|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Straw: Without going into all the details, which would be quite inappropriate, of course, the Prime Minister made the appointment bearing in mind the high qualities of Sir David Omand. There are many other people around in Whitehall who have similar high qualities, but it goes without saying that the Prime Minister would not have made the appointment unless he was absolutely satisfied about the quality of the candidate that he chose.
I want to deal with one of the central elements of the report from the Intelligence and Security Committee: the question of whether the agencies were in any way negligent in failing to predict the terrorist attacks in New York on 11 September. I want to put on record that, during 2000 and 2001, right up to 11 September, there was a high level of awareness among the agencies of the threats posed by Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network to United States and United Kingdom interests. The ISC has noted that both the United Kingdom and United States agencies achieved some notable successes against al-Qaeda targets in the three-year period running up to 11 September. Although, for obvious reasons, details of those successes cannot be made public, I can
The ISC notes that the UK was active in focusing international attention on Afghanistan and the Taliban before 11 September. The intelligence reports and assessments provided by the UK intelligence community in the period up to 11 September left no room for complacency about the likelihood and imminence of major terrorist attacks. I therefore fully endorse the Committee's conclusions that the agencies did not overlook any intelligence that would have forewarned of the attacks on 11 September. There was intelligence, but it was not complete, and it was not known where or when the attacks were to take place, nor who would carry them out. A re-examination of material across the intelligence community has not found any evidence that, even with the benefit of hindsight, that intelligence could have been used to deter or to give advance warning of the attacks.
Of course, what the agencies have done, as we have done, is to seek to learn the intense lessons of 11 September. Throughout the period since 11 September we have been guided by the principle that the causesto pick up a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth)as well as the symptoms of the problems must be treated. Our goal remains as set out in our paper on "Campaign Objectives", a copy of which was deposited in the House last October.
Our most visible action has been in Afghanistan, where the military operations succeeded in severely disrupting the al-Qaeda operations. With our assistance, the Interim Administration have destroyed what is probably up to 25 per cent.we are not entirely sure of the proportionof this year's poppy harvest, a crop that has funded terrorism and put heroin on our streets. Meanwhile, a huge international humanitarian, diplomatic and political effort has underpinned political and democratic change in Afghanistan, without which there can be no permanent solution to Afghanistan being a seedbed and school for terrorism elsewhere in the world.
We have promoted counter-terrorism measures in the European Union, in the G8 and in NATO, and we have been working with the international community to disrupt sources of finance for terrorists. In that context, I hope very much that the official Opposition and the Liberals will give full support to the Proceeds of Crime Bill as it passes through Parliament. Of course, everybody has signed up to the principle of fighting terrorism, including the funding of terrorism, in which crime plays such an appalling part, but what we must do is ensure that the law enforcement agencies and the courts have effective powers to do that.
As I said, our international strategy in the war against terrorism recognises causes as well as symptoms. Although no political cause can justify terrorism, our approach has been informed by the need to resolve conflicts that breed violence and resentment.
The role of the intelligence agencies in protecting our national interests has never been under greater scrutiny. Commentators in the United Kingdom as well as in the United States have sought to portray the events of 11 September as an intelligence failure. That is not the case. Those critics fail to recognise a fundamental point about intelligence work: by its very nature, when it workswhich is usually the casethe public rarely get
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): I wish to present a petition signed by 1,271 readers of the Bury Free Press, residents of Tuddenham in my constituency and other towns and villages, to express their concern about the dangerous crossing of the C624 and the A11, which has claimed lives. The petitioners ask that the Secretary of State for Transport take urgent action to prevent further accidents.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): This petition is signed by more than 500 constituents of mine, who are extremely concerned about firework nuisance. Over the past few winters, there has been a big increase in firework abuse, with injury to pets and farm animals. I wrote to every veterinary surgery and many local action groupshence the 500 signatures.
To restrict the times of the day fireworks can be set off; and
To license all vendors of fireworks to meet strict safety criteria and to give trading standards the power to revoke the licence of any vendor caught selling fireworks to under-age children.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden): I am grateful to have secured the opportunity to draw the attention of the House to an issue that is a constant, nagging headache for my constituents. Although it never features in nationwide opinion polls, it is the matter about which I receive most letters and about which people stop me most in the streets of my constituency.
We have debated graffiti on a number of recent occasions in the House, and I have received countless surgery visits, letters, telephone calls and e-mails from people whose homes, streets and local surroundings are persistently blighted by the mindless handiwork of the graffiti vandals. Not only does it visibly drag a community down when there are graffiti on fences, shop fronts, stairwells, bus stops and post boxes, or the windows of local buses have been scratched with glass-cutters or drawn on with permanent marker pens, but it tangibly affects the fear of crime in a community. In the end, it affects the community deeply.
I grew up in the constituency that I now represent, and in recent years I have seen a marked increase in graffiti in Mitcham, Morden and Colliers Wood. It often seems that as fast as the graffiti are cleared away, they reappearoften in a much worse form. People, particularly the elderly, are scared to go out if their neighbourhood is targeted by graffiti vandals. If we are serious about doing more to tackle crime and the fear of crime, we must do more to tackle graffiti. My constituents are deeply aggravated by graffiti vandalism. They want effective action on it, as do most hon. Members, I am sure.
