Page last updated at 00:26 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Johnson criticises 'inadequate' terror report from MPs

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Keith Vaz
The committee is chaired by senior Labour MP Keith Vaz

A row has broken out between the home secretary and a committee of MPs who have accused the government of "institutional inertia" over terrorism.

Alan Johnson dubbed the Home Affairs Select Committee's report "inadequate" and "wholly inaccurate".

The report complains MPs did not know about a weekly security meeting at the heart of counter-terror strategy.

But the committee was briefed about the body three years ago - shortly after the announcement it had been formed.

In its second report on counter-terrorism in less than a year, the Home Affairs Select Committee calls for the government to overhaul some of its decision-making and to create a US-style national security committee.

What we saw ... gave us every confidence that the UK's counter-terrorism apparatus is effective and joined-up and capable of the large and difficult task it faces
Keith Vaz on terror strategy, July 2009

It says the Home Office is suffering a degree of "institutional inertia" and that officials "may be willing to settle for existing sub-optimal solutions" in how they face future threats.

The report specifically criticises the time it took the police and MI5 to set up regional counter-terrorism units.

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the committee, said: "Too often in this inquiry we saw suggestions for reforms to the counter-terrorism structure rebuffed.

"The threat is ever present and ever changing and government must above all be ever ready to adapt and innovate to meet this challenge.

"The government's response to terrorism must be as constant and adaptable as the threats we face are themselves, and should be clearly visible and accountable to both the public and Parliament."

Mr Vaz's committee goes on to say that MPs were "previously unaware" of a weekly security meting chaired by the home secretary, saying it was troubling that the public did not know about it.

Evidence to committee

In April 2007, the former Home Secretary John Reid gave evidence to the committee in which he said he had just chaired the first weekly session of the National Security Board.

Security Minster Lord West: "I genuinely believe ... we have made the nation safer"

The body was one of a number of important reforms to how government manages national security which were announced that spring. Mr Reid's successor, Jacqui Smith, also spoke publicly about the weekly meetings.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: "I totally refute the unsubstantiated and wholly inaccurate claims in this inadequate report.

"The government fully understands the threat this country faces from international terrorism and has extremely effective systems and processes in place to deal with it.

"Indeed, it is all the more surprising, given that the same committee found only six months ago that 'the UK's counter-terrorism strategy is first-class, effective and as "joined-up" as any system of government can expect'."

In that report, published in July 2009, Mr Vaz said: "What we saw of the Office of Security and Counter Terrorism [part of the Home Office] and the way it is implementing … the government's comprehensive counter-terror strategy, gave us every confidence that the UK's counter-terrorism apparatus is effective and joined-up and capable of the large and difficult task it faces."

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