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Jones: Safeguarding our security

To the Welsh Conservative Party conference in Llandudno.

"The morning of July 7th 2005 started normally enough.

I was working at my office in Parliament. It was a beautiful day and I was feeling at ease with the world.

I had been an MP for just two months and was slowly becoming used to the routine of life in the Palace of Westminster.

At about 8.50 a.m., I received a telephone call from my researcher. She told me that she was stuck on an Underground train travelling to Westminster and would be late getting in.

I checked the BBC News web site and saw reports that a power surge in the Underground had caused explosions in electrical circuits.

I thought little more about it. Time passed.

My PA then arrived at the office, telling me that she had also had difficulty getting in to work.

I began to notice that the streets outside Parliament, which are normally thronged with traffic, were unusually quiet.

I tried to make a telephone call on my mobile, but found that the network was down.

My e-mail would not work. Something was obviously wrong. My researcher arrived at the office and told me that she had had enormous difficulty getting in.

We kept checking the BBC web site. Slowly, reports came in of explosions on the Circle Line between Liverpool Street and Aldgate, and at Edgware Road and Russell Square tube stations.

We turned on the TV news. There were reports of an explosion on a double-decker bus near Tavistock Square.

Nobody who was present in London on July 7th will ever forget the events of that day.

It was the biggest terrorist atrocity in Britain since Lockerbie in 1988 and the deadliest bombing in London since the Second World War.

Fifty-six people were killed in the attacks, including the four suspected bombers, and another seven hundred were injured, many badly maimed and scarred, physically and emotionally, for the rest of their lives.

July 7th will be remembered, not only for the tragic loss of life and injury to the victims, but also for the tremendous performance of the emergency services and the remarkable stoicism and courage of the people of London.

In retrospect, nobody should really have been surprised that the attacks had taken place.

The security services had been warning for many months that there would be an attack on British soil.

July 7th 2005 was the day when Islamic fundamentalist terrorism finally arrived on the streets of this country's capital city.

Islamic terrorism now poses the greatest peacetime threat that this country has known, surpassing even the activities of the IRA during the period of the troubles.

In the face of such a threat, it is absolutely essential that this country should do everything possible to ensure that its population is protected, that the risk of terrorist attack is minimised and that terrorists are detected before they have the opportunity of attacking.

This is an issue that goes beyond party politics.

Just as the political parties put aside their differences in the Second World War to face and ultimately defeat the threat of Nazism, so must they join forces today in the fight against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

Islamic fundamentalism has little to do with the lives of the vast majority of Muslims who live in this country.

I personally have many Muslim acquaintances and friends whose religion I respect, who shun fundamentalism and who are utterly loyal to this country.

Fundamentalism, however, is sweeping across the world and Britain is scarcely more immune to its influence than Indonesia, Pakistan, or Iran or Iraq.

It would be wrong and unfair to suggest that the Government has done nothing to address the terrorist threat in this country.

It is simply that its response has been disjointed, with little effective co-ordination and no clear leadership - not my words, but those of the Prime Minister's own Delivery Unit, according to a report leaked to the Sunday Times last October.

The Government has indeed taken some sensible steps.

For example, in 2004, it introduced the Civil Contingencies Act, which received the support of the Conservative Party.

The Act gives powers to local and statutory authorities to deal with emergencies in their area.

Under the Act, they can declare a state of local emergency, which could range from anything from an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease to a chemical or dirty bomb attack in one of our major cities.

But although we supported the legislation in Parliament, we criticised it for being strong on theory but weak in practice.

That remains our concern. For example, local authorities have been told to draw up contingency plans for their areas, but only £19 million has been allocated to this, which makes it almost impossible for proper and effective plans to be made.

The Government's anti-terrorist legislation - and there has been a lot of it - is characterised by tough-sounding initiatives which have little impact in practice.

At their worst, these initiatives sometimes have the effect of curtailing our civil liberties whilst doing little or nothing to reduce the terrorist threat.

The Government's obsession with identity cards is a prime example of this. From 2008, it will be compulsory to apply for an ID card when you renew your passport.

The Government will very quickly build up one of the world's most comprehensive database of the personal information on its citizens, containing biometric information and the potential of cross-referencing to financial and other information.

It will be a massive intrusion into our privacy.

If I were convinced that this exercise in Government control-freakery would have any real impact on the terrorist threat, then I would put up with it.

ID cards would not have stopped the July 7th bombings. A suicide bomber does not care if the police know his identity - because by then it is too late.

Again, Tony Blair has insisted with an obsession approaching monomania that the Terrorism Bill should contain a ban on the "glorification" of terrorism.

But such a ban will in truth add little or nothing to the police's armoury in dealing with those who promote terrorism - the laws already exist.

The fundamentalist cleric, Abu Hamza, who for years promoted terrorism from Finsbury Park mosque, has just been sent to prison for seven years.

The problem in his case was not the lack of new laws, but the lack of will on the part of the authorities to enforce the laws that we have.

