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21 Oct 2002 : Column 24—continued

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): The Foreign Secretary, even if initially reluctant, was, I am sure, right to come to the House today to make a statement, and I am grateful to him for allowing me advance sight of it. He has reported on the latest situation, and I join him in his words of condolence to the suffering in Australia and Indonesia, and also here at home. They must be foremost in all our thoughts at this time.

I welcome the help that the right hon. Gentleman and his office are providing to the relatives of those who have been killed or injured. I also join him in paying tribute to those who are providing that help on the ground. I believe, too, that the noble Lady Baroness Amos was right to go to Bali and to recognise the concerns on the ground, and to make the apology that has been repeated by the Foreign Secretary in the House today.

We all realise that dealing with such tragedies is never easy, but at the same time lessons must be learned. I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he will look again at the way that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office responds to such incidents. Is there not now a case for maintaining an ad hoc group within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on a reserve basis, for swift deployment to help handle the aftermath of such outrages?

I believe that we are right—both in the wider public interest, and for the peace of mind of the injured and the bereaved—to ask direct questions today. As Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, said yesterday:

On that basis, I also welcome the Foreign Secretary's stating that he is asking the Intelligence and Security Committee to examine the evidence on what

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information was available, and what action was taken on it. I ask him, however, to request that Committee, which normally reports annually, to report separately and urgently on its findings. If it is to be a vehicle for looking into this important matter, not only should there be a separate report, but that report should form the basis of a debate in this House.

In the meantime, the Foreign Secretary's statement still leaves unacceptable uncertainty in the public mind. The questions that still need to be answered do not risk compromising intelligence sources but allow the Government to show the public either that they acted appropriately in the light of information available, or that there are lessons to be learned. So I shall put a number of those questions to the Foreign Secretary today, because it is important that he address them.

When, within the last 12 months, was information first received from the United States or other intelligence resources about potential terrorist activity in Indonesia? Is it true that the public assurance, which survived 11 September last year, that

was removed from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website earlier this year? If so, why was it removed, and what was the information that caused its removal? Why was Jemaah Islamiyah not proscribed after last December's thwarted attempt to blow up the high commission in Singapore, when it appeared that the Government of Singapore were convinced that it was the alleged potential perpetrator?

Why, following warnings from the United States, did we update our travel advice in relation to Indonesia in August, but not after further warnings in September, when the Americans saw fit further to update their travel advice? Why were no warnings passed on to United Kingdom tourists and residents after the United States Embassy in Jakarta advised its citizens in Indonesia on 9 September that the country was at risk of a Xcredible" terrorist attack? When did the Government first receive the United States intelligence warnings that referred to six Indonesian Xhotspots", including Bali—that differs somewhat from what the Foreign Secretary has told us today—and which were mentioned by the Downing street spokesman in the briefing given last Thursday? How on earth can this information, on six out of 6,000 inhabited islands, be regarded as generic, rather than specific? Why did the Foreign Secretary, unlike Downing street, appear not to know about this information when he answered press questions last Thursday? Yet on Friday, on BBC radio, he admitted it on the basis of

Had he really not been shown this vital intelligence before then?

What is the right hon. Gentleman's response to the report attributed to United States intelligence officers in yesterday's edition of The Sunday Telegraph that

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or that

Will he clearly indicate whether there is any truth in those statements? It is vital that those points are cleared up.

Finally, why on earth, if Britain had the same information available to it as the Americans, did we not issue the same warnings to our citizens at the same time? Why did we not mention clubs and places of entertainment until after 12 October, when the Americans had seen fit to mention them before? Furthermore, as regards Indonesia, which is a very large country, where are the greatest preponderances of such venues and is not that, too, something that should have been taken into account?

Those are the unanswered questions that have created the doubts. To dispel the fog of uncertainty created by the ambiguous and contradictory Government briefings of last week, the Foreign Secretary must answer them now.

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman asks me a number of questions.

First, we always learn lessons in the light of events such as this, and plans are already afoot to ensure that better standing arrangements of the type that the right hon. Gentleman described are established in the Foreign Office and in relation to groups of British posts across the world. I intend to bring those forward. Not all the 15 staff currently in Bali come from Jakarta; a number of them come from other posts in south-east Asia.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Intelligence and Security Committee would report separately and urgently in respect of this matter. As he understands, that is fully a matter for the Committee, but I am sure that the Chairman will be made aware of the right hon. Gentleman's request. In any event, as I and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary know well, the reports of the Committee are always the subject of at least one full day's debate a year in the House, when thorough scrutiny takes place.

Some of the right hon. Gentleman's questions on intelligence can be properly discussed only within the ISC, although I shall try to answer some of them. However, the right hon. Gentleman will realise, not least given the fact that he had four years of experience in handling intelligence when he was a Northern Ireland Minister, that it is extremely easy when dealing with such matters to raise possibilities that it is then difficult for those in possession of the intelligence to deal with in a way that provides complete reassurance. That is in the nature of intelligence. Would that one could lay out all the intelligence that we had received because that would provide reassurance, but the right hon. Gentleman knows from his own experience that it is not appropriate, responsible or sensible to do that.

The right hon. Gentleman asked various questions about the position of the United States. There were differences in the detailed advice offered by the United States, the Australian Government and ourselves. Those can be seen clearly from comparing the different travel advisories that I have placed in the Library and to which the right hon. Gentleman already has access.

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The key advice in all the advisories issued by the three Governments was the same; in none of them was travel to, or stay within, Bali advised against.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the position of the United States. Its position was the same as ours. Sadly, three United States citizens were among the casualties in Bali. However, the United States was sufficiently relaxed about travel to Bali that I am told authoritatively that at least six of its own staff from Jakarta were on holiday in Bali at the time of the blast. The right hon. Gentleman should bear that information in mind before coming to the type of conclusions that he drew.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the reference in the Downing street briefing last Thursday. We are talking about the same information. As far as I am aware, we first received that information on 27 September and it was then the subject of assessment by the Security Service.

Was I aware of that information before I made my statement last Thursday? The answer is yes, but we had made a judgment that it would not be appropriate to give details about some of that intelligence. It happens that, for separate reasons, such information was given by my Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer, and that became clear between when I made my statement and when the Downing street press office answered questions at its briefings. What happened, as the right hon. Gentleman will see from the record, was that that was then referred to in the Downing street briefing, but we were talking about exactly the same statement.

My view is that we should always err on the side of caution when sourcing intelligence. The crucial thing, about which there has never been the slightest uncertainty, is that the right hon. Gentleman describes this issue as referring to six islands out of 6,000, but it happens that those islands cover 55 per cent. of Indonesia's land mass, 40 per cent. of the total population—100 million people—and 60 per cent. of all western tourists go to those six islands. The judgment had to be made as to whether there was sufficient information in that intelligence to advise against any travel to any of those islands or to one of them—Bali. The judgment that was made here and in Australia and the United States was the same: there was not sufficient information in that intelligence to justify any significant change in the travel advice, and none therefore was made.

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