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3 Mar 2003 : Column 616—continued

Mr. Straw: I agree with my right hon. Friend that these things can happen almost anywhere. The highest level of co-operation is among Commonwealth countries and the United States, and particularly the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, which, as members of the Intelligence and Security Committee are fully aware, have intelligence sharing arrangements. Co-ordination is extremely good between those countries. Work remains to be done with members of the European Union, and I am happy to write to my right hon. Friend and to his Committee to spell that out in more detail. I accept that there is an important agenda there.

Donald Anderson: To clarify, I refer not just to intelligence sharing but practical co-operation in evacuations, for instance, with Australia, and with the EU in countries where we may have no representation but where France, or another country, may have representation.

Mr. Straw: My answer was referring to both. We have to improve co-ordination. I have no doubt that, if an atrocity occurred in a country where we had no, or limited, representation, but where one of our EU partners had good representation, that partner would respond extremely effectively. However, it is better to have standing arrangements.

One reason why, immediately after the atrocity, we thought that our arrangements in Bali were likely to be adequate was that our arrangements in New York had turned out to be more than adequate. Appalling though that atrocity was, it was fortuitous that only a mile or so from the twin towers we had 200 British diplomats, whose families were available. Most of the British victims were not tourists but were resident in New York and had a support base. We have learned that every terrorist atrocity is likely to be different. We have to be ready to respond to the widest possible range of atrocity.

To pick up on my right hon. Friend's point, the Committee's report on intelligence assessments prior to the Bali bombing cut to the heart of a problem that the Government have had to confront every day since 11 September 2001. There is a huge and growing volume of intelligence on terrorist-related activity. In responding to such material, officials and Ministers alike have to strike the right balance between providing

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the public with adequate warning of threats and not causing undue panic. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his speech to the lord mayor's banquet last year:

We will continue to do our best to strike that balance properly. We will do our utmost to ensure that the British public can go about their daily lives free from the threat of indiscriminate attack. We will work relentlessly to ensure that the prevailing climate for our citizens at home and overseas is one of freedom, not fear.

5.37 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): Only last week, the remains of a number of the victims of the atrocity in Bali were returned to Britain. It brought home to us, once again, the full horror of the events of October last year. The victims of the bombing came from many countries all over the world. They included 24 Britons. Australians, in particular, suffered an especially grievous loss. The victims were largely young people enjoying an evening out in a nightclub.

I have been to Bali on a number of occasions. The island is known for its beauty, its unique culture, its tranquillity and its warm welcome; for those reasons, it acts as a magnet for young people who are seeking to relax and explore the world.

I warmly thank the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) and all the members of her Committee for the quality of their important report and the speed with which it was produced. I thank the Foreign Secretary for acceding to the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, that time be found for this debate. My right hon. Friend apologises to the House for his absence today. He has asked me to thank the Foreign Secretary for the positive manner with which he responded to his suggestions in the wake of the attack. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House are united in trying to deal with the implications of this terrorist act. The House meets in that spirit today.

The terrorist bombing in Bali on 12 October 2002 was a heinous crime. Once again, I extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the innocent victims of that crime; and I am especially grateful to the Foreign Secretary for referring to Tobias Ellwood and his family.

This report investigates what lessons might be learned, whether errors were made, and whether the attack and loss of life might have been prevented had errors not been made. It also investigates what might be done in future to make Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice more accurately reflect the threat. As the Foreign Secretary has said, the report grew out of the fact that it is important that relatives do not have

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It grew also from the obligations on Governments to ensure that all procedures were "thoroughly examined", as the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has commented.

The Bali attack left unanswered serious questions relating to the intelligence dissemination system and to FCO travel advice. That has important implications for us all in an age when more and more of us holiday abroad and when the gap year abroad has become part of the culture for many of our sons and daughters. The report covers a number of key questions, following through from the collection of intelligence material to the travel advice displayed on the FCO website. It asks whether intelligence collection in Indonesia was given priority, whether any specific intelligence was overlooked, whether the security services adequately assessed the levels of threat, whether the system of levels was adequate and whether the assessment was reflected in the FCO travel advice. I praise the often dangerous, and more usually unsung, work carried out by members of our security services and our diplomats overseas. I am pleased that the report agrees, noting that

The changed international scene after the attack on the twin towers and, indeed, since the end of the cold war has placed a far greater burden on the security services in many ways. Intelligence has assumed far greater importance in tackling unseen threats, and we welcome the Government's decision to increase resources for the intelligence agencies.

I was particularly interested when, last week, Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, indicated changed attitudes in police thinking and suggested that the visible presence of the police was important not simply as reassurance, but as efficacious in preventing and detecting crimes. We all recall that, in the 1990s, we were told that CCTV and electronic surveillance were perhaps an increasingly appropriate way to tackle crime. However, we now know that that is certainly not the case and that the human element remains invaluable.

At the end of the cold war, there were question marks about what the function of the security services should be. The old ideological battles were in the past and we looked to the future. However, as with the police in the 1990s, we saw an emphasis on spy satellites and other electronic surveillance to fulfil the intelligence gathering role. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) has pointed out on many occasions in the House, although such means are highly valuable, we now know from the rise of al-Qaeda and many other terrorist groups that the human element remains hugely important in intelligence gathering.

Of course, it takes time to develop human networks, but the one lesson of 11 September, Bali and other outrages is that that simply must be done. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will agree, for example, that much of the success that our security services had in dealing with the threats in Northern Ireland came about as a result of the infiltration of paramilitary groups. I hope that, in the winding-up speech, the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety will be able to confirm that he shares our assessment of the importance of human intelligence and will reassure the House that that receives due emphasis in Government priorities.

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The report also notes that no specific intelligence of a specific threat in Bali was found by the security services. What is clear from the attacks in New York, Mombasa and Bali is the absolute need for co-operation worldwide. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee has just made that point. The confusion over what the United States knew or what Australia may have known demonstrates that, although we share intelligence, we must also be willing to re-examine whether it is shared in the most efficient and effective way.

Post the cold war, the threat of terrorism—the unseen enemy—poses many challenges, not least in our society, as between protecting citizens from attack and protecting their civil rights. Each and every democratic country has to face that dilemma.

The picture is not one of total gloom. There have been two extremely welcome breakthroughs in trying to reconcile terrorist groups with legitimate Governments. After many years of murder and mayhem in Sri Lanka, it is very good that productive dialogue is now taking place. Two weeks ago, I was in Nepal. The Foreign Secretary will know that, after many thousands of deaths, the Maoist guerrillas are in dialogue with the Nepalese Government. The consequences of the conflict in human terms have been tragic, but all hon. Members can take pride in the role that the different arms of the British Government have played directly and indirectly in helping to build trust and dialogue in Nepal. I hope that many lives can be saved in the future.

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