John Reid announces the narrative to Parliament, along with a few selected replies that reference the accused or a public inquiry. Full theatrics discussion here
John Reid (Home Secretary)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the 7 July bombings.
I am today publishing the official account on the bombings in London on 7 July last year. Also today the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee into intelligence aspects of the bombings has been published, together with the Government's response. I very much regret the sombre nature of my first statement to the House as Home Secretary. I send my condolences, as the new Home Secretary, to all those who suffered in those events and I pay tribute to the work done by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke).
The official account published today summarises what we know about the bombers and how and why they did what they did. It is not yet a complete picture, both because we have had to withhold some information for legal and security reasons and because the police investigation is continuing and we may discover more. It will be for the legal process to confirm formally what happened, but as is now well known, there were four suicide attacks carried out by four British citizens. Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer, Jermaine Lindsay and Hasib Hussain. Those attacks killed 52 people over and above the bombers themselves and injured over 700.
The first three bombs went off simultaneously at 8.50 am on the underground. The first, in a Circle line tunnel between Liverpool Street and Aldgate stations, was carried out by Tanweer and killed seven people and injured 171. The second, on the Circle line just outside Edgware Road, was carried out by Khan and killed six people and injured 163. The third, on the Piccadilly line between King's Cross and Russell Square, was carried out by Lindsay and killed 26 and injured over 340.
Just under an hour later at 9.47 am, Hussain detonated the fourth device on a No. 30 bus in Tavistock square. This killed 13 and injured over 110. It remains unclear why Hussain did not detonate his bomb at the same time as the others. It may be that he was frustrated by delays on the underground heading north from King's Cross. However, it now appears that he bought a battery after coming out of the underground system, which could mean that he had difficulty detonating the device earlier. But I stress that this remains speculation at this point.
We now know from CCTV footage and witness statements that Khan, Tanweer, and Hussain travelled down from Leeds in a hire car that morning and met up with Lindsay in Luton station car park. Further devices were found in one of the cars which may have been for self-defence or diversion in case of interception during the journey down. They do not appear to indicate a fifth bomber and there is no evidence to suggest this elsewhere. The four then travelled from Luton to King's Cross, leaving at 7.40 am and arriving at 8.23 am.
Owing to some outstanding police and security service work in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, the police were able publicly to confirm the identities of Tanweer and Hussain on 14 July and Khan and Lindsay on 16 July. The key factors leading them to this were finding credit and other cards in the names of the four at the sites—in Khan's case his cards were found at more than one site—Hussain's family calling the police emergency hotline reporting him missing, and subsequently discovering that he had travelled to London with Khan and Tanweer; the discovery by the security service that Khan, and subsequently Tanweer, had been picked up on the periphery of another investigation; the CCTV images of four men with rucksacks matching their descriptions at King's Cross and Luton; and the discovery of the two cars in Luton car park.
Khan, Tanweer and Hussain were all second-generation British citizens of Pakistani origin from the same small area of Leeds. Lindsay was a British citizen of Jamaican origin who had grown up in Huddersfield and moved to Aylesbury after his marriage. Khan was a well-respected teaching assistant and youth worker, aged 30 at the time of the bombings. Tanweer, who was just 22, had recently left university. Hussain was only 18 and had just completed sixth form college, and Lindsay, who was 19, had left school and had a series of odd jobs thereafter.
The account which is published today sets out what we know about their early lives and how they may have been radicalised. The picture remains incomplete at this stage, but, with the partial exception of Lindsay, there is little that marks them out as particularly vulnerable to radicalisation and little in their subsequent behaviour which could have given much indication to those around them of their intentions. It is not yet known whether others in the UK were involved in indoctrinating the group or helping them to plan, but Lindsay appears to have been influenced by an extremist preacher who is now serving a prison sentence. Their motivation appears to have been a mixture of anger at perceived injustices by the west against Muslims and a desire for martyrdom.
