obvious, difficult and cumbersome forms of security that prevent us from going about our daily lives. Our task is to make sure that everybody is able to live their daily lives as freely, but as securely, as possible.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I thank the Home Secretary for giving me advance sight of the statement, although I should have liked more opportunity to look at the substantial purple document that accompanies it. Perhaps on the next occasion the Home Secretary could arrange to inform Members that it is available, as that certainly was not obvious to me.

Terrorism remains a grave threat to our society—on that, we are agreed. I too pay tribute to the work of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and, indeed, the police forces involved in counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism, who are so involved in this fight. We have faced it before in the form of republican Irish terrorism and have survived it, and I have no doubt that we shall do so again. Does the Home Secretary agree, however, that although the threat is severe, our response must always be measured and proportionate? We must never become what we are fighting, for therein lies a loss of the moral high ground and the esteem of the very people whom we need to provide intelligence and witnesses.

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