HC Deb 21 October 2002 vol 391 cc21-36

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the terrorist attack in Bali on Saturday 12 October.

In his statement to the House on Tuesday last, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the circumstances as we knew them about the attack and its consequences. The most up-to-date information is this. In total, more than 180 people of many nationalities are thought to have died in the attack. Of these, at least half were Australian. Many Indonesians died. Of the British citizens caught up in the blast, 11 are now confirmed as dead, and a further 22 are missing; sadly, presumed to be dead. At least 27 British citizens were injured, a number of whom have been medevaced to Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong. There may be other British injured among the unidentified in intensive care in Australia.

The House joined the Prime Minister last week in sending its deepest sympathies to the relatives of the victims. It is every parent's worst nightmare to hear that their sons and daughters have been swept up in a tragedy. But when bereavement is compounded by having to travel halfway across the world to identify loved ones, the experience must be truly unimaginable.

Yesterday we joined with the people of Australia, who held a day of national mourning for this, the worst terrorist outrage in that country's history. Flags were flown at half-mast at Buckingham palace and at our embassies and high commissions around the world. The Australian high commission is arranging a memorial service in St Paul's cathedral here in the city of London on 25 October. Tomorrow, the Indonesian embassy will be holding a multi-faith commemorative ceremony in London, which I shall be attending. The British Government will organise a British memorial service. We shall be consulting the families about what they think would be most appropriate.

Let me now update the House on the action that we have taken to assist those injured and the relatives and close friends of all who were victims in this atrocity. The British honorary consulate in Bali provided the initial assistance to survivors of the attacks and to victims' relatives. This was reinforced early on Sunday 13 October by the British consul and then by the ambassador, Richard Gozney, other staff and volunteers from the British community in Bali. These staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly and I pay my tribute to them.

However, on Thursday last, I learned of complaints by some families that they had not received the service that we should have provided. I asked the Foreign Office Minister, my noble Friend Baroness Amos, who was already travelling to Bali, to talk to all the families concerned and to make her own assessment about the complaints. In the light of this, my noble Friend apologised directly to the families concerned. I reinforced that apology on Friday last and, Mr. Speaker, I would like to repeat it in the House. I am very sorry that shortcomings in getting sufficient extra staff on the ground in Bali early enough last week exacerbated the terrible burden that the families were under in any event.

As of today, there are 15 British officials in Bali, and 30 British police officers, including experienced family liaison officers and anti-terrorist experts working with the Indonesian and Australian police on the investigation into the attack itself. In London, the emergency consular unit was established overnight on Saturday 12 October and, working with New Scotland Yard, has continued in operation.

Last Wednesday, I announced a package of measures designed to help relatives to travel to where their loved ones were being treated, or to where victims had died. The scheme—similar to that put in place after 11 September last year—covers the repatriation of the remains of those who died, and the medical evacuation of the injured. The FCO will pay the costs concerned wherever an insurance policy does not already cover them. I decided on these exceptional measures because of the exceptional nature of terrorism, in which individuals are random victims of attacks directed at society as a whole. As for the future, we shall work urgently with the insurance industry and others to see how between us we can ensure that the pain of victims of terrorism is not made worse by financial hardship.

Immediately after the Bali attack, we advised against all travel to Bali and all non-essential travel elsewhere in Indonesia. On 17 October I announced a further strengthening of our travel advice, warning against any travel to Indonesia as a whole. I also advised UK citizens in Indonesia to consider leaving if their presence was not essential, and authorised the withdrawal of some dependants and non-essential staff from our embassy in Jakarta. On 18 October, we amended our travel advice to other countries in south-east Asia, urging UK nationals to exercise extreme caution. Unfortunately, further attacks cannot be ruled out. In the light of additional intelligence assessed this morning, I am strengthening the travel advice still further by giving additional warnings about threats to UK nationals at specific locations in Indonesia. That travel advice is being issued now and is available on the Foreign Office's website.

I am placing in the Library of the House the travel advice issued by the FCO and the British embassy in Jakarta in respect of Indonesia before 12 October, and the equivalent advice issued by the United States and Australian Governments. Many of the relevant judgments in travel advice of this kind are based on intelligence. In the light of the atrocity on 12 October, the families and others have asked whether there was any intelligence that could have led us to issue specific warnings against travel to, or staying in, Bali. If I had lost a member of my family, I would be asking such questions. Indeed as Foreign Secretary, it is my responsibility to ask such questions.