The account that we publish today also details what we know about influence from abroad. Khan is known to have made a number of trips to Pakistan, including one in July 2003 when he is believed to have had some relevant training. Khan and Tanweer travelled together to Pakistan between November 2004 and February 2005 and are assessed as likely to have met al-Qaeda figures during this visit. There were a series of suspicious contacts from an unknown individual or individuals in Pakistan in the immediate run-up to the bombings. We do not know their content. Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for launching the attacks, but the extent of its involvement is unclear.
Shortly after the second Pakistan trip—the trip from November 2004 to February 2005—the group appear to have begun planning in earnest. They appear to have assembled the devices at 18 Alexandra grove, a flat in another part of Leeds. As far as experts can establish, the bombs were made with ingredients that are readily commercially available, and to have required only limited expertise to assemble. The operation appears to have been self-financed and the cash raised by methods that would be extremely difficult to identify as related to terrorism or other serious criminality. Our best estimate is that the operation cost less than £8,000 overall.
The account published today does not address the emergency response, but it is right that I should place on record my thanks and admiration for the bravery of so many—the police, those working on the underground, buses and trains, medical staff, firefighters, disaster recovery teams, volunteers and ordinary people, including and perhaps especially the survivors. The Government have separately conducted a lessons learned exercise addressing many aspects of the emergency response, and we will publish the results shortly. The London Assembly's inquiry, due to report soon, is also considering this.
I now turn to the Intelligence and Security Committee report. The Committee is, of course, independent of Government, but it has had access to a wide range of highly classified documents. Its report assesses what was known prior to July, how the threat level and alert state systems operated, how the threat was assessed, and issues of coverage, resources and co-operation between the security and intelligence agencies and between the agencies and the police. The House will obviously wish to give it serious consideration. The Prime Minister has presented to Parliament today the Government's response to the report, which generally welcomes its conclusions.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), as Chairman of the Committee, has spoken in more detail about the report this morning, but I note first that the report sets out that the security service had come across two of the bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, on the margins of other investigations. On the basis of what was then known, the security service made the judgement that they were peripheral to the main investigation and there was no intelligence to suggest that they were separately interested in planning an attack against the UK. Although limited attempts were made at that stage to identify the two men, the security service decided to concentrate its resources on higher priorities, including plots known at that time to attack the UK. The ISC report concludes that this decision was understandable.
Secondly, the report concludes that it was not unreasonable to reduce the country threat level from "severe general" to "substantial" in May last year on the grounds that there was no intelligence of a current credible plot to attack the UK at that time.
The term "substantial" still represented a high level of threat, and the report concludes that that reduction was unlikely to have altered the alertness of the responders or to have affected the chances of preventing the 7 July attacks. None the less, the Committee recommends changes to the system. The Government have reviewed it and will be making changes to create a simpler, more flexible and more proportionate system.
The report makes a number of other useful recommendations, which we have addressed in the Government response. It also covers the issue of resourcing, which I will address in a moment. I am grateful to the Committee for its very thorough and constructive approach.
What the official account and the ISC report demonstrate is the very real challenge that the police and the agencies face in combating this new kind of terrorism. The bombers were ordinary British citizens with little known history of extremist views, far less of violent intention. At least three were apparently as well integrated as anyone else. Their radicalisation, to the extent that we know how and where it happened, appears to have been conducted away from places with any obvious association with extremism.
The willingness of the men to use suicide bombing as their method and to attack vulnerable, civilian targets—as is familiar from previous attacks—made them doubly difficult to defend against. That is not a comfortable message, but it is important that we are honest about it if we are to defend ourselves against the threat effectively.
The key lesson—this is at the heart of the Government's counter-terrorist strategy—is that the response needs to be collective, with Government, Parliament, police, agencies, local communities, faith leaders and international co-operation all playing their part, and that it needs to be completely comprehensive.
We have a counter-terrorism strategy for achieving that, known as "Contest", which aims to reduce the risk from international terrorism. As part of the strategy, we are seeking to prevent terrorism by stopping young people being indoctrinated into extremist violence. In that, we need the help of Muslim leaders and the community to fight the distortion of Islam that turns young people into terrorists. We have taken new powers to criminalise encouragement to terrorism. We need to work together to show that democracy is the only legitimate means of changing policies, and to ensure that all young people in all communities can see how engagement in British society can bring about change for the better. I know that my predecessor as Home Secretary led an extensive round of consultations with all sections of the Muslim community, and I intend to develop that.
