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We recognise the need to strengthen further our partnership with countries in the region and beyond so that we can co-ordinate our efforts against al-Qaeda more effectively and provide greater support for the Yemeni people to reject violent extremism. International co-operation is critical to meeting what is a global threat, and the coming together of the international
community in London later this month to discuss Yemen will be an important step towards security in Yemen and across the globe.
It is important to reiterate that the incident was a failed attack on the US by a Nigerian national-someone who was refused entry to the UK and who, it seems, was radicalised after he left this country. However, there are lessons to be learned by the international community, and the measures that I have outlined will provide the UK with greater protection from terrorist attack. Along with our work overseas and with our international partners, enhanced airport security and more thorough collation of intelligence, we will be able to strengthen our efforts to tackle the root cause of violent extremism and reduce the threat of future attack.
We all accept that as we learn the lessons from the recent plot, happily an unsuccessful one, additional security measures will have to be taken. The use of more sophisticated scanning technologies is inevitable, although we will have to make sure that sensible measures are taken to protect privacy. However, the Home Secretary's statement is ambiguous about scanners, so will he clarify whether he plans to make full-body scanners compulsory at all UK airports? He talked about e-Borders, so will he also clarify the situation with the European Union over the use of the e-Borders project? Will there be European legal restrictions on the use of the e-Borders database?
We believe that it is necessary to take a more intelligence-led approach to airport security, as well as to watch carefully for suspicious behaviour by passengers, so the Government will have our support in taking prudent measures to protect passengers. Those matters of judgment must be kept under constant review, even if there is public attention only when the security measures are challenged.
However, the person who should be before the House explaining himself this afternoon is not the Home Secretary but the Prime Minister. Twice in three days the Prime Minister has been caught out making false claims about the contacts that have taken place between Britain and the United States over the airline bomb plot and the security threat to our airports. On Sunday he admitted to the BBC that supposed discussions between himself and President Obama about the bomb plot and the situation in Yemen had not actually taken place. Then, yesterday, he claimed that Britain had supplied to the United States in 2008 intelligence about the bomb suspect and his links to extremists-a claim that Downing Street now admits was untrue. This Government, the House will remember, have systematically misused intelligence data over the years, most notably in relation to the so-called dodgy dossier. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is absolutely unacceptable for the Prime Minister-the man who leads our Government-to exaggerate, mislead on or spin intelligence information, particularly when it relates to a terrorist threat?
The Home Secretary told the House this afternoon: "It is an established and accepted principle that we do not routinely comment on intelligence matters." Why did the Prime Minister and Downing street break that principle this week? Does the Home Secretary agree
also that it is damaging to our most important intelligence relationship, with the United States, for Downing street to disseminate information in such an inaccurate and cavalier way?
The entire House will be relieved that on this occasion the bomb plot was unsuccessful. It will serve as a strong reminder to Governments across the world of the ever-present terrorist threat and the fact that we all need to remain vigilant about that threat as well as united in a determination to defeat it.
It is also worth saying that the threat from a small group of Islamic extremists in no way represents the views and beliefs of the vast majority of decent, law-abiding Muslim people in this country and around the world. People of all faiths have been victims of terrorists over the past decade, and we must all stand together against that threat. However, that task has not been helped by the actions of Downing street in recent days.
Alan Johnson: I regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman uses this very tense time to score cheap party political points. I saw lots of faces among those on the Conservative Benches looking appalled that this situation should be used to make a personal attack on the Prime Minister.
The hon. Gentleman made only three points that I believe are relevant to this issue. First, on the number of full-body scanners, we now need to work with the airline industry to decide how many of these scanners we can have and where we can locate them. As I said, we will have the first ready at Heathrow within three weeks. Thereafter, they will become much more widely available in terms of the capacity to manufacture them and put them in place and the need to get from the various airline companies their authority, agreement and input.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the EU situation. That was clarified just before Christmas when, thankfully, the Commission agreed that there were no Community issues about the transfer of information. That obviously still requires the countries transferring the information to agree their data-processing techniques, but there is no EU issue; that is what the Commission was originally looking at.
The third point was about our use of intelligence and our co-operation with the United States. As I said, the Prime Minister was absolutely right that we did share information with the US. We do not routinely comment on the nature of such information or the information itself. None of that information suggested that Abdulmutallab was planning a terrorist plot. Incidentally, as I mentioned, I met Jane Lute, the Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security, this morning, and she did not mention this matter at all. We spoke about the productive way we can work together to deal with these issues. There is absolutely no relationship in the world stronger than the relationship between the UK and the US, particularly on counter-terrorism, where we work closely together and will continue to do so in the light of this latest threat.