Like everyone else, I dearly wish that there had been intelligence, which could have prevented this atrocity and its appalling consequences. But the answer, sadly, is that there was none. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House last Tuesday, We had no specific intelligence relating to the attack in Bali."—[Official Report, 15 October 2002; Vol. 390, c. 177.] As is now well known, it is the case that there was received in late September a generic threat to a number of cities and provinces in Indonesia, including Bali but covering 55 per cent. of the land mass of Indonesia and 100 million of its population. As my Australian counterpart Alexander Downer told the Australian Parliament on 17 October, these threats were non-specific and broad based across Indonesia". There has also been a question raised about the travel advisory issued by the United States Department of State on 10 October. Let me explain to the House what this was. That advisory was a "world-wide caution" of a kind first issued by the US after 11 September last year. It alerted US citizens to the need to remain vigilant in the face of terrorist threats. It was revised on 10 October following an audio tape broadcast attributed to Osama Bin Laden. Issued only two days before the attack in Bali, it contained no reference to Bali, Indonesia or even south-east Asia. We also received a classified warning from the United States on the same day. It too had no reference to Bali, Indonesia or south-east Asia. As our travel advice to Indonesia, last updated on 27 August 2002, already contained a clear warning to travellers to Indonesia about terrorist threats, we judged that there was no case for amending it further in the light of the United States' travel advisory.

The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom all received similar intelligence in respect of Indonesia, but making their own independent judgments, all came to similar conclusions about travel to Indonesia. None of us had concluded that it was unsafe to travel to or remain in Bali. Both as Home Secretary and now as Foreign Secretary I have worked closely over the last five and a half years with all three of our intelligence services. Their standard of professionalism and competence is second to none. Each year they pick up literally thousands of pieces of intelligence. These vary between material provided by human sources, material provided by secret technical means, material openly available to the public, and sometimes just gossip.

Terrorist groups operate in secret. They are often skilled in counter-intelligence techniques, and may be feeding false intelligence to compromise an intelligence source or to direct law enforcement resources to the wrong place, so the raw intelligence has to be skilfully and carefully assessed before judgments can be made upon it. I believe, on the basis of what I have seen, that correct judgments were made about the available streams of intelligence before 12 October. There were generic threats, but there was no information that could have enabled us to warn in advance of this atrocity.

I do not want the relatives of those who died in this atrocity, nor those injured, to have nagging anxieties about whether different judgments should have been made. The Intelligence and Security Committee was established by Act of this Parliament to scrutinise the work of our intelligence agencies. Through the Prime Minister, it reports regularly to Parliament. It is made up of senior and respected Members of both Houses. It happens that the Intelligence and Security Committee is at present in Australia on a long-planned trip, and this morning I spoke to the Chairman of the Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor),who had just arrived in Canberra. I told her that I had asked the intelligence co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office to ensure that all intelligence was made available to her Committee. The ISC will of course consider that and then reach its own conclusions on it.

The atrocity in Bali was a brutal reminder that the campaign against terrorism did not end with the removal of the Taliban. The reality is that our campaign will take years, perhaps even decades. In Indonesia, our immediate aim is to help the Indonesian Government act quickly to deal with the terrorist threat. We are already discussing how we can help through an intensified programme of counter-terrorist assistance. My noble Friend Baroness Amos and the British ambassador met President Megawati this morning in Jakarta. My noble Friend was assured by the President that the Indonesian Government were determined to take swift and decisive action against those responsible for the attacks. President Megawati has already signed an emergency decree strengthening police powers to detain suspects and to enable the courts to make use of intelligence. The Indonesian authorities have also taken action against known extremist groups. On 19 October they arrested the founder of Jemaah Islamiyah, Abubakar Bashir.

The terrorists' aim is to defeat the universal values of the United Nations, of tolerance, freedom and respect for human life, and replace them with brutality, fear and ethnic and religious hatred. I believe that the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, captured the international mood when he called on the world to pursue the campaign against terrorism with "unrelenting vigour". Today our grief at what happened is enormous, but our determination is unwavering.