Secondly, we need an effective and adequately resourced law enforcement and intelligence effort. The ISC report suggests that we might have had a better chance of preventing the July attacks if more resources had been in place sooner. Even that, of course, would have been no guarantee of preventing the attack. The Government have put in substantially increased resources, particularly since 9/11. Further resources were provided last autumn. The Security Service is expanding as fast as its top management believes is organisationally possible.
The specific police budget for counter-terrorism will have grown fourfold between the financial years 2002-03 and 2007-08—that is, in the period after 9/11. We have allocated £30 million extra next year and £60 million the year after to expand special branch and other specialist counter-terrorism capacity outside London. Indeed, the total cross-Government budget for counter terrorism and resilience has more than doubled, from less than £1 billion to more than £2 billion in the same period.
In addition, general policing makes a significant contribution to the counter-terrorist effort. We will implement neighbourhood policing in all forces by next April and will expand the number of community support officers from around 6,500 to 16,000 in that period. That will improve our capacity to gather local intelligence to support the counter-terrorist element.
In that context, I want to put it on the record that the police and agencies have disrupted many attacks against the UK since 9/11, including three since last July alone. However, the reality is that difficult choices have to be made between priorities in intelligence-led operations, whatever the level of resources.
Thirdly, we need effective international co-operation. This is both a local and a global threat. We are a long way from being the only targets. As the House will know, there have been appalling attacks in the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and Indonesia, to name but a few. We need to have the closest possible law enforcement and intelligence links with our many allies in the war against global terrorism.
We also need rapidly to develop European co-operation. The former Home Secretary made that his key priority for the UK presidency last year. He achieved important concrete outcomes, including common provisions on the retention of telecommunications data that will make it more difficult for terrorists to communicate across borders to plan their crimes. I will make it a major priority of mine to develop that co-operation further.
The bombings were despicable attacks on ordinary people going about their normal daily business. It is a tribute to Londoners—the people of our capital city—that the city recovered with such remarkable speed. The victims have shown tremendous courage in rebuilding their lives, but I know that many victims, and particularly bereaved families, are still trying to find their own way to come to terms with what, for them, was a terrible personal tragedy. I think that it is right that we try to explain what the Government know about what happened that day, and I hope that many of the victims will find the account that we have published today helpful.
I know that some will find it painful to relive those terrible events again, and that some will continue to feel that there should be a public inquiry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for supporting victims. In the short period that I have been Home Secretary, and before that, she has explained to me the strong views that some of the families hold on that subject. I find that perfectly understandable, but the House will know that my predecessor as Home Secretary explained last year why the Government had decided that it was not right to hold such an inquiry, a decision with which I concur. However, I should like to offer some further explanation to those most directly affected.
I shall therefore be writing to all those who were bereaved by the 7 July attacks to offer them the chance to come and talk the issue through. I and my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary will convene a series of meetings, at which families will be able to ask detailed questions about the documents that have been published today. At those meetings, I hope that I will be able to explain to them why I do not think a public inquiry would be the best step to take. Not least among the reasons is that such an inquiry would involve diverting very precious resources needed for the security and protection of everyone, at a critical time.
As Home Secretary, my principal duty is to protect the public. I am determined that we will learn the lessons from the official account and ISC report, and strengthen our defences against the terrorist threat, but international terrorism will not be defeated by the security services, the police or the Government acting alone. It will be beaten only by all of us in this country working together to defeat what is a threat to us all. That is what all of us must achieve together.
David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden, Conservative)
I welcome the Home Secretary to his new post and am sorry that his first outing is on such a tragic subject. I join him in offering our condolences to those who suffered in the attacks and our thanks to and admiration for those whose bravery and commitment on the day and afterwards saved so many lives.
The issue before us is, as the Home Secretary implied, of great importance. The attacks in London on 7 July and 21 July were attacks on our people, our country and our way of life. Accordingly, our ability to deal with such attacks and to learn from our errors is critical to the defence of the realm, our people and our way of life.
