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Fourthly, there is the question of co-ordination within the Government. I know the Prime Minister agrees that we need a properly established national security approach, and we welcome the progress towards that, but does he agree that rather than a Cabinet Committee, what we
need is a proper national security council with a national security adviser, at the heart of Government, which can address these issues in the round? The Prime Minister will say that we already have one, but let me put this point to him. If we really have a national security approach-if we really think these things through-we should bear in mind that we will still be spending more on aid to China than we are spending on aid to Yemen. We should take that into account if we are really thinking about national security.
Finally, the Prime Minister spoke about anti-terror legislation. We will always support measures that provide the hard-nosed defence of liberty, and oppose measures that amount to ineffective authoritarianism. With that in mind, will the Prime Minister now admit that the attempt to introduce 42-day detention without trial was a politically motivated mistake?
The Prime Minister: I hoped that we would find in the right hon. Gentleman's response more consensus than we appear to have discovered. First, let me advise him not to draw conclusions too quickly about the nature of the citizen who was arrested for the Detroit incident. We do not have the full information that he suggested we had about the radicalisation in the United Kingdom; nor do we have all the information about the individual's activities in Yemen. That is part of the continuing investigation. I think that drawing conclusions immediately is both premature and dangerous.
It is a fact that we have excluded more than 180 people from our country on grounds of national security since 2005, and that we have excluded more than 100 individuals on grounds of unacceptable behaviour. Since July 2005, eight individuals have been deported on grounds of national security, and a further eight have made voluntary departures. So we take action when it is right to do so, and on the proscription of organisations, we take action when we have evidence that will stand up in a court of law. Decisions on proscription must be based on evidence that the group concerned is involved in terrorism as defined in the Terrorism Act 2000. It is not a party political decision that is being made, but a decision on legal grounds that can be challenged in the courts. That is why the decision on Islam4UK was made in the way in which it was made, and that is why we have been careful in relation to what has happened over the organisation called HuT.
Let me say something about body scanners and what happened in Amsterdam. We are investing a huge amount of money in trying to develop the most sophisticated techniques for identifying materials that are held in people's bodies when they go through a search. We cannot be absolutely sure that the scanners we use at the moment are foolproof; they are the best we have at the moment, but we will continue to invest further in them. The point I am making today is if the UK invests in scanners, it will be necessary for other countries also to develop these sophisticated techniques so that we have protection not only in our country's airports, but in the airports from which people travel to our country.
Let me deal with e-Borders, which involves the holding of data about people. I am grateful if the Leader of the Opposition is saying that he now withdraws his objections to the holding of such data because it is an essential
part of the national security effort that we are going to carry out in future months. Through e-Borders, we have the possibility of getting information 24 hours in advance of a passenger's flight into the UK, of being able to check that individual against the watch list and of then deciding whether that individual should be allowed to fly or should be subject to enhanced searches. That is a major advance that is going to happen during the course of this year as a result of the huge investment we have made in e-Borders.
As far as international co-operation is concerned, the Yemen conference is a necessary means by which we can signal to the people of Yemen that the international community is prepared to support them in their efforts against al-Qaeda. I thought it right, and so did the President of the USA, to bring people together on the eve of the Afghan conference to signal the importance we attach both to Yemen taking action against al-Qaeda and to supporting those people in Yemen who are fighting these terrorist groups.
As far as announcements made over Christmas are concerned, it is the practice for us not to comment on security information and that will continue to be the practice that is always followed in future. The Government's policy is absolutely clear about that. I do think, however, that we should look at the wider picture here today and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not drawn himself into this debate. The counter-terrorism strategy we need starts from what we do in the UK by securing our borders. It means having enhanced co-operation with the security agencies of other countries at all times, and it means that the de-radicalisation work we are carrying out goes on not simply in Britain but in other countries throughout the world to expose the extremists and to support the moderates and reformers. It leads us to take action in the Afghan border area to make sure that al-Qaeda cannot again gain a foothold in Afghanistan that would allow the Taliban to get back into power. I would have thought-I hope and I continue to hope-that there would be complete consensus in all parts of the House on these issues.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. The changing and evolving threat to Britain's security not only calls for constant vigilance, but demands regular review and debate in the House. The Prime Minister can always count on the support of those on the Liberal Democrat Benches in introducing proportionate and well thought through measures to reduce that threat, while of course protecting the traditional liberties of the British people.