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: That does not denote a lack of confidence in the agencies. But when something of this magnitude occurs we have an obligation to have it thoroughly examined. 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 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 Bali and north Sulawesi province remain safe 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 "credible" terrorist attack? When did the Government first receive the United States intelligence warnings that referred to six Indonesian "hotspots", 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 one of the pieces of intelligence I have now seen. 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 a CIA briefing that Bali was a target was passed to the Government two days before the bomb blasts but not made public"; or that Britain was briefed that Islamic terrorists could be planning to attack nightclubs in Bali two days before the blasts"? 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. 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.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that we must not allow our undiminished sense of horror or our natural anxiety about British citizens to stand in the way of a proper understanding of the consequence of those terrible events for the people of Bali, particularly in the long term?

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's reference of these matters to the Intelligence and Security Committee, but I am sure that he would agree that speed is of the essence and that, if there is any question of delay, will he consider again the suggestion, which I made earlier, that these matters should be remitted to a High Court judge or figure of similar calibre, with a request to conduct a private investigation and to report to the Prime Minister, not for the purpose of seeking scapegoats or indulging in a witch hunt, but to see what lessons need to be learned for the future?

In the matter of consular assistance, it is clear that, in spite of their valiant efforts, the United Kingdom consular staff were literally overwhelmed. Since the events in Bali may not be the last occurrence of that kind, will the right hon. Gentleman consider—to an extent, I echo the observations of the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram)—establishing in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a unit ready to move at 24 hours' notice to give consular assistance where demands exceed the capacity of the staff already in place?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks. My view is that the appropriate mechanism for an examination of the facts is the Intelligence and Security Committee. After all, it was established by the House and senior Members of the House and the other place serve on it, and they are well used to looking at intelligence. I have asked the intelligence co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office to ensure that, obviously, all the relevant intelligence is made available to that Committee, and it can then come to its own conclusions on it.

Is there a case for establishing a unit to ensure that there is a faster response where the evidence emerges over a period of hours, as it did in Bali, that the atrocity was on a very large scale? The answer is yes, and as I told the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), we are bringing forward our plans to do just that.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

We grieve with those who lost loved ones in this outrage, but is not hindsight a wonderful thing? It gives a remarkable 20:20 vision. Is not it significant that, on the basis of the same evidence, our Australian allies, with their neighbours, reached the same conclusions as my right hon. Friend, but can he say a little more about the response of the Indonesian Government? We know that they have taken measures to combat Jemaah Islamiyah and that they have now arrested Mr. Bashir, the alleged leader of that group, but is it not true that certainly more than a year ago the Indonesian Government were advised that there was a training ground for al-Qaeda on Sulawesi? They have had a great deal of information about the way in which terrorist groups operated freely in Indonesia. Therefore, in the light of that record, is my right hon. Friend fully convinced that they have now taken on board the gravity of what they have allowed to develop on their territory?

Mr. Straw

On my right hon. Friend's first point, he is right about hindsight. What the intelligence agencies have to do on the basis of imperfect and inadequate information—namely the intelligence that terrorist organisations try to keep from the intelligence agencies—is to make the best judgments that they can. At the same time, we must not shut down the world, which is exactly what the terrorists want. Such judgments are very difficult, and we always err on the side of caution because human lives are at risk. However, if we were not to make proper judgments on the basis of assessments, the world would literally be closed down and the terrorists would then have won.

On my right hon. Friend's point about the Indonesian Government, they are now showing an increased determination to recognise the very severe threat that terrorism poses to them and to their society as well as to the wider world. We are therefore grateful to them for the collaboration and co-operation that they are showing to our law enforcement agencies, obviously to the Australians and to the agencies of other countries that had people killed or injured in this atrocity.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, at least at present, there is no obvious connection between the bombing in Bali and the Iraqi Government? Does he understand that there is a real concern among many right hon. and hon. Members to the effect that, if we are to take military action against Iraq even if supported by the authority of the United Nations and probably in any event, we will increase the support currently seen in the Islamic countries for terrorist activity? That really is a matter that we must take account of.

Mr. Straw

I find that a curious assertion. It seems to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that we should not do one thing that is right—namely deal with the threat posed by Iraq—while we are doing something else that is also right, namely fighting terrorism. I do not share his view.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley)

It is believed that my constituent Natalie Perkins died in the atrocity along with her cousin, Laura France, a constituent of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn). Unfortunately, the families received contradictory information at different times from the Foreign Office regarding the availability of flights to the area. Can I seek my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's assurance that there is now improved liaison with the families and a clear point of contact to ensure that they are given whatever accurate information is available at the time? May I also suggest that, in these situations, there should be one clear contact point for Members of Parliament, who are often contacted at such times, so that they too can have the up-to-date, accurate information to help and support families through a traumatic period?