It is important to start by acknowledging the real strengths of our security services, which have thwarted a significant number of attacks. For that, the whole House thanks and congratulates them. However, it will not serve them or the safety of the British public if we do not learn from the mistakes made in these cases, the better to prevent them in the future.
During the attack and in the immediate aftermath, the Government claimed that the bombers were previously unknown to the authorities, because they had no record of previous criminal or terrorist activity. We now know that that is untrue. Both Sidique Khan and Shezad Tanweer were known to the authorities in connection with another very serious terrorist bomb plot. On the basis of accounts in the newspapers, rather than the reports, it appears that Shezad Tanweer was picked up by a foreign intelligence agency one month before the attack, but that that information was never acted on by the UK security services, so I ask the Home Secretary whether that is true. Again on the basis of documentation given to newspapers rather than these reports, it seems that MI5 taped Mohammad Sidique Khan talking about his wish to fight in the jihad and saying his goodbyes to his family—a clear indication that he was intending a suicide mission. The newspapers also tell us that he was known to have attended late-stage discussions on planning another major terror attack that was subsequently thwarted. Again, I ask the Home Secretary whether that is true.
Despite all that, the surveillance on Khan was called off months before the attack. Why? Was it, as intimated in the Intelligence and Security Committee report, because of a shortage of resources? Is it true that there were not enough MI5 agents to cover possible suspects and that that led to surveillance on dangerous terrorists being terminated on that occasion? The ISC report states that
"better appreciation of the speed and scale with which the threat against the UK could develop might have led the Services to achieve a step change in capacity earlier".
Did that occur because the resources for MI5 were not increased to meet the necessary step change until 2004, some three years after 9/11? And, because it takes three years to recruit, screen and train agents, the expansion will not take full effect until 2008.
Two of the bombers went to terrorist training camps in Pakistan and undertook weapons training, as the Home Secretary mentioned in his statement. Paragraph 75(e) of the official account is very vague on that matter. It is said that the British intelligence agencies did not obtain any usable information on these people's activities from the Pakistani intelligence services. Why did that happen?
We are also told—the Home Secretary alluded to it—that Khan and Tanweer met al-Qaeda leaders and discussed jihad with them. How, then, can the Government represent these people as members of an independent freelance group? If they are, how did al-Qaeda get a copy of Khan's suicide video in order to splice on to it its own propaganda, which involved its second most important member, before it was broadcast in September?
I take the opportunity of paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who has done a remarkable job with his Committee, which produced an extremely insightful report, as the Home Secretary recognised. Having said that, although the Intelligence and Security Committee is impartial, wise and of the highest integrity, it is constitutionally limited in what it can achieve. That is partly because of the limitation on its investigative resources, partly because of its remit and partly because it is constituted in such a way as to be entirely dependent on the intelligence agencies for its information and on their willingness to disclose such information.
The process has, frankly, raised more questions than answers. After the 9/11 tragedy, the United States Senate had a very well resourced and independent report with very hard-hitting conclusions. After Madrid, the Spanish Government had an independent report and learned serious lessons from it. In this country, after the Falklands war, even though secret intelligence issues were at stake, we had the independent Franks report. Almost every previous major intelligence failure was dealt with by an independent inquiry, but I am afraid that that is not what we have today in the official account, which expresses the Government's view rather than an independent view. As a result, the process has left too many questions unresolved.
In the interests of people who have lost their lives and of protecting those who have not, can we now have what we should have had from the start—a fully resourced independent inquiry into what was clearly a major failure of our intelligence systems?
John Reid (Home Secretary)
No, not the integrity; the right hon. Gentleman did not question that, but he felt that the ISC was limited by statute and so forth.
I merely point out, in the same spirit of generosity with which he welcomed me, that the scope, remit and statute under which the ISC was established was defined not by this Government, but by the Conservative Government in which the right hon. Gentleman served. Secondly, the reason for public inquiries, including the Franks inquiry, prior to the establishment of the ISC, was precisely because of the absence of such a scrutiny Committee. It was appropriate for the ISC to be given the task. It is independent of the Government and values its independence. To the best of my knowledge, it has been given as much assistance, aid and leeway as possible, and I believe that it has produced a very useful report.
