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Mercer: Action on Homeland Security

Excerpt from speech to Conservative Party Conference 2004 by Patrick Mercer MP, Shadow Minister for Homeland Security

"Despite the lack of emphasis that the PM and the Home Secretary give to Homeland Security issues, we're living in dangerous times. Last week we saw a series of arrests of terrorist suspects thought to be involved in a dirty bomb plot. This is not a unique story; sadly there have been many such instances. But so far we have been lucky, mainly due to the efforts of our security forces.

People are rightly asking the question: 'What is the Government actually doing about this?' Last year they raised the level of alert higher than that in the US but the British public only found out after a leak from the Today programme. We need one figure, one authority, not a series of disparate ministers working for different bosses. There must be a single minister for Homeland Security so that preparations for a potential disaster are realistically exercised.

We also need sensible legislation that doesn't see terrorist suspects languishing in prison facing neither charge nor trial. The government has totally ignored the fact that the Conservatives have years of experience in dealing with terrorists. The Civil Contingencies Bill was met by a complete Government stone wall when we suggested a campaign for public information about the threats that faced the public. Within two weeks of dismissing our ideas, the Government used them in a booklet which was sent to every household. Unfortunately it was wishy-washy and politically correct to the extent that it almost negated its usefulness.

This issue is of crucial importance. It goes beyond party politics. But if we are attacked, and the head of MI5 and of the Metropolitan Police tell us that that is inevitable, then it won't come 'out of the blue' like it did on September 11th. The government have been warned. Yet it looks as if will take something like Madrid on March 11th this year to shake them out of their complacency. What a shake it will be if it is anything like Madrid where terrorist, who have now learnt to think strategically, brought a democratic government to its knees.

The next Conservative government will give people the protection that they need. After all, any government's first duty is to ensure the safety of its citizens - Conservatives will not shirk that duty."

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