Mr. Straw

I would like to express my very sincere condolences to the families concerned. I will look immediately into what my hon. Friend has today told me and the House. I am very sorry that that was the service that these families received.

As I have already said, there are a number of lessons to be learned, albeit that the staff were working in very difficult circumstances and under very great pressure. We intend to learn those lessons, and I shall ensure that the House is fully informed about them.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Will the Foreign Secretary note that family friends of mine are the father and mother of Peter Record, who was murdered in Bali? They are obviously suffering grievously in these circumstances.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also note that, as far as I can see, he has not answered the important questions put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram)? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that those questions are properly answered in due course and, furthermore, that we have a further opportunity to consider the matter when the Intelligence and Security Committee has reported to the House?

Mr. Straw

I express my condolences to the hon. Gentleman's close friends on their loss.

The burden of the questions asked by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) rests on the claim that evidence was available to warn against a specific threat in Bali on which we failed to act. There was none. It was also claimed that we did not issue warnings when the United States did, on which their citizens acted. That is also not the case. As I explained, the US judged Bali sufficiently safe that members of its embassy staff in Jakarta were on holiday there when the atrocity took place.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)

Although we do not know who was responsible for the barbaric act, will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that about a year ago bin Laden said on al-Jazeera television that Australia was a crusader state because of its role in the United Nations in East Timor, and that Bali is predominantly a Hindu island? In those circumstances, is he satisfied that we will do everything possible, both here and overseas, to ensure that countries such as Indonesia, which has a large Muslim population, recognise the danger of religious war, and that all of us who are involved in religion and politics do everything possible to avoid such a war?

Mr. Straw

Yes. One reason why Bali was judged relatively safe was because 95 per cent. of its population is Hindu, a fact to which my hon. Friend alluded.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

I have no doubt that the House will share the Foreign Secretary's confidence that the ISC will do its job thoroughly and that the intelligence co-ordinator at the Cabinet Office will learn, as far as it is possible, whatever lessons there are to be learned from the terrible events of the past few days. Does the Foreign Secretary agree, however, that there is a fatal flaw? In the 1990s, the obsession with signals intelligence—SIGINT—over human intelligence left the west at a grave disadvantage, which needs to be made up. Even allowing for the real and welcome increases in expenditure on security services, which I wholly welcome, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the necessary steps will be taken to ensure that there is a constant build-up of our ability to decipher human intelligence in those parts of the world where the risk is greatest, so that we do not rely only on SIGINT?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Everyone lowered their guard after the collapse of the Berlin wall. It was generally assumed that because the possible conflict between east and west was over, no significant threats to our interests and those of the west remained. We have sadly learnt to our cost that that is not the case. The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the importance of human intelligence alongside electronic intelligence—the one complements the other—and I am glad that he highlighted the fact that there has been, and will continue to be, a significant increase in resources to those parts of our intelligence apparatus that deal with human intelligence.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Can we hark back to the question asked by the former Foreign Office Minister, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)? The Foreign Secretary said that it was a curious question, but to some of us it is a self-evident question. Let me ask a direct question: in the view of the Foreign Office, is there any connection whatsoever between the monstrous events in Bali and Iraq? Can the Foreign Secretary imagine anything more likely to recruit terrorists from Algiers to the Philippines than raining down bombs on Baghdad from 15,000 ft?

Mr. Straw

I have the same difficulty as my hon. Friend in remembering the name of what used to be Grantham. It is Sleaford and North Hykeham. On the main point of his question, I see no connection between the atrocity and the Iraqi regime.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)

May I again return to the genuine problem of warning fatigue? Obviously, I urge the Foreign Secretary to continue to warn of genuine terrorist threat, but I stress that if too many warnings are issued about too many countries, the public will not believe them. For example, in the recent India-Pakistan crisis, the Foreign Secretary urged British nationals to leave. In such circumstances, warnings will be ignored, at everybody's peril.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman spoke with greater wisdom to some extent than Conservative Front-Bench Members. He is right: we must achieve a balance. We always err on the side of caution—as I did at the end of May about travel to India and Pakistan—in the travel advisories that the United Kingdom and the United States issue together. However, the right hon. Gentleman was right about subsequent difficulty with the credibility of the warnings. We must be careful about the way in which we issue the warnings and the currency that we thus establish.