Let me turn to some of the hon. Gentleman's specific points. It was legitimate for him to raise them, and I will answer insofar as I can, without intruding into areas that affect operational matters. His first point was about several newspaper stories on the four bombers. As to the Tanweer story, relating to what happened a month before 7/7, I am told by the Security Service that it has no record of that allegation, so I do not think that there is a factual basis to it.
What is known is that there was some peripheral intelligence of two of the bombers in connection with another investigation. So far as I can understand from paragraph 45, on page 14, from all the relevant intelligence material and the from independent scrutiny of the Intelligence and Security Committee, a judgment was made on whether the actions and assessments of the Security Service were understandable and correct at the time. The report confirms that the Security Service came across two individuals, who were subsequently identified as Khan and Tanweer, on the peripheries of another investigation. However, I should mention three heavy caveats.
First, it was only after 7 July that the Security Service was able fully to identify the two men, given the massive concentration of resources then transferred. Secondly, there was no intelligence at the time that these men were interested in planning an attack on the UK in the UK. That is specifically alluded to on page 13, in paragraph 43 of the ISC report. Thirdly, the intelligence at the time did indeed suggest a focus, but either on training and insurgency operations outside the country in Pakistan, in which the men might be interested, or on fraud. In relation to the investigation at the time, it was peripheral to what was regarded as a bigger and more important operation. It is in that light, on that important subject—I accept that it is an important and legitimate one for the right hon. Gentleman to raise—that the ISC says
"we conclude that, in the light of the other priority investigations being conducted and the limitations on Security Service resources, the decisions not to give greater investigative priority to these two individuals were understandable".
Incidentally, officers followed up a report on the third bomber, Jermaine Lindsay, because again there was a peripheral connection to another case—of aggravated burglary—but it was only established later that the contact telephone number was on file.
I dealt with that matter in some measure, because the right hon. Gentleman raised an important point. I shall turn to resources, which he also mentioned. I covered them earlier, but in the period after 9/11 until 2007-08, there has been a quadrupling of the resources available to the police and counter-terrorism. In the same period, across Government, there has been a doubling of resources for counter-terrorism and resilience, from less than £1 billion to more than £2 billion. At any given stage, there are physical limitations on what can be achieved, because of difficulties in recruitment, skills identification, training and so on. It is not merely a matter of applying resources and bringing in lots of people without relevant skills.
Let me give two quotes. The director general of the Security Service told the ISC:
"What we are trying to do is the maximum we think we can bear in terms of recruitment, training, vetting, expansion, scale, new officers, a big northern operations centre...it is a very challenging programme."
In other words, according to the director general, the limitations are not the resources being allocated but the fact that the service cannot expand any faster.
At paragraph 140 of the report, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, C, said:
"If you try to bring in more than a certain number of new people every year you can literally bust the system...you can only tolerate a certain number of inexperienced people dealing with very sensitive subjects."
On al-Qaeda, there are circumstantial links, some of which the right hon. Gentleman pointed out: the recording of the video, the Khan reference to al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda's claim of responsibility and so on. There are assumptions and speculations about contacts. The ISC report says:
"The extent to which the 7 July attacks were externally planned directed or controlled by contacts in Pakistan or elsewhere remains unclear."
That is what I said at the beginning. The matter is still under investigation. Yes, there is circumstantial evidence, but I do not think there is anything that would merit my saying at this stage that there is conclusive evidence that the attack was planned in advance rather than being claimed as a success afterwards, ex post facto, by al-Qaeda
John Reid (Home Secretary)
I thank the hon. Gentleman. On his last point, yes, local intelligence is obviously important. That is why we have about 13,000 more police officers on the beat and the number of community support officers is increasing to 16,000. The hon. Gentleman will understand if I decline his invitation to comment on another major issue, police restructuring, which I have not had the chance to look at—it has been a rather busy five days—but I accept the need for local intelligence.