The Home Secretary's announcement that scanners are to be rolled out quickly at British airports is certainly welcome. However, his statement raises several questions.
First, can he confirm that such scanners would have been effective in detecting the substances carried by Umah Farouk Abdulmutallab? Secondly, why has it taken him so long to act, given that these scanners have already been trialled and that four are reported to be in storage at Heathrow? Thirdly, will he respect those who may have a deep-felt objection to the scanners by allowing them to opt instead for a body-pat search, for example as part of his code of conduct? What assurance will he give that images of children and others will not be stored?
The Home Secretary opens the door to profiling, but what does this mean? If he means additional searches for those with suspicious travel patterns, then I am sure that I speak for everybody in this House when I ask who could object? But if he means stopping everyone who looks Asian, then I fear that he will alienate exactly those communities whose co-operation we need in the fight against terrorism. Which is it?
Then there is information sharing, which the Home Secretary really cannot dismiss by saying that the Government do not comment on intelligence matters, particularly in the light of recent events in Downing street. Can he confirm the account of a Downing street spokesman that Britain told US intelligence more than a year ago that the Detroit bomber had links to extremists? Can he confirm-this is not an intelligence matter-that the US was informed after that person was placed on a UK watch list? In the light of those contradictions and the open spat with our closest ally, what measures are the Government taking to improve liaison with the United States, or possibly with the Prime Minister's press operation?
Given that the Detroit bomber transited through Schiphol, were the Dutch authorities notified bilaterally of our concerns at any point? Had we shared our information with our European partners through either Europol or other routes, and what mechanism is there for one EU country to become aware of such intelligence on a suspected radical held or collected by another EU country? Do we routinely share information about our watch lists with our European counterparts even for passengers who are only in transit? In the light of the attempted attack, do those systems need to be improved?
Alan Johnson: On whether scanners would have been effective in relation to Abdulmutallab, the indications are that given where the PETN was placed, there would have been a 50 to 60 per cent. chance of its being detected. That is the view of most people who operate the scanners, so the scanners themselves are not the magic bullet. A British company, Smiths Industries, is developing the technology all the time, and we need the next wave of technology with explosive detection as well as body imaging to move ahead very quickly.
I do not accept that we took a long time to act. This happened on Christmas day, and over the Christmas period my colleague the Secretary of State for Transport has been discussing with the airlines the availability of equipment. There was one body scanner at Manchester and a number have been mothballed in Heathrow on a trial basis, but whether they are serviceable or need to be updated has been the subject of the conversation. Today's announcement is the earliest possible time to get moving.
The issue of privacy will be important, but all the images are destroyed immediately and the person responsible for the scanning is in a completely separate room, as anybody who has seen the system in Manchester or the version in Glasgow operating will know, so there is no immediate contact between the person doing the imaging and the person being imaged. Privacy considerations are important, but I believe that we can ensure that those who have concerns can be satisfied. I do not foresee a situation in which people can simply object to a body scan. We need to use the scanners perhaps not as the first line of our defence but as the second line, on a random basis.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the important issue of profiling. I said in my statement that I recognised the sensitivities of that matter. Anyone can examine the case of Anne Mary Murphy in 1986, who was a pregnant woman inveigled by her Syrian boyfriend to carry a bomb on to a flight to London. She would not have matched any profile, and in the case of someone like Richard Reid the name would not have alerted anyone. Nevertheless, whether we can deal with sensitivity issues must be part of our consideration of any defence that we can find to address the gap in our defences that Abdulmutallab found, although he was thankfully unsuccessful. We need to consider profiling while recognising the concerns and civil rights issues involved.
We share information all the time on a routine basis, and the US shares information with us. We did not inform the US that Abdulmutallab was on our watch list having been refused a student visa, because the case was not conducted with any concern that he was coming over to commit a terrorism incident. It was an immigration issue, and we would not share such information routinely with the US. We share other information with the US, and we share it routinely with our European partners, although if there were concerns about terrorism we would not wait for a watch list and for the plane to be taking off. It is outside Europe that we have the problem; as the hon. Gentleman well knows, we have a close relationship within the EU, which means that we deal with such security issues straight away. We do not wait for people to come to an airport and try to get on a plane to another country.
Mr. Speaker: Order. No fewer than 16 hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As always, I should like to accommodate everybody, and the numbers should be perfectly manageable. I simply remind the House that there are two further statements to follow, and I reiterate my usual appeal for each hon. Member to ask a single, short supplementary question and, of course, for the Home Secretary to provide us with an economical reply.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The Home Affairs Committee recently visited both Heathrow and Schiphol, and the Home Secretary is right to consult the airlines and be measured in his response. Of course, in principle, we should have the body scanners, but international co-operation is the most important aspect. I accept what he says about sharing information, but are there any more lessons to be learned about how we can improve the situation?
