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3 Mar 2003 : Column 619—continued

Donald Anderson: Will the hon. Gentleman also pay tribute to another example of practical co-operation, namely that between the British Government and the Greek Government following the appalling murder of Brigadier Saunders in Athens? It is significant that as a result of that excellent co-operation the trial of individuals for that murder starts today.

Mr. Spring: The House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point, and of course we all agree that such co-operation, leading to events such as today's trial, is most welcome.

There is of course the question of how raw intelligence is assessed once it has been gathered. Paragraph 43 of the report notes that in the period in question 150 reports which related to terrorist activity were received each day, and that represents a problem for analysis. The development of the counter-terrorism analysis centre is welcome, and hopefully it is providing a focal point for the co-ordination of intelligence that can be fed into the decision-making process. I am sure that in his winding-up speech my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) will want to return to that aspect of the report.

The function of such a centre must be to facilitate the rapid digestion and analysis of raw information to feed it down the chain to the point at which it is available to the travelling public. However, there is a risk of what has been termed warning fatigue, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) raised in the House in October. I think that the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) was also making that point. As the Foreign Secretary will agree, many young people seek adventure and consider

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themselves virtually indestructible. Hence a balance must be struck between the provision of adequate warnings and the ratcheting up of all the threat assessments to such a degree that many people will simply comprehensively ignore them.

One of the key points at the time of the bombing was the question of why the threat level was not raised from significant to high. The report suggested that the level of "significant" recognised the security services' assessment, but it seems to suggest that the threat grading system is not as sensitive as it needs to be. Given the apparent information about a number of islands in Indonesia, and the attacks on American diplomatic property shortly beforehand, a higher threat level would, with hindsight, have appeared more appropriate.

My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary has often called for the system to be looked at and a more sensitive graded system to be put in place, and the Committee says that the system needs modifications, but in the Government's response I see only a reference to the security services' review, which aims to give greater definition. That is welcome, and the Foreign Secretary referred to the matter, but further clarification could be given by the Minister who winds up the debate.

Finally, there is the question of the way the assessments become the FCO travel advice used by hundreds of thousands of people through the FCO website. The report recognises at paragraph 18 that the FCO advice did not properly recognise the threat in Bali but was proportional to the current assessments by the security services. I welcome the review of the travel advice system and its mechanisms, as noted at paragraph 13 of the Government's response.

Consistency is central. There must be confidence in FCO advice, and that comes from consistency with allies. In that respect I thank the Foreign Secretary for his response to a letter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes in December, in which my right hon. Friend suggested that the FCO website should carry links to the travel advice pages of other key allies, such as the United States and Australia. The Foreign Secretary wrote again this year saying that he had accepted and implemented the suggestion.

Such links do not detract from the need for our travel advice to reflect the information on the websites of other countries, assuming that it does not relate to specific threats to nationals from those countries. Are there FCO staff dedicated to daily monitoring and investigation of differences in advice and to pursuing the matter through diplomatic and intelligence links to see whether there is something that we should be taking greater account of?

It is also important, as the Government response notes, that advice issued to holiday makers be consistent with that given to Britons living abroad. The warden system plays a big role in that. Noting that once again a balance has to be struck between the need for intelligence information to be translated into advice as rapidly as possible and for that information adequately to be analysed and cross-referenced, what procedures are in place to ensure consistency of travel advice between us and our allies?

I have one or two remaining questions to pose in the hope that the Minister will address them. What assessments have the Government made of the impact

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that travel advice from the FCO has on the validity of travel insurance claims for cancelled holidays? If such an atrocity were to occur again, and heaven forbid that it should, what steps are in place for a dedicated rapid response team, perhaps based at a suitably large regional posting, to be on the scene within hours to assist relatives and local authorities? From what the Foreign Secretary said, I understand that a team is based in London. Is it exclusively in London or can it be based elsewhere?

Mr. Straw: A number of teams are based in London and they are ready to draw on people worldwide. That is what happened in Bali. When the response was ratcheted up to the right level, people were drawn from Singapore, Bangkok and Australian posts. That was co-ordinated from London, where the core team was based. If we had another Bali, we would not wait for the planes to leave Heathrow. We would put teams in place very quickly from the region and supplement them with people as soon as we could get them out there.

