BUSINESS QUESTION –TERRORISM RISKS – 12 December 2002

Dr Julian Lewis: May we have a statement or a debate on the preparedness of this country for terrorist assault on the basis that we may have to face, unexpectedly, attack by means of chemical or biological weapons? As part of that debate, may we consider what, if anything, remains of the former civil defence arrangements for facing the threat of attack by nuclear weapons, what remains of the doctrine that was then in place and what it is wise to confide to the public, bearing it in mind that despite recent remarks about the wish not to create panic, the British public is rather good about not panicking when they are told the facts and the dangers that they have to face?

[Robin Cook: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the calm and stoicism of the British public. I wish that those sterling British qualities were more often demonstrated by the press that sells to the British public. On defence against such an attack, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that several measures have been put in hand to strengthen those protections and make sure that we are up to speed. I am not sure, however, that a sensible way of approaching such a debate would be to go back to the historic arrangements and see whether there should be a natural continuum. The historic arrangements for civil defence were put in place when we anticipated a possible major attack by another major state power armed with substantial nuclear arsenals and other weapons. That threat has receded in the modern era. We are faced with a quite new and, until recently, unanticipated threat of a major attack by a terrorist organisation that is a non-state actor. That certainly puts an obligation on the Government to ensure that they are in a good position to protect the public, but it is a different threat and may require different solutions.]