Alan Johnson: Doubtless there are. I recognise my right hon. Friend's expertise in the matter. In some countries, there are separate watch lists for security, for policing and crime, for people who have lost their passports and for immigration issues, but an integrated watch list serves us well. With e-Borders continually coming on stream, we can deal with the matter before the person has taken off. That is important, given that Abdulmutallab was not trying to enter a country, but to blow himself up before he landed. Whether he was in transit or his destination was this country did not therefore matter. We need to ensure the tightest possible control. Although it all worked well, I would be the last person to appear complacent. As the Prime Minister said, the incident is a wake-up call-every failed terrorist attempt must be picked to pieces so that we find anything that we can use to strengthen our defences. We intend to do that.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): Terrorists watch very carefully the technology that we deploy. Does the Home Secretary realise that the term "scanners" covers a wide range of things? Some use millimetre technology; others use terahertz; some require one to go through a box, and others can scan remotely in airport lounges or railway stations. Will the Government please institute a research programme? Several British companies are involved in such research, but the Government never pull through new technologies. We need to stay ahead of the terrorists, not deploy after an incident.
Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. I do not accept that we have been slow in dealing with this. We are due to meet Smiths Industries shortly, and the document that Lord West, our security Minister, produced in August 2009 was specifically aimed at the scientific community and innovators to get things moving and find new ways to deal with such matters. It is important to stress that there is a great deal of British technology that we can exploit. We need to ensure that we get the right body scanners-that is one reason for talking to the airlines. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a variety of scanners, and we need to use the most effective.
John Reid (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I refer the House to my interests in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. I welcome in particular the way in which the Home Secretary emphasised that there is no magic bullet for solving the problems. I say that in the light of recent media comments, particularly about full body scanners, which still require standardised procedures, are still in trials and so on. A range of search procedures and technologies is required. Above all, as the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) said, constant innovation in our thinking must be embedded in everything that we do. Will the Home Secretary therefore build on Lord West's good work and ensure that a partnership of the Government, academia and private industry is given more resources so that we can we stay ahead of the curve and the terrorists' thinking in introducing new ways of terror?
My right hon. Friend largely makes the same point as the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor). I agree with it. It is perhaps another reason for redoubling our efforts to stay ahead
of the terrorists. We will not deal with the matter through body scanners alone. Every day, sniffer dogs come into the Chamber, looking for PETN. Behavioural detection is another method, but even with all the techniques we can use, we can never guarantee 100 per cent. safety-there is no magic bullet. However, a lot of people out there are willing to innovate, work and provide equipment and the technological capacity that can move us to the next level. That is the main lesson of Detroit on 25 December.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): The Home Secretary is the lead on homeland security, but will he acknowledge the debt we owe to the Ministry of Defence personnel and the scientific civil servants working at defence science and technology laboratories at Porton Down in my constituency, and particularly at the Counter Terrorism Science and Technology Centre, who are responsible for the day-by-day innovation that goes on in science and technology? Will he talk to the Ministry of Defence, which has tremendous budget problems, to ensure not only that there is no cut in the defence budget as it affects Porton Down, but that quite the reverse happens? Porton Down should have all the resources it needs to counter terrorism.
Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman is a great advocate for Porton Down. I am talking to the Defence Secretary. This is a cross-Government initiative. All the relevant Departments are working together on this, using all the agencies at their disposal, Porton Down being one of them.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Aviation is international. What new steps are being taken to link intelligence information with the best attainable system of security at individual airports?
Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is the Chairman of the Transport Committee, and I know that she has taken a great interest in this issue. I talked to Jane Lute this morning-she is the US Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security-about the best way to have an international gathering to discuss the lessons emerging from this and we are still talking things through. There was a view that we should perhaps get a gathering of Ministers together next week in Brussels. Actually, the opportunity under the Spanish presidency, which is very interested in this matter, comes up in a few weeks' time. More and more we are centring on that as the opportunity to get Transport Ministers, homeland security Ministers and perhaps Defence Ministers together to talk about an integrated programme as to how we can act internationally.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this will not be solved by us nationally, by its very definition-a Nigerian coming from Nigeria through Holland to bomb Detroit has ramifications for a much wider set of countries. We need to deal with this matter internationally, which is what we intend to do.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Who authorised the Downing street spokesman to brief so emphatically that information about the Detroit bomber had been passed to the Americans before the bombing?
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