Mr. Spring: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that clarification. On the basis of our experience, I know he agrees that that is an important point. The consular staff from Bali and Jakarta worked tirelessly. We have all learned lessons from the incident and I hope that we have resolved the problem.

The scars of the horrendous bombing of Bali remain. It was an horrific crime. I very much hope that our deliberations, and the contents of the excellent report, will go some way to preventing future attacks or, at the very least, future loss of life on such a scale by timely intelligence and warnings.

5.52 pm

Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): I thank the Foreign Secretary and the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) for their comments and recognition of the Committee's work. I also thank members of the Committee, who spent many hours on the report and the large amount of other work that occupied us for many months. I cannot say that we enjoyed that aspect of our work because of the context in which we undertook the inquiry, but we all think that it was worth while, especially as many of our comments have been taken on board and have helped to move on the discussion and some of the issues. Today we are discussing what lessons can be learned to prevent such a tragedy from happening again elsewhere. However, we all have to remember the people who were killed or injured in Bali and their families. On behalf of the Committee, I reiterate our expression of sympathy to them all. I hope that the report sheds light on the processes and on what happened in Bali, and that it is helpful.

The Committee's work gave us a detailed insight into the workings of the agencies. We visit the agencies and have a great deal of contact with them, but having all the evidence before us and examining one issue in great depth was useful in giving us a general oversight of them while we considered the specific problem. It also clearly demonstrated the link between the agencies' work and

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the public policy decisions that have to be taken later, such as travel advice. That is not always the case with our work.

The Foreign Secretary said that he agreed at the outset that the Committee would have full access to all relevant intelligence. That approach is typical of my right hon. Friend, who tends to tackle problems head on rather than by moving them to one side. The full access to intelligence was essential for us to have confidence that we were doing our job properly. We are glad and grateful to him for that intelligence, just as we appreciate that it was necessary for us to have the full co-operation of the agencies involved and Ministers.

On the report and the Government's response, our inquiry focused on the six main questions that we outline in paragraph 6, as the hon. Member for West Suffolk said. The first question was whether terrorism in Indonesia was a sufficiently high intelligence collection priority. We concluded, partly on the basis of our previous work and annual reports, that sufficient priority had been given to that task, although we put that in a particular context:

The implication is that the reduction in the agencies' funding in the 1990s and the lack of long-term investment curtailed their ability to respond later. That was not helpful.

Our second question was whether intelligence had been overlooked. My right hon. Friend quoted the report on that. It said:

We are clear about that. As my right hon. Friend said, it is important for the families to know that it was not a simple matter of information being available that pointed directly to an attack in Bali which could have been foreseen on that day. It is important to stress that.

Our third and fourth questions related to threat assessment: was the correct assessment made and is the current threat assessment system effective and adequate? We thought that there were difficulties with that, some of which were mentioned by my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for West Suffolk. We concluded that there was a serious misjudgment. As a result, the Security Service did not assess the threat correctly and did not raise the level of threat to high. We are clear about that. Some think that that judgment is too harsh, as my right hon. Friend said, but we did not choose our words lightly. We thought long and hard before concluding that a serious misjudgment had been made. On behalf of the Committee, I can say that we stick by our conclusion. Problems did exist with the way in which the assessment was made.

The Committee looked at all this evidence from a slightly different angle from that of those who look at it on a daily basis. On one day, we had all the relevant pieces of intelligence on the matter brought together so that we could go through them sequentially. The available intelligence did not come to us in dribs and

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drabs over a period of weeks, as it does for people working in the agencies. There were, and indeed are, lots of reports about this matter and others coming daily to the Security Service. When we took evidence, we were told that there are about 150 such reports daily, and Indonesia is only one part of that wide reporting. There has been no diminution in the number of reports coming in, or in the amount of work, particularly in assessment, that the agencies must do.