Graffiti vandalism is commonly thought of as the random, thoughtless activity of an isolated few. That is only partly true. It is a far more organised criminal activity than many people realise, and like paedophilia and drug crime, it includes a great deal of underground activity on the internet. Because the activity has reached such an organised scale, businesses and private individuals spend millions of pounds each year trying to prevent and remove graffiti, and local authorities in London are spending millions to deal with the problem, too. Graffiti vandalism is a very costly crime indeed.
In the London borough of Merton, half of which covers my constituency, dealing with incidents of graffiti has become increasingly challenging for the council over the past two years. The volume of graffiti has increased and local residents feel that the action that has been taken to remove graffiti and to identify the culprits has not been enough to address the scale of the problem. One has only to walk down roads near Mitcham common, in Ravensbury or at Tooting junction, or even down my own road, to see what they mean.
Along with robbery, burglary and race crime, quality of life crimes such as graffiti are now one of Merton's big policing priorities. In common with other London boroughs, Merton council has its own graffiti strategy focused on three key aims: first, a reduction in the incidence of graffiti; secondly, improved responsiveness in graffiti removal; and thirdly, integrated communications, including campaigns, publicity and information.
Because of that approach, some progress has begun to be made, largely due to the council responding to the concerns of residents. The key during the past six months has been the funding made available from the Home Office, which was secured by Merton Metropolitan police, supported by Merton council. That created the innovative FLAG project, which covers fly tipping, abandoned cars and graffiti.
The result has been better partnership between the council and the police, and significant progress in intelligence gathering and information exchange, enforcement, graffiti removal, public engagementawareness raising, reassurance and participation in graffiti removal squadsand the engagement of other key stakeholders, including the London fire brigade, the utilities and transport providers and, on graffiti, to a more limited extent, the business community. I understand that Merton will round off the FLAG initiative with a clean-up day in hotspots in the borough in late September, in which I hope to take part.
Merton is now building on the experience gained through FLAG by integrating many of the initiatives into its crime strategy and continuing the monitoring and working relationship by embedding it into its own partnership against crime implementation group. The council hopes that some projects that it has initiated on a voluntary basis can be backed up by legislative change and funding made available to take the work into integrated baseline services.
But all Merton's work and all the targeted policing in the borough does not stop graffiti. Anyone who stands in virtually any street in my constituency can see that the battle is not yet being won. Stopping graffiti completely is virtually impossible, but it is possible to limit, contain and police it while tackling the root social causes. That is where Government and business can and must play a stronger part.
We need concerted action from Government. A borough-by-borough approach can displace criminal damage activity simply as a result of different standards being applied. Equally, when one borough gets tough on environmental crime, vandals may go further afield to commit their crimes and obtain the necessary tools. Interviews with young people arrested for graffiti show that the spray paint was often obtained outside the borough. Have spray can, will travel; do not have spray can, will travel. As likely as not they will scratch and graffiti the public transport that they use in doing so, so strong central direction is needed from Government.
I realise that the Minister will have difficulty in commenting on a matter of business, but I for one would like to see more support coming from businesses, first in the form of voluntary restrictions on the sale of the tools of graffiti. A recent, small-scale, voluntary scheme in Colliers Wood high street has been successful in that 26 of the 27 businesses approached signed up to restricting their sales once the full seriousness of the problem that they were inadvertently adding to was explained to them. But small shopkeepers need to be helped in the fight against graffiti by larger companies, especially the companies that make the very paints, pens and cutters that they sell.
The Minister will know that I have urged the Government in the past to take legislative measures to deal with graffiti. Last year, I exchanged letters with the Home Office to press for an amendment to the then Criminal Justice and Police Bill to prohibit the sale of spray paints and marker pens in the same way in which the sale of fireworks is prohibited. This was the reply from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth):
Nobody would seriously suggest that we can entirely stop the determined graffiti vandalI will not use the word "artist" because graffiti is a crime of vandalism and vandalism is not artbut the point is that such a measure would be a significant step towards weakening the resolve of the casual and less determined. Incidentally, with regard to glass cutters, I do not agree that retailers of such items regard them in the same way as knives and other bladed items.
It appears to meperhaps the Minister can clarify this point for methat there is still a grey area that needs to be dealt with in terms of police stop-and-search powers for the tools of graffiti. Certainly, it is the belief of serving officers that they do not have the powers that they need to deal with graffiti vandals. To check on that issue in the light of the difference of opinion between my local police force and the Home Office, I have today spoken with our area commander and a number of police sergeants. They are all adamant that they do not have those powers.
I fully appreciate that stop-and-search issues, especially in London, are difficult and have been so for years. I believe, however, that the problems of street crime are now so great that many people would be happy for those powers to be extended, especially if they are used sensitively and if some upper or lower age limit were applied to those changes in the rules.
No one would seriously suggest that central or local government is to blame for the eyesore of graffiti on our streets. Nor would anyone suggest that manufacturers and retailers are to blame. The vandals are to blame and it is up to the Government and business to join the local authorities and police in seeking ways to limit and discourage their criminal activities. It is a matter of social responsibility and I implore the Government, as they did with abandoned cars, to take firm legislative action on graffiti.