We shall continue to issue warnings whenever we judge them appropriate and especially when we consider lives to be at risk. Let me repeat that we cannot simply act on unassessed, raw intelligence, some of which is presented to us precisely because it is inaccurate. The overall effect would be to shut down economic and social activity throughout the world, which is exactly what the terrorists want.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

I am sure that those who lost loved ones in the Bali outrage will appreciate the support that the Department offered. However, will my right hon. Friend also consider those such as the group of five young people from my constituency who fortunately escaped injury but witnessed the carnage at close hand? Will he discuss the matter with his colleagues and try to ensure that such people receive some support so that their lives are not blighted by terrorism?

Mr. Straw

Yes is the answer to my hon. Friend's question. If she has any details, I am happy to follow up on the case that she described so that we can learn from her constituents' experience.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Hindsight may be wonderful, as was said earlier, but foresight is much better. Was it not blindingly obvious, after 11 September and the Government's rightly strong reaction to those events, that British citizens around the world would be in danger of assault? If so, why were no preparations made to have a team on stand-by to react in support of British citizens around the world when they were attacked?

Mr. Straw

The fact that there is a worldwide threat is not only obvious but made clear in all our travel advice. For example, travel advice, which was last updated before 12 October on 27 August, said about Indonesia: After the terrorist attacks in the US, there is a heightened terrorist threat to US and UK interests worldwide. It goes on to give advice about a series of precautions.

We have been strengthening our consular and support arrangements since 11 September last year. Many were put in place quickly. For example, in the United Kingdom, the emergency consular department was established and operating fully by the small hours of 13 October. We may be able to do more here. Notwithstanding the difficulties of a remote location, where there was simply one British honorary consul on 11 October, not a full diplomatic staff, we must have more flexible arrangements that can respond more quickly to the possibility of atrocities.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East)

We welcome the decision to refer all the evidence to the Intelligence and Security Committee. Will my right hon. Friend repeat or confirm that if all raw intelligence were taken at face value, the world would come to a standstill? As someone who also served in Northern Ireland, I can say that the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) should know that.

Mr. Straw

What my hon. Friend says is entirely correct. Those of us who work, or have worked, with intelligence have particular responsibilities in this area.

Angus Robertson (Moray)

While echoing the Secretary of State's condolences in relation to the Bali attack, may I ask whether he is aware of the security report produced by the Government of Spain on the operations of al-Qaeda in Indonesia, which was reported in The Herald today and, in depth over the weekend, in El Pais? Although the Secretary of State made no mention of other European intelligence agencies, or, indeed, of the role of the European Union, I know that this matter is on the agenda of the Council of Ministers today and tomorrow. What specific enhancements does the Secretary of State favour, in terms of intelligence sharing, to help to avoid this kind of catastrophe in the future?

Mr. Straw

I have seen the report. It is important, particularly when dealing with intelligence, not to treat one individual report—particularly one in a newspaper—as though it were somehow gospel. There is a stream of intelligence coming through all the time. We have very professional and competent intelligence services, as do many other countries. However, notwithstanding the high level of intelligence assessment and capacity available in the United States, there was no warning or intelligence whatever before 11 September last year that could have led the United States to take action to avoid that most appalling atrocity. There are standing arrangements by which we share intelligence and assessments with other intelligence agencies around the world, and those will continue to be strengthened in every way possible.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Is the Secretary of State in a position to make any observations on the significance of the Bali atrocity to the importance of continuing to fight against international terrorism, in terms both of this country acting alone and of international action?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend's question raises the importance of us continuing this fight. We must not let our guard fall, or be led into believing that the last atrocity is really the last. That cannot be the case. Within the al-Qaeda organisation, within the organisation likely to have been responsible for the Bali atrocity and within many other terrorist organisations, there are people who are determined to attack our way of life—not just the west's values, but universal human values enshrined in the United Nations charter—and randomly to make victims of our citizens in the course of their attacks on our society as a whole.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

Are the Government planning to give any immediate assistance to the people of Bali, who have not only had to deal with many dead and injured among their own population, but will have almost totally lost their livelihoods as a result of this terrible event?