When we looked at all the relevant reports, we could assess their nature and the way in which they varied. Some were sparse in detail; some were dull; some could be interpreted in different ways; some were repetitive; some may have given deliberate misinformation. Others, however, clearly had some relevance, and the Committee concluded that there was sufficient information to upgrade the threat assessment, thereby triggering a new assessment of what warnings were necessary. It is important that people understand the way in which the system works. We saw the individual jigsaw pieces, perhaps only fragments of those pieces, that are seen daily by people in the Security Service. No one had the full picture. Indeed, there is probably no single picture, because terrorist groups operate in a network of moving alliances. They do not present one picture which, if you get it, enables you to crack the situation so that all can be revealed. There is probably a multidimensional changing picture, and individuals come and go, and rise and fall. Different groups vie for influences, change their ideas and tactics, and so on. That has to be understood if we are to have a feel for the way in which the services work. The Committee is willing to acknowledge the difficulties and pressures on Security Service staff. Theirs is not an easy task, and they are dedicated professionals. Nevertheless, we concluded, not that the events in Bali could have been prevented, but that the threat assessment level should have been raised.

That brings me to the next point in that part of the report—was the threat assessment system effective and adequate? Perhaps the threat level was not raised because the system was not geared up to make distinctions that should have been made and which must be made in future. In our report we published for the first time the way in which the threat assessment system worked. In paragraph 9, we set out clearly the hierarchy of six gradations, ranging from negligible to imminent. We concluded that the threat assessment system

We suggested that there should be at least one more level between "significant" and "high" to assist users of that information such as the Foreign Office, which uses it for travel advice, and other Departments that rely on it. In their response, the Government accepted that work needed to be done on that. It has already started, and threat assessment definitions have been reworked with the intention of avoiding the problems of the old system. The Intelligence and Security Committee has been briefed on the matter, and we welcome the fact that things are moving in that direction, because they will be of benefit to everybody involved. We hope that the formation of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, or JTAC—one of the problems in this area is all the initials—will lead to improved co-ordination and co-operation, and ensure that reports are issued in a timely

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way. However, I would echo the comment of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that the levels of co-operation between different agencies are extremely impressive in this country, and much better than those that I have seen elsewhere. I must tell my right hon. Friend that the changes that he and his colleagues have proposed are welcome, but the ISC will want to monitor them carefully as part of its ongoing work.

Turning briefly to the other main issue in our report—questions about Foreign Office travel advice—our inquiry asked:


The Government's response is interesting, because it highlights part of the problem. Paragraph 7 of the response, as was said earlier, reads:

However, anyone who read the Foreign Office travel advice at the time would not necessarily draw the same clear conclusions. The tone and clarity of the Government's statement are very different indeed from the tone and nature of the travel advice that was published before the Bali bombing. The travel advice put out by the Foreign Office before 12 October said:

Bali was not on that list. On Bali itself, the travel advice concentrated on crime, and said:

The tone of the travel advice was problematic. While the general travel advice to tourists was couched in a reassuring tone, other travel advice was not. The Foreign Office travel advice was not revised after the grenade attack in Jakarta on 23 September. However, an e-mail service provided to subscribers resident in Indonesia revised its advice. New advice was sent to residents outlining what had happened in Jakarta and suggesting that UK citizens should be more circumspect. We were not quite sure what "circumspect" should mean, but there was advice to be more careful.

A further e-mail was sent out to subscribers that was not reflected in the Foreign Office travel advice or on the Foreign Office general website. However, it was sent out to subscribers in Indonesia, stating:

That information was provided only in the e-mail service to those British citizens who subscribed in Indonesia. It was not part of general advice. I think that we were right to say that there is a problem with travel advice and that Foreign Office travel advice—its

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purpose, its target audience and its presentation—needed to be examined by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a matter of urgency.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has told us that that is exactly what is happening. I am pleased that the FCO has been able to respond so quickly. I acknowledge that there are problems, including warning fatigue and giving warnings without being alarmist. However, the changes that have been made to travel advice should bring about an improvement. It is not for the ISC to follow up this issue. I am sure that members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee will want to keep an eye on what is happening.

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