Salisbury Incident

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:44 pm on 12th September 2018.

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Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 4:44 pm, 12th September 2018

The casual 21st century—it is becoming a bad habit! I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.

There are things on which we disagree fundamentally, but my opening speech was not an attack on the Labour party or the left collectively. We can argue about our methods, but I do not doubt people’s patriotism on the left at all. I have served as a soldier with people who voted Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and the rest. Our patriotism has nothing to do with our politics.

The incident in Salisbury was an appalling and despicable act. Operatives of the Russian military and intelligence service deployed an illegal chemical nerve agent on the streets of Britain. This intentional act resulted in the death of an innocent woman and left four others fighting for their lives. Our thoughts remain with all those affected, particularly the family and friends of Dawn Sturgess. I acknowledge once again the dedication and professionalism of the emergency services and the staff at Salisbury District Hospital and of the police and security and intelligence services.

In summing up, I should set out what we have done to return Salisbury to normal. I thank the police and experts from Public Health England for their hard work in ensuring that the public spaces immediately affected by the incident are once again accessible and safe. I extend my thanks to the Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, where more than 430 world-leading scientists and experts have been providing specialist advice and assistance to Wiltshire police, the well-led Wiltshire County Council and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I also thank the military personnel for their support in helping to clean up Salisbury and return it to normal as quickly as possible while ensuring public safety. They did this at risk to themselves. Obviously, they were wearing protective clothing, but who knew early on how widely this deadly nerve agent had been spread and the risk posed?

The clean-up work by DEFRA is well under way on a small number of potentially contaminated sites to bring them back into safe use for the people of Salisbury and Amesbury and their visitors. In total, nine sites were identified from the first incident in Salisbury as requiring some level of specialist decontamination. This work is now complete at six sites. The three other sites remain cordoned off so that the clean-up work can be carried out safely.

In connection with the June incident in Amesbury, there are currently three sites of decontamination. In addition, 21 vehicles involved in the response to the first incident, in March—a mixture of emergency response vehicles and private vehicles—have been moved to a hazardous landfill site. The clean-up process on the streets of Salisbury and Amesbury has been comprehensive and exhaustive, and I am content to say that it is our assessment that all the areas that have been handed back after the decontamination process are now safe. Indeed, I visited a number of those sites in Salisbury last Monday, and it was good to see the people of Salisbury back to normal: cafés were full, people were enjoying the park, and children were paddling in the river. We should pay tribute to the people of Salisbury, who have not been put off by this horrendous incident, and who are determined to get that wonderful cathedral city back to normal.

I must, however, echo the advice of the chief medical officer. We must ensure that the public remain vigilant. It is important to guarantee that no other materials are present elsewhere. As other Members have already pointed out, it is vital that the public continue to follow the advice of the chief medical officer, and not to pick up anything that they do not recognise as an item that they themselves have dropped. We must continue to be guided by that advice, and we must give the police, the local council and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the space and resources that they need to proceed with their valuable work ensuring public safety.

It is with that in mind that I again pay tribute to the patience and resilience of the people of Salisbury. I also pay tribute to the city council and, indeed, to the county council for its response to what was not only an outrageous attack, but a situation that was highly complex and difficult to deal with. Who would plan, who would regularly exercise, for the releasing of a nerve agent on our streets? They acted extremely professionally, and, on behalf of my officials, I must express my gratitude for the way we were able to work together to deliver the right package of decontamination to help to reassure the public—and, indeed, to deliver a package to support the local community and help it to put itself back together.