I particularly welcome the part of the statement about increased joint working with our European and other allies; in a globalised world, such European co-operation is vital to tackle any threat. That is why I have always advocated more, not less European co-operation in this area; our basic safety depends on it. I also welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the upcoming UN conference to discuss approaches to the situation in the Yemen and the horn of Africa; the joint working of our intelligence agencies to identify and combat threats at the earliest point at which they emerge; and the extension of the e-Borders programme, which is vital if we are to gain the information we need about people coming into and leaving the UK.
If I understand it correctly, the Yemeni authorities claim that there are only a small number of hard-line
al-Qaeda supporters in the country. Will the Prime Minister tell us how that small number of people will be targeted in order to ensure that we do not inflame moderate opinion in Yemen? Does he agree that the greatest challenge is to isolate and marginalise al-Qaeda supporters in the horn of Africa rather than take steps that will have the unintended consequence of boosting their support in this fragile region?
The Prime Minister will know that Liberal Democrat Members believe it is vital to get right the difficult balance between security and liberty and that Government efforts in the past often got that balance wrong. This week, the court ruling on compensation for those given control orders has surely put another nail in the coffin of this failed system. As the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), said in respect of these orders, they have got holes all through them. Will the Prime Minister now accept that control orders do not work and will he agree not to renew them when they expire in March? Will he focus his intentions instead on ways of making it easier to prosecute terror suspects in our courts?
The Prime Minister: It is important to get the balance right between the need to protect the liberties of every individual citizen and the security that every citizen in this country has the right to expect. We will look at the judgment on control orders, but I have to say that in ensuring the protection of our country's security, it has been necessary for us to track a number of people who might be dangerous and could otherwise threaten the security and law and order of our communities.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's points about Yemen and Somalia. Our job is to make sure that we can help the legitimate Government in Yemen to deal with extremism within its borders, to expose extremist and radical preachers who have a perverted view of Islam, to encourage the moderates and reformers, and to ensure that we bring into alliance with us the people of Yemen who have other interests that need to be met, but who cannot and should not look to al-Qaeda for the solution to their grievances. The same issues apply in Somalia as well. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that our policy in Somalia and in Yemen, as in Pakistan, is to back those elements who are standing firm against al-Qaeda and against a perverted view of Islam on the basis of which jihad is preached against the rest of the world.
As far as measures taken here are concerned, I emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman that maximum care is taken to deal with the civil liberties issues that arise in every case. For example, in installing the security machines at airports to ensure that security checks are properly done, we have designed a code of conduct to protect the liberties of the individual.
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the control orders to which the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) has referred were introduced by my successor as Home Secretary, following the House of Lords judgment in December 2004, which overturned section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Given the key issues of admissibility and disclosure and the failure of the judiciary to respond to the consultation in early 2004 on alternatives that would have allowed the court system to deal with admissibility and disclosure-but
with sufficient privacy to protect sources-will my right hon. Friend consider consulting the President of the Supreme Court, the Lord Chief Justice and colleagues, along with the Home and Justice Secretaries, to ask the judiciary if it has proposals to help us develop an alternative rather than simply to strike down the alternatives that we put together in this House?
The Prime Minister: No one knows more about this issue than my right hon. Friend, who is well versed in the debates that took place at the time. When he was Home Secretary, he had to take very difficult decisions to deal with the terrorist threat in our country, and I applaud him for the work he has done. He is absolutely right that any further decisions have to be based on maximum consultation and discussion with the people whose advice we ought to seek. The Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary will, of course, be in contact with the judiciary on these matters.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): May I again put it to the Prime Minister that nothing more certainly fuels international terrorism than the stationing of foreign troops in Islamic countries?
The Prime Minister: I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Afghanistan was rid of the Taliban and al-Qaeda only through the action taken by the US, the UK and other allied forces. But for that, the Taliban would still be in power and al-Qaeda would still have the licence to roam within Afghanistan and to plan its attacks on Britain and other countries from there. We took the action we did as part of a 43-nation coalition, which was supported by the UN and is still supported by the UN. This is one of the widest alliances ever formed; the reason for it is that we must prevent al-Qaeda from getting space in countries like Afghanistan in order to threaten the rest of the world.
John Reid (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I very much welcome the lead that the Prime Minister has shown today; his statement is concise, comprehensive and resolute. May I also encourage him to stick to an evidence-based approach, because nothing would be worse than taking action that is not justified by our existing law, and which would ultimately give a propaganda coup to those whom we seek to curb in their aims of terrorism? In that context, will he continue to seek consensus, not only throughout this House but throughout the country, and ensure that there is a communication and explanation strategy for the public, who will be inconvenienced by these measures, but will ultimately be protected by them?