While the Government introduces tough-sounding Act after Act limiting civil liberties in this country, it is doing insufficient of practical value to combat terrorism.

So while Maya Evans was arrested for standing in front of the cenotaph reading a list of British casualties in Iraq without a police permit, Abu Hamza spent years preaching hatred from his mosque in North London.

The Government is long on rhetoric, but short on delivery. Its strategy to combat terrorism is contained in 'Project Contest', which addresses the "Four Ps": Prevention, Preparation, Protection and Pursuit.

Now, the theory the behind this strategy is excellent.

And in some respects, it has been well executed.

The Prevention and Pursuit aspects have been handled reasonably well; there have been at least three attempted terrorist attacks in this country since the 21st July last year which have certainly been foiled and there have been convictions of a number of people who are inciting terrorism, most notably Abu Hamza.

However, Preparation and Protection is not being sufficiently addressed. Certainly, the degree of protection around London has improved in recent years.

In particular, Parliament is now something of a fortress, surrounded by a ring of steel barriers and police officers armed with submachine guns.

But little or nothing has been done in the other major cities of this country; Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds - cities which all have substantial ethnic minority populations - have seen little done to improve protection.

Most worryingly, nothing has been done to train the population as to what action they should take in the event of a terrorist attack.

For example, although there has been some improvement on national railways, with all intercity trains carrying emergency kits such as stretchers, defibrillators and fire extinguishers, little appears to have been done on the London Underground, the most likely target for another terrorist attack.

No advice is provided to passengers as to whether it is safer to stay in the train or disembark, about whether there is a live rail if they do get out, about whether they should continue walking in the direction the train was travelling or turn back, and certainly little or nothing in the nature of first aid equipment.

It is virtually certain that there will in the relatively short term be further attempts to attack the Underground and highly likely that there will be many more deaths, running into the tens or even hundreds.

On July 7th, the streets of London were thronged with tens of thousands of people walking apparently aimlessly, not knowing precisely what to do or where to go, because nobody had told them.

So there should be regular training sessions, as is the case in Singapore, where the Underground system is regularly stopped for training exercises.

In this country, there has been only one Underground training exercise since 9/11, and that was on a Sunday.

As I mentioned earlier, in October of last year, the Prime Minister's own delivery unit reported to him that the anti-terrorist policies adopted by the Government were 'immature' and 'disjointed.'

The unit also noted that other plans were unrelated to the real world and showed no signs of making progress.

The document also said that the Prime Minister's policy was 'mired in confusion' with 'little effective coordination and no clear leadership'.

It added that there was little confidence in the ability of the security apparatus to tackle the problem and that 'it is very difficult to demonstrate that progress has been made'.

Now, these criticisms, coming as they do from the Prime Minister's own delivery unit, must be taken very seriously and are by any standards worrying.

I highlight them today, not with a view to scoring political points, but rather to illustrate the deep concerns that exist throughout the intelligence community over the uncoordinated approach of the Government to the terrorist threat.

The Prime Minister, we are told, will shortly be announcing a new cabinet position to address the problem of social exclusion.

That is all very laudable. But much more urgent is the need for a co-ordinated response to the terrorist threat. That can only be achieved by creating a Department for Homeland Security.

In America, there is a Department of Homeland Security, with an annual budget of some 30 billion dollars.

What this country needs, and needs urgently, is our own Department for Homeland Security, with overall responsibility for coordinating the assessment of the terrorist risk and our response to it.

That Department should be responsible for supervising the security of our notoriously unprotected borders including ports and airports.

It should be responsible for a programme of public information and public training, so the people may be alert to terrorist risks, see the signs of potential terrorist attack and know precisely what to do if the worst happens.

We need a co-ordinated volunteer body to support the work of the security services.

And most importantly, there should be proper and effective outreach to potentially marginalised and radical ethnic minority groups, so as to detect and nip in the bud any potential movement toward terrorism.

All this should be within the remit and responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security.

Now, Gordon Brown has recently suggested that would create such a Department if he became Prime Minister.

If he were to do this, and to do it effectively, then he would have the absolute and wholehearted support of the Conservative Party.

The concern, however, must be that Mr Brown's suggestion is nothing more than a plank in his campaign to become the Labour Party leader.

And anyway, the truth is that the country simply cannot wait while Tony and Gordon sort out their orderly transfer of power.

As I said before, this is a matter that goes beyond party politics.

If the Prime Minister, be he Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, does create such a Department, then we will back him to the hilt.

But let no one be under any illusion. The next Conservative Government most certainly will create a Department of Homeland Security.

Because this country now truly is at war against a particularly vicious, virulent and fanatical form of terrorism.

We owe an absolute duty to our fellow citizens to address that threat, professionally and effectively.

To protect the freedoms and way of life which we cherish, which are our birthright and for which the people of this nation have for centuries fought - and sometimes even died - to enjoy.

That is our duty. And it is a duty that the Conservative Party is determined to discharge."

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