The hon. Gentleman raised three other matters, the first of which was resources. He appeared to indicate that there was little increase in resources in the years after 2002 and that it was slanted towards the end of the period. Actually, if we consider counter-terrorist and resilience spending since 2001 by Department, across Government, the amounts are £923 million and £988 million, with £1,257 million immediately afterwards; the next figures are £1,479 million, £1.665 billion and £2.045 billion, so there has in fact been a steady cross-Government increase.
Although I fully accept that there will always be a demand for greater resources, Members should be cautious, as was the ISC, when talking about them. The paragraph in the report referring to resources begins with the following words:
"It could be argued (but it would be largely with hindsight)"—
the only exact science known to men and women is hindsight. The Committee phrased that paragraph very carefully; before saying that perhaps more resources could have helped, it noted that the observation was made "largely with hindsight".
I have one more point about resources. There has been a substantial increase, but even if resources were infinite, the truth of the matter in respect of intelligence is, as we must say constantly—and as the Butler inquiry pointed out—that even with unlimited resources we can never be 100 per cent. certain. We cannot predict the future. There is not 100 per cent. security, nor 100 per cent. predictability. Intelligence is, by its nature, a collection of fragmentary, partial, sometimes subjective and sometimes mistaken pieces of information, which must be put together by human judgment. So there is a matter of resources, but we should not pretend that, if then or in the future, we supplied infinite resources, we would have infinite wisdom about the future.
More briefly, on two things that the hon. Gentleman mentioned—the first was an inquiry, which is very important—I fully understand the concerns of the families of victims and those caught up in the attacks. I fully understand the questions that they have to ask about the trauma and the whos and whys of how this happened. All of us would understand that—it is a natural human reaction—and this week I have therefore carefully considered the call for a public inquiry, as did my predecessor, but it would mean a pretty massive reallocation and diversion of resources over an extended period if it was done. That is not just an inconvenience and an expense; it is a serious matter.
It would mean a reallocation of resources away from those needing protection at a critical time, when our security forces and security agencies are carrying out an absolutely essential job—the protection of people in this country—and in my judgment that diversion of resources would truly put others at risk to achieve an objective that can be achieved largely in other ways, which is why I am offering these meetings and reports. Of course, the Home Affairs Committee, the ISC, the London Assembly, the coroners and the ongoing criminal investigations, as well as our account, contribute towards that.
I agree entirely, however, with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the need to engage the Muslim community. We need to work together in this country—every single one of us—because the threat is against every single one of us. In the aftermath of 7/7, we set in train both a short-term working programme of ministerial visits and then the longer-term actions in the Government's prevention delivery plan. I do not pretend that that is perfect, but it is the start of serious, prolonged and, I believe, in-depth engagement with the Muslim community in this country, because we need that.
Frank Dobson (Holborn & St Pancras, Labour)
I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his statement and for the narrative that he has provided, and the ISC for the report that it has provided; and we all look forward to the London Assembly's report on the response to the horrors of 7 July. Speaking as someone who represents the area in which the two worst atrocities took place, I think that it is necessary for us to accept that the activities of the security services will always be imperfect. It looks as though they had been geared largely to trying to trace connections to centrally organised atrocities, and we may have been caught out a little in the response to what might be described as semi-spontaneous local groups, which may have had vague connections—but that is a very difficult task.
We should remember in all this that the object of the people who support terrorism is to try to divide us one from another. When we are considering all the evidence that becomes available, we should remember that, whatever shortcomings may be revealed, it was not the security services, it was not the police, it was not Ministers and it was not the Opposition who actually exploded four suicide bombs; it was four suicide bombers who did the killing and maiming. What we must do is to concentrate on trying to ensure that we do not have any more of them. We should not spend our time pointing fingers at one another, when we did not do it.
Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford & Woodford Green, Conservative)
I start by welcoming the right hon. Gentleman to his position. We are old friends and counterparts, and I genuinely wish him the best of luck in what are difficult circumstances.
