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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
UK terror 'failings' rejected by Blair
Ruins of the World Trade Center
The US attacks provoked emergency laws
Prime Minister Tony Blair insists the UK is doing enough to strengthen security and defence in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks.


We believe we have got the balance right

Tony Blair
Mr Blair said he would "consider carefully" a report by a cross-party committee of MPs calling for more urgent action.

But he rejected a call by Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith to take personal charge of the issue.

Picking up on a key section of the MPs' report, Mr Duncan Smith said the government had "confused activity with achievement" in its emergency preparations.

'Limit to what we can do'

But Mr Blair said he was satisfied that a new Civil Contingencies Secretariat was succesfully bringing together all the relevant bodies to cope with the threat.

"I don't accept that we have not made the most urgent preparations following 11 September," Mr Blair told the Commons at Prime Minister Question Time.

Mr Blair said it was important to have the best possible defence and security arrangements.

But he recognised "as I think everyone does post 11 September, there is a limit to what we can do".

He said: "We are in a dilemma between protecting ourselves from every potential threat - and possibly spending millions and billions of pounds in order to do so - and then taking no proper prepararations at all.

"We believe we have got the balance right."

Nuclear attack

The report by the commons defence select committee said the were "real deficiencies" in the government's response to last year's terrorist attacks on the US.

It found there had been no comprehensive review of home defence and security after those attacks in the US.

Home Office Minister John Denham has insisted the government had overhauled security measures and the UK was now in a better state to cope with the threat of any attack.

But the MPs said that ambulance and fire crews lacked both the equipment and the training to cope with a chemical, biological or nuclear attack.

They also said that the emergency services and military radios were incompatible and so councils calling in the army had to ask them to bring their mobile phones.

Central authority?

The report criticised ministers for failing to mount a "proper and comprehensive" review of procedures for disaster management after 11 September.

A "strong central authority" was needed to co-ordinate the work of the various government departments involved in emergency planning.

The report recommended the establishment of a police National Counter-Terrorism Service.

It also said security should be reviewed for nuclear power plants and sea ports.

The committee's chairman, Labour's Bruce George, said "there was still a weakness at the level of coordination" and "inadequacies in funding".

Weaknesses

"We do believe that there has been a lack of grip and direction on the part of central government.

"We are concerned that central government has not responded to the scale of the complexity of the challenge posed by international terrorism."

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The events of 11 September shook everybody and I suppose it showed that even though we were probably further ahead than any country at dealing with terrorism, the scale of potential attacks was such that perhaps we weren't fully prepared."

Mr George said that "competent though he is", he doubted whether Home Secretary David Blunkett was able to "devote all his energies" to leading emergency planning.

While the committee and the prime minister rejected leadership on the issue from a homeland security director like US governor Tom Ridge, there should be someone working full time on it.

"We have identified some weaknesses. We have identified what more needs to be done and I hope the government will not react, as sometimes they do, in a hostile, self defence posture ..." added Mr George.

Crisis machinery

But Ian Holt, former President of the Emergency Planning Society, who gave evidence to the committee said emergency planning was still stuck in the Cold War mentality.

"We are still working to the 1948 Civil Defence Act. That is clearly out of date," he told Today.

"We want proper levels of funding," he said, adding that the Local Government Association estimated that local authorities in England needed an emergency planning grant of 63m, instead of the 18.6m they currently receive.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"There have been some security improvements"

Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

24 Jul 02 | Politics
15 Jul 02 | Archive
31 Dec 01 | Politics
14 Dec 01 | Politics
14 Dec 01 | Politics
14 Dec 01 | Politics
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