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is right-and again, he has done so much to alert us to the problems that terrorism can bring, and to the security measures necessary to deal with them. He, like me, is aware that we need to build public confidence in what is being done, that the introduction of checking at airports has to be explained to the public and that the civil liberties issues need to be dealt with, so that people feel satisfied that this is being done in their interests and in the security interests of the country.
As for proscription, it is easy to call for the proscription of one organisation or another, but it is the most difficult thing to ensure that we have a case that can
stand up in court. That is why we have been careful about the organisations that we proscribe. If we were to proscribe an organisation and it were to win a case in court against us, that would, of course, be a propaganda victory for that organisation against a decision that we had made. So we must be sure about the evidence that we have before we make these decisions, and it was by an intricate examination of the work of Islam4UK that we came to the conclusion that it should be proscribed.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): Does the Prime Minister accept that the more complex the threat, the more sophisticated the means necessary to deal with it, and in turn, the greater the resources required to do so? Given that we are about to embark on a period of severe restriction of public expenditure, what assurances can he give that the three intelligence agencies in this country will have the resources to enable them to fulfil their primary responsibility: the protection of British citizens?
The Prime Minister: Because we have trebled the resources available to the security agencies since 2001 and because we have doubled the number of staff available to them, they face the future from a platform where the investment has already been made, and is being made, in the development of their service-both in their technology and, of course, in the expertise in their staffing. I believe that the decisions we made from 2001 to now to increase investment in the security services have been some of the most important-and, of course, expensive-decisions that have been made. But they have been the right decisions, and they mean that the security services are building on a very strong foundation.
Jacqui Smith (Redditch) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment to continue the development of and the investment in the e-Borders system, which is so important, not only in enabling us to count people in and out of the country, but in tracking those who may pose a risk. I fear that he may be premature in believing that the Leader of the Opposition has withdrawn his concerns or opposition to the e-Borders scheme. Regardless of the fluctuating position of Conservative Members on this system, can my right hon. Friend reassure us that he will maintain a commitment to collecting the information and investing in the technology necessary to protect us from the international threat from terrorism?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing out that this is an important part of the protection of British citizens. Having a check that can be done prior to travel, as a result of an e-Borders system in which we have invested more than £1 billion, is a very important element of the security of our country, and I praise her work in developing that system, and the action she took to counter terrorism when she was Home Secretary.
I must also say that sometimes the Conservative party does not want to understand the measures that we are already taking. We have a National Security Committee in place. The Leader of the Opposition sometimes gives the impression that that does not include the chiefs of our security agencies, the Chief of the Defence Staff or all those people who are charged with addressing the
security issues of our country, and he wants to create some new committee that does include them. Those people are already on the National Security Committee. We regularly publish a national security strategy and we have set up a national security secretariat in the Cabinet Office. We have a national security forum, which I met only last week and which gives us advice from experts around the world about our security. We also have a cadre of experienced conflict and stabilisation experts. All the things that the document he produced last week suggested should be done are already being done.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): The Prime Minister will know that the most successful attack by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took place using a cavity bomb-a bomb inserted inside a human body. No technology is currently available to detect that threat, and traditionally we used to use the defence research budget to fund new technologies in order to keep one step ahead of terrorism. Under the Prime Minister's watch that budget has been cut by 23 per cent. in the past three years. I recognise that the Government have spent money on personnel and structures, but will he review that cut again, because without such a review we will not get the technology to solve the problem?
The Prime Minister: But science expenditure has doubled over the past 10 years, and the security Minister, Lord West, has asked companies around the country to work with him on developing new measures and new technologies that can deal with the detection of exactly what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Therefore investment has been made, and we are prepared to make the investments that are necessary. I ask him to look at the overall picture of science investment in this country, and at Lord West's invitation to companies in this country to be involved in developing the new technology. In fact, it is Smiths Industries, one of the British companies, that is developing the border scanner, and it is doing so with great distinction.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I welcome the Prime Minister's statement and thank him for agreeing to meet the all-party group on Yemen in advance of the conference next week. Following the Detroit incident, President Obama said that there had been a "systemic failure" in the security apparatus in the United States. In the evidence that has been given to the Select Committee's counter-terrorism inquiry, a number of witnesses have talked about information being retained in home Departments-for example, the Department for Transport and others-rather than being sent to the Home Office. Does he agree that co-ordination is vital? That means strengthening the office for security and counter-terrorism, which was created by the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid). Will the Prime Minister also look again at the idea of a national security council, because there is a need to co-ordinate on a political level, as well as co-ordinating on the practical operational level through the OSCT?
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