Mr. Straw

We are giving immediate assistance, particularly in respect of the law enforcement inquiry—the anti-terrorist inquiry—in which we have a number of police officers on the ground working with the Indonesians and the Australians on the investigation. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will look carefully at any requests that we receive from the Indonesians for further assistance.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

May I come back to the question raised by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell)? Building on the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), may I ask whether it is not a fact that Balinese people have lost their lives in this tragedy? I am thinking of the six taxi drivers who plied their trade outside the nightclub, never to be seen or heard of again, and of the tragic consequences for their families. Is it not an incontrovertible truth that the terrorists, and only the terrorists, are responsible for this atrocity, and that, no matter how much we seek to shuffle responsibility or blame, it lies on the terrorists and only the terrorists?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is right to point out that indigenous Balinese people lost their lives; I mentioned that at the beginning of my statement. On his second point, were I someone who had been injured in this atrocity or the relative of someone who had been killed, I would be asking all these questions. It seems to me entirely reasonable that they should be asked. I think, however, that those of us who are or have been responsible for dealing with intelligence must also be responsible for ensuring that all the intelligence available is properly scrutinised—which it will be, in this case, by the ISC—and, in addition, provide reassurance about the nature of intelligence. Would that we had had intelligence that could have warned us of this atrocity, because we would then have issued a warning within seconds; but we did not, and responsibility for the atrocity is that of the terrorists and the terrorists alone.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon)

To what extent are the Indonesian authorities co-operating with Australian and British police investigations?

Mr. Straw

My understanding is that they are cooperating thoroughly. That was a point made by President Megawati when she saw my noble Friend Baroness Amos, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, at her meeting earlier today.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

Does not this terrible, savage, barbaric terrorist tragedy show us once again just how difficult it is to get at the al-Qaeda network, or whoever else may have been involved in the bomb attack on Bali? If the only warnings we in the west had of the tragedy were generic, is it not even more difficult for the Indonesian Government? We tend to forget that they are only a three-year-old democracy, still emerging from the tragedy of Suharto's dictatorship and trying to establish democracy and human rights. If they had rounded up all who we have been told were involved in this particular tragedy, half the Indonesian population would have been in jail and human rights organisations everywhere would have been shouting about them.

Mr. Straw

Yes, it is difficult to get at such networks. As with criminal organisations, the first priority of terrorist organisations is to ensure that what they are doing does not come to the attention of law enforcers. They do not telephone the intelligence services and announce when their next atrocity will take place. That is why penetrating those organisations and gaining intelligence that can be relied on is inherently difficult. I believe that our agencies do it better than any other agency in the world, and they are joined in that high standard by a number of others; but it is still intrinsically difficult.

My hon. Friend speaks about Indonesia and its new democracy on the basis of considerable experience. We have a responsibility to help support the forces of democracy and of law enforcement in Indonesia, and we are seeking to do just that.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

As the Foreign Secretary will know, there have been a number of bomb outrages in Indonesia over the past year, including the bombing of the Jakarta stock exchange. Can he confirm reports that the bomb was not made from professional explosives such as C4, but from fertiliser and oil? If so, what comfort does he have that the bomb outrage was linked with al-Qaeda, and was not part of a continuing internal war of terror in Indonesia?

Mr. Straw

I cannot confirm those reports publicly.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Experience has taught us that the best way of reducing the number of acts of terrorism of this kind is to win over the hearts and minds of supporters and potential supporters of terrorism. Does my right hon. Friend agree that among Muslims in this country and throughout the world there is a wholly misplaced but deep sense of grievance against the west and against Christian countries? While that does not excuse these terrible acts in any way, how does my right hon. Friend expect a land invasion of Iraq, before there is a settlement of the Palestine question, to affect that sense of grievance and the likelihood of more terrorist acts?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not go all the way in the direction in which he entices me. I will say, however, that nothing justifies this kind of atrocity. Yes, there is a separate issue. On the three occasions on which the west has intervened with military action on any scale during the last 12 years, we have saved hundreds of thousands, in some cases millions, of people who happened to be Muslims. That is what we should be saying. We should remind people that the last time we had to take military action against Iraq was because it had gratuitously invaded the law-abiding sovereign state of Kuwait, which is Muslim.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall first take the Standing Order No. 24 application.