HC Deb 10 December 2003 vol 415 cc84-6WS
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

In this written Ministerial Statement I announce a review of the basis of the FCO's travel advice, and an internal review of the FCO's security strategy for its posts abroad. Terms of reference are annexed. The conclusion of the travel advice review will be placed before both Houses.

Since September 11 2001, it has been increasingly clear that we face a form of international terrorism which aims not only to take life randomly by suicide attack, but which seeks to use fear and instability to undermine the freedom and prosperity which the terrorists hate.

Our policy must be to deny the terrorists any advantage. We must take prudent precautions, while minimising the disruption which terrorists want to cause. Some disruption is, of course, inevitable if we are to make likely targets as secure as we can. But we must all be clear that total security is not possible. Everybody who goes about their business in a modern city and elsewhere makes a balanced judgment of risk against security. People continue to go about their daily lives— vigilantly, amid sound precautions—because they are not prepared to give the terrorists satisfaction. Our determination to maintain as normal a life as possible is a weapon against terrorism.

It is important that British citizens travelling abroad should have the best possible information on risk, from the Government. We have extensively reviewed and improved our travel advice since Bali. But I have asked officials to look again at some of the underlying issues, in light of recent experience. What is the right balance between information, warning and advice? I am clear that our advice should give the most detailed and timely factual information possible, but in what circumstances should this information be complemented, where appropriate, with advice not to travel? What is the impact and the cost of our warnings not to travel? And what would be the implications of a different approach? We may conclude that the nature of our advice is as good as we can make it, or we may find that improvements are necessary. We will be seeking as many views as possible including, of course, that of Members of both Houses.

Security is always at the top of our agenda. We keep the security of all our posts under constant review and frequently re-assess the risks and the measures needed to manage them in the light of changing threat levels. Funds have been authorised for the most urgent expenditure. Following the attack on our consulate in Istanbul, which showed that our overseas missions and staff are in the front line, we immediately asked all posts to check their security measures. We are also looking at additional measures we can take at high-risk posts. In addition, we have instigated an internal review of the FCO's security strategy, in particular the balance between security and operational effectiveness.

The terms of reference for these reviews are as follows:


Terms of reference

How can FCO advice best help UK travellers? How can our Travel Advice best help its users to make informed, responsible decisions about possible risks overseas, particularly from terrorism, and ways they can minimise them? What should be the balance in our Travel Advice between information, warning and advice (ie between description of risks in particular countries and prescription of action in response)? How far can risk analysis and its presentation be made more objective (eg through statistical analysis and comparison with non-terrorist hazards)? What would be the implications of variations in this balance for the FCO, others in HMG who help produce the Advice, and its users? How do we link threat level assessments and public information? How far should we take into consideration the capabilities of host governments in reaching decisions on Travel Advice?

What are the wider implications of FCO Travel Advice? In responding to a terrorist attack, how can we ensure prudent precaution does not become over-reaction which risks playing into the hands of the terrorists?


During the Review we will consult key stakeholders: Departments within HM Government, including the Home Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Transport, the Ministry of Defence and the Cabinet Office; Users of Travel Advice, including the travel industry, the insurance industry, the public (via website feedback), and Non Governmental Organisations; Analogous governments, including the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and European partners; Governments of destination countries.

Timescale We aim to complete the Review by the end of January 2004.


Terms of reference To review the basis for the FCO's security strategy. In particular to re-examine the balance between security and operational effectiveness.