I simply refer the Home Secretary back to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). I am of the opinion that, on balance, following the right hon. Gentleman's statement, we need a more independent inquiry. I recommend the report from the Committee, chaired by the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), because it illustrates some of the weaknesses. Yes, the bombers are to blame absolutely, but we need to understand what has gone wrong, so that we can rectify it. In that spirit, I refer the Home Secretary to paragraphs 103 and 108, which suggest a complete misreading of some major issues internally in the UK; that of whether suicide bombings were every likely to take place in the UK or Europe, when there was already evidence of the shoe bombers and others in Tel Aviv, and also the idea that home-grown terrorists were not a major issue for the UK. Again, the Committee quite rightly points out that there was a great deal of evidence to suggest that that was not the case and that we should have been concerned.
I am one who genuinely believes that we do this in the interests of the United Kingdom, our citizens and our friends, and of course, as a London MP, I include those who were devastated in the bombings. I urge the Home Secretary to think again about the inquiry, not because we want to point fingers, but because we desperately need to show the public that we have learned the lessons and that their security is paramount.
John Reid (Home Secretary)
Of course, over the years, I have grown to respect the right hon. Gentleman's views on these matters. There are two different aspects. One of them is the natural, legitimate questions of the families themselves, and I am trying in consultation and co-operation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to address some of them in meetings or through the account that we are giving today. The other one—the right hon. Gentleman points it out, and I accept it—is that we can always learn to improve the efficacy of our security services. I am not instantly persuaded that the best way to do that is with a public inquiry, but I will obviously want to talk, having read and reread the report, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who is Chairman of the ISC, in the first instance. It is important to stress that the ISC is independent of the Government. There are people on it who would not sympathise with the Government on a range of issues but, on this one, share the same patriotic commitment—we would all do so—to protect our country. So I will undertake to hold discussions with my right hon. Friend to find out whether there are areas where we ought to ask his Committee perhaps to protrude a little further in intrusiveness to advise us.
John Reid (Home Secretary)
That is precisely the point. The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. That is also my worry about allocating and diverting resources towards a public inquiry. On his question about the threat level, I accept the recommendations of the Committee. As he will know, the difference between the two threat levels reflected whether there was knowledge of a specific threat at that time. "Substantial" is still a very high level of threat, but it meant that there was not specific knowledge at that time. As he said, that can be confusing. The response or readiness level was not automatically reduced, although the threat level came down. The reduced threat level indicated to experts that there was not a specific threat. However, to the man in the street, it could be taken to mean a reduction in operational capability. It did not mean that—thank goodness—on this occasion. I will undertake to review that and implement things as soon as possible, and to publish what I can, although I do not pretend that I can give a carte blanche that we will publish everything to do with threat levels.
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath, Conservative)
May I thank the Secretary of State for his dignified and informative statement? He will be aware from the ISC report that the tragic events of 7/7 followed years of failure, going back to before 1997, to appreciate the scale of the Islamist threat.
In particular, this country operated a system—the covenant of security—under which terror propagandists were left at liberty, so that they and their potential recruits could be kept under watch. Given that one key terror propagandist under observation could abscond from his known home address, where he received housing benefit, and remain on the run for 10 months, does the Home Secretary not agree that a full public inquiry could do a great deal to address deep and systemic failings?]
Ben Wallace (Lancaster & Wyre, Conservative)
Post-incident analysis and learning from our mistakes is a vital part of intelligence work. The House should not hold back from scrutinising the Government and the Committee's report on the event. Will the Home Secretary clarify something that remains unclear in the report and his previous answers? Were the two bombers, Tanweer and Khan, under surveillance at any stage in the lead-up to the incident and, if so, was that for years or months? I am not just talking about tracing their telephone calls. As a result of the report, will he undertake to consider whether we have the right balance between human intelligence—informers and people working with the community—and intelligence gathered purely from surveillance? A lack of human intelligence often results in our missing threats, as has been the case both at home and abroad in the past.
John Reid (Home Secretary)
I am asking for clarification of the details. My understanding was that there was not a sustained surveillance operation. Rather, the men were picked up as contacts of a primary target who was under surveillance. The answer that I have been given partly corrects me and is partly indecipherable. It has obviously been written by one of our intelligence agencies! The reply that I gave the hon. Gentleman was my original understanding. If it transpires that there was systemic surveillance of the men for any prolonged period, I will write to him.