National Security Strategy

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:57 pm on 19th March 2008.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of Opposition In the House of Lords, Parliament 3:57 pm, 19th March 2008

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this important Statement. The whole House shares an immense sense of debt to the police, security services and our Armed Forces for the often unseen, and sometimes never known, work that they do to protect our country.

The House will want to explore this new strategy, which is being billed as a unique event in national history, very closely. There is of course unparalleled expertise in this House on these matters.

Will the noble Baroness confirm that, while the Statement bore the mark of the Prime Minister's hand, a central place in drafting the strategy as a whole was played by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead? If so, the doctrine of parliamentary accountability would greatly reinforce the case for an early debate in this House.

Of course, we welcome the idea of a national security approach. Two years ago, my party said that it was time for a national security strategy. I am glad that the Prime Minister is now joining in this.

The noble Lord, Lord West, is also right to warn that issues affecting our national security—from terrorism, to cyber attack, to nuclear proliferation and energy security—are proliferating. The terrorist threat is certainly spreading multinationally. Incidentally, does this not confirm the warnings given to the Prime Minister and his colleagues by the Joint Intelligence Committee before the Iraq war that invasion would worsen the Islamist terrorist threat to us at home? What is the noble Baroness's assessment of that? Does she accept that the result is as was then predicted? Is it not essential that we have a full inquiry into the whole saga of our engagement in the Iraq War and discover what lessons must be learnt?

On cyber attack, are the Government concerned that this country has been probed by cyber assaults on several occasions and that some suspect the involvement of national Governments? There are major threats: real, emerging and, perhaps, re-emerging. However, does the noble Baroness not see that a kitchen-sink Statement of this kind, which includes sending a civil commissioner to Helmand province, paying for 850 Burundian soldiers and re-announced council tax refunds for soldiers—all that detail—risks confusing the wood for the trees? Did not too many of the grave crises we faced in history arise from not looking in the right place at the right time? Are there not dangers in lumping long-term problems, such as global warming and disease, with council tax refunds?

A national security strategy will work only if it is put in place and carried out properly. Institutions in the UK need to be properly organised to deliver a national security approach. Therefore, we very much regret that the Prime Minister has missed the opportunity to establish a proper national security council. The existing committee clearly needs its authority reinforced. On the "Today" programme this morning, the noble Lord, Lord West, said that the Government had concluded that they did not need a national security council. However, the Prime Minister, in reply to my right honourable friend Mr Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions today, said that he already had one—so which answer is correct?

It is essential that intelligence assessment and activity is, as the Government suggest, entirely independent of the political side, as was recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, in his review. Never again must we see in this country the outrage of spin doctors e-mailing intelligence officers about their job. Will the noble Baroness confirm that Mr Carter, the Prime Minister's new head honcho of spin, will have no access to security material?

The United Kingdom must retain the power, properly funded, to intervene abroad militarily when necessary, but we must understand that military operations abroad have consequences for security at home. Lately, that has been too often forgotten. At the same time, our Armed Forces have had to step in repeatedly—in the fuel crisis, in the foot and mouth outbreak and in firefighting—to bale out poor domestic planning.

Why have the Government still not banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group that poisons young minds against our country and way of life? Why did we not follow the Irish Government in barring Ibrahim Moussawi, a spokesman for Hizbollah and an apologist for terror, who recently conducted a lecture tour of the United Kingdom?

Why, despite the urgent need for secure borders, do Ministers still refuse to create a proper border police force with enforcement powers? Can the noble Baroness tell us why, in the new spirit of openness, the Government do not publish the report of the noble Lord, Lord West, which aims to improve security in crowded places and protect critical national infrastructure in the event of attack? I repeat my request to the noble Baroness, to which I am sure she will agree, that all these matters should be discussed in a government debate, one perhaps headed by the noble Lord, Lord West, and responded to by my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones.

I welcome two things. First, there was no mention of the maximum 42-day detention without trial. I assure the noble Baroness that there is no consensus about going beyond 28 days' detention. The Government have tried to make a case for that, which we do not think has been met and will oppose the relevant provisions of the terrorism Bill when it arrives here. Secondly, the Government appear to be backing away from their wasteful and ineffective plan to impose ID cards on the British people. Biometric visas are one thing, but spending billions registering and tracking children and their grannies on trips to Portsmouth is quite another. Neither compulsory ID cards, nor the absurd totem of 40-day detention, featured in this massive security Statement. The noble Lord, Lord West, may shudder if the phone rings from No. 10 after he has been on the "Today" programme, but he should hold fast to his course. If he does so the whole House will be grateful for that.