§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)
When I last spoke to the House of Commons about terrorism on 3 March 2003, I made clear that this country continues to face a significant threat from international terrorism.
In agreeing to renew Part Four of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, Parliament accepted that we need to continue to protect ourselves from those who recognise no legal procedures, no boundaries and no parameters in terms of the action they are prepared to take.
The terrorist threat remains real, and is serious. In the context of the present situation and concern that terrorists may seek to exploit the commencement of hostilities with Iraq by attempting attacks.
I should assure the House and the public that we have taken and are taking every feasible precautionary measure to protect British citizens both here and abroad.
I must re-emphasise that if a warning is necessary to protect safety, we issue it—and will issue it—without hesitation. And we will give any further information that helps people respond effectively.
As I promised the House of Commons on 3 March, we have set up a dedicated website, http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/terrorism, which went live on 18 March. That website provides a central point to publish advice and information from the security and intelligence services, on civil resilience, and other material that departments publish. It gives advice to the public on what measures they can take to protect themselves and their families at home, at work and when preparing to go abroad. And it provides information on the measures the Government is taking to protect British citizens and British interests, including 52WS information on departments and agencies, legislation, protecting our infrastructure, and resilience and contingency planning.
I further made it clear in a written statement on civil contingencies (available on the "reports and publications" section of the new website) laid before the House on the same day that we have taken important steps to improve our resilience and contingency planning to deal with terrorist attacks should they occur.
The emergency services now have more equipment and trained officers to enable them to respond to a release of CBRN material and this has been accompanied by the publication of specific protocols for dealing with this kind of attack. For example, under a £5 million programme, the Department of Health has provided 360 mobile decontamination units; the CBRN Police Training Centre has been established at Winterbourne Gunner and the police now have 2,350 officers trained and equipped in CBRN response. Since 11 September 2001, £96 million has been spent on CBRN medical countermeasures, including spending on extra vaccines and antibiotics.
We have also looked hard at local resilience and London resilience and taken steps at both these levels to review and improve capability through funding and personnel training. But we must continue to strengthen and improve our resilience as part of a long-term strategy to work with our partners and allies to remove the terrorist threat and the threat of fear from the United Kingdom and the international arena.
Many people will be aware that action taken in 1991 to detain large numbers of Iraqi citizens proved to be ineffective. I do not consider the action taken in 1991 to have been the most appropriate means to deal with the situation then and I do not intend to repeat it now. Now in 2003, we are aware of only a very small number of people in this country who may be sympathetic to the Iraqi regime. These individuals are being interviewed and we will continue to keep under close review any threats posed by them or others to our security. However, we have no current reason to intern or otherwise detain citizens of Iraq who are resident in this country, but I remain in close touch with the Security Service and the police over this and will I take whatever action is necessary to protect the public based on constant threat assessments.
Military action in Iraq should not—and will not—detract from our commitment to a multi-racial and diverse Britain—one which values the contribution made by each of our many diverse ethnic, cultural and faith communities. We want a truly dynamic society, in which people from different backgrounds can live and work together—while retaining their distinctive identities—in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. But we understand that military action in Iraq will have an impact on how some members of our society feel—not least in increasing insecurity.
We are therefore working with the police and other local agencies to ensure that tension levels within our communities are monitored on a daily basis. Within local areas agencies are working together—and with local communities—to provide reassurance and to 53WS ensure that there are arrangements in place to deal with any potentially difficult situations that might emerge. At this stage the assessments provided give us no reason to believe that there is a serious risk of a disturbance—but we are not complacent about this.
I state unequivocally that we have taken precautionary measures to deal with the events that we can anticipate. We cannot guarantee 100 per cent. security but we are preparing for a range of eventualities. We are in a situation that can develop at speed and change at speed. We will keep all aspects of our planning under review and I undertake to keep Parliament and the British public informed of any significant developments.